Pendulum: Back to the Vice President and the Aso Rock Cabal
By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, as much as one is tempted to gloss over the hullabaloo inside the seat of power in Abuja, it is virtually impossible because there is always one drama or the other emanating from the place too frequently these days. Indeed, the melodrama has since become one day, new scene. Despite endless denials on both sides of the divide by spokespersons for the principal dramatis personae, it seems obvious that things are no longer at ease between the offices of the President, Muhammadu Buhari and his Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, no matter how much they or their mouthpieces try to sweep the unfortunate mess under the carpet.
The latest farce surrounds the removal or otherwise of some of the aides of the Vice President. Approbation, confirmation and denials are rife. It is being touted that the Vice President had too many aides and so it was necessary for him to be shorn of some of them in keeping with the President’s new resolve to prudently manage resources and save government a lot of money. Nobody has said anything about how many of the President’s aides have got the sack. More importantly, I fail to see how this purported removal has anything to do with managing government resources when most if not all of these aides of the Vice President are funded by international donor agencies and not the Nigerian Government. The situation descends to the level of theater of the absurd if, as it is being suggested, they were redeployed to different Ministries, meaning that rather than plugging a drain on government they have become an added burden.
My beloved, all we have to do is apply some logic, and commonsense which is seemingly not too common nowadays. Some audacious people make bold to fool us when they tell us there is only one Presidency. Yes, there is, but that oneness has become more of a mirage in recent times! The day the President came out in the open to direct his cabinet to report practically to his Chief of Staff was the day he smashed the oneness into smithereens. There was no need or basis for such an open and public declaration of protocol. That it was openly voiced out, and etched and scripted in text which was handed to journalists and published and circulated freely, was ample evidence of how things have gone awry between the offices of the Number One and Number Two citizens of Nigeria. If this was the normal order of events before now, why was it necessary to put it in the public domain at this stage. If it was a new idea, why was a change necessary and, also, why was it essential to tell the whole world, two days in succession, particularly when this directive was for the consumption of only a few people!
Please, don’t get me wrong. I know that the office of the Vice President is totally at the mercy and prerogative of the President who appointed him. Even in America where we have borrowed our latest democratic experiment, the Vice President has no constitutional role apart from presiding over the Senate and having a casting tie-break vote or whatever assignment given by his boss. As John Adams, the first American Vice President and the Country’s second President, said of his position as Vice President to President George Washington, “My country has in its wisdom contrived for me the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man … or his imagination contrived or his imagination conceived.” Nevertheless, Adams stuck to his task and as the brilliant and astute man that he was, he transformed the position into one that has become indispensable to the democracy. Indeed, it is more than usual in America for Vice Presidents to succeed their Presidents, but this has not yet happened in Nigeria except on account of death of the incumbent. There is always a first time, and perhaps it is the intuitiveness and the knowledge that it is a foregone conclusion that this negative trend is about to be bucked that the babble and cacophony of strident opposition voices has risen to the biggest decibels. This is more so because of the personality and attributes of the incumbent, Osinbajo. For me, a Vice President is almost like a Company Secretary whose duty once upon a time was to act as a mere servant. But like Lord Denning said in 1971, about the role and function of the Company Secretary, “he is no longer a mere servant.” If the Vice President of Nigeria was once treated as an errand boy, by now, in 2019, such attitudes should have changed for many obvious reasons.
Professor Yemi Osinbajo is neither your run-of-the-mill Vice President nor a typical career politician. Before he was considered and chosen to run with President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, he came with intimidating credentials in both his private and public life. In all areas, he had just about reached the pinnacle of what there was to offer. He was also a stabilizing factor between the ever fighting and perennially suspicious Christians and Muslims of Nigeria. Why they are at loggerheads continues to beat me even till today. Religion should simply have no place in the politics or economic development of a country. Everyone agreed Buhari could not have made a better choice. He and Buhari appeared like a perfect couple and one could say the same of their wives. Theirs was like a match made in celestial places.
I won’t bore you with details of how trouble started brewing when President Buhari took ill and Vice President Osinbajo became Acting President. All that I know is some of the decisions he took did not go down well with the ultra conservative members in the Presidential Wing of the Villa, who not only had their own agenda but have the close ears of the President. They grumbled and groaned and lamented to whoever cared to listen that Osinbajo was plotting and planning to upstage his boss. One of the conspiracy theories was that some forces in the South West actually wished evil on the President. Despite the fact that no one had the proof or evidence of such dastardly plot, some people went about spreading the satanic stories. Thankfully, it does not appear that the President with his taciturn sagacity paid heed to such drivel, hopefully.
My take is that some elements are deliberately driving a wedge between the President and his Vice President whose relationship is apparently chummy. What is not known is how far the President has bought into the plot. The body language of the President now suggests that something has gone terribly amiss. The camaraderie that was always so patently obvious is palpably receding. The President has taken to relying on technicalities and monosyllables in his dealings with his Vice President. This was not the case before. If, as may be the case, some nebulous, insidious group of people are using the President’s name to pummel the Vice President and he is unaware that his dutiful and loyal Vice President is being humiliated before the whole world, that is even worse.
