For the third time within twelve months, Professor Yemi Osinbajo is Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, owing to President Muhammadu Buhari’s medical trips in the United Kingdom.
Buhari had on May 7 returned to the UK for a follow-up medical consultation with his doctors. How has the acting president ‘coordinated’ the activities of government in the last one month? Given the way and manner he has so far exercised powers, Professor Osinbajo is enjoying his time in the limelight as a ‘superstar’ acting president.
For the National Economic Council (NEC), which comprises the 36 state governors as well as relevant ministers and heads of federal agencies and parastatals, the acting president is a stabiliser of the polity. At its last meeting held on May 25, the council commended him for “stabilising” the system in President Muhammadu Buhari’s absence. “The highlight of the whole discussion today (Thursday, May 25) was a special commendation that the council made on the Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria whom we have all resolved to call a system stabilizer given the fact that Mr. President is on medical vacation.”
“The system is still as smooth as it has always been. So, we commend the Acting President for a job well done,” the chairman of the Progressive Governors Forum, Rochas Okorocha of Imo State, stated while briefing State House correspondents after the NEC meeting.
The Presidency dispelled insinuations that Buhari’s absence had created a constitutional crisis in the country. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, in a statement on Monday, said there was no power vacuum.
Shehu was reacting to an article by a Nigerian historian, Max Siollun, entitled ‘The Gentleman’s Agreement that Could Break Apart Nigeria’, published in U.S-based magazine, Foreign Policy. The presidential spokesman appealed to those he called “conspiracy theorists” not to pollute the polity by needlessly seeking to create an atmosphere of fear, uncertainty and suspicions in the country. He cautioned that with the acting resident already running the affairs of the country in the absence of President Buhari, people should stop creating artificial fears of crisis or uncertainty, noting that governance had not ground to a halt because President Buhari had duly complied with the constitution.
The acting president’s recent surprise visit to Garki Model Market in Abuja shocked many – and impressed even more Nigerians. There was a torrent of commendations on social media, with several of the photos going viral. At the market, Osinbajo, accompanied by the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Aisha Abubakar and other top government officials, interacted with the traders for over 40 minutes.
Osinbajo’s mission to the market, as explained by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity Mr Laolu Akande, was mainly “to feel the pulse of ordinary Nigerians, hear directly from them and assure them of the commitment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to improving the economy of the country.”
It was a day before the commencement of Ramadan, and Osinbajo seized the opportunity to appeal to the traders to keep prices of goods affordable, especially during the holy month. Equally, the acting president did not fail to sell the administration’s policy of diversification to the traders and other Nigerians as he admonished them to go into farming, saying “The more we farm, the more the cost of products will come down”.
The traders bombarded the acting president with complaints of high cost of renting shops as well as inadequate store space, seeking his intervention. He promised to discuss their grievances with the management of the market.
The acting president had earlier in the day received school children in his office and presented gifts to them ahead of the Children’s Day celebration.
Last Thursday, the acting president surprised bystanders during his recent two-day working visit to Calabar, the capital of Cross River State, where he held a town hall meeting with stakeholders. Professor Osinbajo stopped his convoy to interact with the bystanders. He was almost mobbed as they struggled for handshakes.
The acting president, insiders told Daily Trust, has silenced those insinuating that his relationship with President Buhari had turned sour. Four days after the president left for the UK, Osinbajo was at the palace of the Emir of Katsina, Alhaji Abdulmumin Usman where he told Buhari’s kinsmen that the president treats him as his son. The acting president was in Katsina State, Buhari’s home state, to inaugurate the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) clinic.
“One of the reasons why I feel very much at home in Katsina State is because this is the state of our president, President Muhammadu Buhari, who has taken me more like a brother. In fact, sometimes, more like a son than a vice president.”
“The amount of responsibilities President Buhari has given me shows he seriously believes we can live together as brothers. I pray the Lord will preserve our President to continue to lead as the nation has voted him to do . He seriously believes in Nigerian unity,” Osinbajo had stated.
President Buhari himself has affirmed Osinbajo’s loyalty. Buhari, according to his wife, Aisha who recently returned from London, thanked the acting president for his loyalty. The president was also quoted as calling on Nigerians to continue to support Osinbajo in his efforts towards actualising the mandate of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
In recent times, Osinbajo has discharged some presidential functions, including the formal inauguration of the board of directors of the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA). He inaugurated the board in Abuja on May 12. He disclosed that despite the fiscally constrained environment, the present administration had been able to increase the federal government’s commitment to the NSIA by 50 percent, committing an additional $500 million.
