By Danladi Usman
A stage for national debates on who succeeds the incumbent President Muhammadu Buhari, seems to have been finally set by the former head of state, General Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida, over his submission on the pressing national issues, top of which was the coming 2023 presidential election and who the ideal candidate should be.
The former military President, General Babangida, fondly called IBB, had listed out qualities Nigerians should look out for in the possible successor of President Buhari, when he played up a new angle to the 2023 presidential election debates, during an exclusive interview on the Arise News Channel, last week.
Recalled, Babangida, popularly known as IBB, was a self-styled Nigeria’s former military ruler, who hijacked power on August 27, 1985, at a relatively youthful age of 44, and later transformed himself into a military president. How he slyly arranged to have his way against the popular will of Nigerians while in power fetched him his nickname, ‘Maradona’ and ‘The Evil Genius,’ as on two occasions, he was able to act convincingly and “dribbled” Nigerians to elongate his regime more than the period he had promised to hand over power to the civilians. The “Maradona” coinage in comparing IBB with the late ace Argentine footballer, Diego Maradona, a great ball joggler and dribbler, who scored a controversial goal that led Argentina to World Cup glory in 1986.
Even, with his dribbling strategy, later on after eight years in power, it appeared as if Babangida was about to fulfil his pledge of a return to the civilian government when a presidential election was finally held on June 12, 1993. The initial results of the presidential poll had indicated that the candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), a business mogul, Chief Moshood Kashimawo Abiola, popularly called “MKO,” was the apparent winner until the unthinkable happened!
Before the official results were announced, IBB had announced the annulment of the elections, a controversial decision that made his regime unpopular. It was in the wake of the civil unrest that ensued, IBB was forced out of power as he handed over control of the country to an interim civilian government headed by Mr Ernest Shonekan.
Babangida was a Maradona!
Though generally condemned by Nigerians for annulling the country’s freest and fairest presidential election, not withstanding, after he left power, Babangida has been a rallying point among the powerful elite, and has been relevant in the political power game. For this and the influence IBB commands among the Nigerian ruling class as a former military ruler, who escaped a bloody coup d’etat during his eight-year rule, whenever he speaks, his words are weighty enough, like revealing the mind of the oligarchic powerful elite.
So, it is well expected if IBB would stir up national discussions on would-be successors of President Buhari, even with the limiting criteria he listed for Nigerians to consider in choosing their next president, but favourable to some.
In his interview with Arise News Channel, IBB had hinted at the qualities the majority of Nigerians should consider in their choice of the next occupant of Aso Rock, the Presidential Villa, part of which is that individuals standing as potential candidates for either the presidential or vice-presidential positions in 2023 should be in their 60s.
Likewise, IBB said such persons should have a deep knowledge of the economy, must have contacts across the nation and must have been traversing the geo-political zones, marketing their acceptability and capacity.
“If you get a good leadership that links with the people and tries to talk with the people; not talking on top of the people, then we would be okay. I have started visualising a good Nigerian leader. That is, a person, who travels across the country and has a friend virtually everywhere he travels to and he knows at least one person that he can communicate with,” IBB said.
What this portends is the fact that among the top three popular potential candidates for the presidential position, especially within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP), two of them, a former Vice President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, PDP, and a former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, APC, both who would be in their 70s by the next election, have been stylishly ruled out of contesting for the presidential office by the IBB’s recommendations.
The last of the three, the incumbent Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, APC, is, however, favoured by all the IBB’s listed qualities. And his candidature was also preferent by a follow-up analysis made by the sister publication to the Arise News Channel, the THISDAY newspaper entitled: “2023: Who Leads Nigeria?” With a rider, “With 559 days to the election, search for a new president begins.”
Top among the 30 potential candidates listed by THISDAY in its Monday, August 9, 202 publication alongside the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, included Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi, President of African Development Bank (AfDB), Dr Akinwunmi Adesina; WTO DG, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Anambra State governor, Mr Peter Obi; Oyo State Governor Seyi Makinde; former CBN governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo; UN Deputy Secretary General, Mrs Amina Mohammed; former CBN deputy governor, Prof Kingsley Moghalu; Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote and former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, among others.
THISDAY in its analysis, juxtaposing issues raised by IBB with Osinbajo’s values contended that, the Vice President, a professor of law, born in March 8, 1957, who will be 66 years by 2023, would be an ideal candidate for the presidential office. Osinbajo, whose introduction to power didn’t start with his office as a VP, had been a successful public servant, especially being a former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos State, at a period he introduced series of reforms which has made the Lagos judicial system one of the best in the country.
