Nigeria in ‘Acting Mode’ President, CJN, EFCC Boss, Many Others in Stand-in Capacity
Acting President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, Justice Walter Onnoghen and Acting EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu

When President Muhammadu Buhari left Nigeria for holidays in London, January 17, 2017, it created a situation where two out of the three arms of government had acting heads.

With Prof. Yemi Osinbajo stepping in as Acting President, to head the executive in the absence of the president, he joined Justice Walter Samuel Nkanu Onnoghen, acting Chief Justice of the Federation as the head of the judiciary.

The legislature, headed by Senate President Bukola Saraki and Hon. Yakubu Dogara leading the House of Representatives has remained immune to the plague of acting heads but not many other government agencies and parastatal can claim to be so lucky.

Since July 2015 when President Buhari relieved heads of foreign missions of their appointments, Nigeria has not had any substantive ambassador in any country for close to two years now thereby hampering efforts to follow up on the president’s bilateral agreements he has reached with the many countries he has visited since taking office on May 29, 2015.

For the first six months of the administration, there was no cabinet, with the president taking his time to pick his ministers that would drive his policy direction. This coupled with the fact that many government agencies do not have governing boards has ensured that the government decision making has been slothful, prompting the Financial Times, in a rather scathing assessment of the Buhari presidency to describe his approach in the mildest term as “slow-blinking leadership”.

While the president has taken measure to constitutionally install Osinbanjo as acting president during his leave, avoiding a repeat of the logjam that followed the late President Umaru Yar’adua’s leave without transmiting a letter to the legislature empowering his then vice, Goodluck Jonathan to act in his stead, what the president has succeeded in doing has ensured that Osinbajo is now confronted by a backlog of expedient decisions that the president had procrastinated over.

The challenge for the acting president has been how much leeway he has to make the tough decisions his boss has dallied over. One of such was the decision of whether or not Justice Onnoghen’s name would be submitted to the legislature for confirmation as laid down by the constitution, after the president had inexplicably not done so in the last two months and three weeks that Onnoghen has been acting as the CJN.

Only hours before the expiration of Onnoghen’s period of acting did Prof. Osinbajo submit his name, avoiding a constitutional and political banana skin by the whiskers.

Life in the Villa with the Acting President on the helm

When President Buhari embarked on his leave, in which he is expected to undergo medical checkups, Osinbajo was in Davos, Switzerland, attending the 2017 World Economic Forum.

The vice president returned to Nigeria the following day and resumed duty as acting president.

President Buhari’s office has almost been deserted since. Politicians, in particular, are no longer visiting the president’s office; and the acting president has been operating from the Vice President’s Wing of the Aso Rock Presidential Villa.

Since January 19, only five state governors had visited the Presidential Villa. They are Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, Mohammed Abubakar Badaru (Jigawa), Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Sam Ortom (Benue) and Olusegun Mimiko (Ondo). This is in contrast to the usual heavy traffic of governors and other political figures that troop there to consult with the president.

The national chairman of the ruling All Progressives congress (APC), Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, was at the State House for a meeting with the acting president last Monday. He was not accompanied by any of the party’s national working committee.

The acting president has met with the leadership of the National Assembly over economy and budget-related matters. Senate President Abubakar Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara have visited Osinbajo twice.

The president absence has not prevented the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings, which have been held three times between January 25 and February 8, precided over by Osinbajo. During these meetings, contracts were approved and certain policy decisions made. Penultimate Wednesday, the council raised a task force to reduce prices of food items. A N21 billion contract for the construction of the Ilorin-Kabba Road was also awarded.

The acting president has also met with service chiefs. On January 20, he was briefed by the service chiefs on the situation in The Gambia where Nigerian troops were deployed last month.

However, the routine meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) had not been convened since President Buhari embarked on his vacation. The council is headed by the president.

Since the president jetted out to the United Kingdom, there has not been any meeting of the Council of State, even though Buhari himself has only held such a meeting twice since his assumption of office on May 29, 2015.

On February 1, Acting President Osinbajo inaugurated new five national commissioners of the National Population Commission. But after administering the oath of office on them, the acting president made no remarks.

Osinbajo has also been briefed by several heads of agencies including those of the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigeria Customs Service, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission and the Department of State Security.

Two traditional rulers, the Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi and the Oba of Lagos, Rilwan Akiolu, have also visited the rulers have also visited the acting president at the State House.

Despite the obvious lapses, the official position is that the acting president has done all that he ought to do in his capacity.

Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the Vice President, Mr Laolu Akande, told our reporter that, “There is absolutely nothing that has to be done that has not been done.

