Vice President Yemi Osinbajo chaired the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting yesterday on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari who is in London on a ‘private visit’. The duty, however, did little to douse speculations that relations between him and his principal have hit an all-time low.
As the council sat at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, Nigerians heard the latest in a series of stories suggesting a methodical whittling down of the vice president’s influence. According to online reports, Buhari approved the sacking of at least 35 out of over 80 aides in the vice president’s office. The aides, said to have been issued appointment letters in August, included senior special assistants, special assistants, personal assistants and technical assistants.
The president had previously asked Osinbajo to seek presidential approvals for agencies under his supervision and had moved the National Social Investment Programme (N-SIP) from the vice president’s office to a new ministry. Besides, the Economic Management Team chaired by the vice president has since been replaced with the Economic Advisory Council under the direct purview of the president.
But details have emerged showing that Buhari’s Chief of Staff (CoS) Abba Kyari was behind the sacking of the aides. A presidency source told The Guardian yesterday that the affected staff already had foreknowledge of the development but were asked to tarry a while until Kyari returns from his visit to see the president in London. This is because Osinbajo had hoped that Buhari would reverse the decision.
The source said the aides were taken aback when late on Tuesday news filtered in that Buhari had approved the sacking in a correspondence presented to him by the CoS during the visit.Kyari plans Buhari’s schedules and is known to be one of president’s closest aides. Ministers reportedly queue in his office to see the president. His influence became apparent to many during a retreat organised by the presidency for ministers-designate. While declaring the retreat open on November 5, 2015, Buhari declared: “All communications and appointments from you (ministers) to the presidency should be routed through the Office of the Chief of Staff as it is the normal (procedure) in this presidential system.”
Some of the aides had their access tags retrieved at the gate yesterday. As they reported for work, security personnel checked their names against a list and seized the tags. Osinbajo’s spokesman, Laolu Akande, could not be reached for reaction as at press time as his number remained busy.
Many Nigerians have faulted Buhari’s failure to transmit a letter to the National Assembly empowering Osinbajo to act on his behalf. But Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (Senate), Babajide Omoworare, dismissed the criticism.At a press conference in Abuja, he said: “President Buhari has no reason to do so. I don’t think there is any way or manner that the office of the vice president has been relegated. The president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can work from anywhere he is in the world. The only celebrated case was that of the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, who was ill and could not transmit any letter to the National Assembly. The National Assembly had to work round the situation by ensuring that executive powers go to the vice president.”
Meanwhile, the president general of Igbo think-tank, Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, condemned the “subterfuge” surrounding the sacking of the aides. He noted: “The combination of the military man and the erudite professor (Osinbajo) was seen by many as a good one. But it appears that the military man has grown tired of the well-grounded reasoning of the professor. The development is certainly not good.”
The executive director of the Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), Ibuchukwu Ezike, said: “You don’t sack them without a cause. It is abuse of due process and negates the rule of law. Buhari should rescind this decision and stop acts that portray him as intimidating the vice president. That was how the judiciary was intimidated and is now dancing to his whims and caprices.”
But the deputy national president of Igbo socio-cultural group, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Mazi Chucks Ibegbu, said: “They should sort themselves out.” According to him, the group is more concerned about the country’s urgent need for restructuring, justice, equity and fairness and the parlous state of infrastructure in the southeast.
Similarly, a presidency source said: “The vice president must have been the one that orchestrated the action, to rid himself of some of those aides found wanting on graft-related issues and other activities inimical to the policies of the administration.”The source recalled that Osinbajo was in the past accused of employing predominantly members of his faith when he acted as president. “Many Nigerians, especially from the North, criticised him of religious bias in appointments before Buhari returned from his medical trip.”
The national president of Yoruba Ronu, Mr. Akin Malaolu, also dismissed the outcry against the sacking. He said since most of the agencies under the office of the vice president have been moved to different ministries, thus there was no need to keep redundant staff. I think Osinbajo himself might have applied for their sacking.”
Another source close to the Lagos All Progressives Congress chapter also said some of the sacked aides were no longer relevant in the villa since agencies under Osinbajo’s office have been relocated.But Second Republic lawmaker, Junaid Mohammed, said: “I’m not surprised. There is something abnormal, unusual and completely counter-intuitive in the way Osinbajo put his office.”
Accusing the vice president of favouritism in appointments, he said: “This man (Osinbajo) has absolutely no focus other than his own people. And I have reasons to say so. Almost everybody (aide) there is from his church. In a country with this complexity, you don’t run things like that.
“People who have been recruited and deployed to Osinbajo’s office are, by law and convention, appointees of the president himself. And for whatever reason, the president has allowed Osinbajo to get away with this. Even if Buhari is unable to do something about it, it will cause a very serious problem for Osinbajo who is nurturing the idea of vying for president in 2023. There is a strong feeling that the person who will emerge as running mate to Osinbajo could be Pastor Adeboye.”But the national secretary of the Coalition of United Political Parties, (CUPP) Salisu Dawaki, said the sacking of the aides is part of a plot by a powerful APC chieftain in the southwest to become president in 2023.