By now most Nigerians believe that something is seriously amiss in the Presidency between the President and the Vice President. Many things happened since last month to indicate that President Muhammadu Buhari no longer enjoys the political company of Professor Yemi Osinbajo. What is not yet clear is the bone of contention in the quarrel. There was a story in Reader’s Digest many years ago, about a man who saw two dogs fighting ferociously over something. He chased the dogs away and picked up the bone they were fighting over. The man looked at it closely and then declared, “So this is the bone of contention!”
Some pundits have already picked up what they think could be the bone of contention: the agencies once under the Vice President’s direct supervision. Prominent ones were NEMA, National Boundary Commission, Border Communities Development Agency and SIPs. The Presidency publicly announced in September that Osinbajo had been told to clear with Buhari all matters regarding these agencies. The indication there was that he had not been doing so.
A day earlier, the Presidency announced the disbanding of the Economic Management Team that Osinbajo headed since 2015 and replaced it with an Economic Advisory Council headed by Prof Salami. Last month, Buhari travelled out to Saudi Arabia and then on to Britain but he did not transmit a letter to make Osinbajo the Acting President. To drive home the point, he sat down in London and signed the Deep Offshore Act, photos from which event the Presidency energetically distributed.
Some pundits think the bone of contention was Osinbajo’s sacking, when he was the Acting President, of Director General of the Department of State Service [DSS] Lawal Daura, a powerful operator in the Buhari Presidency. Or maybe the bone of contention was that he sent Justice Walter Onnoghen’s name to the Senate for confirmation as Chief Justice of Nigeria [CJN], though Buhari had delayed it. Earlier this year, Buhari engineered Onnoghen’s removal as CJN.
Osinbajo twice sent Ibrahim Magu’s name to Senate for confirmation as EFCC Chairman. When Senate refused, Osinbajo publicly campaigned for Magu to continue as Acting Chairman. That issue is an unlikely bone of contention because from all indications, Buhari is happy with Magu’s service, which has provided some teeth to the anti-corruption campaign. Perhaps the bone of contention was Osinbajo’s chairing of the committee that indicted Secretary to the Government of the Federation [SGF] Babachir David Lawal in the grasscutter scandal, together with then DG of the Nigeria Intelligence Agency Ayo Oke. Buhari reluctantly eased Lawal out on the basis of the report.
Or maybe the bone of contention goes all the way back to 2017, when Buhari was out of the country on extended medical leave and Osinbajo reversed the appointment of Dikko Abdulrahman as director general of PenCom. The explanation then was that Dikko did not meet the criteria for the appointment. Or maybe Osinbajo’s dynamic prancing up and down Nigerian markets to promote Trader Moni was the bone of contention. Coming as it did just before the last elections, some alleged it was mass bribery but we do not know if it upset Buhari. He must have approved it though, since it lasted many months and cost a lot of money.
Or maybe the bone of contention was Osinbajo’s disowning of the Ministry of Agriculture’s Rural Grazing Area [RUGA] program last June. RUGA was political hot potato in the South, so Osinbajo publicly denied that the National Economic Council [NEC] which he chaired had endorsed it. He instead stood by the Nigeria Livestock Development Program, which is essentially the same thing. Some newspapers have alleged that it was FIRS contract awards that is the bone of contention, but we don’t know for sure.
Or maybe it was the number of aides massed in his office. Last Thursday, news filtered out that 35 Osinbajo aides were sacked on Buhari’s orders, including an Awolowo grandson and former Oyo State Governor Abiola Ajimobi’s daughter. Osinbajo’s spokesman Laolu Akande gamely said it was not true but the next day, Presidential spokesman Garba Shehu said it is true, that it was part of a down-sizing to reduce the cost of governance. A final, possible bone of contention is 2023, though we can’t easily say what the problem there is.
In 2001, Vice President Atiku Abubakar received us as editors of New Nigerian in his Abuja residence. He told us something about how he was managing to get along with his boss, President Obasanjo. He said, “I only execute the assignment the president asks me to execute. When I am going to execute it, I go to him and say, this assignment that you gave me, should I go ahead and execute it? And after I finish, I would go back to him and say, this assignment that you gave me, I have executed it.”
Either Atiku Abubakar did not leave this piece of advice in the handing over notes file for Osinbajo to benefit from, or perhaps he did but Osinbajo never found the time to read it. But never mind. Two years after he told us this story, Atiku ran into serious trouble. In August 2003, Obasanjo sacked several of Atiku’s top aides. One of those sacked was Garba Shehu, the one who confirmed the sacking of Osinbajo’s aides last Friday.
Like Raeder, like Hameed Ali
Comptroller General of the Nigeria Customs Service Colonel Hameed Ali’s gung-ho approach to the closure of Nigeria’s land borders reminded me of a passage in William Shirer’s 1960 book, Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. It was about Adolf Hitler’s decision in 1940 to bomb British cities, a war crime borne out of desperation because he could not invade the British Isles. If only it could land on British shores, the German Army’s 300 divisions would make mincemeat of the British Army’s 16 divisions. However, it could not reach the British Isles because Britain’s Royal Navy was ten times stronger than the German Navy. The latter’s Commander-in-Chief, Grand Admiral Erich Raeder, said the Brits could sink all his ships if he tried to ferry the Army across the English Channel.
At the meeting to consider options, Commander-in-Chief of the German Airforce, Reich Marshall Herman Goering, proposed the bombing of British cities by his Luftwaffe instead. Other Field Marshals present at the meeting were lukewarm to the idea because it amounted to war crime. Only Raeder supported it. The author Shirer wryly observed, “Raeder’s enthusiasm for the bombing stemmed from his lack of enthusiasm for the landing.”
I suspect that Colonel Hameed Ali’s enthusiasm for the border closure stems from his lack of enthusiasm for normal Customs enforcement of anti-smuggling laws. Tried as he did in the four years since he became CG, he apparently concluded that he will never be able to stop the smuggling of rice, used vehicles and firearms into Nigeria through the land borders. Every method from border patrol to pre-shipment inspection to destination inspection has been tried in the last 30 years, without success. Hameed Ali therefore enthusiastically supported the closure of borders, which ECOWAS founding fathers may describe as the economic equivalent of war crime. No wonder that, much like the German Field Marshals, top Nigerian officials in charge of security, economy and diplomacy are less enthusiastic about border closure.
After the war, the International War Crimes Tribunal at Nuremberg tried and convicted Admiral Raeder. We do not want to see our Colonel Hameed Ali hauled before the World Trade Organisation’s [WTO] Economic War Crimes Tribunal, if such a tribunal exists.