“The acting president has presided over Federal Executive Council meetings, he has met with service chiefs. In fact, his first meeting with the service chiefs was when we came back from Davos when they briefed him on the situation in Gambia.

On the question of occupying the president’s office in the Villa, Mr. Akande said it was not necessary as his principal was only acting as president.

Acting President, acting CJN and a long awaited confirmation

While the presidential villa may be trudging on in the absence of the president and pervading rumours about his health status, the judiciary has also formed the bases of heated national discourse.

It has been 94 days since Justice Walter Onnoghen assumed office as the Acting Chief Justice of the Nigeria following the compulsory retirement of the immediate past CJN, Justice Mahmud Mohammed.

According to the 1999 Constitution, the president must forward the name of the justice recommended to him by the National Judicial Council to the legislature for confirmation as substantive CJN within three months.

Those three months elapsed on Friday, February 10 and only a couple of days before the expiration did the Acting president submit Onnoghen’s name for confirmation.

The president never explained why he was procrastinating over the appointment of Onnoghen as substantive CJN, the delay has thrown up speculation as to why with the judiciary accusing the president of executive interference in its system.

Already because of the delay in submitting the name for confirmation, the National Judicial Commission has asked the acting president to extend Onnoghen’s term as acting CJN to enable the Senate Confirm his appointment.

Section 231 (1) of the Constitution provides that -”the appointment of a person to the office of CJN shall be made by the President on the recommendation of the NJC subject to the confirmation of such appointment by the Senate”.

It was gathered that this is not the first time a CJN or Head of Court would be appointed in acting capacity before the final confirmation as the CJN.  Today there are Chief Judges in some states that are still acting pending their confirmation, just as we have in Enugu State.

The Nigerian Bar Association President Abubakar Balarabe Mahoud SAN and other senior lawyers have raised serious concerns, saying that the Nigerian Bar cannot afford uncertainty or indecision in the system.

Lawyers and Judges have held different opinions on whether there are any limitations on what Onnoghen can do as acting CJN and as a substantive CJN.

Retired Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Olufunke Adekeye believes that as an acting CJN, Onnoghen cannot roll out his reform plans for the judiciary (if he has any) because he does not know whether his appointment will be confirmed or not.

Others however feel that his appointment in acting capacity does not limit him from carrying out any programmes that he may have.

The lawyer said that from the clear provisions of the constitution, it can be seen that the President must appoint the CJN based on the recommendation of the NJC.  According to the lawyers, “the position of the law today is that the appointment of the CJN does not border on discretion and gives no room for delay”.

The controversy not-with-standing, Onnoghen has gone ahead to roll out his reform programmes.

Speaking through his Senior Special Assistant (Media), Mr.  Awassam Bassey, he also called for caution, asking Nigerians to allow Mr. President a free hand to perform his constitutional duties concerning the appointment of a substantive CJN.

Wrestling corruption with prosthetic limbs

President Buhari’s came into office on the promise to tackle corruption. One of the key agencies expected to play a leading role in this campaign is the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. Yet, it was not until November 15, 2015 that President Buhari appointed Ibrahim Magu as the acting chairman of the once dreaded EFCC.

Mr. Magu remained in acting capacity throughout most of 2016 until his name was submitted for confirmation in December 2016, over a year after he has first appointed acting chair.

His confirmation never came. 

Despite his impressive record of tackling corrupt officers, Magu’s confirmation was derailed by the senate that cited “security reports” by the DSS as the bases for their decision.

Reports indicated that on January 23, Mr Magu’s name was resubmitted for confirmation by the presidency.

Though Mr. Magu has championed the president’s anti-corruption crusade like a warrior, the fact that he is still an acting head has not given him the confidence to see through reforms in the commission. And his running battle with the senate leadership, led by Senator Bukola Saraki, who Magu has tried to prosecute for corruption alongside other top politicians and officials, has remained a threat that has been dangling over his head since he came into office.

Foreign missions drifting in uncertainty for two years 

While the presidency and the judiciary have clear laid down procedures, Nigeria’s foreign missions have been left adrift.

Since the heads of foreign missions were relieved of their appointments in July 2015, the government has not appointed replacement, leaving embassies, high commissions and consulates without substantive heads while diplomatic activities are suffering setbacks.

The “Grade A” missions, especially the P5 countries, the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China, have not been exempted.

President Muhammadu Buhari, in July 2015, sacked all the political ambassadors appointed by his predecessor and few months later, the federal government ordered the recall of all the career diplomats who have completed their three-year tour of duty abroad.

Experts, however, questioned the rush in recalling the envoys when the president is not ready to appoint substantive heads to the missions, which are seen as indispensable instruments in the delivery of the nation’s foreign policy.

