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BUHARI/OSINBAJO: THE PERFORMANCE DEBATE
"The good news is that the Acting President has started doing some of the things we expected and advised President Buhari to do. I do not want to overexcite anyone yet, but this is smelling good like the Americans would put it" - Ovation Publisher and Entertainment Icon, Dele Momodu, 25th February, 2017.
A debate has broken out, on the relative performance and competences of President Muhammadu Buhari and the current Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN), as the opening quote sourced from Newspaper Columnist and Publisher of Ovation Magazine Bashorun Dele Momodu, intimates. A perceived and actual movement in the direction of effective governance in the last couple of weeks, have led to a reassessment of the capabilities of the two helmsmen, Buhari and Osinbajo, following the extended Medical Vacation of Buhari. The emerging perspective is riding on such interesting developments as the almost dramatic appreciation of the value of the Naira within a space of one week. The immediate trigger of the Naira's upward climb is the release of Dollars by the Central Bank to meet such demands as school fees, medical treatment overseas and personal travel allowance.
There also is the modest surge in oil production which recently hit the 1.8million Naira per day mark, as a result of the reduced militancy in the Niger Delta, following relentless negotiation, brokered by Osinbajo, between government and the militants. To complement the exciting wave length was an unscheduled visit paid to the Muritala Mohammed International Airport by Osinbajo, following persistent reports of the down turn in hygiene, management and public visage. To be sure, these developments as Momodu broaches, are not substantive but tentative and are easily reversible. For example, it is not clear whether the current appreciation of the Naira is a gladening flash that will soon vanish in the large and troubled pan of an import dependent economy, where multiple exchange rates operate and 'garri' made from cassava is now imported.
Also, it is not clear for how long the Central Bank of Nigeria can keep pumping Dollars into the economy, given the limited quantity.Regarding the current peace in the Niger Delta, it is anybody's guess that in the absence of a thoroughgoing recompacting of government within the auspices of a National Conference, the truce cannot be taken for granted. However, to jump ahead of the analysis, it is pertinent to recall that Buhari's critics have pointed up a difference in temperament and disposition between him and another Northern politician, the late Umaru Yar'adua, concerning the question of nationalities and the Niger Delta in particular. Yar'adua,it was, who in the course of his short lived tenure, and in the face of pronounced debility, created the Amnesty Programme, consisting of an inclusive social deal for that volatile region. Could it be then that Osinbajo has borrowed a wise page from the book of the conciliatory Yar'adua, rather than the allegedly hard tackle of his boss?
I allude here to the deep seated problem of whether the issue at hand, as far as Buhari is concerned, is that of a military mind set and puritan rigidity which do not quite sit well with the constraints of building a nation whose social and political fabric is a delicate one. This should not be construed as a criticism of the anti corruption programme,which has won applause at home and abroad, its partial and skewed character notwithstanding. It does open up however, a line of inquiry whether Osinbajo's modest success and Buhari's standstill regarding the Niger Delta, are related to a political attitude, on the part of Buhari, that takes unity for granted rather than making it a subject of negotiation.We see a similar scenario playing out in the South East, where an alienating rather than appeasing attitude towards the Indigenous People of Biafra and the continous detention of Nnamdi Kanu, despite court orders, have increased rather than douse tensions.
To be sure, there is no need to glorify Osinbajo unduly given that, as spokesmen of the government have argued, the policies that Osinbajo is executing, with increasing efficiency, were collectively framed under Buhari. Besides, the greatest legacy that Buhari can give to Nigeria, is to groom leaders who can perpetuate his reformism and spartan discipline and go beyond them to add a sense of urgency, managerial competence and a knack for the sense of compromise that can keep a plural polity going.In this sense, Osinbajo can be seen as someone successfully prepared for leadership under Buhari and in that process, maintaining Buhari's values while avoiding his mistakes and weaknesses -at least thus far Unknowingly, and in the perspective outlined above, those who are saluting Osinbajo for credible performance are paying Buhari a backhanded tribute for successful mentorship.
We can illustrate this kind of vision transfer by considering politics in Lagos State, where BolaTinubu provided the strategic and policy foundations built upon with remarkable success by both former governor Raji Fashola, and the incumbent, Akinwumi Ambode. Fashola and Ambode can be regarded as worthy graduates of the Tinubu school of developmental politics, thus making it impossible to give kudos to either of them without reference to their mentor and chief visioner of the programmes they executed.It is not profitable therefore,to set up Osinbajo as a rival to Buhari but as one who has, thus far, stood in the gap valiantly to perpetuate, refine and extend Buhari's legacy.
The other point to make is that governance under the All Progressive Congress had hit such a rough patch, that even little achievements, which are yet to be consolidated, are being ticked off by some as huge gains. That is another way of introspecting that mediocrity had become the new normal to such an extent that any departure is considered extraordinary.In concrete terms the projected dividends of the administration's Change programme, had failed to materialize, inflation was galloping alarmingly, making it impossible for individuals to plan or save. The Naira was on a free fall, the nation was pulling apart dangerously, health and education, principal indicators of welfare were comatoese, while power generation improved a little today and declined a lot in few days later.In this context, the gains of the anti corruption programme and the successful advances against Boko haram were hardly enough to offset the inclemency of weak governance and a failing economy. Furthermore, uncertainty about the status of the president's ill health created enormous political anxiety and offstage jostling for political leadership.
It was against this backdrop that some observers began to celebrate the small windows of opportunity that pointed a way out of the woods in Osinbajo's leadership verve. It is of course too early to say whether Osinbajo will sustain the new impetus or will slouch back into familiar underachievement. It is also not clear whether he will face new challenges on account of being set up as a rival to his boss. Beyond this however, is the need for the APC to recapture the high ground of effective government and the people's confidence which it once overwhelmingly enjoyed. It matters less whether this is spearheaded by Osinbajo or by a bounce back Buhari who started a change project that is still in the doldrums.