BY SEGUN AYOBOLU
PYO’s IMPACT ASSESSMENT
(Published in The Nation newspaper of Saturday, 7th May, 2022)
It was a categorical, unqualified and unambiguous declaration. Speaking during a recent visit to the Bayelsa State Council of Traditional Rulers in Yenagoa, the state capital, in continuation of his ongoing consultations as regards his 2023 presidential aspiration, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, stated unequivocally that he is the most prepared of all aspirants in the race. In his words, “I will say of all the contestants, and I will say so most humbly, clearly that I am the most prepared to hit the ground running. I will be ready on the first day of the assignment because I have seven years training; I have the experience”.
Professor Osinbajo, therefore, stakes his claim on being the best aspirant to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in office next year on the experience he has acquired as number two man in the former’s administration.
Supporting Osinbajo’s contention, a political cum civic organization, which tags itself the ‘IdentifytheRightLeader group’, in a 120-page publication titled ‘Osinbajo Impact Assessment’ affirms that “From an expert point of view, the IdentifytheRightLeader group argues unequivocally based on verifiable and incontestable impacts that Professor Yemi Osinbajo without fear or favor is best to lead in Nigeria in 2023 if empowered”. The group bases its assessment on Osinbajo’s role and performance as Commissioner of Justice and Attorney General of Lagos State between 1999 and 2007, his performance as Vice President from 2015 till date as well as his short stints as Acting President during President Buhari’s absence from office in June, 2016, January and May, 2017 and August 2018.
Perhaps subtly conceding that Osinbajo’s competence and capacity could not be credibly ascertained by his role as Vice President, the group writes that “It is discovered that the Office of Vice President constrained Osinbajo’s capacity to perform owing to his constitutional limitations, but his intellectualism and capacity were best expressed as Attorney General of Lagos State and as Acting President of Nigeria”. It lists the far-reaching justice sector reforms undertaken in Lagos State during Tinubu’s tenure in office as governor between 1999 and 2007 as evidence of Osinbajo’s competence and capacity in discharging the responsibilities of public office.
The problem is that Osinbajo was not the head of government in Lagos State. He was a political appointee of a governor who valued intellect and professionalism and assembled a team of proven experts in their respective fields to head different ministerial portfolios. Given Tinubu’s visionary and inspirational leadership and his array of contacts in the legal profession, there is no reason to believe that he could not have found any number of other brilliant legal minds who would have performed equally exemplarily had he not chosen to offer Osinbajo the job.
The governor’s leadership was thus key to Osinbajo’s perceived performance in implementing the state’s Justice sector reforms as well as leading the state’s fight for the rights of states in the lopsided Nigerian federation, a struggle to which Tinubu was passionately committed. Even as the IdentifytheRightLeader group notes “When Yemi Osinbajo was appointed the Attorney General of Lagos State in June 1999, he started reforming the entire judiciary with strong support from the state governor”. Writing of the governor’s role in the actualization of the Justice sector reforms, Mr Fola Arthur-Worrey, Solicitor-General and Permanent Secretary in the Lagos State Ministry of Justice during Osinbajo’s tenure, stated in a 2012 publication, “Without his rare approach a lot would not have been achieved. And it is important to point out that with his encouragement, all reform proposals were subjected to rigorous scrutiny by members of his cabinet under his relentless urging and many were modified or completely abandoned when their templates did not fit practical realities”.
In any case, Osinbajo was a competent performer as Attorney General just as most other cabinet members were on top of their game in their respective offices. For instance, Mr Wale Edun, the Finance Commissioner, played an invaluable role in rejuvenating the finances of the state. Ogbeni Raufu Aregbesola, Commissioner for Works, was exemplary in the radical modernization of road infrastructure. Mr Olayemi Cardoso, Commissioner of Economic Planning and Budget, was central to drawing up the administration’s developmental agenda and maintaining the budgetary discipline critical to achieving success. Mr Tunji Bello, Commissioner for the Environment, was indispensable in the rescue and systematic turn around of an environment that had become a health hazard and death trap particularly with the intractable menace of refuse and incessant flooding.
