When the State House released a statement announcing a temporary transfer of power from the President Buhari to his vice, Yemi Osinbajo, because the President was embarking on a short vacation, my initial expectation was that activities within the Villa would become unusually heavy while the vacation lasted, especially at the VP Wing.
Characteristically, the President operates a moderate schedule vis-à-vis his appointments: He receives foreign leaders, top diplomats and governors. And these people don’t come every day.
Buhari’s multi-destination trip that took him from Abeokuta to France and eventually U.K. had left most Villa staff with little to do. He began the trip on Monday, February 1, shortly after receiving the Italian Prime Minister and he was expected back to Abuja by the weekend of February 6, only for us to receive the news that he’d be proceeding on a short vacation.
Since the VP had already departed for Lagos at the time the news broke, my assumption was that by Monday many politicians would besiege the acting president’s office, especially those who had hitherto been denied access to the President himself. We’ve been hearing that some politicians were grumbling over the fact that they hadn’t been given unfettered access to Buhari, so I thought they’d use the 6-day window to get presidential assent via Osinbajo, who’s widely considered to be more lenient.
But I was quickly put on notice about the fact that the acting president’s timetable may not turn out as I thought. A source within the VP’s office told me that Friday evening that Osinbajo’s schedule for his 6 days as acting Nigerian leader would remain largely unchanged buttressing the prevalent speculation that the acting president would probably not really ‘act’ as president.
Since the start of the year, the Vice President’s schedule is largely concentrated on economic and social welfare issues. Since economic and social policies of the administration are coordinated from his office, the VP spends the better part of his typical workday receiving top public and private sector players and local and international NGOs. The vice president’s activities throughout his acting tenure mirrored this.
Resuming to work for the first time since his announcement on Monday morning, the VP started his day by receiving officials from Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI. The delegation was led by the immediate-past Executive Secretary of the organisation and now Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Ms. Zainab Ahmed.
Shortly afterwards, Osinbajo welcomed representatives from Nigeria Leadership Initiative, NLI, and Nigerian Institute of Legislative Studies, NILS. The NLI was led by Minister of Industry, Trade and Investments, Dr. Okey Enelamah; while Senator Muhammed Ubali Shitu coordinated the delegates from NILS.
On Tuesday, Senator Ali Ndume and the Executive Director of UNAIDS were the guests of the VP.
On Wednesday, Osinbajo commiserated with the victims of Dikwa IDP camp where the dreaded Boko Haram sect struck the day before. This is perhaps the only silver lining in the scepticism that clouded Osinbajo’s role, statements of consolation and condemnation of a tragedy usually emanate from the President’s office.
Buhari returned to the country on Wednesday night, and when he resumed work on Thursday, he received his counterpart from Germany, Joachim Gauck, who’d been in the country since Wednesday on a 5-day tour. Buhari also organised a state dinner for Mr. Gauck and his entourage in the State House on Thursday night. On Friday the governor of Zamfara State walked in and went straight to see Buhari, as if it wasn’t clear enough to us before that the landlord has returned.
As an acting president, could Osinbajo have been able to receive a foreign leader, dispatched the military on an a mission or sign a bill into an act? Constitutionally, yes. That’s why, unlike many, I don’t believe what happened last week was ornamental. The 6-day tenure is just too short to exercise raw presidential powers. However, my perennial assumption that the President’s presence could help predict the caliber of visitors to expect at the State House seems to have been confirmed by the development of the past week.
Did I see a pouched rat in the afternoon?
A Yoruba parlance says no one sees a pouched rat in the afternoon. Because of its internal activities, this particular species of African rats doesn’t roam during the day unless there’s a genuine reason. Dr. Chidi Odinkalu’s visit to the Villa on Monday arouse my curiosity.
The Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission was part of the NLI delegation to the State House. The official statement released by the Vice President’s office shortly after their meeting said they came to discuss the plight of Boko Haram victims in the Northeast. Highly consequential. Notwithstanding, given his personality, I expected him to bring up the matter he’d been preoccupied with lately: the deadly confrontation between Shia Muslims, who were in a procession and the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff in Zaria last December.
Monday’s visit was Odinkalu’s first to the Villa since the Zaria tragedy. I asked him why he hadn’t turned up much earlier, considering how vocal he’d been about the matter in the media, and the fearless rights advocate told me he became indisposed in London shortly after his father passed away on Christmas Eve. Soon as I was done commiserating with him, Odinkalu quipped: “Sam, I know you have a question.” Indeed, even though President Buhari has said he awaits the outcome of a panel of inquiry set up by Governor Nasir El-Rufai before taking further steps about the matter, I, nonetheless, asked Odinkalu if he’s being approached as a mediator between the Shia community on one side and the FG and Kaduna State Government on the other, “this country is our own and we look forward to seeing an acceptable outcome of all investigations into the massacre in Zaria,” he said.
This Opinion article was first published in Sahara Reporters