Early in the week, President Muhammadu Buhari announced a crack team of economists, led by Prof. Doyin Salami, as members of his Economic Advisory Council (EAC). The team replaces the Economic Management Team (EMT) headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Aside from Salami, a respected Professor of Economics at the Lagos Business School, who sits on the Central Bank of Nigeria’s monetary policy board, the team also includes Dr. Mohammed Sagagi as vice chairman, a former presidential chief economic adviser, Prof. Ode Ojowu, a former IMF Country Representative for Sierra Leone, Dr. Iyabo Masha, and a former CBN governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo. Others are Mr. Bismark Rewane, Dr. Shehu Yahaya and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Development Policy, Dr. Mohammed Adaya Salisu, who doubles as the team’s Secretary.
The new team, which reports directly to the president, is to advise on economic policy matters, including fiscal analysis, economic growth and a range of internal and global economic issues, working with the relevant cabinet members and heads of monetary and fiscal agencies.President Buhari’s action has continued to draw plaudits across the country, with many of his critics also voicing approvals and describing the move as one capable of redirecting the economic policies and improving the country’s fortunes.
Former CBN governor and Emir of Kano, Emir Muhammadu Sanusi II, commended President Buhari, describing the action as “the single most important move made by the president in his second term with great potential for turning the economy around. The team he has assembled is first class by all standards and each and everyone of them is held in high regard by all our professional colleagues.”
Sanusi noted that President Buhari had put together a team with balance, adding, “In there you have experts in macroeconomics, monetary policy, fiscal policy, development theory and financial markets. I can think of no better team of advisers at this point and we look forward to discussing and debating with and encouraging them as they serve the nation and the president.”He said the president deserves to be praised on this decision and supported, adding that the appointment is evidence of commitment to focus on the economy.
“This team will add a lot of value to policy and strategy and will also be frank and honest in its advice,” he said. “I honestly have not been so excited about prospect on the economy as I am today.”Yoruba Ronu Leadership Forum described Buhari’s bid to rejig the economic team for growth of the country as a welcome development. The Forum praised the old team, headed by Vice President Osinbajo, for exiting the nation from the recession occasioned by years of profligacy and massive corruption that left the country stunted.
The group said: “We are very comfortable with the calibre of experts so far named, especially with the inclusion of Bismark Rewane and Doyin Salami. Nigerians must understand that to achieve possible economic growth, all economic variables, well over 200 of them, must all be moved up at the same speed so that the prosperity the government promised can begin to show.”
Former Secretary-General of Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), Dr. Kunle Olajide, lauded the president for bringing in professionals to handle the economy of the country. Olajide observed that the disbanded EMT was populated by non-economic experts and that could be part of the failure of the government to make meaningful impact to resuscitate the economy.He said: “Politics apart, I have gone through the members of this new team and we can see that they are not only professionals but also not members of the cabinet. They are independent and have capacity to hold on to their views. Osinbajo is a legal expert and not an economist.”The applause that has greeted Buhari’s action obviously stems from the fact that, aside being eggheads in their spheres, the EAC is more of an assortment of vocal critics of the government’s fiscal policy direction.
BUT while many highlight the positives of the action, there have been greater measure of dissents, who believe that the President’s action, in the same fell swoop, is sheer gamesmanship aimed at further cutting down on Osinbajo’s already lean powers. The supposition is that the latest move is part of a salvo aimed at whittling the importance of the office of the Vice President and indeed, the occupant of the office, all as part of the game-plan ahead of the next political dispensation in 2023.
National Publicity Secretary of Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin, noted that the Yoruba have not been fairly treated by this government.He said: “We should begin to x-ray Osinbajo’s relationship with President Buhari. It may also be part of political calculation and what to expect in 2023. But the truth is that Yoruba have not been fairly treated by this government considering security challenges and other peculiar problems confronting us in the Southwest.”
For Elder Idowu Adebimpe, “Yoruba should be circumspect about this government and not rule out the possibility of reducing the influence of Osinbajo because of his closeness to Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who I understand, has ambition to succeed Buhari but some northern powers are working against his ambition.”
On his part, former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, also condemned the replacement of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, saying that by the action, Buhari has relegated and treated the VP with contempt.
Fani-Kayode said, “Despite his constant fawning on Buhari, his cowardly and quisling disposition and his penchant to defend the indefensible, Osinbajo seems to have been relegated and treated with disdain and contempt by the object of his praise and the recipient of his worship. First, he is thrown off the economic team, then some parastatals are removed from his supervision and finally he is told that he must get presidential approval for any expenses he seeks to incur.”
As currently constituted, Osinbajo and the ministers of Finance, Budget and National Planning, and Trade and Industry are not included in the new economic team. This is a departure from the practice, since Nigeria returned civil rule, of the nation’s economic team being chaired by the vice president.
Observers noted that even when former World Bank Vice President, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was the Coordinating Minister of the Economy under President Goodluck Jonathan, the economic management team she was part of was still headed by former Vice President Namadi Sambo. The prime sentiment is that with Osinbajo stripped of this responsibility, he may have been rendered a mere figurehead, who would lack the required influence and respect in the event of a contemplation to succeed Buhari.
Before now, speculations have been rife that there was a grand plan by a presidency cabal to checkmate the vice president and render him incapacitated ahead of the 2023 election. Highlighting the regular bypass of the VP in many presidential decisions, with the influential Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, acting as a de facto deputy on many occasions, the dissents said Buhari’s latest decision seems a confirmation of their fears.
