It was a former U.S President Benjamin Franklin that’s credited with the quote:”some people are weather wise and otherwise”.
As a result of President Mohammadu Buhari’s 49 days medical vacation which ended last Monday, March 13, Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo’s hands were planted firmly on the wheel of the ship of state of Nigeria as acting president.
As such, and as the Americans would say, the buck was ending on his table for 49 days.
What this implies is that by sheer providence, the Professor of Law, cleric and now politician was saddled with the responsibility of managing the very complex entity known as Nigeria for nearly two months.
Drawing from the wisecrack by Benjamin Franklin, earlier cited, as acting president, Osinbajo was unwittingly given the opportunity to prove whether he is political wise and otherwise.
So far the veepee has proven that he is politically wise and below is a brief justification for the assertion above:
Soon after he took office, his adversaries tried to drive a wedge between him and his political godfather, Bola Tinubu (former Governor of Lagos State under whom Osinbajo served as Attorney General) by alleging that it was not the Jagaban-as the APC leader is fondly referred to by his admirers- that facilitated the choice of Osinbajo as the running mate to then presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.
The traducers failed as Osinbajo relying on the Biblical aphorism- be gentle like a dove and wise as a serpent, dexterously deflected the conspiracies and innuendos which enabled his loyalty to his political mentor, Tinubu remains intact.
Then following the health challenge of his principal, the opportunity to serve as acting president arose.
He did his best to execute the mandate and most of his efforts paid off. But the rumour mills soon went to work again. Osinbajo started being dubbed a super achiever in comparison to his ailing boss. As we all know, it is haram or taboo in any sphere of life for one to be seen to be outperforming one’s, boss. Clearly, his traducers were at work trying to put him on a collision path with the president. But being politically wise, he prevailed by insisting that he was only doing his boss’s bidding.
After his handover rituals to his boss who had returned to his job last Monday, asked by reporters if his boss was impressed with the way he managed the country while he was away, Osinbajo responded this way “l think the president was reasonably satisfied”.
Having thus far successfully navigated the treacherous political waters invested with Barracudas and Pirañas, it can be safely concluded that Osinbajo both as Vice President and as Acting President has been politically wise.
Although it may not be what he set out to achieve, as acting president, Osinbajo has proven that Nigeria is actually easy to govern if politicians can go into leadership with an open mind, so he has also been otherwise.
But leadership with an open mind is hardly the case in Nigeria as more often than not pursuing ethnic and religious agendas are the raison d’etre of most of our leaders who attain the exalted position.
Again, below are my justifications for adjudging Osinbajo otherwise:
Soon after the leadership of Nigeria was thrust on him from January 19 to March 13, Osinbajo adopted the positive attitude of listening to the long-suffering Nigerian people and doing their bidding.
Perhaps, he did so owing to his understanding of the saying, vox populi, vox Dei– a Latin aphorism which means, the voice of the people is the voice of God.
Short of magic:
How could it have been imagined that inflation can go down by nearly 1% to 17.78% in less than two months? Who would have thought that naira/dollar exchange rate which was hovering around the N500-$1 mark would be closer to the middle point between N400/$1 mark in less than two months?
Who could have imagined that oil exploration would go on uninterrupted in the Niger Delta and export of crude oil would hit 2m barrels per day mark?
What could have convinced sceptics that foreign reserves could rise to $30b in 49 days?
Given the remarkable strides that the then Acting President made while his boss was away, he has demonstrated that if leaders should listen to their followers and aspire to meet their needs without pre conceived agendas, governance would be as smooth as velvet or a hot knife slicing through butter.
Happily, all the aforementioned actions and their beneficial effects on the Nigerian economy and society occurred as a result of the charm offensive unleashed by Osinbajo as Acting President. And he achieved the feat by literarily traversing the country, particularly to the Niger Delta to pacify the militants and get the oil flowing again.
His smooth talk about a billion dollars being set aside by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC to develop the Niger Delta; the promise that oil companies would relocate their headquarters to the zone provided peace is guaranteed and the commitment that indigenous oil refiners would be documented and permitted to ply their trade with even a promise of updating the practice through provision of modular refineries, were like music to the ears of the erstwhile despondent and disillusioned Niger Delta dwellers.
Not done, he proceeded to Southern Kaduna to reassure brutalised indigenes that Nigerians share their grief. And his presence served as the healing balm on the bruised, blighted, dying and mourning members of the predominantly Christian community who have been invaded by killers whom the victims suspect are being buffeted by Muslim leadership and the government in power.
Another action that helped Osinbajo in dousing tension and which has ushered in the atmosphere of tranquillity and prosperity is the effort that he made as acting president in intensifying the work already being done to rehabilitate victims of the Boko Haram insurgency in the IDP camps.
Put succinctly, the conflict resolution and confidence building initiatives of Osinbajo after less than two months of being on the saddle, can be credited for prompting the disappearance of the dark cloud of despair over Nigeria’s political and economic firmament.
