Fresh facts have emerged on why President Muhammadu Buhari appears to be reducing the powers and functions of his deputy, Prof Yemi Osinbajo.
A source in the Presidential Villa confided in The PUNCH that members of the cabal in the Presidency were bitter about the roles played by the Vice-President, when he stood in for Buhari, when the latter went on medical leave.
The source cited the emergence of Walter Onnoghen as the substantive Chief Justice of the Federation and the removal of Lawal Daura as the Director-General of the Department of State Services on August 7, 2018 as two of their grievances against Osinbajo.
Buhari had on November 10, 2016 sworn in Onnoghen in acting capacity despite the recommendation of the National Judicial Council, which stated that he should be appointed as Chief Justice of Nigeria being the most senior justice of the Supreme Court.
The President did not forward Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for consideration despite public outcry.
Recall that it was Osinbajo, who acted as President, during Buhari’s absence from the country, that forwarded Onnoghen’s name to the Senate on February 7, 2017 and swore him in on March 7, 2017.
Also, the Federal Government had on January 15, 2019 arraigned the ex-CJN before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.
But Osinbajo had during a conference of the Online Publishers Association of Nigeria, claimed Buhari was not aware of Onngohen’s trial until Saturday, January 12.
The Vice-President, who at the event, expressed misgiving about the trial of Onnoghen and other judges, had said, “It has consequences such as we have today, such that people say how can such an important person be subjected to trial without the Federal Government.”
He had also said Buhari believed that there should not be interference by the executive in other organs of government.
But the President did not wait for Onnoghen’s trial at the CCT to be concluded before suspending him on January 25.
Also, Osinbajo, when he was acting President, removed Daura, as the director-general of the DSS on August 7, 2018 and appointed Matthew Seiyefa, who was kicked out by Buhari in September of the same year.
The source, who confided in one of our correspondents, attributed Osinbajo’s travails to the roles he played in Onnoghen’s issue and Daura’s removal.
The source said, “The VP underestimated the level of vindictiveness some of these people have towards him.
“They accused Osinbajo of sidelining them when he took critical decisions during Buhari’s medical leave. If you remember, there was a lot of drama surrounding the confirmation hearing of (Walter) Onoghen and the removal of Daura.
“They were also not happy about the issue of the presidential panel on recovery of public assets. Obono-Obla developed a life of his own in handling the assignment given to him. They thought the VP was supposed to have checked him.
But a top member of the All Progressives Congress, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the situation as “sad” and “beyond mere words.”
The source said, “Those of us within the party are onlookers in this matter. They are turning this 2023 game dirty because how can you explain what is happening to the Vice-President who brought in class and finesse into government?
“It’s possible some persons around the President made some discoveries about the VP’s handling of certain issues and were able to convince him (Buhari) to whittle down his powers.
“Whatever is happening cannot be hidden for too long. Without doubt certain individuals within and outside the villa are taking advantage of the situation.”
Another party stalwart, however, said nothing out of the ordinary was happening.
The party stalwart, who also wished to remain anonymous because “the issue is purely within the purview of the President,” said, “It’s just a storm in a tea cup; there is nothing unusual happening.”
In response to a question on the replacement of the Osibajo-led Economic Management Team with the Prof Doyin Salami-led Economic Advisory Council, he said, “There is a new energy to refocus government to revamp the economy.
“Whether it is the Vice-President that is the driver of the economic management team or not, all of them are still reporting to the President.
“The Vice President has a constitutional role to play and he is playing it. I don’t know why some people want to create a rift between the Vice-President and his principal.
“If the President is saying this (economic) route that we’ve taken in the last four years has not yielded the desired results, let us go another route is there anything wrong with that?
“I don’t think what is happening is meant to slight the Vice-President. It is not a sign that the President has lost or is losing confidence in the VP.”
EMT scrapping won’t affect governance– VP’s office
When contacted, the Office of the Vice-President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, insisted on Wednesday that governance was not affected in any way by Monday’s scrapping of the Economic Management Team by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Osinbajo hitherto chaired the EMT, which superintended over the economic programmes of the present administration.
In place of the EMT, Buhari named an Economic Advisory Council with Prof Doyin Salami as the chairman.
Other members are Dr Mohammed Sagagi (vice-chairman); Prof Ode Ojowu; Dr Shehu Yahaya; Dr Iyabo Masha; Prof Chukwuma Soludo; Mr Bismark Rewane; and Dr Mohammed Adaya Salisu (secretary).
Buhari further directed that the new EAC would report directly to him.
“The Economic Advisory Council will 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 Presidency had stated.
The scrapping of the EMT had fuelled speculation that it appeared the VP’s powers were being reduced.
But, his office told The PUNCH on Wednesday that the business of governance would continue, in spite of the dissolution of the EMT.
His Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mr Laolu Akande, while responding to enquiries by The PUNCH, following the speculation, stated, “Governance continues. The business of governance is not affected by the EMT dissolution in any way.”
