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Buhari and Osinbajo: Trust matters

By Dan Agbese
10 March 2017   |   4:19 am
I permitted myself the luxury of sauntering down the beaten path this week. Here is why.Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar is one of the most principled men in the country today.

President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo

I permitted myself the luxury of sauntering down the beaten path this week. Here is why.Col. Abubakar Dangiwa Umar is one of the most principled men in the country today. When he speaks I listen. Intently. He has both the courage and the flair to speak truth to power. He has been doing so since he took a principled stand against the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. He never speaks but to point out the errant ways of some of our wayward leaders. Awesome.

Last week, the former military governor of Kaduna State issued a measured statement on the performances of the acting president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. He catalogued his achievements and praised him for refusing to dither in matters that call for action and proactive action.

Umar was not, of course, the first Nigerian to point out that Osinbajo effectively mans the shop perhaps even beyond our immediate expectations in the absence of the ailing president, Muhammadu Buhari. In my view, Umar made two important points in his statement. The first was his reference to Osinbajo’s handling of the Niger Delta militancy that turned our OPEC oil quota into a trickle with, as you would imagine, dire consequences for the national treasury, as in hardship, recession, et al.

The guns have fallen silent since the acting president visited the troubled region and jaw-jawed with the leaders of the militant groups. And oil is flowing again, pumping petro-Naira into our public coffers to be stolen, of course, by some of those whose moral and constitutional duty it is to keep our common wealth safe.

What magic formula did the acting president use to effect the change? As I see it, he used the time-tested magic formula called dialogue. You do recognise this as the power of the tongue. The tongue makes and unmakes. It causes strife and it finds peace. Dialogue is man’s greatest weapon for social engineering. It is unwise for the state to delude itself into believing that its superior military fire power would end the militancy in the Niger Delta. This approach has failed time and again. Indeed, the military has become a major part of the complicated problem of the Niger Delta.

The rumour that the generals see the monetary wisdom in bunkering has more than a ring of truth to it. When the thief and the thief catcher are in cahoots to exploit the system, the heavens weep. Or so I think.

There is no alternative to dialogue in the resolution of the Niger Delta wahala. It is the answer. Dialogue succeeds where there is mutual trust between the parties. Osinbajo has triple underlined that fact. The vice-president could not have achieved this measure of peace in the region without earning the trust of the young men in the creeks. He must sustain that trust. The guns must not fall silent some of the time but all of the time.

My second point of interest is Umar’s assertion that the president should take credit for the trail-blazing actions of the acting president because he “selected a running mate with tremendous intellectual capacity and character where most presidential candidates would go for docile, inefficient and greedy ones.”

It should be easy for us to appreciate why that point carries special weight. Incompatible political partnership was part of the teething problems our then nascent democracy was subjected to in the early years of our return to democracy; or more correctly, civil rule. The parties were to blame. They made a mismatch of governorship and deputy governorship candidates because they insisted on their right to choose governorship running mates. In some particularly bad cases of poor judgement, the party leaders chose the losers in the party primaries as running mates to their successful governorship candidates. Anyone but the party moguls could see this was a disaster primed to happen. And it happened time and again to our collective shame.

But this does not tell the whole story. For instance, the presidential candidate of PDP in 1999 and 2003, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo personally chose his vice-presidential running mate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. The latter had even won his governorship election in his home state of Adamawa when Obasanjo chose him as his running mate. Sadly, it turned out to be a political partnership made outside heaven. Not once did Obasanjo give Abubakar a chance to act for him. Theirs was a political partnership full of portholes and bumps. That should tell you something about mutual suspicion and distrust poison the well.

In their second term in office, Obasanjo did everything to undermine and humiliate Abubakar. He sacked his aides and took away all his privileges as vice-president. He felt that Abubakar did not give him the 100 per cent loyalty he expected from him. Ah, yes, state governors too demanded 100 per cent loyalty from their deputies.

Luckily, the gale of removal has blown out to the sea. Our democracy is thus getting steadier on its feet. I have no idea how Osinbajo made it to the vice-presidency but however he did it, he became a good choice for the job. Some important facts in the nature of our constitutional government have become apparent since the two men took office in 2015. It is obvious that Buhari and Osinbajo have earned each other’s trust. Perhaps because of his legendary aloofness, the president has so far not allowed the intra-party gossips to poison relationship between him and his vice-president. He trusts him and has no reasons to question his loyalty to him, the constitution and the country.

It helps a great deal that the vice-president shuns controversy and whatever he intends to make of his present and political future does not stick out. A very senior lawyer and professor of law, Osinbajo operates within the limits of constitutional imperatives. Buhari, unlike Obasanjo, does not ask for the vice-president’s 100 per cent loyalty to him. A political partnership thus built on mutual trust has strengthened our constitutional democracy. It is worth crowing about.

This is the second time that a presidential illness has put our constitutional government to the test. It failed the test the first time in 2010 when some aides of the ailing President Umaru Yar’Adua sought to exploit his illness by shielding him from the public and claiming he was well enough to discharge his constitutional duties as president when, in fact, he was more there than here. They caused a needless constitutional problem in their inexcusable but vaunting ambition to prevent the vice-president from assuming power in an acting capacity. Their lies did our constitutional democracy no good. In the end, the Senate felt compelled to walk around it by drawing up a constitutional red herring across the path. The upper chamber of the National Assembly chanced on a paper weight law called the doctrine of necessity to push out the aides and give Dr. Goodluck Jonathan the presidential gavel. A needless extra-constitutional medicine for a purely political affliction.

What is remarkable this time around is the total and strict observance of the constitutional provision in cases such as this. Buhari wisely refused to create room for any such shenanigans because he knew it would be exploited by the vultures of raw political ambition. He admitted his illness and wrote to the Senate six weeks ago ceding power to the vice-president as acting president. He followed the constitutional path. And our constitutional democracy is thus strengthened.

Pity it took a presidential illness to come to (a) the wisdom of political partnership based on mutual trust and (b) that the character and temperament of a president and a vice-president holds the key to the smooth exercise of presidential powers.