In the THISDAY editorial submission, the analysts said: “Given a different field of play, Osinbajo should have been the most eligible to take over from Buhari in 2023,” and while it listed our the VP’s qualities, it said: “First, he is a Christian of the Pentecostal denomination. Two, he is from the Southwest. Three, he is in his sixties. Four, he can combine both politics and the economy for a smooth run governance,” which are exactly IBB’s concerns for a presidential candidate.
The platform though, noted that, Osinbajo, being a thoroughbred technocrat has no formal political base, it was also quick to establish that it was “understandable,” admitting that, “it is also arguable that he might have learnt on the job, whilst his understanding of the nation’s economy is by every inch not in doubt.”
Still, in its analysis, THISDAY submitted that, in all, Osinbajo, “having walked with Buhari for eight years, no one can sell the programmes of the administration better or able to sustain the programmes of the regime, whose ‘Change’ mantra is predicated on the tripod of economy, corruption and security, the three major monsters still confronting the nation till date, than Osinbajo.”
Then, corroborating the Osinbajo’s nationalism and readiness for the job in a separate discussion, analysts who put forward informed opinions while featuring on the Arise News Channel on Monday night, among whom were the former Chairman of the Nigeria Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC), Dr Sam Amadi and another analyst, Mahmud Jega, gave credence to the IBB’s position, while both agreed that such criteria fit the current Vice President Osinbajo.
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Amadi speaking on the qualities listed by IBB as related to the person of Osinbajo, said the Vice President “is eminently qualified above the other 30 personalities listed in the THISDAY report,” stating that: “In normal situations, there should be a line of succession. Prof Osinbajo has the quality, and maybe what he needs to build more is the courage because Nigeria needs somebody who can speak up and intervene more often in crisis facing the people.
While acknowledging the fact that Prof Osinbajo possesses some of the criteria outlined by IBB, Amadi said he was of the view that other candidates will face stiff challenges, noting that Osinbajo “is a good candidate and ought to be the number one contender for that position.
Similarly, Mahmud Jega lauded the credentials of Osinbajo, saying, “the current Vice President has all the credentials to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023,” as according to him: “Anybody who has been Vice President for 8 years should be a frontline candidate. Beyond this, Osinbajo is extremely capable technocratically to lead this country in 2023. He has all the qualities and is naturally in the lead ahead of the others.”
Osinbajo as an Acting President
Recalled Osinbajo is not new to the role he is being pitched for, as though a Vice President, he has acted in the capacity of an Acting President in at least three occasions, the first time being in 2016, when the president went on vacation, between February 5 and 10 in 2016, also in January 19, 2017, when the president wrote to the Nigerian Senate, notifying the Parliament of his intention to travel abroad on a 10-day vacation and that he would hand over to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Successful handling of security issues
During this period, Osinbajo proved his mettled as someone qualified for the job. Top among his achievements was his ability to hold the country together peacefully, as he was able to contain the restive insurgents to establish a relatively peaceful coordination of the national affairs.
Stabilisation plans and national economic growth
At that time, the Acting President Osinbajo, presiding over the National Economic Council (NEC) meeting, issued a directive to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), to review its foreign exchange policy that weakened the national currency, as the apex bank released $500 million to the banks, this forced dollars to crash, 24 hours after, stabilising the exchange rate at N450 from N525. It was during this period Osinbajo declared open the Agenda for Consultative Forum on Economic Recovery and Growth Plan, where he told the forum that the nation was in a very serious economic situation, but assured that the government remained committed to putting the economy on the path to sustainable growth
Confirmation of Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria
Osinbajo here proved to be a detribalised Nigerian. After series of controversies on the appointment of a substantive Chief Justice of Nigeria, it was then as the Acting President, Osinbajo submitted the name of Justice Walter Onnoghen to the National Assembly for confirmation, and this was even less than 24 hours to the expiration of his three-month acting period. It was this singular act that saved the country from a constitutional crisis, as it was believed that Onnoghen had been sidelined from occupying the office being from the Southern Nigeria, against a botched decision of a “cabal” to reproduce a Northerner in the office. But that Onnoghen was next in line to emerge, and this was stamped by Osinbajo defined his nationalism and positioned him as a leader who is fair and just.
Regulation of skyrocketing food prices
At this period there was hike in the food prices, and to contain this, the Acting President set up a presidential task force to address the skyrocketing prices of foodstuffs across the country. He also met with the executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ms Ertharin Cousin. Afterwards, the Presidential Task Force on Food Security was mandated to reduce prices of food items in the country.
At a particular Federal Executive Counsil meeting, measures were adopted to reduce prices of food items in the country, while the importation from ECOWAS countries of finished products that could be produced locally, were restricted, in addition was the approval by the FEC, of N21 billion for the construction of the Ilorin-Omu Aran-Kabba Road, Section, which will also ease the transportation of foodstuffs across the country’s north and south.