Soon after the February 23 presidential elections earlier in the year, the camp of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) had been abuzz with tales that all may not be well with Osinbajo in the presidency. The hum was not unconnected with the vice president’s unusual silence and progressively less involvement in activities. But that concern was dismissed as the plot of mischief-makers working to sow seeds of discord between Buhari and Osinbajo whose relationship had been ‘smooth’ since the inception of the administration in 2015.
OSINBAJO’s travail with the presidency cabal started when he sacked Director-General of the Department of State Services, Mr. Lawal Daura, unarguably one of the ‘untouchables’ in the presidency, while Buhari was receiving medical treatment abroad. Inside sources say the vice president was never forgiven for daring to move so decisively against Daura. Osinbajo also commited another unthinkable ‘sin’ when he forwarded the name of Walter Onoghen to the Senate to be confirmed when it was clear his role in acting capacity would expire without confirmation. In fact, it was mischief from the presidency in the first place to have appointed Onoghen in acting capacity, the first of such strange appointment that showed he was no favourite of the cabal to be made Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN). Events that led to his ouster would later give credence to this view.
The first sign of trouble arising from those incidents was the budget being sent all the way to London for Buhari to sign into law on his hospital bed while Osinbajo was acting. In fact, Osinbajo is not known to have made any input to the two ministerial appointments the Buhari administration has made, first in late 2015 and barely a month ago.
But long before Osinbajo’s current travails, he had been the ‘star boy’ of the Buhari administration. While Buhari made his initial unguided utterances, which some believe crashed the economy when he spoke only to international media whenever he travelled abroad, Osinbajo tried his best to provide the steady hand for the administratio.
When the Niger Delta militants threatened renewed attacks on oil facilities, Buhari was not courageous enough to go to the region to make peace. It was Osinbajo who undertook the risk and toured the region to reassure the locals of Buhari’s government’s intention to deal fairly. Although his promises turned out as mere promises his boss never took to heart, the relative peace being enjoyed in the region till date is the effort of Osinbajo.
Also, while the Fulani herdsmen unleashed bloodbath in parts of the Middle Belt as they sacked communities so their cows could graze on farmlands unchallenged, Osinbajo went troubleshooting in what many called his ‘chief mourner’ role while his boss sat back in Aso Rock, neither offering sympathy, condolences or stemming the tide of orgy. Also, when Fulani herders-turned bandits recently hit the Southwest, it was Osinbajo who came making peace and calming frayed nerves.
In the run-up to the elections, Osinbajo had been the arrowhead of Buhari’s link-up with the grassroots. He saw through the house-to-house campaign and market activations that gave massive boost to the popularity of the APC and its candidates across the country. He co-ordinated humanitarian affairs and social development in the country, including the N-Power, TraderMoni and MarketMoni initiatives. At the peak of the campaign, President Buhari admitted that the impact of his deputy’s activities was deep.
But Osinbajo would have no such headache any longer. Going forward, the newly created Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development would now provide solutions to the plight of millions of internally displaced persons as well as co-ordinate humanitarian affairs and social development in the country, including the N-Power, TraderMoni and MarketMoni schemes, and the school feeding programme.
A presidency source, who defended the president, said: “President Buhari couldn’t deliberately dissolve the EMT without Osinbajo’s input or to spite the person he trusts so much and has relied on in the economic management of the country.”
But a leader in APC differs, saying that Buhari’s body language no longer bolsters his purported trust in and love for his deputy.According to him, President Buhari allegedly did not consider any of Osinbajo’s nominees for ministerial appointment in the new cabinet. This, it was alleged, stems from the fact that Osinbajo has been accorded the privileged of having his way with the emergence of Governor Dapo Abiodun in his home state, Ogun. The source further hinted that Buhari also refused to retain the immediate past Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah, who is said to be a close friend of the vice president.
Added to the narrative is the recent query issued to the Chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Babatunde Fowler, by the Chief of Staff (COS) to the president, Kyari, on the agency’s inability to meet revenue projection target, said to have a link with the political orchestra being planned. It is regarded in some sections that Fowler’s query was part of the underground moves by Buhari and the cabal in the presidency to systematically undo Tinubu’s boys in government, especially when the query meant to be an official document was leaked to the press. “What should have been ‘a top government secret’ was leaked to bring down the FIRS boss, who was a member of the EMT, and to actually spite Osinbajo,” the source added.
With the south already anticipating a return of power to the region come 2023, and with news making the rounds that APC national leader, Bola Tinubu, is gearing up to throw his hat in the ring, a group of power brokers in the presidency is said to have plans afoot to effectively checkmate Tinubu’s alleged 2023 presidential ambition or any of his allies for that matter. Part of the plot to stop Tinubu’s 2023 presidential ambition, The Guardian gathered, is to also ensure that Vice President Osinbajo is not spared, as he is believed to be Tinubu’s ‘eyes’ and ‘ears’ in Aso Rock.
The group, which has the president’s ears and is said to be recruiting leaders across the north, including emirs, is also alleged to be working to ensure that power eventually does not return to the south at the expiration of Buhari’s term. As events unfold, however, stakeholders in the national project would continue to interrogate the actions and inactions of President Buhari. This is with a view to ascertaining the veracity of the plot thickening ahead of 2023, his culpability in the whole narrative and whether the latest appointment of economic stalwarts into his government was buoyed by altruism or it is yet another salvo in a political orchestra playing out.