Some have viewed the delay in the appointment as antithetical to the numerous diplomatic shuttles the president had embarked on as there are no ambassadors to effect the bilateral agreements the president had secured during his numerous trips.

Certain negotiations and engagements, they said, require the presence of a substantive ambassador, without which they cannot take place. This, experts said, affects the running of Nigeria’s foreign missions.

“If the host country’s leader wants to discuss some matters with Nigeria, is he going to talk to the Charge d’Affaires?” asked former Nigerian Minister of External Affairs, Prof Ibrahim Gambari, who described the long delay in appointments as “inexplicable”, and “serious gaps,” in Nigeria’s bilateral relations with countries of the world.

“Imagine China, with whom we are developing a close economic ties, looking to them for huge investment, we have no ambassador there,” Gambari lamented.

According to Ambassador Chive Kaave, a retired diplomat, those heading missions without ambassadorial status are not in a position to take any decision be it education or investment.

He said issues that require ambassadorial approval cannot be addressed without a substantive head of mission.

“So much business, bilateral and multilateral decisions will suffer,” he said, adding that some countries treat such missions without heads as nonexistent.

Meanwhile, the process of appointing ambassadors has begun, but this could take even much longer before the envoys could settle down for work at various missions.

After the senate clearance, the federal government would have to commence the process of obtaining consent from the governments of their proposed missions before postings would be done. This process could take about three months.

“Now that the process has started, they should fast-track it so that ambassadors will be posted,” Prof Gambari said.

This, Gambari said, would mean that an administration that is elected for four years, has spent two years without substantive ambassadors.

He advised the ambassadors-designate to hit the ground running after posting, “use their newness as ambassadors to quickly penetrate the host country and not limit their activities to dealing with only government of those countries but also their private sectors.”

Many government agencies in the lurch over lack of substantive heads  

Apart from the key policy makers affected by the lack of substantive heads, there are many government agencies that have been in a blind spin since their substantive heads were replaced by acting heads.

The situation, according to analyst has ensured that the agencies tasked with implementing government policies where there are any do not have the heads to see this through as the acting heads are being cautious in their approach in the hopes of securing long term appointments. Some of these agencies are listed below:

Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC)  

Since the first tenure of the former Chairman, Mr Elias Mbam ended in November 2015, the commission remains under acting chairman, Shattima Umar Abba-Gana.

The RMAFC is constitutionally empowered to monitor the accruals and disbursement of revenue from the Federation Account; Review from time to time, the revenue allocation formulae and principles in operation to ensure conformity with changing realities; advise tiers of government on fiscal efficiency and determine the salaries of political office holders at federal states and local governments.

Although, Mr Abba-Gana has been doing a lot to make the commission relevant in recent times, the lack of full power has left him with little mandate to pursue his agenda to the full now that the country is struggling to end recession. Some of the pending programmes that are yearning for attention include the development of new revenue allocation formula and implementation of the review the salaries structure of the political office holders, fiscal and financial discipline of both local, states and federal government.

Other functions of the commission are to determine the remuneration appropriate to political office holders, including the president, vice-president, governors and their deputies, ministers, commissioners, special advisers, legislators and the holders of the offices mentioned in Section 84 and 124 of the Constitution.

Fiscal Responsibility Commission   

Since the pioneer Chairman of the Commission, Dr Jibril Aliyu Yelwa ended his first tenure in December 2013, the FRC dived into leadership quagmire. Some of the commissioners that Yelwa left were not allowed by the Jonathan administration to run the commission. Rather he appointed a Deputy Director, Victor Muruako as Acting Chairman.

When Yelwa and four other commissioners left, leaving Dr. Adewumi Abitoye, as the only commissioner with a subsisting tenure, he was pushed away by Muruako, who took charge as Acting Chairman.  He is now in his third-year in acting capacity.

The Act that establishes the commission empowers it to compel any person or government institution to disclose information relating to public revenues and expenditure; and cause an investigation into whether any person has violated any provisions of this Act.

If the Commission is satisfied that such a person has committed any punishable offence under this Act, the Commission shall forward a report of the investigation to the Attorney- General of the Federation for the possible prosecution.

It also has the power to monitor and enforce the provisions of this Act and disseminate such standard practices including international good practice that will result in greater efficiency in the allocation and management of public expenditure, revenue collection, debt control and transparency in fiscal matters; undertake fiscal and financial studies, analysis and diagnosis and disseminate the result to the general public.

However, despite the commendable start of the commission, some government officials especially at the federal and state levels are not happy with the work of the commission thereby ignoring it.

