The Acting President has performed remarkably in the absence of the recovering President Buhari.
80 days after President Muhammadu Buhari left the shores of Nigeria to resume medical treatment in London, he has managed to communicate with Nigerians through an ill-conceived audio recording and a photo op session and/or lunch with allies.
While leaving the country in May, the president wrote a letter to the Senate to explain his absence and, in a move that generated heated debates, noted that Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo would “coordinate the activities of the government” while he’s gone.
The wording of the president’s letter instantly brought Osinbajo’s authority into question as many wondered if Buhari wanted him to be Acting President in name and deed.
This undoubtedly led to the Acting President having to deal with questions about the legitimacy of his role, especially in the early weeks of Buhari’s departure.
Due to initial fears over Buhari’s state of health, with some fearing he might be incapacitated to continue as president, the northern part of the country slowly started to grumble that Osinbajo had to know that he couldn’t contest in the 2019 presidential elections if Buhari couldn’t, because the next president has to emerge from the north to replace him.
These misguided rumblings were nothing compared to the internal confusions that has sometimes plagued his reign as President Buhari’s aides have contradicted the Acting President on occasions.
The most embarrassing episode was in May when Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on National Assembly Matters, Ita Enang, said the 2017 budget would be signed by the absent president.
While speaking on Channels TV, Enang said, “The 2017 budget will be transmitted to Mr. President and the President will assent to the budget.”
Hours before Osinbajo signed the bill on June 12, Buhari’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, disclosed that the Acting President had been instructed by the President to sign it, despite the fact that he already had that authority vested in his office.
These were interpreted by many as a ploy to undermine Osinbajo’s growing influence as the nation’s leader.
Rumours of plots to sabotage the Acting President has grown toxic over time that the military high command has had to release statements a couple of times to deny that it was planning any coup.
Against this tumultuous backdrop, the Acting President notably signed the 2017 Appropriation Bill into law.
After receiving the bill from parliament on May 19, the Acting President studied it for weeks before he signed the N7.44 trillion Budget of Economic Recovery and Growth.
However, it wasn’t the only piece of legislation he’s had to sign in the 80 days he’s filled the seat of the commander in chief.
On May 18, he signed three executive orders that effectively helped to ease business, fast-track budget submissions and to promote Made in Nigeria products.
He also signed the Secured Transactions in Movable Assets Act, 2017 (otherwise known as Collateral Registry Act) and the Credit Reporting Act, 2017.
In June, he signed an executive order to implement Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS), a tax amnesty programme.
The scheme is an attempt by the government to increase the country’s tax base with at least an additional four million taxpayers expected to boost the numbers.
In May, under his stewardship, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the setting up of a National Forest Trust Fund meant to ensure sustainable forest development and boost revenue generation in the country.
In harmony with Buhari’s war against corruption, Osinbajo has toed the line by speaking out staunchly against the illicit acquisition of wealth by public office holders.
In a letter he sent to the G20 summit in Germany, his main focus was eradicating the scourge of corruption from the African continent.
He challenged world leaders to put their money where their mouth is by “delivering game-changing EU anti-money laundering regulations that prevent the criminal and corrupt from hiding behind anonymity and stealing Africa’s future from its people.”
During his Democracy Day address on May 29, Osinbajo said the government was planning to set up specific courts to try corruption cases.
While admitting in June that the fight against corruption has not been as successful as expected, the Acting President said, “I must say that we are permitted to ensure that we will continue to fight against corruption despite whatever obstacles are involved.”
To preserve the administration’s war on corruption, the Acting President recently had a very public clash with the country’s lawmakers when they dismissed his request to confirm a federal appointment after the presidency had ignored the Senate’s decision to reject Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Ibrahim Magu.
The Senate felt that its powers were being willfully ignored by the presidency, a feeling that escalated after the Acting President said the appointment of Magu did not require legislative approval based on Section 171 of the Nigerian constitution.
It led to a frosty couple of weeks between the executive and legislative arm of government, with observers at some point accusing the Senate of trying to overthrow Osinbajo and install Senate President, Bukola Saraki, as Acting President.
Osinbajo’s measured response to a wave of ethnically-motivated divisive rants in the country’s many regions has been one of the high points of his reign.
In early June, a coalition of northern youths released a public declaration threatening all Igbo residents in the north to leave the region before October 1, 2017, or face dire consequences.
Agitating South East groups also fired back and the country plunged into a wave of hate speeches that polluted the air.
In response to the clearly divided polity, Osinbajo organized a series of consultations with Leaders of Thought from the Northern and Eastern regions of the country, stressing to them the need to curb hate speeches from their regions to stop history from repeating itself.
In one of his most well-reasoned speeches, the Acting President had noted the importance of unity while speaking at a conference themed: Memory and Nation Building – Biafra: 50 Years After…A Sober Reflection. The event was a commemoration of the Nigerian Civil War.
During the address in May, Osinbajo said, “Instead of trying to flee into the lazy comfort of homogeneity every time we’re faced with the frustrations of living together as countrymen and women, the more beneficial way for us individually and collectively is actually to apply the effort and the patience to understand one another and to progressively aspire to create one nation bound in freedom, in peace and in unity.
“That, in a sense, should be the Nigerian Dream – the enthusiasm to create a country that provides reasons for its citizens to believe in it, a country that does not discriminate, or marginalize in any way. We are not there yet, but I believe we have a strong chance to advance in that direction.”
Much like his media team have themselves touted, President Buhari adopts a very reticent approach when it comes to responding to issues of national interest. Osinbajo has been quite the opposite.
In fact, one of the Acting President’s endearing qualities during his reign has been his vocal nature in publicly addressing topical issues.
He has openly addressed communal clashes in Cross River, Taraba, and Kaduna states, as well as the June abduction of female police officers by terrorist group, Boko Haram.
Days ago, he assured parents and guardians of the six kidnapped Lagos schoolboys of the safe return of their children, saying that the Federal Government was collaborating with the state’s authorities to ensure their freedom.
Even if only as a superficial gesture, these are some of the touches of concern for the concerns of the Nigerian population that previous leaders have largely failed at.
In what remains one of the blots on his tenure, for unexplained reasons, the Acting President has failed to inaugurate Stephen Ocheni and Suleiman Hassan as Minister of State for Employment, Labour and Productivity and Minister of Environment respectively after the two were confirmed by the Senate on May 3.
It was finally announced that the minister designates will be inaugurated before the FEC meeting today, July 26, but it goes without saying that it could have been more properly handled.
However, this does not put any significant dents on Osinbajo’s commendable leadership skills that has steered the country remarkably during a very turbulent time.
Whether it’s making a surprise stop in Garki Market in Abuja to have a conversation with traders, or defying a terrorist attack to inaugurate the distribution of 30,000 metric tonnes of grains to victims of Boko Haram in the North East, it’s incredibly hard to fault the reign of Osinbajo as a placeholder for the country’s highest office.
Two weeks ago, after months of reported communications on the phone, Osinbajo flew to London to meet ailing President Buhari at the Abuja House.
On his return, he said, “He (Buhari) is recuperating very quickly and he’s doing very well. I think we should really expect him back very shortly.”
As President Buhari’s return to the helm of affairs continues to appear imminent, Osinbajo should feel nothing but immense pride for the way he has conducted himself.