Acting President Professor Yemi Osinbajo has been receiving deserved kudos for the way he has been holding forte since Buhari went on medical vacation in England on January 19 2017.
In this round as Acting President Osinbajo seems to have brought a new style, which he had not displayed previously.
As Vice President, Osinbajo started on a somewhat shaky note. For instance one of his first faux pas was his comments on the Federal Character Commission.
The Daily Trust of June 28 2015 had reported that the Vice President criticised the setting up of the Federal Character Commission and had declared that “henceforth employment and appointment into political offices in the country should be based on merit and not where anyone hails from”.
The paper further quoted him as saying: “Where you come from should not be criteria. Let us de-emphasise this issue of federal character and place more emphasis on merit.
For instance, I take my health seriously, therefore, if I am ill I should not just look for a medical doctor from my state but for the best, irrespective of his state of origin”.
The Vice President reportedly made the statement at the height of the criticisms of the Buhari government for alleged lopsidedness in political appointments.
Though the Daily Trust of July 29 2015 reported that the VP denied the report and had clarified what he actually said or meant to say, some of us took the opportunity to re-visit the issue of the application of ‘federal character’ and ‘zoning’ principles in appointments and the distribution of infrastructures as well as the envisaged role of the FCC in nation-building.
In an article, ‘Between the V-P and the Federal Character Commission’, published in this column on July 2 2015, I argued that while I agreed with the VP that merit should come before ethnic considerations in appointments, “it could also be argued that there is no region or part of the country where any type of talent could be said to be lacking – meaning that reflection of federal character in appointments is not necessarily incompatible with merit.”
I also noted that while ethnicity, religion and regionalism are mere masks used by the elites in the struggle for power and lucre, over time these categories have become ‘ideologized’ such that they have now acquired objective existence of their own.
Following from this, I further argued that the symbolism and psychological satisfaction that ‘one’s own’ is part of the leadership structure of the country is salutary to both development and the nation-building process.
Another instance of a faux pas by the Vice President was when he castigated Niger Delta militants as agitating only for their pockets in July 2016.
The Punch of July 6 2016 quoted the Vice President as saying that the “Niger Delta Avengers are not freedom fighters, they are not fighting for any freedom, they only fight for their pockets.
You can’t be blowing up pipelines and compound the problem of the region and be saying you are fighting for freedom.”
Some of us disagreed with the way the Vice President framed the issue.
In an article in this column entitled, ‘Osinbajo and the Role of Intellectuals in Politics’, (August 4, 2016) I wrote:
“On the Niger Delta Avengers, would the Vice President have lost anything if he had said something like:
“‘There are in several parts of the country seemingly good grounds for anger and we will respect people’s rights to feel aggrieved.
“But the solution will always be to dialogue rather than compound the problem by blowing up the pipelines’.
“Formulations like this will bring out the VP’s compassion as a pastor and satisfy the expectations that intellectuals are expected to empathize with the weaker parties in any conflict – even if they disagree with their methods of expressing their grievances.”
As Acting President this time around, a more compassionate Osinbajo appears to have emerged from the old Osinbajo that eagerly framed issues in the simplistic and hard line approaches favoured by his boss.
The new and more compassionate Osinbajo now no longer sees the Niger Delta activists as opportunists but as young men that must be “properly engaged.”
He even declared that the federal government would work with illegal refineries and would convert them to modular refineries.
Professor Osinbajo also spoke kindly and respectfully to the governors of the Niger Delta region and even gave one of them the pet name of ‘Mr. Projects.’
In the same vein, when the Acting President met with anti-government protesters who marched to the presidential villa in Abuja in early February 2017, he conceded to them the right to be aggrieved using the now popular passage:
“To those who are protesting…we hear you loud and clear. You deserve a decent life and we are working night and day to make life easier”
It would seem that what Osinbajo has brought into governance this time around is not just a show of compassion but perhaps a new approach to managing conflicts.