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Osinbajo’s fantasy of presidential infallibility

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Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo

Weighed down by a lack of direction and adherence to constitutionality that is a high point of fidelity to democratic norms, the President Muhammadu Buhari government keeps on spawning despair in the land, with massive economic collapse leading to rampant suicide.

Amid this, Buhari’s deputy Professor Yemi Osinbajo appears to represent an illustrious exemplar of sanity in this government. Although decades of serial disappointments by political leaders have made the citizens to cease trusting them, there has been the hope that Osinbajo could be a different kind of political leader who is only actuated by a desire to serve the people and improve their lot.

But at first, Osinbajo proved not to be different from other politicians. The citizens wondered why some illegalities like the government disobeying court rulings and sacking university vice chancellors before the end of their tenures could take place while he is the vice president. He has been silenced by the perks of public office, so the citizens thought.

Then came the medical vacation of the president. Osinbajo seized the moment and renewed the citizens’ hope in government. He attempted to give a sense of belonging to some neglected parts of the country such as the Niger Delta whose oil is being exploited while the indigenes are being impoverished through the loss of their livelihoods and exposure to the perils of ecological devastation of the region. He thus became the poster boy of possibilities that align with the wishes of the people in a democratic dispensation.

But since the return of Buhari, a certain change has occurred in the political life of Osinbajo that would make the citizens to doubt if he is really for them. What we now see is an Osinbajo who is no longer concerned about respecting the tenets of democracy. Again, we are faced with an Osinbajo who is ready to give expression to the inanities of the Buhari government like his boss and any other official. This change has been fully manifested in his interaction with journalists who gathered for a media chat at his residence in Abuja. The event was organised by the Presidency’s Office of Digital Engagement to create a format for improved engagement with the government by the media.

At the event, Osinbajo jolted those who hitherto believed in his good judgment by declaring that Ibrahim Magu could remain as the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) without the approval of the Senate. He went further to say that even the president did not need the approval of the Senate for Magu to function as the EFCC chairman. As a law professor, he cited Section 1(71) of the Nigerian Constitution as evidence that the government did not even need to have produced Magu to be cleared by the Senate at all.

While we may leave this aspect of the constitution to lawyers, the fact remains that even if it is true that Magu can remain as the chair of the EFCC without the approval of the Senate, the issue has gone beyond this argument. Rather, the argument now is that Magu has credibility problems. Again, lawyers often disagree on the interpretation of the law, so Osinbajo has only offered his own understanding of the constitution concerning the appointment of Magu and not the final position of his colleagues in the legal profession and other citizens. While Buhari is insisting that Magu must remain as EFCC chair, he has not deemed it necessary to sanction the DSS that misled the Senate into thinking that Magu is corrupt.

Osinbajo defended the detention of Shi’ite leader, Ibrahim El-Zakzaky, and former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki. By his position, the presidency has insisted that it has more wisdom to decide what is better for the country than the legislature or the judiciary. This accounts for the presidency choosing the court rulings it would either obey or reject. But how does this serve the purpose of democracy that makes room for the separation of powers? Yes, the Buhari government has succeeded at portraying the judiciary as the bastion of corruption. But before it decides the verdicts to reject, the government should be able to tell the citizens if such verdicts were influenced by corrupt motives or not. Otherwise, this selective acceptance of court verdicts only serves the parochial interests of Buhari and his cohorts. Since the presidency is omniscient, and loves the country more than others, it might as well work towards scrapping the legislature and the judiciary, leaving the presidency as a monarchy headed by Buhari.

The danger is that as Buhari is selecting the court verdicts to obey, anarchy looms. For if the spectre of the courts not being obeyed because they have not ruled in the favour of the government hangs over the citizens, why must those aggrieved go to courts to resolve issues on which they disagree? This is why for the sake of the country, the legislature and the judiciary must be vigilant. They must not allow those who claim to love the country better than them to usurp their powers.

As we watch Osinbajo being sucked in by the politics of survival in a political office, we are reminded of Joseph Conrad’s Kurtz in the Heart of Darkness. Kurtz is the character Conrad portrays as the embodiment of the western enlightenment that is being chaperoned to benighted Africa. But the tragedy is that this bearer of Western civilisation becomes consumed by the barbarian practices he has come to wean native Africans off. The impression Osinbajo has given is that Aso Rock is like the heart of darkness that consumes everyone who goes there no matter his promise of difference before his arrival there.

We do not question the intellectual credentials of Osinbajo. Indeed, his type is welcome on a political landscape that has been dominated by those without university degrees – of course, notwithstanding the dismal performance of Goodluck Jonathan with a cocktail of degrees. But what the citizens are interested in is how he has brought these sterling intellectual credentials to bear on their lot. As it is now, Osinbajo has been caught up in the groupthink of Aso Rock or he has deliberately lent his intellectual powers to the legitimisation of the misdeeds of the Buhari government. Of course, we realise the need for him to be loyal to his boss. But the expectation is not out of place that given his intellectual attainments, when there is a clash between loyalty to the president and the constitution of the country, he would readily align with the latter.

But for now, this is not the case. It is left to him to use the remaining part of the tenure of the Buhari government to redeem himself. He must purge himself of the notion that the presidency is suffused with patriotism that no individual or group can rival. With all the missteps of Buhari in just two years that have intolerably worsened the plight of the citizens, it is ludicrous for Osinbajo to espouse the infallibility of the presidency as a badge of loyalty to his principal.


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Yemi Osi­nbajo

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