By Lindsay Barrett

            Recent events in the Nigerian polity have created unprecedented opportunities for analysts to pontificate about, and assess the performance of, the first government to have been elected to unseat an incumbent Administration in the nation’s post-colonial existence. In addition to the uniqueness of its origin the Buhari-led government has been forced to confront a set of economic challenges that appear to have hardly any precedent in the national narrative. The high cost of governance in Nigeria is a seemingly irreversible factor given the existence of thirty six State Assemblies, over seven hundred Local Government Councils, and a two-chamber National Assembly whose members have become accustomed to a luxurious allowance-driven lifestyle. For the Executive leadership headed by the President to manage and control the economic distress that both global and internal domestic exigencies have placed on its shoulders calls for a level-headed common-sense approach to some highly volatile political and social issues, which can easily be exacerbated by economic debility. Given this circumstance the sudden and prolonged unexpected absence of the President from the country as a result of health challenges that have till date neither been clearly described or explained was bound to place enormous stress on the Nigerian public’s perception of the stability and competence of the government.

In the light of the above circumstance the performance of the Vice President Prof. Yemi Osinbajo in the most difficult and troublesome role of Acting President has given many Nigerians a sense of hope and confidence in the viability of the constitutional process. Prof. Osinbajo’s seamless and almost effortless assumption of the responsibilities of the highest office in the land has been noticeably driven by a commitment to policies and objectives that reflect national ideals rather than by any element of personal ambition or political opportunism. This quality of leadership and guidance in the performance of his duty in an acting capacity might reflect a deep-seated conviction on his part, which he expressed in an address given at the Murtala Muhammed Memorial Lecture at the Yar’Adua Centre in Abuja barely a week or so after he was pronounced Acting President. In his speech he called on Nigerians to regard their leaders as being accountable for their actions in office not in the light of their regional origins but rather because of what they stand for in terms of national values. He coined a new term when he described the ideal Nigerian leader as being someone who belonged to no particular regional grouping but was rather “without tribe”. The fact that immediately after leaving the ceremony he was en-route to a town hall meeting in the heart of the Niger Delta indicated that he had decided to confront some of the more difficult obligations of Nigerian leadership head on.

Over the last few weeks Prof. Osinbajo’s actions and utterances on the subject of the intransigent problem of agitations for increased accountability in the relationship between oil-producing communities and the industry have shown a refreshing candour. His views have also revealed that an extraordinary synergy and empathy can exist between official policy and the views of human rights activists and advocates of corporate responsibility. For example in a meeting in Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State he called on all oil exploration companies to make an effort to relocate their corporate Headquarters to the Niger Delta. This has been a bone of contention between community leaders and oil companies for decades as the representatives of the oil producing communities complain that benefits that should accrue to their locations are exported to distant territories. What was most impressive in Prof. Osinbajo’s approach to this sensitive issue was the level-headed manner in which he laid out the argument in favour of relocation of the corporate headquarters to an area that has often been characterised as being inappropriate for such institutions. In reasoned tones he listed the positive attributes of such relocation and argued that benefits would accrue to all parties concerned. It remains to be seen whether his clarion call will elicit a voluntary response from the corporate bodies or whether regulatory incentives will have to be crafted to implement the policy.

The fact that Prof Osinbajo chose to voice the above subject so forthrightly reflects positively not only on his personal understanding of the issue but also on the sense of constitutional order and political balance that President Buhari’s decision to grant him acting Presidential status represented. Some observers have opined that the swift and smooth hand-over of the reins of administrative control to him indicated that the President was aware of the seriousness of the health challenges that he faced even though some of his close aides appeared to be unaware of the extent of the problem. In spite of this if Prof. Osinbajo had been reluctant to take a stand on critical issues that have confronted the Administration openly for some time it might have been interpreted as being a sign that he was merely a cipher rather than an implementer of policies that have been identified as being important elements of the Administration’s objective values. His attitude towards carrying out his functions has reassured many Nigerians that there is certainly no vacuum of leadership in the Presidency as far as administrative competence is concerned. While this might raise the hackles of some political opportunists even within the hierarchy of the party to which he owes his ascendancy his clear-headed no-nonsense approach to governance has been a refreshing revelation for many Nigerians. In a not-so surprising twist his period in office as Acting President has also seen a rise of speculation over the future of presidential contestation in Nigeria, but he has maintained a sense of decency and purpose in his utterances and remained effectively above the fray.

It is interesting that this seemingly modest and unassuming technocrat has proven to be such an adept representative of his principal in these very trying times for Nigeria. Apart from his major strategic outreach to the Niger Delta communities reports have it that he has initiated quiet moves to repair fraught relationships with political adversaries both within and outside of the ruling party. An example of this was illustrated during his visit to Port Harcourt where he appealed to members of the APC to show understanding for the problems confronting the PDP Governor Nyesom Wike who is often characterised as being the most vehement opponent of the Federal Government. His argument once again turned on the presumption that in governance it is the people’s welfare that should be paramount. In presenting such arguments as the basic building blocks of governance he reveals himself as a truly patriotic leader and virtually renders the deep dysfunction that has trailed the recent socio-political and socio-economic circumstances in the country more tolerable. In this light President Buhari’s choice of Vice President has emerged as being certainly one of the most successful decisions of his political career so far. The way and manner in which he handled the hand-over of administrative control to his Vice has also indicated to Nigerians that he has full confidence and trust in him and his abilities. An important consequence of this circumstance is that almost without any effort Prof. Osinbajo has stamped the hall-marks of common sense and responsibility onto the affairs of a government that had appeared to be drifting to an increasing extent in recent times. In fact Prof. Osinbajo’s successful handling of his onerous assignment gives meaning to the advocacy of a famous opponent of his party. Nigeria’s world class impresario and entertainment promoter now turned PDP Senator, Ben Murray-Bruce, has a popular radio slot in which he promotes his pet policies of governance saying “Ï just want to make common sense”: In the general tone and tenor of his actions and utterances Prof. Osinbajo has been driving an agenda of performance that contains a good dose of common sense.


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