Solving of Niger Delta militants uprising
Osinbajo as the Acting President held a face-to-face talks with communities in the creeks of the oil-rich Niger Delta on how to stabilise the region, fix their infrastructure and ensure a hitch-free flow of crude to the international market. The purported neglect of the region, being the country’s economic power base has been the reason the militants put forward as the cause of their restiveness.
The Acting President also made a follow-up visit to Port Harcourt, Rivers State, where he met with stakeholders of the oil producing communities, and later rolled out the framework for the clean-up exercise of Ogoni land.
Strategic plans for growth and economic recovery
During his days as the Acting President, Osinbajo presided over the Presidential Business Forum, after which 59 strategies for implementing the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP) were unveiled. He launched the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Clinics at the Presidential Villa.
Part of the growth strategy was the adoption of 60-day national action plan for business, in an expanded meeting of the Presidential Enabling Business Council, chaired by Osinbajo as the Acting President, and was attended by the then Senate President Bukola Saraki, former House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara and other government officials. It was after the meeting Osinbajo told the nation to expect changes in business visas, as well as seaports and airports.
To solidify the plans, he also paid an unscheduled visit to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, where he inspected facilities and interacted with airport officials. But less than 24 hours after his unscheduled visit to Lagos airport, the Federal Government announced the sack of 10 directors of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). Three new directors and a general manager were also appointed for the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), to boost efficiency at the country’s airports.
Sack of DSS boss, Lawal Daura
In corroboration of the views earlier expressed by analysts that a firm holder of authority who is prudent can only rule successfully, Osinbajo had displayed these traits in power, when also in 2018 as the Acting President, he ordered the sack of the Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Mr. Lawal Musa Daura following the operatives blockade of the National Assembly complex.
Osinbajo, who described the unauthorized takeover of the National Assembly complex as a gross violation of constitutional order, rule of law and all acceptable notions of law and order, did not prolong the matter before approving the removal from office of Daura, considered to be part of the “untouchable” “Cabal” in Aso Rock.
Masked operatives of the DSS had prevented lawmakers, staff and journalists from entering the National Assembly, and its fallout was the opposition lawmakers accusing the ruling APC of being behind the blockade which saw the lawmakers locked out of their offices. The clerk of the National Assembly was also refused entry to the Assembly complex.
Daura, had earlier been summoned to the Presidential Villa by the Acting President few minutes before his sack, and was later directed to hand over to the most senior officer of the DSS until further notice.
Announcing his sack, the presidential spokesperson, Laolu Akande, in a statement, wrote: “Acting President Yemi Osinbajo has directed the termination of the appointment of the DG of the DSS, Mr. Lawal Musa Daura. Mr. Daura has been directed to hand over to the most senior officer of the State Security Service until further notice.”
As the Acting President, Osinbajo successfully combined his duties with various responsibilities assigned to him as the Vice President, such as chairing of the National Economic Council (NEC), the National Economic Management Team (NEMT), the government’s think-tank responsible for the formulation of the country’s economic policy direction, saddled with the responsibility of guiding the president on his functions.
Now, for over seven weeks of his active engagement as Acting President, Osinbajo navigated the country in the right direction without fear or favour, while his loyalty to his boss, President Buhari, who was out of the country at this period was undeterred. At the same time, Osinbajo’s commitment to the welfare of Nigerians was top-notch.
Then, till date, Osinbajo has travelled round the country solving problems and building friendships in Nigerians across different divides, especially in April, when he visited Ebonyi State, after the communal clash that led to the killing of 22 people in four communities of Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, which he described as “sad and unacceptable,” while he promised that the Federal Government will ensure justice for the victims of the unfortunate incident in the State.
Same was the situation in Imo State, in April, where the Vice President visited twice in 48 hours, first after the attack on the police stations and the state’s prison, and the following day was to commission projects.
In Imo, Osinbajo admonished Nigerians to come together and reject the agents of anarchy seeking to cause chaos for their selfish interests, especially as there are many more who are working tirelessly to build up the country’s system and to enhance it.
National Economic Sustainability Plan
Now, whether as the Acting President or back to his office as the Vice President, Osinbajo through policy formulation had redirected the economy of this country for good, in both capacities. Even, as NEC chairman. Likewise, driving the National Economic Sustainability Plans (ESP) of the Buhari administration, which has been a lifeline for many hit by the aftermath effects of Covid-19 devastation on the economy, a lot of Nigerians have benefitted in the unprecedented government largesse, while millions of businesses have been brought back to shape.
In all, it has been a success story for Osinbajo, who has shown competence and has proven to be qualified for this exalted and highly coveted office. So, if he is now becoming a recurring decimal in the power game towards who takes over as Nigeria’s President in 2023, it is understood. He is a man of sterling qualities, will Osinbajo emerge as a national consensus presidential candidate?
• Usman, a political and public affairs analyst, writes from Kano.