Last week’s disengagement of some aides in Vice President Yemi Osinbajo’s office may have further confirmed insinuations doing the rounds about plans to whittle down the influence of the nation’s number two citizen, writes Raheem Akingbolu
Like drama, politics is full of make-believe and window dressing. Even when they have so much against one another, with contrasting interests, politicians meet, greet and genuflect. This, perhaps aptly captures the mood in the presidency, where President Muhammadu Buhari and his Vice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo give Nigerians the impression that all is well.
Barely a month after a subtle move to checkmate the influence of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in the presidency had stirred the hornet’s nest; the news that some of the Presidential aides in the Vice President’s office had been relieved of their appointments had sent a fresh jitter down the nation’s political landscape.
Since the issue was made public, not a few Nigerians have been wondering what could be responsible for the continuous witch-hunting of the Vice President. While a section of the public links the problem with the supposed presidential ambition of Osinbajo, it is believed in some quarters that some members of the cabal in the presidency don’t like the face of the vice-president and are thus bent on frustrating him.
But beyond all the insinuation, a source in the presidency, who pleaded to remain anonymous, confirmed to THISDAY that the recent issue was as a result of the weekend’s perceived vote of confidence passed on the embattled VP by the Emir of Daura, without the express consent of the President.
According to the source, the sudden plan to disengage the aides was a knee-jerk reaction by a top presidential aide, who believed the position of the revered Emir, undermined President Muhammadu Buhari.
Thus, the disengagement was regarded as a calculated attempt to ridicule Osinbajo, because the President was said to have already personally approved the appointment of all the 35 aides and also instructed their deployment to other ministries as part of a reorganisation in the presidency, proposed to him by the same top presidential aide, who is seen to be engaging the VP in a power tussle.
While the Emir of Daura, His Royal Highness Alhaji Umar Faruk Umar had spoken so highly of the VP at the installation ceremony of the President’s cousin, Musa Haro as the new Dan-Madamin of Daura last Saturday, the said aide of the president was present and was reportedly pissed by the development.
The Emir’s effusive praise of the VP, while largely welcomed at the event and across the country was seen as a deliberate attempt by the Emir to rubbish what the so-called cabal had been doing to curtail the VP and at the same time, attempting to orchestrate a feud between the President and the VP.
Informed sources said the President had already approved all the aides of the VP and stipulated those to be in the villa, and those to be in the ministries.
But by Monday, few days after the Emir of DAURA praised the VP for his loyalty and service, the presidential aide in question, allegedly mounted pressure on another top functionary of the government that all the aides deployed to the ministries should be disengaged except those sent to the new ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management & Social Development.
Top government sources added that this top government functionary was told it was the President, who made the decision, causing confusion and raising doubts about such a claim, because the President had approved all the presidential aides in the office of the VP only few weeks ago according to official correspondence between the President’s office and the office of the top government functionary.
THISDAY gathered that the top official of government in the presidency was prevailed upon after a shouting match between him and the presidential aide on the matter. The top government official was believed to have resisted the order for a few days since weekend, until he was lied to that it was what the President wanted but with no proof to such a claim.
An informed source last night said, “It was the Emir’s praise that infuriated the cabal and the buzz within government circle now is how possible is it for an aide to pervert a presidential decision that is written in black and white.”
Sources close to the President expressed concern that the latest development might worry the President, who had warned that some of the recent changes that affected the VP’s role were not misunderstood or used to embarrass him – that is the President in the perception of the Nigerian public.
Expectedly, both the APC and the Presidency had insisted that there was no rift between the President and his embattled deputy. Amidst the lingering speculations that there is disagreement between the two leaders, a presidential aide, Senator Babajide Omoworare, declared that the duo still maintained cordial relationship.
Omoworare, who is the senior special assistant to the president on National Assembly matters (Senate), was reported to have made the clarification while briefing journalists at the National Assembly Complex on Wednesday, November 6.
Also, the spokesperson to the Vice President, Laolu Akande, didn’t only deny the rumour that there was rift between the two leaders but also condemned a list being peddled around as names of those affected.
But whichever way, with the recent development, it’s believed in some quarters that the Vice-President must have been used and dumped after the February presidential election.
While some observers were of the opinion that the President must have applied his military training to push the Vice-President aside, pundits who were close to the Aso Rock politics had insisted that the development had no hand of Buhari but that of the cabal within.
The story began to change after the inauguration but didn’t take shape until after President Buhari named his ministers and it was discovered that neither Osinbajo nor former Governor of Lagos State and APC National Leader, Bola Tinubu, had little or no input in who got what in the new cabinet.
Then came the announcement of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, which though new, however, considered necessary. The ministry is conceived to provide solutions to the plight of millions of internally displaced persons as well as co-ordinate humanitarian affairs and social development in the country, including the so-called N-Power, trade money and market money.
Osinbajo had leveraged all these during the build-up to the Presidential election to approach the grassroots. At the peak of the campaign, President Buhari was so impressed that he confessed that his deputy’s activities through the house-to-house campaign and market activations had boosted the popularity of the All Progressive Congress and its candidates.
In another development, the president had felicitated well with his deputy, when the latter and nine others survived helicopter crash during the campaign in Kabba, Kogi State.
While a section of the country celebrated the new ministry and the minister-in-charge, political analysts, who understood the undercurrent chuckled. Knowing well that the decision to create the ministry was primarily to move out some of the functions under the office of the Vice President, critics of the new ministry considered it an affront. But the deed had been done.
Another signal that pointed to the fact that Osinbajo was being relegated was the President’s announcement at the close of the two-day retreat organised for the ministers, that they should always go through his Chief-of-Staff, Abba Kyari, for meeting requests and through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, for issues relating to the Federal Executive Council. He reiterated the same thing the following day while inaugurating the ministers.
He said: “As I said yesterday (Tuesday), in terms of coordinating communication, kindly ensure that all submissions for my attention or meeting requests be channeled through the Chief of Staff while all Federal Executive Council matters be coordinated through the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in order to speed up the process of decision-making.”
Immediately the announcement was made, not a few Nigerians came out to criticise the president. Despite efforts by the administration’s spin-doctors to water down the issue with the argument that it was a global practice, a section of the country and opposition voices believed the statement was deliberate made to slight Osinbajo
In what initially sent the strongest signal, Nigerians were stunned sometime back, when President Buhari dissolved Osinbajo-led economic team and announced Economic Advisory Council to fill the gap.
This advisory council will replace the current Economic Management Team, previously headed by Osinbajo. The new appointment however came with a caveat: the EAC should report directly to the President and not the Vice President.
According to a statement issued to announce the appointment, it was stated that EAC would advise the President on economic policy matters, including fiscal analysis, economic growth and a range of internal and global economic issues working with the relevant cabinet members and heads of monetary and fiscal agencies.
“The EAC will have monthly technical sessions as well as scheduled quarterly meetings with the President. The Chairman may, however, request for unscheduled meetings if the need arises,” the statement stated.
Before the furore generated by the appointment could settle, the President threw another salvo – he directed the Vice President to, henceforth, seek presidential approvals for agencies under his supervision.
With the recent development, the question on the lips of concerned Nigerians centres on how and who would save the situation. Will Buhari reverse some of these decisions on arrival from his private visit abroad? Or has Osinbajo already taken it in good faith? What roles have the APC leaders in addressing the situation? All these and more are the questions begging for answers.