October 26, 2021

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Should Yemi Osinbajo leave now?

By ETIM ETIM

In the midst of the turmoil enveloping the country and the government’s inadequate response so far, some Nigerians are wondering if Vice President Yemi Osinbajo shouldn’t quit the government. They argue that the VP’s inability to influence the President to change his ways has rendered Prof Osinbajo otiose in the scheme of things. Across the nation, especially in the beleaguered communities in the middle belt and Southern Nigeria, the people are asking why Osinbajo cannot help to stop the violence.

In a social media chat room I belong to, a university teacher wrote recently: ‘’what is Prof Yemi Osinbajo still doing in the government? Are his views still being respected? Has he advised the President to run a more inclusive government’’? Others are suggesting that the VP should speak out against what they regard as the ills of the Buhari administration. ‘’I think the Vice President should be bold enough to challenge the President on the continued marginalization of a section of the country’’, writes Engr Emeka Nweke on his Facebook wall.

In many social media platforms, the debate is raging on how the VP should respond to the crisis in the land. But the discussions have overlooked an important Constitutional point: A Vice President does not exercise his own power independent of the President; and no matter how strongly he feels about a policy, it would be politically dangerous for the nation for him to break ranks with the boss. The job of a VP under a Presidential system is probably the most frustrating in the world, even when the occupant understands his or her role clearly.

No matter how knowledgeable he or she is or how sound his or her ideas are, the occupant should stand by the actions of the government he serves, otherwise he quits in anger! There are those who think such anger is useful but only for their tunnel vision and one-sided outlook on things. And I mean even in the circumstances of the nation today.

The question then is: should this VP resign if he does not agree with certain unpopular actions of the government?

My personal opinion is that it would not serve any important purpose to the VP himself or Nigerians as a whole if Osinbajo quits the government out of frustration. He should continue in his work, especially in the economic front till the last day in 2023. Let me explain.

One, the office of the VP is a public trust and is bigger than the occupant, his personal interests and agenda. Even if some says he is not always consulted, the fact that he has secured some space to make certain happen in this country is an outcome that encourages his continued stay. Osinbajo will serve the greater interest of ordinary Nigerians for whom he is a voice within, if he remains in office.

Two, in the last six years, the VP has made a big difference in practically every important agenda of this administration such as the Social Investment Program (SIP), Economic Sustainability Program (ESP), Micro Small Medium Enterprises Clinics, Technology and Innovation Programs of the government.

Take the ESP as an example. This program was designed by the VP and a team the President puts together last year to protect the economy against the negative fallouts of the pandemic. The same President asked the VP to serve as its Chair.

So far there are already about half a million beneficiaries of the Payroll Support element of the plan and many other beneficiaries like Artisans and also the Business Formalization Support Track of the Survival Fund under the ESP. In all, over 1.5million beneficiaries will be impacted.

For the most vulnerable, the Osinbajo led team launched a Cash Transfer Scheme facilitated through a wholly technology-based approach called the Rapid Response Register with plans to give one million households N5,000 monthly Cash Transfer for six months.

The Social Investment Programmes (under VP’s Office up till 2019) covered over 12 million direct beneficiaries nationwide, and this included Homegrown School Feeding Programme in 35 States feeding 9.9million children. More than 107,000 cooks are engaged to prepare these meals for the school children. Think of the jobs created for the cooks, the market created for the farm products, the added nutrition to the school kids and the enhanced school enrolments.

In the N-Power scheme, over 500,000 graduates have been employed, in addition to over 2.3million market women, traders, artisans and farmers across all 36 states of the country and FCT, under Government Enterprise & Empowerment Programme, GEEP.  More than three million poor and vulnerable households have registered on the National Social Register and more than one million families are currently benefiting from Conditional Cash Transfer.

The administration has given unprecedented Support to MSMEs in the country. For example, the MSME Clinics have been held in 27 States, twice in Ebonyi, across the country including the FCT. Over 400,000 MSMEs have so far participated in the MSME clinics nationwide securing significant support for their businesses. About 300,000 new business names have been registered by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) at a reduced 50% price of N5000, down from the normal N10, 000. Besides under the ESP almost 250,000 new businesses have been registered free of charge especially from young people.

In addition, seven One-Stop Shops have been established for MSMES in Cross River, Kwara, FCT, Abia, Bauchi, Osun and Plateau States.

The federal government has also launched Shared Facilities for MSMEs in Oyo, Bauchi, Benue and Lagos. This is to allow MSMEs which do not possess the financial capacity to own their equipment the opportunity to go into a fully equipped cluster-style facility to pay a token to use such equipment. This makes it possible for the small businesses to tap into economies of scale.

