Wed. Oct 27th, 2021

Re: Nigeria 2023: Osinbajo’s chances grow slimmer as cabal tightens grip on presidency

BY ARUKAINO UMUKORO

The Africa Report has an understandable fascination with Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President of Nigeria, given that stories about him help to sell copy and boost its online trends. This is understandable, but its recent coverage of him does The Africa Report no credit in the eyes of well-meaning observers.

Contrary to the impression put out in the article titled ‘Nigeria: 2023: Osinbajo’s chances grow slimmer as cabal tightens grip on presidency’, which was published on Tuesday, July 27, 2021, Prof Osinbajo maintains his reputation as a hardworking, diligent, loyal and much-loved deputy to Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari.

The article in question repeats and repackages lies and mischievous rumours to fit into a false narrative. So, I am putting out this response to set the records straight.  It would be tedious and time-wasting to debunk each and every one of the lies and twisting of facts, but I will respond to them in summary form before proceeding to show that the conclusions reached by Mr. Akin Irede, the writer of the said article, are wrong and misleading.

The assertion that several of VP Osinbajo’s aides were sacked is false and was publicly denied by President Buhari himself. A false assertion.

The claim that the Vice President nominated Nigeria’s former Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, as Minister is laughable. The President appoints his Ministers, and if someone nominated Dr. Enelamah, he can confirm whom it was. A good journalist would have sought his views. Another false claim.

A simple fact check would have shown that it was President Buhari that nominated Mr. Ibrahim Magu as then Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in November 2015.  Surely, he who appoints can also decide to change his appointment. A false contention.

The same argument applies to the former Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Babatunde Fowler, who, by the way, was chosen to head FIRS because of his outstanding performance at the Lagos State Internal Revenue Service (LIRS). The fact that Lagos State is one of those that does not depend on allocations from the centre for its budgetary needs is proof of this. Again, pure mischief by The Africa Report writer.

In terms of the sack of former Director-General of the Department of State Security, Mr. Lawal Daura. An up-to-date journalist with the presence of mind would have noted the statement of Mr. Femi Adesina, Presidential Spokesman, that President Buhari was fully aware of the events that led to the sacking of Mr Daura. A false postulation.

Turning the issue involving the Chief of Staff to the President at the coronation of the Emir of Kano into a matter of state policy is yet another example of a writer bent on being mischievous. The Chief of Staff who turned up for the coronation of his nephew read out the congratulatory letter of the President to the Emir out at the ceremony. Is this now a matter of State policy? Mischief again.

There are many other such inaccuracies, but the point has been made. So, let me now turn to the meat of the matter, which is the insinuation by Africa Report that Prof. Osinbajo is being sidelined and made ineffective. Really?

President Buhari – a retired military officer who is well known for keeping his counsel, AND for speaking his mind when the occasion demands – has this to say about Prof. Osinbajo: Felicitating with the VP on his 61st birthday, the President thanked him “for being a loyal and dependable partner”, and wished him “many more years of service to God, to Nigeria, and to humanity.”

Recently, the President, again, commended Prof. Osinbajo’s loyalty and dedication, stating that “the intellectual capacity of the Vice-President has impacted positively on the overall accomplishments of the Federal Government, most notably, in the economic and social intervention programmes.”

This is not how to sideline someone.

Prof. Osinbajo continues in his constitutional role as Chair of the National Economic Council (NEC), which continues to coordinate national and state efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, during the EndSARS protests in 2020, the Osinbajo-led NEC directed the establishment of state judicial panels nationwide in Nigeria to investigate issues of police brutality and provide compensation and justice to victims. NEC has also recently signed off on the Infraco, which is a $15bn fund to provide and build infrastructure in Nigeria.  The Council has also been actively engaged in helping States to manage their financial difficulties that arose as an effect of the pandemic.

The Vice President also undertakes specific tasks assigned to him by the President.  He was put in charge of the Economic Sustainability Committee set up to design a national response to the economic fallout of COVID-19.  The ESC came up with the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) which is credited with helping the Nigerian economy to exit the COVID-19 induced recession. Some key programmes of the ESP which are impacting of lives of ordinary Nigerians, include the MSME Survival Fund, which extended direct payroll support to employees of small companies and to artisans and transport workers. Similarly, over 1 million people were supported under this scheme.

In the same vein, similar in impact is the registration of 6 million farmers who have been geo-tagged to their land and will be receiving support from selected partners to regard to inputs and guaranteed off-take of their produce under the ESP Agro scheme.  The ESP Mass Housing scheme and the Solar Naija schemes are also programmes being implemented under the supervision of the ESC. The National Gas Expansion Programme, which has a key role in helping to reduce the dependence of Premium Motor Spirit (PMS) and avoid the social tensions that accompany the efforts to remove the fuel subsidy, is an integral part of the ESP.

The Africa Report article makes much ado about the Social Investment Programmes (SIPs), despite the explanation that the creation of a Ministry was intended to institutionalise it and turn it from an initiative into an enduring programme.  Not surprisingly therefore, the extension of the SIPs was part and parcel of the ESP, including the creation of a Rapid Response Register intended to make direct cash transfers to the urban poor.

Another Presidential assignment recently given to the Vice President is for him to Chair the Steering Committee of the National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy, which is the flagship programme for lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty within a decade.

Vice President Osinbajo is also leading several pathbreaking initiatives with an inter-Ministerial remit, such as the Nigerian Innovation Programme which is being established as a $500m fund in partnership with the African Development Bank Group (AfDB) and others. Similarly, being established under ambit of the Vice President is a Jubilee Fellows Programme which will recruit 20,000 graduates post-NYSC in work placement schemes.

The truth is that Prof. Osinbajo continues to be very much in demand to lead major Federal Government initiatives and is swamped by requests for interviews, invitations to speaking engagements and proposals to give him awards at home and abroad. He has become the voice of developing countries in calling for a just transition to net zero emissions by 2050, especially with regard to ensuring the continued funding of gas projects since gas is less polluting that oil and coal.

In the face of all these facts, one wonders whether or not The Africa Report writer, Mr. Akin Irede, has allowed misguided sentiments, few vested individuals and bias to influence his conclusions. After all, proper fact-checking and objective analysis of truth, rather than falsehood and misrepresentations, should be the hallmarks of journalistic pieces.

Arukaino Umukoro
Special Assistant on Communication Projects, Presidency, Nigeria

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