Olalekan Adetayo, Gbenro Adeoye, Jesusegun Alagbe and Tunde Ajaja
Lawyers and opposition parties have slammed Acting President Yemi Osinbajo for failing to address national issues — such as calls for restructuring, quit notices from different ethnic groups and threat by the Indigenous People of Biafra — with promptness.
Describing his handling of the issues as sluggish, they said his poor response was unbecoming to his office, considering the swiftness with which he addressed similar issues when he was acting president during President Muhammadu Buhari’s earlier medical trip to London between January 19 and March 10, 2017.
During this period, Osinbajo had garnered commendations from the public due to the attention he gave to pressing issues in Buhari’s absence.
For instance, at the height of Nigeria’s recession, Osinbajo had on January 27, 2017, eight days after Buhari left, held a meeting with the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Ms. Ertharin Cousin, to find a way to tackle the problem of hunger in the land.
He had also presided over the Federal Executive Council meeting on February 1 and mandated the Presidential Task Force on Food Security to look for ways of reducing the prices of food items in the country.
On agitations by Niger Delta militants, Osinbajo had visited the region between February 10 and 13, making interactive engagements with people in oil-producing communities in the area.
He had thereafter gone to Port Harcourt, Rivers State, to meet with stakeholders of the oil-producing communities. During the meeting, he rolled out the framework for the clean-up of Ogoniland.
His consultations with people in the Niger Delta had led to a reduction in attacks against oil facilities in the region, thereby increasing oil production.
Buhari had earlier planned to go to the region, but cancelled his plan after threats by ex-militants in the area that they would kill him if he visited.
Osinbajo had on February 16 addressed the foreign exchange crisis when he presided over the first National Economic Council meeting of the year and directed the Central Bank of Nigeria to review the foreign exchange policy and inject fresh $250m into the Sovereign Wealth Fund. The decisions taken at the meeting were said to have led to the strengthening of the naira at that period.
Also, on February 17, Osinbajo had signed seven bills into law, including the Oaths (Amendment) Act 2017; the Defence Space Administration Act 2017; and the Veterinary Surgeons (Amendment) Act 2017.
That same day, he had paid an unscheduled visit to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, as part of the 60-day action plan for business reforms in the country.
Less than 24 hours after his unscheduled visit to the Lagos airport, the Federal Government announced the sacking of 10 directors of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority.
Also, the acting President, had on February 7, sent the name of Justice Walter Onnoghen to the Senate for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria after a prolonged delay.
On road contracts, Osinbajo had, on February 8, approved N21bn for the construction of Section 1 of the Ilorin-Omu Aran-Kabba Road. A week later, he approved the award of N126bn road projects spread across Kano, Bauchi, Adamawa, Kwara, Gombe, Enugu and Kaduna states.
However, 104 days after Buhari left again for medical treatment in London, lawyers and members of opposition parties have criticised Osinbajo for being slow in his response to national issues that have come up, including multiple quit notices by ethnic groups, IPOB threat and his silence on the investigation into corruption allegations against the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, and the embattled Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke.
The opposition also pointed out that it had taken an “order” from Buhari on June 12 for the acting president to sign the 2017 appropriation bill into law, a month after it was passed by the National Assembly.
It had also taken Osinbajo 22 days to assign portfolios to two new ministers – Stephen Ocheni (Kogi) and Suleiman Hassan (Gombe) – after their inauguration.
The Peoples Democratic Party had recently called Osinbajo a figurehead, saying his actions or inaction had shown that Buhari was still calling the shots from London.
Speaking to Saturday PUNCH, a human rights lawyer, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, averred that the President never intended to transmit power to Osinbajo, which prompted the idea of referring to the latter as the “coordinator” of the economy.
“And exactly, that is what he has restricted him to,” Adegboruwa said, adding that Buhari had been superimposing his personality by giving the impression that he would soon return to the country every other day.
Adegboruwa said Osinbajo had been “caged by the cabal” since Buhari left the country on May 7.
“With due respect, the acting president is just a figurehead and that you can see in how long it took him to give portfolios to the ministers who were screened by the Senate,” he said.
Adegboruwa suggested that the current scenario had led to the issue of “double loyalty”, as most members of the cabinet were unwilling to transfer their loyalty to the acting president “since there is the impression that the President would soon come back.”
