Opinion: Osinbajo: At the Villa without Buhari

By Fola Ojo

These are bemusing times in Nigeria. With low oil prices, plummeting naira, and rising inflation; the economy remains straddled between hope and despair. The 2017 budget scheduled to jumpstart growth through capital spending on rails, roads, and power is not yet law. Fiscal shortfall from downward prices of oil is sending the country into the valley of the shadow of debt, and more debt. Citizens are lamenting daily; over 62 per cent of the population is entombed in poverty, and the economic diversification has not yet translated into a significant state worth celebrating. You are not wrong if you say that Nigeria’s economy is fundamentally strong, and you are also right if you observe that lack of infrastructure and metastasising corruption are part of the cruel mitigating monsters against societal progress today.

Inter-ethnic quagmires aren’t letting up. Plangent noise to leave Nigeria is illimitably coming out of the camp of Biafra clamourers in the South-East. A few isolated voices of dissent are rising in the South-West; and northern youths giving marching orders to the Igbo to get out of towns and villages in a Northern Nigeria axis ravaged by Boko Haram. The poor are getting poorer as the rich continue to have the last laugh. President Muhammadu Buhari is recuperating in London; and Yemi Osinbajo is acting as President. Between and betwixt, I and many others continue to hope for better days that seem slow in coming.

I recently rounded off a nine-day trip to Nigeria.  I stayed put in the capital city of Abuja to feel the breeze of government and assess the thuds of Nigeria’s faintly-beating pulse and overworked cardio-pulmonary system. I stopped by the Aso Villa, the heartbeat of governance in Nigeria, to salute my two brothers in the eye of the storm speaking for the President. It’s a tough job working for the government these days; especially if all you do to stabilise and salvage the broken ship of government attracts no salutation, adulation, adoration, or appreciation. Those who work for the government with their hearts, with no hidden agenda, are doing so for God. Their rewards will not only wait for them at the gates of heaven; they’ll get them big here on earth too. That’s my belief.

I felt a different air when I stepped into the premises of the vast expanse of Aso Rock Villa. Immediately, I thought about President Buhari. That is his territory. But he was not in the villa. I kept communing in my heart that God must bring the President back hale and hearty. The distracting sickness was never part of the bargain for Nigeria and the General whose agenda was to cleanse the house, fumigate the Augean Stable, mop up the rut, kill corruption, and make the corrupt accountable for their evils. But he is on a sick bed now thousands of miles away. Well, Buhari is a soldier. He was trained to weather contrary storms. He will be all right.

At the Villa, I kept thinking about ordinary Nigerians who have nowhere else to go, and nothing to fall back on in these difficult times. I refer to those who, even before Buhari came to power, couldn’t feed their families. They are stuck in villages and hamlets deep in poverty and hunger. They are also in big cities forlorn, frustrated; and crestfallen. Young girls have now resorted to prostitution as a way of escape from hunger.  Young boys continue with crime to stay alive. At the toss of the naira, you can have anybody do anything good or bad on your behalf.

My mind then shifted to Yemi Osinbajo. The Acting President must have been shell-shocked when he was nominated to run with Buhari in the 2015 presidential election. Very few Nigerians, even in Lagos where he had served as the Attorney General, remembered the name. He is a man who just a few years ago never thought about carrying the burden of about 185 million people on his shoulders. Osinbajo must have had some ambition in life; but I am not certain if the position of the Acting President of an intricate nation like Nigeria could be one of his possible fathomable cravings. But FATE, probably swathed up in FAITH, put him on the seat. Osinbajo is in charge today in an acting capacity.

The position of the Acting President is a head-scratcher. In a country like Nigeria where all assumptions hover around ethnicity and religion; it is a Brobdingnagian conundrum. The other day, kids in Calabar sandwiched Osinbajo with love on a visit. I heard they now sing his name in a special Kalabari song. He is smooched by school kids, loved by market women; and beloved by the unemployed youths. This is a big problem for the crippling and controlling cabal hanging around.

Will the Acting President be able to function according to the dictates of his heart with these men breathing down his neck?  I have read what Section 145 of the 1999 Constitution says about the duties of the Acting President. Upon that premise, Osinbajo now runs Nigeria’s affairs. But the provision in that slot of the constitution is the written law. Be reminded that Nigeria is also ruled by unwritten laws. Can Osinbajo rejig the cabinet if he wants to? Can he move men around without any feeling of betrayal to his principal who appointed them? Evil conspiracy theorists who think not about Nigeria but selves are already flying some ethnic and religious accusations against the man. They want him to act out a script, not act as President. But this Acting President who enjoys the full backing of his principal is standing strong and tough. Nigerians later found out that the manufactured story of hate was far from the truth.

Nigeria is now by the Biblical Red Sea. A people contending with the monster are striving to surge into the Promised Land. How do we cross over? Nigeria needs a Moses with an outstretched right hand over the sea, and a rod in the left. There are very many Nigerians with cerebral and leadership acuity to run Nigeria’s affairs successfully. And you will find these people spread across all ethnic groups of Nigeria. They may be quiet; but they possess the quietening medicament to the storm hitting Nigeria today. I am not yet sure if Osinbajo is Nigeria’s Moses, but Buhari believes he is one of very many quiet Nigerians with cerebral acuity to successfully run Nigeria’s affairs. I side with the President. We have seen a bit of what Osinbajo can do. But how much can he accomplish amidst a horde of dastardly intrigues of powerful and trammelling men and women who have different drives and strives? It will be determined in weeks and months to come as the Acting President navigates the treacherous purlieu of power.

What matters most now is the critical assignment to get Nigeria out of the woods by whoever is God’s chosen vessel. Nigerians have sacrificed too much for too long. Asking them to sacrifice some more may sound mean and deliberately tormenting. But maybe a little bit more this time round will reshape the system and smoothen ugly wrinkles in economy. That’s our hope. That’s why I join others sermonising PATIENCE with this team. PATIENCE is a virtue that will always take a man to his destination and destiny faster and safer than the Jumbo jet. Punch

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