Dr Leke Pitan, Commissioner of Health, was a star performer in his Ministry, with his initiation of far reaching health sector reforms and implementation of diverse health programmes as a key component of the administration’s poverty alleviation agenda. Mr Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), Chief of Staff and Commissioner in the governor’s office, added immense value to governance. But the mastermind who assembled, coordinated and inspired the team with his vision and passion was the governor.
There is no doubt that as Vice President, Professor Osinbajo, had a wider latitude to exercise his authority and positively impact governance despite the perceived constitutional limitations of the office. Did he maximally utilize such opportunity? It is difficult to answer this question affirmatively. Constitutionally, the Vice President is the Chairman of the National Economic Council (NEC), which has state governors and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) as members.
According to the Constitution, “The National Economic Council shall have power to advise the President concerning the economic affairs of the Federation, and in particular on measures necessary for the coordination of the economic planning efforts or economic programmes of the various governments of the federation”. This offers considerable opportunities for the occupant of the office to mobilize and coordinate the governors and other key stakeholders in the management of the economy such as the CBN to enhance economic performance through creative, out-of-the-box thinking particularly in the critical area of revenue generation. The IdentifytheRightLeader group credits Professor Osinbajo, as Chairman of the influential Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC), with initiating sub-Saharan Africa’s largest Social Investment Programmes in 2016.
Under the National Social Investment Programmes, which comprises such initiatives as the Homegrown School Feeding Programme, the poverty alleviation loans such as Marketmoni, FarmerMoni and TraderMoni, N-Power programme and National Cash Transfer programme among others, over N140 billion has been released with more than 9 million beneficiaries so far. But what impact has this had on the country’s poverty indices? What measures were put in place to ensure that these monies actually gets to the targeted beneficiaries and check diversion of the funds?
The group states further that as a result of these initiatives including the Micro- Small-Medium-Enterprises Survival Fund well as other interventions, the Nigerian economy by the end of 2019 had recorded four quarters of consecutive growth of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and showed a consistent 2.55 percent growth in 2019. Again, as a result of the launch of the ESP, the country’s agriculture sector was said to have grown by 3.42% in the fourth quarter of 2020 when measured against the same quarter in 2019.
These may be impressive statistics especially when the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic and the plummeting of international oil prices in 2014 with the attendant economic devastation is factored into the equation. But then, the country has experienced the phenomenon of growth without development under practically every administration since 1999. Could we not have engaged in fresh, creative thinking under the present administration to break out of this developmental stagnation conundrum? Even then, one of the first acts of President Buhari after his reelection in 2019 was to remove the Social Intervention Programme from the supervisory purview of Professor Osinbajo and create a new Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management to which the functions and personnel of the SIP were transferred. That could not have been a sign of confidence and satisfaction in the way the programme was previously managed.
No matter how limited his constitutional powers may be such that he can undertake only tasks assigned to him by the President, the Vice President is a member of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), the highest decision-making body of the federal government. As a distinguished intellectual with a track record of participation in legal struggles for true federalism as Attorney General of Lagos State, is Osinbajo on record in the minutes as proffering robust ideas and arguments at the FEC meetings in support of federalist principles, inclusive governance, fundamentally overhauling the security architecture and other shortcomings for which the administration of which he is a part has been severely criticized? Or has he kept his peace playing the loyalty game to be in the good books of influential power brokers to facilitate his succeeding his boss in office next year?
The statements and speeches emanating from Osinbajo’s office in the last seven years have been largely routine, predictable, pro-establishment pronouncements no different from the policy prescriptions of various governments in the last 20 years that have only worsened the problems of underdevelopment in Nigeria. Osinbajo is a quintessential systems man.
The country does not need a bureaucratic establishment leader after President Buhari. What Nigeria needs in 2023 is a leadership with the kind of audacious thinking and revolutionary vision that conceptualized the phenomenal Eko Atlantic City in Lagos springing up magnificently from the belly of the ocean and on which the United States is currently constructing what will be its largest embassy in the world or the ongoing massive transformation of the Lekki axis of Lagos through the Lekki Free Trade Zone where the Dangote refinery, which will be the largest in the world is cited; a facility that the entire country is eagerly awaiting.