Inside Nigeria’s divided presidency

Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.

• Survival Schemes Versus Parochial Overdrive
Aso Rock Villa, the seat of Nigeria’s Federal Government, is heaving under the weight of vacuum created by the absence of President Muhammadu Buhari. The situation has exposed not only the deep-seated fault lines in the Presidency, but also the shenanigans of those who insist on appropriating power and influence to themselves and their cliques.

On two occasions President Buhari fulfilled the dictates of Nigeria’s constitution by formally handing over the reins of political power to the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, to serve the country in an acting capacity as Nigeria’s President, pending his return from indeterminate medical travel abroad on health grounds.

Informed sources say the President had anticipated his prolonged absence and ensured that he appointed only close trusted aides in sensitive positions, pointing out that the recourse to religious observance of the constitutional provision is but a gimmick to cover the hidden schemes.

Prof. Ango Abdullahi was the first to come out in denigration of the obvious slant of President Buhari’s appointments towards his cronies and close relations, stressing that even the Presidency is peopled by a greater percentage of members of one family.

Just recently, the decision of the Senate to hold back on the confirmation of appointees of the Presidency until the executive shifts its position that the legislature has no role in the confirmation of such appointments, has not only jolted the nation, but also sparked off a new low in the feisty relationship between the legislature and the executive arm of government.

It also opened up the wrangling and discord within the Presidency, thereby accentuating the internal contradictions in the system caused by the absence and capacity of President Buhari to resume his office and carry out the functions of the number one citizen.

Although the organogram and reporting format in the Presidency are clearly spelt out, speculations about how long, or even whether President Buhari would continue to occupy the exalted office, have thrown some confusion in the chain of command in the seat of power.
Disloyal Aides

IN the absence of President Buhari, acting President Yemi Osinbajo has been made to look like an orphan. Isolated by the central players in the Presidency, Prof. Osinbajo has been finding it difficult to carry out the functions of the President as a parallel chain of command seems to have been set up.

Most functionaries of the government derisively refer to him as “the Chaplain” in allusion to Buhari’s penchant of calling him Pastor, and therefore prefer to take up crucial matters of state with the Chief of Staff, Alhaji Abba Kyari.

While a parallel line of communication is thus created, some elements within the cabinet engage in behind the scene schemes, plotting how they could become a possible second in command to the acting President in the event of any chance occurrence.

Still within the cabinet, there are those who believe that in the event of such eventuality, they would stonewall a possible Osinbajo Presidency and choose rather to side with likeminded legislators to throw up a doctrine of necessity that retains power in the north.

Consequent upon the divided interests of the staffers in the Presidency and cabinet, it has not been easy for the acting President to have a stamp of authority on any broad policy issue. That fact was made obvious when Prof. Osinbajo was to sign the 2017 appropriation.

Not minding that President Buhari handed over to his deputy, the impression was circulated that he had granted the acting President leave to sign the budget into law, thus unwittingly exposing the fact that Prof. Osinbajo was on seat, but not in charge of full presidential powers.

Cabinet Puzzle
The confused state of things in the Presidency became apparent recently when three ministers had to address journalists on how the Federal Executive Council conducts its affairs in the absence of President Buhari.

That was the general impression recently when Abubakar Malami, Mohammed Bello and Lai Mohammed, ministers of Justice, FCT and Information respectively, clarified the position of FEC on the issue of constitutional imperative of Senate clearance of Presidential nominees for appointments.

Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Malami had told journalists that acting President Osinbajo was on his own when he allegedly declared that confirmation by Senate was not necessary in effecting appointments by the President, a position that let off a flurry of interpretations.In an apparent attempt at fence mending to ward off further hostilities between the Executive and Legislature, the three ministers were sent to address journalists.

FCT minister, Bello, adopting the position of a stabilizer said: “The fundamental consideration about the alleged statement is the fact that at no point ever did the Federal Executive Council sit and arrived at the decision in one way or another, as far as the issue of nomination or otherwise is concerned.”

Without knowing that he had added a new angle to the raging controversy by siding with Malami, Bello remarked: “So, I do not think it constitutes an issue for FEC to make any clarification on, because it (resolution of Senate) has never been considered by the Federal Executive Council.”

Information minister who was invited to throw more light on the matter, instead of bringing clarity toed the path of ambivalence, saying: “Whatever may be the misunderstanding or problem between the executive and the National Assembly, we have an excellent mechanism for resolving it. I don’t think we need to go to specific statements as to what was said by A or B.”

However, Lai Mohammed explained that the executive believes that it cannot go it alone, stressing, “government is not just one arm, the executive alone, but legislature, executive and judiciary.”

Critical 2019, Magu As Pawn
CLOSER look into the faceoff between the acting President and the Senate reveals the factor of future political interest of the gladiators. There is no doubt also, that the Senate was compelled to adopt the stonewall approach to the issue of screening and clearance of presidential nominees owing to the stand of the Presidency on the acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Magu.

It is on record that Prof. Osinbajo, a law teacher, had questioned the rationale of Senate clearance of Magu, citing the superiority of Section 171 of the constitution to the EFCC establishment Act, to the chagrin of Senators.  But the matter took a new twist after the Senate refused to act on the list of nominees it received from the Presidency last week, and the AGF coming out to situate the acting President’s declaration as his personal views and not that of the Presidency or FEC.

But while the issue of screening and confirmation of nominees for appointment could be settled on the basis of constitutional interpretation, the fact is that some of the jostling for beneficial positions for 2019 was not lost on close watchers.

For instance, during the formal opening of Kaduna office of EFCC, Governor Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, brought the issue into focus, disclosing that Prof. Osinbajo confided in him that as long he remained the Vice or acting President, Magu was going nowhere, despite the position of the Senate.

And just as many people suggest that the AGF was scheming to become a potential Vice President, the Kaduna governor is also said to be working towards a possible Osinbajo presidency with him as Vice President, thereby making him well primed for a go at the Presidency in the 2019 election.

Similarly, proceedings of the Senate plenary on the day it resumed sitting exposed the likelihood of an impeachment proceeding against the acting President for undermining the powers of the parliament, particularly the obvious breach of section 2(3) of EFCC Act in the retention of Magu on acting capacity beyond the stipulated time frame.

Senator Kabiru Marafa subtly waved the flag of impeachment, when he remarked that if the President is not around, the Vice President should act and that if the Vice President is not around, the number three citizen, in the person of the Senate President should become acting President.

Although that innocuous remark sent alarm bells, many partisan commentators latched on it as an off the cuff disclosure of a clandestine plot about a possible succession crisis being anticipated in the ruling party.

Dogara Alternative
But while all eyes are trained on some prominent political actors, including Saraki, el Rufai, Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso, Governor Aminu Tambuwal, Malami and Senator Danjuma Goje, some eminent northern politicians are said to be working at a plan that retain President Buhari in the Presidency till 2019.These elder statesmen are also said to be setting a template that would throw up a northern Christian politician and Southern Muslim as a way of dousing ethnic tension and agitations in the country. It is against that background that Speaker of House of Representatives; Hon. Yakubu Dogara is being tipped as “Macron in the making.”

The implication of the noisome grandstanding between the acting President, Presidency insiders and the National Assembly is but credence to the saying that when the cat is away, the mice will play. It is all politics, caused by an absentee president.

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