Prof. Osinbajo: Southwest region and unusual politics of silence
When late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua took ill and was flown to a Saudi Arabian hospital for treatment in 2009, the civil society and vocal politicians, majority of them from the Southwest geo-political zone, shouted themselves hoarse on the need to abide by the letters of the constitution and transmute executive powers to Vice-President Goodluck Jonathan in acting capacity.
During the unprecedented situation that tested the workability of the Nigerian constitution, the ability of the people to demand for the needful and the ingenuity of the National Assembly to provide temporary solutions, the usual centrifugal forces that are always at play at critical moments of definition of nationhood in Nigeria, were at full throttles.
Rather than allow the system to take care of the circumstances as contained in the constitution and if need be, infuse institutional corrections, the situation became one that exposed the weakness of the fabric of unity that bound the Nigerian federation together.
The North which saw in Yar’Adua, the first opportunity to have a taste of executive power since the return of democracy in 1999, was not comfortable with passing the baton of authority to Jonathan’s South-South region hence, the shrouding of the president’s illness in secrecy to protect its interest not minding the negative effects on the rest of Nigeria.
In the attempt to retain power, some absurd suggestions like upgrading the First Lady, Turai, who effectively headed the powerful cabal that controlled the strings of government, to occupy the presidential seat was muted.
At the return of Yar’Adua on February 24, 2010, he was kept from public glare and although having been conferred with presidential authorities by the National Assembly through a unique “doctrine of necessity” that some northern politicians described as a “coup, ” Jonathan was still unable to exercise the powers until the demise of the president on May 5, 2010.
IN the face of these constitutional challenges and ethnic tensions, the Southwest geo-political zone, as it was its usual practice during periods of threats to continued existence of Nigeria, rose in defence of the polity and aligned with constitutional provisions that supported the proclamation of Jonathan as the Acting President.
Several groups from the zone, politicians, members of civil society groups, the academics, traditional rulers, members of the labour movement, religious leaders and the vocal public opinion moulders and influential personalities who are never in short supply in the area, supported by the so-called Lagos-Ibadan axis of the Nigerian media, spoke with one voice in support of constitutionalism.
They provided the needed platform, like they did to a greater extent during the annulment of the June 12, 1993 election, won by Chief M.K.O Abiola and the subsequent battle to chase the military out of power which culminated in the ceding of the presidency to the zone in 1999, for other Nigerians to agitate for observation of the constitution in the matters concerning Yar’Adua’s health and Jonathan’s role.
Like the National Democratic Coalition (NEDECO) which was formed in the fight for the actualization of June 12 and entrenchment of democracy, such movements like the Save Nigeria Group (SNG), led by fiery preacher, Pastor Tunde Bakare, were created to fuel the agitations for Jonathan’s recognition and subsequently criticize some of his policies.
In fact, at the peak of the agitation, the whole of the country was effectively mobilized such that the other two arms of government were forced to rise up to their responsibilities of interfering in the situation in defence of the constitution.
The Supreme Court ruled on January 22, 2010 that Yar’Adua was “incapable of discharging the functions of his office” and directed that the Federal Executive Council (FEC), in line with the constitution, should take submissions from five physicians, one of whom should be the President’s doctor, to actually determine his state of health.
It would be recalled that incumbent All Progressives Congress (APC) governor of Ondo State, Rotimi Akeredolu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who was then the National Chairman of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), led the legal onslaught that eventually culminated in the apex court pronouncement.
The Senate also, unable to swim against public opinion, not only saved the situation with the doctrine of necessity but also had to amend the constitution to put a bar on the number of days a President could be away before power is automatically transmuted to the Vice-President.
As it was in 2010, so it is now in today’s Nigeria. The drums of war are being beaten over a president’s illness, which like before, is also shrouded in secrecy in the attempt to prevent a power shift should the country witness a full cycle of the events of 2010. Again, national interests have been reduced to sectional ones.
Although President Muhammadu Buhari, unlike Yar’Adua, formerly transferred power to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, the latter could not exercise full authorities as seen in controversies surrounding the non-inauguration of new members, who have been cleared by the Senate, into the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and the continued stay in office of Service Chiefs whose tenure are said to have expired.
And like it was in the Yar’Adua situation, there have been challenges to seamless governance from speculated activities of some cabal within the corridors of power and threats of national disintegration by some politicians and youths in their protection of a sectional presidential mandate.