The acting president has directed that Social Investment Programmes (SIP) of Buhari’s administration be urgently expanded to benefit more Nigerians. A total sum of N41.7 billion is said to have been expended so far on the programmes.
Osinbajo has signed three executive orders which the Presidency believe would significantly change the ways government businesses and operations are conducted in the country. The orders, signed on May 18, are promotion of transparency in the business environment designed to facilitate the ease of doing business in the country, support for local contents in public procurement by the Federal Government and timely submission of annual budgetary estimates by all statutory and non-statutory agencies, including companies owned by the Federal Government.
The acting president, in Abuja on May 24, held an interactive session with senior civil servants on the recently signed three executive orders and told them that without a commitment to hard work, no amount of prayer and fasting could make the country work.
The acting president, on May 27, met the president of the United States Donald Trump in Italy where he attended the G7 Summit special outreach forum on Africa with selected African nations and leaders including Nigeria, Guinea, Tunisia, Niger, Ethiopia and Kenya.T he G7 comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US.
Osinbajo approved appointments into various parastatals, agencies and commissions on May 27. He named Ali Usman chairman of the National Pension Commission (PenCom); Funso Doherty, the Director-General of the commission; and Manase Benga, Zaki Magawata, Ben Oviosun and Nyerere Ayim as Executive Commissioners of PenCom; Dikko Aliyu AbdulRahman, the chairman of the Governing Board of the Bank of Industry and Mr. Olukayode Pitan, the bank’s Managing Director as well as Emeka Nwakpa as chairman of the Governing Board of the Consumer Protection Council.
On May 29, the acting president delivered a nationwide broadcast to mark the country’s Democracy Day and the second anniversary of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration. The acting president, on May 30, signed two bills into law in order to facilitate access to affordable credit for Nigerians. They were the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act 2017, otherwise known as Collateral Registry Act, and the Credit Reporting Act 2017.
Last week, he inaugurated the Nigerian Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council which he chairs. The council is chaired by Osinbajo and has the Minister of Industry Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah as vice chairman, public sector and the Minister of State, Industry, Trade and Investment, Aisha Abubakar as alternate vice chairman. The council also has the president of Dangote Group, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, as vice chairman, private sector and the chairman of ANAP Business Jets Ltd, Mr. Atedo Peterside as alternate vice chairman.
On Wednesday Osinbajo hosted Togolese President and newly-elected Chairman of ECOWAS, Mr. Faure Gnassingbe at the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja, assuring him of Nigeria’s support to the regional body. The acting president had earlier in the day received a Special Envoy of the Nigerien President, Mr Issoufou Mohamadou, Mr Foumakoye Gado.
The acting president on Thursday defied security threats and headed for Maiduguri, Borno State Capital to launch the Federal Government Food Emergency Intervention in the North-East. Boko Haram insurgents had attacked Maiduguri the previous day.
Weeks after he received the details of the passed 2017 budget from the National Assembly, the acting president is to assent to the fiscal document. The Presidency had said consultations were ongoing.
But superstars are human, too. Osinbajo has not sworn in two new ministers-disignates, Stephen Ocheni (Kogi) and Suleiman Hassan (Gombe) weeks after their confirmation by the Senate. Ocheni is to replace the late former Minister of State for Labour, James Ocholi, who died over a year ago; while Hassan is to replace Mrs Amina Mohammed, who resigned as Minister of Environment to become the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General. He is yet to implement the report of the three-man presidential panel that probed the suspended Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ayo Oke.
The panel, headed by Osinbajo, investigated Babachir for alleged violations of law and due process in the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North-East; and Oke, for the $43.4m stashed away at a residential apartment at Osborne Towers, Ikoyi, Lagos. The panel was believed to have submitted the report of the two-week investigations to President Muhammadu Buhari on May 7 before he traveled to the UK.
As the days go by, and Osinbajo continues with his tour de force of sorts, Nigerians are certainly going to be the beneficiaries of his ‘superstardom’, even as a fully-recovered President Buhari is prayed for, and eagerly awaited.