He added, “So, it is not that things are slower; the acting President is being caged by certain forces.”
The National Chairman of the Action Alliance, who is also the spokesperson for the Coalition for New Nigeria, Mr. Kenneth Udeze, said history would judge Osinbajo whether he decides to use or fails to use his power to act at this period.
He said, “Maybe the acting President is trying to consider the moral aspect of the constitution because legally, he has power to take decisions without consulting Buhari.
“There are pending dangerous issues such as quit notices here and there and the IPOB threat that we’re expecting the acting President to take actions on, but it’s unfortunate nothing is being done.
“His job [this time around] shows that nothing is working; everything has come to a standstill. People are hungry, nothing is happening, nothing is working. History will judge him if he acts at this time or not.
“His consideration of the moral aspect of his leadership has to stay aside; he needs to take bold steps, he needs to act.”
The President, Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Mr. Malachy Ugwummadu, said the commendations Osinbajo got during Buhari’s previous absence could be the source of his current predicament.
He said, “He (Osinbajo) must have created some enemies then, people who were uncomfortable with his success because of their loyalty to Buhari. Now he (Osinbajo) has to contend with the cabal. This situation must be tying his hands. I think Osinbajo is also conscious of the situation he’s in and aware that he’s not yet a substantive President.
“But no matter the circumstance he’s in, by virtue of Section 145(1) of the Constitution, power has been devolved to him and he needs not look left or right before taking decisions.”
Another lawyer and political analyst, Mr. Liborous Oshoma, said it was clear that Osinbajo’s current performance as acting President was less impressive than the previous time he acted in that capacity.
Oshoma said there were indications that Osinbajo had been taking instructions from Buhari in London this time around on a daily basis, thereby hampering him from moving fast.
He said, “If you look at the body language of the President’s handlers and advisers, it is contrary to the general belief that the acting President is in charge. The issue of swearing-in of ministerial nominees showed that truly, the acting President was waiting for instructions from London. What that tells us is that probably Osinbajo will not be able to move as he wants to because the President is still calling the shots from his hospital bed in London.
“When the budget was passed by the National Assembly, even the Minister of Information (Lai Mohammed) could not categorically say who would sign the budget. It shows that somebody somewhere was calling the shots. And even after it was signed, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said it was the President who instructed Osinbajo to sign it.
“Osinbajo is like an ambassador posted to represent his country and is unable to take decisions without getting a “yes” or “no” answer from his country. During the last Sallah, Osinbajo could not issue a Sallah message to the country because there was already a Hausa message from the President all the way from London.”
The National Chairman of the Labour Party, Alhaji Abdulkadir Abdulsalam, said he agreed with the PDP, which recently described Osinbajo as a mere figurehead.
He said, “We agree with the PDP that Osinbajo is a figurehead. He’s not acting. Look at it, for a long time; he couldn’t assign portfolios to the two inaugurated ministers.”
However, the Convener, Coalition of Northern Politicians, Academics, and Businessmen, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, said Osinbajo should not be expected to move fast, considering the prevailing circumstances.
He said, “In the system we are operating, the acting President knows very well he wasn’t the one who was elected. So whatever side arguments are presented or invocations we make of the constitution, the fact remains that the acting President is politically untested and did not win his own election.
“He (Osinbajo) wasn’t a very senior member of the party, so anybody who is asking him to run before he could walk is not being fair to him and to the country. If for whatever reason Buhari vacates the seat on his own volition on health grounds or any other thing, then, of course, I expect the first order of business for Osinbajo to be the reshuffling of the cabinet and consulting widely with the party.”
Meanwhile, the Senior Special Assistant to the Acting President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, said contrary to people’s opinions, Osinbajo was fully in charge of the country in the absence of President Buhari.
He said all presidential aides report to Osinbajo after Buhari handed over power to him (Osinbajo) in accordance with the constitution.
He said, “The acting President has the full authority and as you can see, he is wielding it as and when due. He is free of any hindrance and the President made it clear in word and deed that Osinbajo is fully in charge.
“All presidential aides report to the acting President. This report is a distraction. The acting President is signing executive orders, signing bills into law, making appointments, swearing in ministers and permanent secretaries and assigning them portfolios.
“He takes his constitutional role seriously as he has always done and will always do whether as acting President or vice-president.”