By Oluwafemi Popoola
For most of human history, the position of a deputy or Vice President in government is often mostly associated with paltriness. Nothing significant is attached to the office. To many political observers, the office is a metaphor for political downtime with little or zero executive powers.
American Vice President John Nance Garner, who served under President Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1933-1941, was once quoted to have said that the vice presidency is “not worth a bucket of warm spit.” That is the extent of the superficial worthlessness of the office. Apart from playing some advisory roles to Mr President or chairing some committees, almost Vice Presidents are widely known to serve under the pleasure of their bosses.
Of course, the Vice President is first in the line of succession should the President die in office, or perhaps serves as Acting Head of State in case the serving President is incapacitated and unable to discharge his duties. Besides that, the office is constitutionally ineffectual. Sadly, the occupants are often susceptible to vitriol, attacks, ridicule and contempt from political enemies.
Under the U.S. Constitution, the Vice President is the President of the Senate. His main official duty is to cast a vote on any issue in which the Senate is divided at 50 votes apiece. In U.S. politics, the role of a Vice President varies from one administration to another. According to a few observers of the American political process, only former President Barack Obama, in his eight-year tenure, was said to have relied on VP Joe Biden and consulted with him more often than almost any other Presidents in American history.
In Nigeria, the Office of the Vice President is more terrible. It is a toothless and isolated office. Yes, the Nigerian Vice President takes an active role in establishing policy in the Executive branch by serving on different committees and councils, but the relative power of the VP’s office depends upon the duties delegated by the President. In most cases, most Presidents often hold a more distant and distrustful relationship with their Vice Presidents. The mistrust, no matter how imperceptible, is constantly there. It follows them like a sentinel.
Under normal conditions, the Presidency isn’t meant to be a one-man show. It transcends individualism. Its multifold obligations are already cumbersome for one person to handle.
Since 1999, Nigeria has had a deluge of characters as Vice Presidents. But only the current Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, has laid a vision for how the Vice President could play a more intimate and active role in governance.
As President Buhari’s Vice President, Osinbajo enjoys a much cordial and enviable relationship with his principal. From even almost anyone who has known him, whether or not they are political allies. More so, the former Professor and lecturer at the University of Lagos (UNILAG) has redefined the office by assuming a stratospheric level of responsibility that his predecessors never had. He has profoundly manufactured a model and set a new template for his successors.
It’s nearly impossible to say anything about the VP’s persona without delving into his excellent communication skills and oratory brilliance. But there is more to his erudition and the role he has played as a Vice President. Osinbajo is the best symbol of good governance and the best public servant that has emerged since 1999 in the history of Nigeria.
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The Vice President’s achievements as VP for eight years under Buhari are many and a great number of them. His passion for development seems to be incomparable by all strata. He is perhaps the most significant player in this government either in moments of calm or crises.
During the turbulent times occasioned by the global pandemic, most Nigerians feared the worst. The Covid-19 pandemic had greatly exposed the vulnerability of the global economy. Surprisingly, the economies of the advanced countries in the world were hit the hardest by the pandemic. Stock values plummeted in the worst recorded falls, resulting in a global economic crisis.
Many Nigerians began to ask urgent questions. How would the poor and vulnerable cope? What will be the fate of daily income earners? How will they cope? Those were the throngs of questions that were asked by many Nigerians when the going was getting tough.
As directed by President Muhammadu Buhari, VP Osinbajo was assigned a duty to rescue the situation and that led to him being made the head of the Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) team and set out to work in what looked like a very critical assignment with due diligence and commitment.
Consequently, Prof Osinbajo-led committee drafted the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) which Nigerians were to benefit from several packages like MSME Survival Fund to support small businesses, Technology and youth support, Mass Housing Programmes, Agriculture and Food Security scheme to provide jobs, improve food supply and production nationwide, among others.
As a result of the interventions, Nigeria in no distant time leapt out of recession faster than anticipated with more than 5℅ growth in the economy. Also, over one million jobs were saved. About 150,000 small businesses were prevented from closure. The welfare of the people is sacrosanct. It is not only the primary responsibility of any government but also the acid test with which government is measured everywhere. Osinbajo understands perfectly this principle.
Other projects spearheaded by Osinbajo in this government include: The Ease of Doing Business, Home Grown School Feeding Programme, MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) Clinics, and the National Social Register and various welfare intervention programmes of this administration.
As Acting President, Osinbajo did excellently well in stabilizing the country. His performance in government got him praises from even the members of the opposition. Nigerians saw his Midas touch in the handling of public affairs which brought about economic stability, forward-thinking, peace, justice, discipline, and protection of human lives.
As Prof Adigun Agbaje, a First Class Political Scientist and former Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Ibadan (UI) institution put it, “Here you have a man of ideas, marrying that into his role as a man of action, not afraid to bring the ideas to the table, not afraid to pursue the ideas in the realm of action.”
While he will be leaving the VP office at age 66, Osinbajo has not said whether he is done with politics. His statements after the All Progressives Congress (APC) primary election loss gave a lifeline to his ardent supporters. Many of them had thought the defeat would break him by giving up on Nigeria. But that was not the case. His words came as a soothing balm to them; the echoes still reverberate in their hearts and in millions of Nigerians who believe in his leadership.
Hear him, ”There are battles ahead, but we will win the war for a new Nigeria. I do not doubt in my mind that we will win that war for a new Nigeria. I am committed and will remain committed to that dream (of a new Nigeria), for as long as you are willing and recognize that we have not yet written the story of this country, we have not yet completed the story of this country. As a matter of fact, the story has just begun.”
This speech would be archived for future reference because on that day the dream for a New Nigeria was conceived. The delivery may tarry but it will certainly come to reality. For Professor Yemi Osinbajo, his eight-year brilliant stewardship as Vice President of Nigeria has expanded the authority of a constitutionally insignificant office beyond precedent. The sprightly 66-year-old man represents the hope and aspiration of future generations. Many happy returns of today. Happy birthday, Prof!
• Popoola is a political analyst and journalist.