Hitherto local and international investors had concluded that the nation was sitting on a keg of gunpowder waiting to explode into violence and therefore inclement for investments. This is due to their assessment of the Nigerian environment which they believed had tension points in the Niger Delta threatening crude oil output and insurgency in the northeast bordering on religion fundamentalism with their attendant high risks to the safety of lives and properties.
By and large, and arising from the above, it appears like it is the inadequate attention to the two very critical issues mentioned earlier by the government at the centre in the previous 20 months before Osinbajo got on the driver’s seat, coupled with the feeling of inequality amongst citizens and the growing threat of herdsmen attacks on defenseless communities nationwide, that have been the prime source of uncertainties in Nigerian polity and the reason investors’ confidence took flight from Nigeria.
But by merely listening, identifying, empathising and negotiating with aggrieved fellow Nigerians, Osinbajo became the game changer who brought peace and prosperity to Nigeria in less than two months.
He did so by promoting harmonious co-existence among the multifarious ethnic and religious people in the country and reassuring those who were jittery about lack of robust or bankable and strategic policy direction with a positive outlook as opposed to the atmosphere of despondency which the constant castigation of Nigerians about corruption and how most of us lack integrity by our leaders had engendered.
So in effect, Osinbajo’s successful steering of the ship of state by restoring peace in the Niger Delta resulting in more forex income being earned from crude oil sales and the subsequent rise in foreign exchange reserve in the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN to $30b; plus a significant drop in the inflation rate in the country by nearly 1%, are not due to any hat trick, like pulling out a rabbit from a hat , but by simply listening to the yearning of Nigerians and making visible and practical efforts to provide solutions which is what most of us have been harping on since the inception of the current leadership.
Mr President’s famous quote during his inauguration on May 29, 2015 “l belong to nobody, l belong to everybody” resonated so well with Nigerians, irrespective of ethnic group, religion, gender or creed from Kaura Namoda in Sokoto State to Nembe in Bayelsa State and it became a huge beacon of hope.
Regrettably, while it was easy to write and make the pronouncement, the ability and will to apply the policy/philosophy have been very weak and as such it has become part of the implementation bogey that often besets most well-intended policies and it does not reflect well on the current administration.
This is why it is embarrassing and disappointing that the military did better in ethnic balancing in appointments into public offices during their autocratic regimes than politicians under the present democratic setting.
As such, concerns about inequalities now constitute unnecessary sources of conflict in the polity which may be another avoidable burden that could be weighing down President Buhari and therefore negatively affecting his already precarious health condition.
So as Mr President returns to work, and as an advocate of peace and progress that is passionate about the rapid development of Nigeria, my simple advice to him is to listen more to the populace and rely less on primordial sentiments.
As a member of the commentariat, I practically shouted myself hoarse warning of the dire consequences of the plan to treat environmental rights agitators also known as militants in the Niger Delta, like Boko haram insurgents, because it was a wrongheaded policy that was bound to backfire. l railed against the infamous 97% versus 5% rhetoric and faux pax made by Mr. president in an interview by positing that it might engender a feeling of estrangement amongst the minorities who did not vote for President Buhari, but the votes from their region helped fulfill the requirement of two-third majority of votes required for a president to be deemed to have been duly elected.
Given the increasingly complex nature of Nigeria, I think it is about time politicians shorn themselves of the wrong notion that any particular region can win the presidency without actively soliciting and wining votes from the other regions.
Without any shred or iota of doubt, governance is hard, but President Buhari should simplify it by getting his policy wonks to conduct more town hall meetings, monitor the media and listen to the yearning of Nigerians via focus groups and engagement of various business and social interest groups for feedback. He would realise very fast that governance is actually not rocket science.
When governance becomes as simple as ABC, there would be less strain and stress and he would face fewer health challenges which are obviously being exacerbated by the multiple stress points developing around the country with the rapidity and uncertainty of London weather.
In conclusion, although he has been politically wise and otherwise , Vice President Yemi Osinbajo should keep in mind that there are many more opportunities and banana peels ahead in the next 24 months life span of their administration.
In that regard, it is appropriate to be reminded that Vice President Atiku Abubakar during their first tenure 1999-2007 was relied on by former President Olusegun Obasanjo to manage the economy and also trusted to oil the political machinery on his behalf.
But along the line, the chummy relationship between the two got unhinged and the regime ended up in an unprecedented political tussle that is very well documented.
While it may be safe to conclude that Osinbajo has scaled the first set of loyalty huddles stacked up to challenge the fidelity of his relationship with his political mentor and his boss in his current day job, the jury is still out and it will serve him well to remember that in politics, it’s not over, until it is over.
Magnus Onyibe, a development strategist is a former commissioner in delta state Govt and an alumnus of the fletcher school of law and diplomacy, Tufts university, Massachusetts, USA