I don’t really blame those who abuse power. That is the pattern and tradition of those who wield enormous power by proxy. I hasten to add that the position of Chief of Staff is obviously a powerful position and sometimes people tend to forget this when they cast aspersions on the occupants. In Nigeria’s case, Mr Abba Kyari is a very sound and cerebral man. The President obviously recognizes that he needs him like oxygen. But I expect him and the Vice President to be able to manage their affair more guardedly with both of them coming from solidly, enviable intellectual backgrounds. Seems the allure of power is irresistible and causes the powerful to wear a new toga of eternal invincibility when indeed, it is very transient. It may be that this is the case because the occupants themselves forget the onerous nature of their job and the grave responsibilities that attaches to the position. Power is best asserted and utilised if treated with humility, deference and decorum.
Let me go back for as long as I can remember. Surrogates of power have tended to be overbearing and inordinately ambitious. They have not imbibed the core lessons that those who know the nature and effect of power teach. It will come and go, but how you have handled it will determine how you are treated in its aftermath – Hero or villain. In Nigeria it has been a lot more of the latter and the lessons have still not been learnt.
In the days of President Shehu Aliyu Shagari, one name was very prominent, Dr Umaru Dikko, who was the defacto President. When the government was overthrown by Muhammadu Buhari and company, Dikko became the main target. He fled to London. The government arranged for a living Dikko to be packed and crated in a coffin like a cadaver and he was nearly smuggled back to face the music in Nigeria. Under the government of General Murtala Muhammed, Chief Moshood Abiola was known to have been his close friend. This drew the ire of many military leaders who waited for many years before pouncing on him.
Major-General Tunde Idiagbon was the second-in-command and the dreaded face of the Buhari regime. His scowling mean face remains indelibly printed in the brain of not just the Second Republic politicians but the generality of the populace. Once flushed out power he reverted to relative obscurity and died unheralded! When President Ibrahim Babangida assumed power, Colonel Sambo Dasuki was reported to have treated Major General Muhammadu Buhari shabbily. No one would have expected Buhari to ever come back to power. But God’s ways are not that of man. Today, Buhari is President, Dasuki has been in detention and incarcerated for many years despite a plethora of Courts ordering that he should be freed.
When General Olusegun Obasanjo was in power as a military ruler from 1976-79, Major General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua was very influential. He wielded that power and attained great affluence even after they left power. He wanted to come back as civilian President, but his dream never materialised. He and his former business partner, Chief Abiola had similar interests and ambitions. Abiola contested and won, but the top military echelons kicked against him. His victory was aborted, his ambition truncated and he was deprived and robbed of his mandate. Abacha who became President after the whole debacle dealt ruthlessly with Obasanjo, Yar’Adua and Abiola by keeping them in prison. Only Obasanjo returned alive. Not just that, he came back to be President. A true cat with nine lives! Ebora Owu indeed!
When General Sani Abacha was President, the commonest name on everyone’s lips was Major Hamza Al-Mustapha. When Abacha died, Al-Mustapha was kept in prison for so many years in the days Obasanjo was in power. Mohammed Abacha, the General’s son, who had also lived larger than life and was himself an unofficial Deputy Head of State was also kept away.
When Umaru Musa Yar’Adua became President, the name of Tanimu Yakubu reigned supreme despite being only the Deputy Chief of Staff and Chief Economic Adviser to the President. The name of Hajia Turai Yar’Adua, the First Lady, would later feature on the list of those labeled as the ‘cabal’ who controlled shots when Yar’Adua laid mortally stricken. Perhaps it was the First Lady’s involvement that saved Tanimu’s bacon.
Step forward President Goodluck Jonathan. Two names featured prominently under his government, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke and that of First Lady, Dame Patience Jonathan. Since Buhari returned in 2015 as President, the duo have known no peace.
I have gone through the stories of these different era to show how transient and ephemeral power is. The three things driving these wars of attrition in the name of a power struggle are money, ethnicity and religion. They are the reasons our country is retrogressing. There is no justification for the struggle based on national interest or patriotism. The protagonists are interested only in their primordial, parochial and base instincts. While the world is thinking outside the box, we have chosen to bury ourselves inside the cocoon of backwardness. The most educated people in Nigeria will throw sanity, reason and decorum to the winds once those three selfish interests are involved. Friends become enemies and enemies become friends. Principle, honour and integrity are thrown to the dogs. Woe betide anyone who stands in the way. That is the crux of the fiasco that we face today. The Vice President and his team are merely victims of the interplay of those forces.
However, what nobody should forget is that what will be will be and students of history may do well to look again into the story of John Adams who was the first American President to see his son, John Quincy Adams succeed to the American Presidency as the sixth President of America. When we decide to recognise and embrace excellence and not fight against it, then we shall become better as a nation.
It seems, we are not yet ready to do the needful …