Tuesday, February 21, 2017

A Peep Into Osinbajo’s Presidency

By Ochereome Nnanna
Within these twenty months of  the regime of President Muhammadu Buhari, we have been privileged to see two “faces” of his presidency. The first face is the General Muhammadu Buhari character of it, while the second is the Professor Yemi Osinbajo coloration. These two faces are dramatically different.
*Buhari and Osinbajo
Let us look at them briefly. Muhammadu Buhari, being the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is the man majority of the Nigerian electorate gave their votes to as the flag bearer of the All Progressives Congress, APC. Many Nigerians saw him as an experienced leader; a man of integrity who would fight corruption and secure the nation from Boko Haram and other security threats, thereby, giving the sluggish economy the impetus to jumpstart itself back to buoyancy.

At least, that was the logic his promoters from the Asiwaju Ahmed Tinubu presented before Nigerians. He looked very tailor-made to deliver the “change” the party promised Nigerians. Some of us had our reservations because we had seen the other side of him which did not recommend him as the person to lead the country at this juncture of her march to nationhood.

But when he assumed the mantle of power, Buhari started confirming our fears about him, rather than justifying the confidence of his supporters and other unbiased onlookers. He was slow and sloppy in putting his government together, very much unlike the experienced leader whom we all expected to swing into action immediately after being sworn-in. It took him six months to put together his Federal Executive Council, unlike the new American President, Donald J. Trump, whose cabinet was already in place as he started work.

Up till today, Buhari has not fully constituted his government. One of the most perplexing of Buhari’s failings when it comes to the appointment of people to crucial positions is the Chief Justice of Nigeria, (CJN) saga. When the former CJN, Mahmud Mohammed retired in November last year, the National Judicial Council, NJC, recommended Hon. Justice Walter Nkanu Onnoghen to Buhari for onward transmission to the Senate for confirmation.

Rather than doing so, Buhari swore Onnoghen in as Acting CJN. It was a queer move which the President, up till today when he is away on medical tourism abroad, has refused to explain his motive for it. He left us all guessing. Some of us guessed, against the background of his ethnic and sectional predilections in loading up the commanding points of the Federal Government with Northern Muslims, that Buhari did not want a Southerner as CJN.

Perhaps, he was waiting for three months to elapse, hoping that Onnoghen would retire and the NJC would cave in and nominate the next in line, Justice Tanko Mohammed from Bauchi. That would effectively put the leadership of the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary back in Northern Muslim hands in line with Buhari’s preferred, nepotism-fed governing template which is against the demands of the constitution that top positions in government must be shared to reflect the Federal Character and give all sections a sense of belonging.

Another school of thought guessed that since Buhari believes the Judiciary is rotten right through, he wanted to go outside the existing convention and succession queue in the Judiciary and bring in someone to complement his fight against corruption. But those who have observed his tendency to fill important positions with his kinsmen and personal cronies also felt this was an opportunity for Buhari to appoint a loyalist as CJN, so that between head of the Judiciary and the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, he would have a complete grip of the Judiciary to fortify his political power and position.

Some even guessed that, perhaps, there were some lingering and undeclared baggage hanging around the person of Onnoghen which the President needed to clear before deciding what to do with him. This sounded more like the alibi that was adduced for his delayed appointment of ministers. It is improbable that a person whom the NJC nominated for that coveted position would not have been checked and cross-checked beforehand by the security agencies.

With the President away on medical vacation and Osinbajo acting for him, we saw a different approach. Onnoghen’s name was submitted to the Senate for confirmation a few days before the February 10th 2017 deadline, thus putting Onnoghen’s fate beyond the manipulative grip of our ailing President. Even if he comes back to work, Buhari can no longer stop Onnoghen. Only the Senate can, if there are convincing reasons to do so.

We are still left guessing as to what really happened. Most of us did not think Osinbajo, as Acting President, had the guts to submit Onnoghen’s name against the wishes of his boss, under the watchful eyes of Buhari’s cabal. If Buhari gave his consent for Onnoghen’s name to be forwarded to the Senate from his sick bed in the UK, couldn’t he have handled it better if he had done so himself?

As it is, Osinbajo will walk away as the person who, as Acting President, did the right thing (at the right time) which his principal failed to do. He demonstrated better leadership than Buhari. He showed the better side of the Buhari Presidency.

Another area where the two faces of the Buhari Presidency showed was in the manner the recent anti-government protests were handled by Osinbajo compared to what we have seen right under Buhari’s personal watch. Buhari adopted what I call the “kill-and-bury” approach to protests by unarmed, aggrieved Nigerians. We saw this in the put-downs of the Shiite and pro-Biafra protests where international humanitarian groups such as Amnesty International confirmed the killing and burial of hundreds of people on each occasion.

When the recent anti-government protests were building up, the Police and security agencies threatened fire and brimstone and some activists, seeing what happened to protesters in the past, chickened out. However, these protests took place under Osinbajo’s watch, and no one was harassed or arrested. I doubt if this would have been the case had Buhari been on seat. It was an opportunity for the Tinubu camp of the Buhari regime to show its own idea of handling politics and governance, and Osinbajo delivered.

Tinubu addressed the protesters in Lagos like a true party leader. Acting President Osinbajo not only received a delegation of Organised Labour in audience but also assured the protesters that the Federal Government would respond positively to their sentiments. A committee was even set up to “bring down the prices” of food items, though I am not sure how that will work out.

There was no sabre-rattling, or the usual hoity-toity-aren’t-we-grand airs of people in high political offices. Buhari represents the discredited, reactionary and oppressive Northern hegemony face of Nigerian politics which we thought we had outgrown since the General Abacha regime ended on 8th June 1998. This style of leadership is very divisive, and it breeds dissent.

This was what we saw in a future Buhari presidency during the campaigns and we warned against it. Osinbajo has shown a more civilised and acceptable hue of the APC Federal Government which would come into full bloom if he were to complete the rest of the tenure that Nigerians voted for. For me, the difference is clear. If Buhari continues with his aggressive ethnic imperialist mode of the past twenty months, he will likely lose grip of the ship of state.

He needs to allow more of the refined methods that Osinbajo and Tinubu can bring to bear on his leadership. After all, Tinubu is the father of this regime. Our peep into Osinbajo’s brief Presidency reveals something far more positive and reassuring in terms of democratic leadership and inclusive governance.
*Nnanna is a commentator on public issues 


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