About two months ago, a serving officer in the Nigeria Police was reported to have threatened to unleash terror on southerners should Buhari succumbed to his protracted illness and in the wake of the president’s latest medical vacation to London, when agitation for restructuring was gathering fresh momentum, the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) warned the rest of the country not to smuggle anything into the constitution in the absence of the president.
Curiously, the normally vocal Southwest has lost its voice in the demands for the resignation of the President in the face of obvious incapacitation as provided for by relevant sections of the Constitution or rise in defence of Osinbajo, who is being speculated to have been overwhelmed by some forces within the presidency.
Although a few fringe political interests have called for a full disclosure of information on the President’s health or his resignation if he is found to be incapable of continuing in office, the mainstream Southwest has remained mute for reasons, according to political analysts, not unconnected with the political relationship of the region with the ruling party.
In 2015, it was the Southwest that provided the needed strength for Buhari and the APC to win the presidential elections in which Osinbajo, a nominee of the zone’s political interests, became the Vice-President.
Although the initial rapport between the two power blocks is said to be waning due to the struggle for space among politicians that became noticed in the widening of the fault lines in the foundation of the ruling party, a situation that has now been complicated by Buhari’s absence, the two sides are still jointly nurturing the current political configuration in Nigeria.
It is however clear that the Southwest may have found itself in a quandary because if not for the alignment it entered into in the formation of the APC administration, the region, no doubt would have picked the gauntlet in calling for constitutionalism as it did in 2010 and thrown a shield of protection around a vulnerable Vice-President that Osinbajo has allegedly become.
While the position of the region is obvious on issues like this, analysts believe that the Southwest may not want to be seen carrying the placard in a protest against a marriage in which it is a major partner thereby abdicating, so to say, its traditional role of providing leadership on issues that threaten constitutionality in Nigeria.
And because it is going to benefit from strict adherence to constitutional provision as Osinbajo would emerge as the President, the zone may not want to be seen as leading the struggle in order not to be accused of feathering its own nest.
Despite this however, a section of the North still accused the zone of surreptitiously working towards a situation that would throw up Osinbajo as a replacement for Buhari, a situation they vowed to resist.
Last Friday, National President of Arewa Youth Forum (AYF), Gambo Ibrahim Gujungu, specifically berated the Southwest zone for “engaging in a game to rob the North of its rightful slot to the presidency, in the interest of peace and unity of the country.”
Gujungu said the North and especially the youths, are aware of the plan of the Southwest to push out Buhari “through a campaign of calumny, using his health as a yardstick,” and mentioned the duo of Ekiti governor, Ayo Fayose and former Aviation Minister, Femi Fani-Kayode as acting the scripts of the zone in their unrelenting criticisms of the president.
He said, “These Southwest people think that we don’t understand the politics they are playing, we do but we will shock them when the time comes. They are using Fayose and Fani-Kayode to pitch the rest of the country against the North and Mr. President in particular, we understand the game but we are waiting and watching.
“Also, I want it on record that youths from the North will not accept what happened during the late Umaru Musa Yar’adua presidency. In 2019, the North must complete its eight years. This region can no longer continue to be taken for a ride, we will never accept that.”
Reacting to the AYF in a manner that showed how much damage the issue is causing to the nation’s unity, another sectional group, the Yoruba Youth Council (YYF) accused the Arewa youths of fanning embers of discord in the country.
In a statement signed by its National President, Comrade Eric Oluwole and National Publicity Secretary, Dare Oladeinde, the group said, “We write to react to the recent statement credited to the Arewa youths by one Gujungu and his kangaroo group, when the Yoruba leaders were lambasted and alleged of using Chief Femi Fani-Kayode and Governor Ayodele Fayose to destabilize President Buhari’s Government.
“We considered this statement as an act of political bewilderment that is currently facing the Northern leaders and their appurtenances over the health condition of President Muhammadu Buhari whom they are currently searching for his replacement.
“We hereby call on the northern elders to abreast their youths on the historical artifact of the political relationship between the northerners and the Yoruba that had unarguably responsible for their long reign in the abacus of Nigeria presidency and also direct them to join other Nigerians in a fervent prayer for the ailing president Buhari than causing unnecessary distractions.
“We call their northern leaders to call those group into order and to caution them to be careful, we shall not allowed any stupid group from the north to molest our Yoruba leaders, because they have pushed Yoruba youths to the wall for Nigeria to have a breakup and we our ready for it.”
While these exchange of words among the youth groups continue to heat the polity and the presidency is on its knees because of the absence of Buhari and the inability of Osinbajo to take effective control of the ship of state, the Southwest may have to find its voice and speak in support of constitutionalism.