Nigeria Export – Import (NEXIM)  

The Nigeria Export – Import (NEXIM) is currently under the acting headship of Mr Bashir M. Wali. The former Managing Director of NEXIM Bank, Robert Orya, who was among those sacked on February 15, 2016 executed some transformation that enabled the bank become profitable and a major contributor to non-oil exports.

However, the long vacuum has slowed down the transformation process as the bank has not been able to push more facilities to exporters and importers to diversify the economy which is the co-mandate of the bank especially now that the country is aiming to move away from mono-economy.

NEXIM Bank, which was established by Act 38 of 1991 as an Export Credit Agency has a broad mandate to promote the diversification of the Nigerian economy away from oil and deepening the external sector.

Federal Mortage Bank of Nigeria   

Mr Richard John Esin has been acting as Managing Director/Chief Executive of the Mortgage bank since the sack of Mr  Gimba Ya’u Kumo. As acting MD, Mr Esin lacks the will to pursue some of the laudable objective of providing affordable housing and quick access to the National Housing Fund to many Nigerians.

Currently the bank has no board. Only the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola supervises the affairs of the bank, a situation that has slowed down the performance of the bank.

FMBN has the mandate to provide loans to Nigerians for erecting, purchasing or renovating houses, encourage programs that would enhance housing financing among low and medium income earners. The Fund is also to service the non – salaried informal sector, provide long term loans to mortgage institutions for lending to contributors of the fund.

However, despite the steady contributions by many workers to the NHF, accessing the loans has been among the top headache of many workers. And including the informal sector in the pool remains a dream. Only a substantive chief executive and the active board will make some differences.

Bank of Industry  

When the former Managing Director of the Bank of Industry, Rasheed Olaoluwa was sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari, a lot of people were expecting a quick replacement together with the new board, as well as injection of more capital to make the bank perform its mandate of empowering small and medium businesses effectively.

However, since the handover by Mr Olaoluwa to Mr Waheed Olagunju as acting head, the activities of the bank continue to run under such environment.

Despite the efforts of Mr Olagunju to disburse more loans and bring in new initiatives, he has a limit due to the absence of the board and delay in confirmation as the substantive head. The bank is the only Development Finance Institution that gives loans across all the sectors of the economy and has the capacity to revamp many ailing industries if well-funded and with full structure.

Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA)  

The agency has been rocked by leadership crisis when the federal government appointed an outsider, Mrs. Sotonye Iyoyo, to run the affairs in February 2016 in an acting capacity. The labour union protested that appointment.

Although Mrs Iyoyo stepped down as the Acting Executive Secretary of the PPPRA she handed over to Mr. Victor Shidok, in November, 2016. Prior to his emergence as the Acting Executive Secretary, Shidok was General Manager, Operations of the PPPRA.

Some of the pending issues in the agency are designing a new pricing template of petroleum products that will help reduce the landing costs which in essence will bring the pump price down.

The agency has also lost focus in recent time with the new petrol price regime. There is no clarity whether petrol (PMS) is deregulated or still regulated. Billions of naira in subsidy claims keeps accumulating without any clear party responsible to settle them. Only full board and substantive management can handle some of these controversial issues.

Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE)  

Since February 16, 2016 Dr. Vincent Onome Akpotaire has been the acting Director General of the Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE). Until his appointment he was the director of National Facilities and Agricultural Resources (NF & AR) at the BPE.

This is the longest time the BPE DG office is left under acting capacity since the establishment of the agency.

Even though majority of the national assets were privatised by the past administrations, the bulk of the work now is to supervise and monitor the past privatised enterprises, which is lacking from the agency under the acting DG.

The privatisation of refineries and Nigeria Integrated Power Plants NIPP are key on the list of the privatisation by the agency but there is nothing Dr Akpotaire can do without full power.

National Agency for Food & Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC)  

One agency that dominated the media due to its harsh stance on fake drugs and expired food items in the past decades was the National Agency for Food & Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC).

Mrs Yetunde Oni has been in its acting DG since the exit in February, 2016, of Dr. Paul B. Orhii.

NAFDAC was established by Decree 15 of 1993 as amended by Decree 19 of 1999 and now the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control Act Cap N1 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

This Act mandates NAFDAC to regulate and control the manufacture, importation, exportation, distribution, advertisement, sale and use of food, drugs, cosmetics, chemicals, detergents, medical devices and packaged water (Known as regulated products).

However, the agency has since been quiet, unlike before due to some reasons beyond the capacity of the acting DG.

National Directorate of Employment (NDE)  

The National Directorate of Employment (NDE) is being run by Mr. Kunle Obayan since December 1, 2015 as acting director general. The Directorate has not been solving the unemployment issues in the country even under the substantive heads talk less of the acting one. Despite tackling unemployment being one of the key campaign promises of the present administration.


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