Thursday, March 9, 2017

Why Osinbajo Can’t Undo APC’s Damage

By Paul Onomuakpokpo
With the emergence of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as the Acting President, we seem to have suspended our disbelief. Against all logic, our hopes have soared to stratospheric heights. We wager that Osinbajo holds the magic wand to turn around the beleaguered fortunes of the nation and its citizens. But we need not sally forth at this moment of the nation’s life in exultation at the prospect of better times ahead. What we direly need is introspection. We need that to steel ourselves for the grim reality that would befall us at the end of the four years of the presidency under the All Progressives Congress (APC) – its abysmal failure to improve the citizens’ lot.

To be sure, Osinbajo has the passion to turn things around. He seems to be conscious of the immiseration that the Buhari presidency that was hobbled by paranoia and parochialism inflicted on the citizens. This is why he has launched himself into a miniature shuttle diplomacy that has taken him to the much-disdained south east and south south. But as long as Osinbajo is the acting president, there is a limit to which he can do. Even if Buhari is no longer directly involved in daily governance, there are the power mongers in government who are deluded with the notion of power as their birthright who would drop his name and go to a direction that is different from that of Osinbajo. In fact, there could be cases of willful sabotage of the good plans of the acting president.
We do not deny that there could be genuine citizens in government who would see their service to the nation as paramount. Such people do not mind who their principal is – whether Buhari or Osinbajo. But we must note that most of the appointments were done by Buhari and a bulk of them not on merit but on cronyism and political and religious affiliations. For instance, most of the ministers are bereft of ideas of how to positively impact the citizens’ wellbeing. We are thus confronted with the danger that despite the good intentions of Osinbajo, those appointees who are incompetent cannot help to actualise his vision. Worse still, those corrupt officials who ought to have left the government under Buhari would still be in office. They would pretend to be serving the nation whereas they are busy stealing public funds meant to alleviate the suffering of the citizens. Yet, as only the acting president, Osinbajo cannot sack these appointees of Buhari.

Even before Buhari went to London for his medical vacation, his presidency was already mired in turmoil with his officials working at cross purposes. This was why the Department of State Services (DSS) wrote a scathing security report which the Senate used to prevent Ibrahim Magu from being confirmed as the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). When Buhari repudiated the report and pushed for the confirmation of Magu, he only betrayed his loss of control of those working under him. Now with the absence of Buhari, these cracks are widening. Just this week, we witnessed the spat between the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Abike Dabiri-Erewa and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, over the United States immigration policy that bans citizens of some foreign nations from travelling to that country. While Dabiri-Erewa cautioned Nigerians against travelling to the U.S. unless they have something compelling to do there, Onyeama came out to dismiss the warning. According to him, Nigeria and the U.S. have cordial relations. Yet Nigerians who legitimately travelled to the U.S. have been detained and deported at the airport. Such wrangling would continue as long as Buhari is away. 
As long as Buhari is still the president, there are some radical decisions that Osinbajo cannot take. He would be conscious of how the president and his loyalists would see those actions. In this regard, it is good that Osinbajo has asked oil companies to move to the Niger Delta where their operations are located. This is basically to bring development to these communities, partly through the oil companies’ employment of the indigenes. But how effective would this be when those still loyal to Buhari may still be using his name to dictate those to be employed in such companies since the secret recruitment of cronies of the president’s loyalists was effectively carried out on his watch ?
Even if Buhari relinquishes the presidency and Osinbajo gets full powers, there is still not much he can do. He cannot regain the lost ground through the lack of direction of the Buhari era. Osinbajo may spend the remaining part of this administration on politicking for 2019. Whether Osinbajo would seek election or not, he would remain distracted from effective governance. If he is not contesting, his party would surely contest and he would be deeply involved in the politics of the election. And if he is contesting, all his focus would be on how to secure electoral victory.
But even without the distraction of the politics of the 2019 election, Osinbajo cannot achieve much with the skewed federal structure that sustains corruption in place. For Osinbajo to make any headway, he must not be burdened with the structure. He needs to work for the enthronement of true federalism that the Buhari presidency has consistently opposed. We must not be stuck to a system that has failed to work. Osinbajo should be bold to upturn this structure for a better one. But the reality is that Osinbajo would not work for the change of this structure. There are people from the northern and southern parts of the country who have been gaining from the warped federal system of government who would not allow any changes to it. Forget about the masses’ support as long as Osinbajo does well. These old beneficiaries of the system are the ones he needs to be sustained in office. Thus, he cannot do anything to hurt their interests. 
Clearly, some leaders like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar have sought to distance themselves from the despoliation of the nation through the existing federal structure. Yes, Atiku is eminently qualified to speak on the matter having operated at a top level of government in this country. He knows what can work and what cannot work. But no matter how much he strives to be the restructurer-in-chief, Atiku’s credibility in this regard would remain questionable because of the suspicion that he wants to use his campaign for restructuring to clinch the presidency.
Osinbajo would not facilitate a review of the structure even though the party rode to power on the promise of enthroning true federalism. As Atiku warned us, those who are opposed to restructuring do not want to lose the federal system that guarantees them unfettered access to the plundering of the oil resources of the Niger Delta. And as long as Osinbajo cannot resist these people, whatever changes that we think he is making for which he is being lionised would not do much to improve the lives of the citizens. Thus, after four years, APC would only be consigned to history where it would share the same inglorious place with the political parties and governments that only came to ruin the lives of the citizens.
*Dr. Onomuakpokpo is on the Editorial Board of The Guardian 

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