Akande also maintained that there was only one Presidency, adding that the speculations were entirely unnecessary. “There is only one Presidency,” he told The PUNCH.
Aside from the scrapped EMT, Osinbajo oversees some agencies: the National Emergency Management Agency; the National Boundary Commission; and the Border Communities Development Agency.
The VP chairs the boards of NEMA and the Niger Delta Power Holding Company.
Amid speculation on Tuesday that a Monday memo from Buhari allegedly directed Osinbajo to seek his approval before taking decisions on any agencies under his watch, the VP’s office vehemently denied it.
One source informed The PUNCH on Wednesday that in government, it was the normal practice for memos to pass between top officials of government.
“A lot of memos are exchanged every day.
“But, at this level of government, you would not say a memo was written specifically raising due process issues over the VP,” the source added.
In its response on Tuesday, the VP’s office had described the alleged memo as “false.”
“This is obviously misleading and aims only to plant seeds of discord in the Presidency, while attempting to create unnecessary national hysteria”, it stated.
Osinbajo’s office further noted, “The agencies in question are established by law and the Vice-President has always insisted on due compliance with the enabling statutes and other established regulations.
“Depending on the particular scope of activity in question, agencies may require management approval only, at the level of the Director-General or Chief Executive Officer. In this category falls the great majority of their day-to-day activities.
“However, other activities, or procurements, with value exceeding a certain threshold, require board approval. These may get to the agency board chaired by the Vice-President. In a few cases where Presidential approval is required, the Director-General must seek such approval from the President, through the Vice-President.
“These rules have always guided the activities of statutory agencies and the ones under the Vice-President’s supervision have always been so guided.”
Osinbajo’s economic team dissolved for good reasons – Adesina
The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said the economic management team led by the Vice-President was dissolved for good reason and better management.
Adesina said this during an interview on Channels Television’s ‘Politics Today’ programme on Wednesday.
When asked if the dissolution of Osinbajo’s economic team signalled friction between the President and his deputy, Addesina said, “Nothing out of the ordinary is going on. Governance continues and the Presidency remains one. And this Presidency just wants to do what’s best for Nigeria.
“But unfortunately our country is one in which even if a 100-year-old man dies, people will still want to find out what killed him.
“In Nigeria there are too many inferences from things that are just normal and natural; things that are designed to accelerate governance and make sure there is probity and accountability. They will find all sorts of inferences. All that President Buhari has done particularly this week is just to tweak governance and get the best for Nigerians.”
The President’s spokesman said he was not aware of alleged plans by the Presidency to remove the Social Investment Programme from Osinbajo’s control.
He said the new economic advisory council which would report directly to the President, could sometimes defer to the Vice-President when the need arose.
Adesina added, “You seem to forget that the Vice-President is the number two man in the country. If the President is away, the Vice-President acts because it is a joint ticket. Therefore, the new economic advisory body can also relate with the Vice-President when necessary.
“It is just some Nigerians who want to drive a wedge between the President and the Vice-President that read meaning to everything. They insinuate about everything. It is still one Presidency and decisions taken are best for the country.”
When asked when the new economic council led by Prof. Doyin Salami would be inaugurated, Adesina said he had no idea but promised that it would be communicated to Nigerians in due course.
APC debunks crack in Presidency
When contacted for his reaction, the APC National Publicity Secretary, Lanre Issa-Onilu, debunked insinuations of a crack in the presidency.
He said, “It is irrelevant and a non-issue. It is just an attempt to create an issue where there is none.”
We are watching – Afenifere
The Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, says from the look of things, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo’s office has been rendered useless, impotent and irrelevant.
It, however, said it would be too early to speculate if Osinbajo’s ordeal was caused by any misdemeanour on his part or if it was based on permutations ahead of the general election in 2023.
The Spokesman for Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said this during an interview with The PUNCH on Wednesday.
He said, “We are watching as events unfold. We are studying the situation but we must also not muddle up issues. For now we will not jump into any premature conclusion that this is about 2023 alone. We will need to know if we will need more information to know whether it is political or whether there was abuse of office or process.
“But the barrage of the last 48 hours shows that there is something wrong. We will wait to have all the facts because we don’t want to say a Yoruba man is being attacked.
“They may have had a justifiable reason to do so. But we are taking note of every development and at the appropriate time, we will make our position known. But clearly, what has happened is that the VP’s office has been rendered impotent, useless and irrelevant.
The Economic Management Team led by Osinbajo was suddenly dissolved on Monday and replaced with an advisory council that would report directly to President Muhammadu Buhari.
It was learnt that some of the agencies like NEMA, would rather deal directly with the President than Osinbajo.
There are also reports that some of Osinbajo’s aides had been transferred out of the Presidential Villa and seconded to some Ministries Departments and Agencies.
The Presidency, it was reported, was planning stripping the Vice-President of his brainchild known as the Social Investment Programme which comprises the Trader Moni initiative, N-Power, school feeding programme and others.
The welfare programme is expected to be placed under the newly created Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development headed by Sadiya Umar.