In the area of technology and innovation, Prof Osinbajo has also made significant contributions. He could be seen inspiring young people all across the country in that sector and mobilizing international technology giants to make things happen in the country.

The VP’s involvement in tech brought about the following:

Microsoft opened an African Development Center in Lagos in 2019 employing engineers building Microsoft products for global use. This was as a result of the meeting the VP had with the leadership of Microsoft on the 10th of November, 2015 where Microsoft promised a significant presence on the African continent and Nigeria in particular.

Google Inc. in July 2020 announced plans to establish its first Google Launchpad Space outside the United States in Lagos.

Facebook, in September 2020, made public its decision to open an office in Lagos as part of its planned expansion in Sub-Saharan Africa. This should materialize this year.

HUAWEI on the other hand last November promised the Vice President that the company will position Nigeria as a technology centre for the African continent and give more jobs to young Nigerians.

The business community has also acknowledged the administration’s initiatives on Ease Of Doing Business. The work of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (inaugurated by President Buhari in August 2016) and the Enabling Business Environment Secretariat (EBES) has resulted in Nigeria moving up 39 places on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business rankings since 2016. In the last three years, Nigeria has twice been adjudged one of 10 Most Improved Economies in the Rankings. Even though there has been some setbacks, no one can say by being there pushing for the reforms relentlessly, the business community is not better served by a VP such as Osinbajo.

Besides, Nigerians cannot forget so soon the role of Yemi Osinbajo in the dissolution of SARS and advocacy for pro-people policing before and in the aftermath of the crisis of October last year. We all saw that it was VP Osinbajo who influenced the President to disband SARS as a unit of the Police Force. The VP also brought about the idea of judicial panels in all States of the Federation to deal with cases of police brutality. This was adopted by State Governors at the National Economic Council.

A constitutional lawyer, the VP is an active advocate and enabler of Rule of Law in government. While he is not the Attorney-General it is clear that for his own responsibilities, he has often stood for the rule of law and in the interest of all Nigerians, regardless of ethnicity.

It was Osinbajo (then as Acting President) who fired the former DG, SSS, when he violated the sanctity of the National Assembly and violated the Nigerian constitution. Osinbajo defended democracy and described the invasion as an assault on Nigeria’s democracy that should not be tolerated. There has never been a more vocal edification of democracy in Nigeria from a sitting government official in Nigeria, especially from the government in the center.

Also, Osinbajo saved the party, APC, from litigation and potential national crisis when he suggested APC EXCO members become Caretakers when an idea to dissolve duly elected party executives was whimsically put forward.

In the early days of the administration, it was Osinbajo that the President tapped to embark on a peace-keeping mission across the Niger Delta states. He met with stakeholders and people in the region to ensure that peace and stability are maintained. This ended the series of pipeline explosions, restored the maximum oil productivity and helped terminate the 2016 recession. Today the Niger Delta people are grateful for the take-off of the Nigerian Maritime University in Okerenkoko, Delta State. The University was granted approval in January 2018 by the National Universities Commission (NUC) to commence undergraduate degree programmes effective 2017/18 session. Academic activities started on April 12, 2018. President Buhari approved N5 billion in take-off grant for the Maritime University.

The National Livestock Transportation Plan (NLTP) is also a creation of NEC, which is chaired by the VP. Members include State Governors. I should note that NLTP is completely distinct from the now-suspended RUGA. The RUGA initiative was suspended by President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2019. The VP had publicly and rather courageously rejected RUGA and instead articulated the NLTP which has six pillars through which it aims to transform the livestock production system in Nigeria, including through ranching along a market-oriented value chain while ensuring an atmosphere of peace and justice.

Furthermore, Osinbajo through another initiative ensured the provision of solar power to markets around the country such as Ariaria in Aba, Sabon Gari in Kano, Sura in Lagos as part of the energizing economies initiative of the Rural Electrification Agency. He also commissioned solar power plants in Universities such as Alex Ekwueme University, in Ebonyi and Bayero University.

By all standards, I think Prof Osinbajo has been the most influential, consequential and impactful Vice President in our history. It is quite painful to some of us that the huge achievements of this administration and the immense contributions of some like the VP have been pushed to the background by incessant sad news of killings and kidnappings. It is the failures that seem to have drowned out the successes, but quitting in the middle of the game is never the attribute of the bold and courageous. Prof. Osinbajo should weather the storm rather than leave in frustration, after all Nigerians elected him alongside the President. If he wins some confidence from the President but looses out in other areas, it is just the way life happens.

This is therefore not the time for Osinbajo to quit. The nation needs him in the years to come. His influence is good in the circumstances, that is the balance.

Etim, a veteran journalist formerly of The Guardian writes from Abuja