So, what if Buhari resigns?
Once again, Nigerians are at the game they know best. The debate over what happens in the event President Muhammadu Buhari resigns due to poor health has only been matched by another needless hype over the president’s letter to the National Assembly over who coordinates or presides over state affairs in his absence.
Recall the unnecessary nation-wide hoopla generated by former president, Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida’s decision to step aside in 1993! The decision to step aside was the president’s way of saying he was quitting the presidency following the furore generated by the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Somehow, the phrase ‘step aside’ was coloured and given a bizarre interpretation.
By the time professors, lawyers and other supposedly enlightened Nigerians jumped into the etymological fray, what was then initially dismissed as pastime of touts and a phrase which many thought should dominate beer parlour talk soon became a topic of national discourse. Even recent pictures of President Babangida hanging on crutches have not completely doused the 23-year old fear in some quarters that the former president merely stepped aside to plot a comeback! How far have we maturated since 1993?
Not much, if the controversy over the role of the vice president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, in the absence of the president is anything to go by. The Constitution of the Federal Republic is unambiguous on who steps in whenever the president has reason to step aside. This, precisely, has been what President Buhari has being doing since 2015. So, why all the hot air over an imagined ‘constitutional lacuna’ if President Buhari steps aside?
This brings us to the issue of competent and capable deputies. It is beyond doubt that President Buhari does not see deputies as spare tyres and has, for this reason, been meticulous in the choice of his deputies. It was the case in 1984 when he worked with late General Babatunde Idiagbon and in 2011 when he nominated Pastor Tunde Bakare as his running mate. So far, Osinbajo has proved that the country is in safe hands in the absence of his principal.
The right attitude is for Nigerians to be strong in their belief in God to heal Buhari and put him in the right frame of mind to return to continue with the good work of the administration. Nigerians who battled to stop his election and who now gloat over his health (and, some of them are senior members of the president’s party) are the same Nigerians who have been responsible in holding down this country. From every indication, they are part of the group who are uncomfortable with the Acting President who, thankfully, is not a typical bog-standard Nigerian deputy!
So, what happens in the unlikely event Buhari cannot execute the presidency? Of course, his very able lieutenant who has effectively coordinated activities of government in the absence of the president will step in! Then, in 2019, the north will expect Osinbajo to yield ground for the APC to field a northerner. But, this is a mere hypothesis.
Given this scenario, the north, rather than insisting on presenting a fake replacement for Buhari can display political dexterity by defying all pretenders from the north and rally round Osinbajo! It is true to assume there can never be two Buharis, but, it is also true that no pretender to the presidency from the north can match Osinbajo’s integrity! None! It will be a disservice to President Buhari if the north yields to sentiment and rally round any of the opaque politicians on the rostrum.
In this instance, there are zero chances of Jonathan syndrome! When Mr. Goodluck Jonathan inherited the throne upon the passage of Mallam Umaru Musa Yar’adua, very few Nigerians outside the Ijaw nation expected him to shine. If truth be told, it was Mr. Jonathan’s crass incompetence, more than any subterranean factors that led to his ouster. Yes, Mr. Jonathan worked under a proactive principal but he just did not belong. He was simply befuddled and overwhelmed by demands of office and ended up pocketing what he could and turned the blind eye as looters took the country to the cleaners.
It will be unfair to compare Osinbajo to Jonathan. To that extent, it is best to remind ourselves that Osinbajo has been an active participant in the administration’s effort at plugging leakages, reducing stealing, prosecuting treasury-hijackers and confiscating proceeds of corrupt enrichments. Before now, very few Nigerians believed privileged members of the society could be investigated, have their ill-gotten wealth confiscated and hauled before judges.
The challenge which, for fear of a possible backlash past administrations sidetracked, has been to genuinely diversify the economy. The diversification process has finally commenced. The years of lip-service have ended and the Buhari/Osinbajo administration has literally taken the bull by the horn and attention is gradually shifting from oil. It is a credit to the Buhari/Osinbajo administration that Nigerians now realise that oil can and, should no longer be used to hold compatriots to ransom.
It really does not matter now that that an expectation of instantaneous transformation, after years of unquestioned looting of the country’s resources, remains on the horizon. What does matter is that with President Buhari and Vice President Osinbajo, Nigeria averted an imminent crash with the change in 2015. Had the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket failed, chances are looted billions being uncovered by the Ibrahim Magu-led Economic and Financial Crimes Commission would simply have evaporated into thin air.
There is scant need for the hysteria in the land over the president’s health and Nigerians have no cause to fret. The expectation is for President Buhari to be fit to return to his post but, no one expects a lacuna in the unlikely event he is unable to continue. After all, God had a hand in the choice of an able lieutenant to the president who is as good and committed to the Nigerian project as the principal. What else can a people wish for?
• Magaji is based in Abuja.