With the Presidency, in recent time, assigning more sensitive and economic stimulating functions to the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, the nation’s well-loved and duly elected second-in-command is definitely in the reckoning as the legacy of President Buhari’s administration is being shaped, Fatimah Bala and Blessing Ekpo write
This subtle and gradual ascension that positively impacts economic and policy will entrench one of Nigeria’s most charismatic political figures as the custodian of President Muhammadu Buhari’s legacy.
The first four years of this administration saw President Buhari and his second-in-command, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, working hand in hand to accelerate national growth, development, and cohesion.
While the first four-year term lasted, President Buhari didn’t hide his love for his deputy in words and deeds. At various fora, the President would be quick to refer to Osinbajo’s loyalty and peerless commitment to serving the nation.
No wonder, Osinbajo, and his team were in charge of the administration’s Special Intervention Programmes (SIPs) during the period. The SIPs include the Home-grown School Feeding Programme, Government Economic Empowerment Programme, N-Power, Trader Moni, and direct cash transfers to the “poorest families. The programmes then attracted an annual N500 billion budgetary vote. The Vice President also credibly led the Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC), which Buhari commended and described as a “National Plan”. The President had emphatically stated that the administration would focus on implementing ESC recommendations, including massive Federal Government support for local production, manufacturing, significant support for the informal sector and MSMEs, and the expansion of the Social Investment Programme to provide succour to more Nigerians.
Under the Vice President, the various Special Intervention Programmes (SIPs) were so impacting that the ruling party had to leverage it in the build-up to the Presidential election. It worked wonders at the grassroots level. At the peak of the campaign, President Buhari was so impressed that he admitted that his deputy’s activities through the house-to-house campaign and market activations were boosting the All Progressive Congress and its candidates’ popularity.
But the honeymoon didn’t last. Following a night of long knives and cudgels, an insider coup happened in the early months of the administration’s second term, which slightly turned the tables against the Vice President. Though he denied being pushed aside, political pundits are yet to be convinced that Osinbajo didn’t yield to various political permutations and maneuvering, which made him surrender some of his functions to the newly established Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management, and Social Development.
While some contended that the decision to move the SIPs and other economic-driven activities away from his table was a politically far-reaching step to weaken the influence of the Vice President in government, others suspected that it was a gimmick to clip his wings ahead of the 2023 Presidential election.
It would be recalled that President Buhari had suddenly dissolved the Osinbajo-led economic management team and announced an Economic Advisory Council, EAC, to fill the gap.
The advisory council replaced the Economic Management Team, EMT, which then headed by Osinbajo. Despite the little shakeup in the Presidency, the Vice President remained statutorily, the chairman of the governing boards of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the National Boundary Commission (NBC), and the Border Communities Development Agency (BCDA). He is also the statutory chairman of the Niger Delta Power Holding Company (NDPHC) board of directors, a limited liability company owned by the federal government and Niger Delta states.
Beyond performing excellently well while overseeing some of the functions above, the Vice President also acted for the President while he was away with diligence.
And the new beginning…
Signals that President Buhari’s trust in his Vice President is yet to wane have continued to resonate in recent times. Of course, the Vice President’s profile and his scope of responsibilities have quietly been rising since the beginning of last year, after multiple crises hit the country.
On the back of the COVID crisis and consequent recession, the President gave him the responsibility to coordinate Nigeria’s response in the form of the Economic Sustainability Program, which has since helped Nigeria surprise most economists and exit faster from recession in less than three quarters.
For instance, President Muhammadu Buhari had, on March 30, 2020, set up the Economic Sustainability Committee(ESC) to develop a clear economic sustainability plan to run through 2023. At the maiden meeting of the committee, which Osinbajo chaired, it was spelt out that ESC was set up to address the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The committee was tasked with identifying fiscal and monetary measures to enhance oil and non-oil revenues in order to fund the plan, develop a stimulus package, and come up with measures to create more jobs while keeping existing ones. Other committee members are Ministers of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Hajiya Zainab Ahmed, Industry, Trade and Investment, Niyi Adebayo, Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, and others.
With the recent news that Nigeria has exited from recession, experts were quick to point out that the ESC team’s activities made the journey smooth. The Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media and Publicity, Laolu Akande, also admitted that Nigeria’s prompt exit was a key indicator of the success of the ongoing Economic Sustainability Plan approved by the Federal Government.
He said Nigerians should expect more as the implementation of the plan was gathering momentum.
Akande said this in a statement titled “Presidency: FG poised to do much more through the ESP” which he made available to journalists.
“Like we explained late last year after the release of the third-quarter figures, the Economic Sustainability Plan, which was a calculated intervention by the Buhari Presidency, is driving the Nigerian economy in the right direction-upwards, and Nigerians can expect more because the administration is unrelenting in its determination to pursue the steady recovery and growth of our economy,” Akande noted.
Sequel to this, the President at the beginning of 2020, gave Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo the responsibility to coordinate the power sector reform program to improve Nigeria’s power supply and encourage investments. Since his leadership, Nigeria launched the free metering program, launched the 5M Connections program to connect 5 million Nigerians currently off-grid in a 145 billion program now being launched this quarter, and implementing tariff reforms that have seen more than 100 billion naira in new investments in the sector for generation and increasing collection by power companies and stability in the power supply. On Feb 28th, 2021 Nigerians Woke up to the news that the nation’s grid wheeled over 5600 MW for the first time in history and this has continued to improve.
Another major signal was the approval of the establishment of a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) styled Infrastructure Company named Infra-Co with an initial seed capital of one trillion naira, whose Steering Committee first initiation and set-up the President asked his Vice President to chair. That task was initiated in February 2021 and will see Nigeria attracting 15 trillion naira in new investments in roads, bridges, dams, railway, airports, and ports alongside better commercial operation to avoid the debt and poor management trap of the past that destroyed prior infrastructure development.
According to a statement issued by the Presidency to announce the partnership, it was envisaged that the entity would grow up to N15 trillion in assets and capital over time. The Infra-Co was designed to be one of Africa’s premier infrastructure finance entities and will be wholly dedicated to Nigeria’s infrastructure development. The entity has been developed with concept designs from the National Economic Council (NEC) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).
The entity’s initial seed capital will come from the CBN, the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), and the Africa Finance Corporation.
It has also been proved that the credit of the permanent restructuring of DisCo debts and structure of remittance of their revenue to the power ecosystem that has seen the first 100% remittance of debt owed to GenCos and TCN in January 2021 should also go to the Vice President with the support of relevant authorities under the work he leads in the Power Reforms Committee.
In a way, the Power Sector Reform Committee’s success gave the President the confidence to approve to implement the Infrastructure Fund program that emerged from the National Economic Council chaired by the VP.
Meanwhile, in a continuation of this trend, at the February 24th, 2021 Federal Executive Council, the Presidential Economic Advisory Council delivered a presentation on the implementation strategy for the President’s vision for pulling 100 million people out of poverty in 10 years. The VP was recommended and accepted again to lead the charge through the National Council on Poverty Reduction
At the meeting, President Buhari admitted that this ambitious program of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty is a challenging but achievable one. He said the administration’s ambitious policy of raising 100 million Nigerians out of poverty did not come by accident or “something we just bumped into,” but a deliberate one that will be pursued with remarkable grit and determination.
President Buhari agreed with the council that the country required a poverty reduction strategy to usher in a “rapid, sustained, sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
It will appear that the Vice President’s continued endorsement by the President to lead his domestic agenda is solidifying his inevitable emergence as the guardian of the President’s legacy of remaking the country from the grounds up. No doubt, the VP is emerging as the default flag bearer of the Buhari progressive era for years to come.