Tried and true Buhari-Osinbajo partnership: Some lessons to learn and benefits

President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in a relaxed mood at the Presidential Villa, Abuja. (File photo)

Marissa Mayer, an American businesswoman and investor, was once quoted as saying, “When you need to innovate, you need collaboration,” and this appears to be true of the kind of partnership the duo of Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo have built in the past six years of administering the country. There are of course, more to this, as earning a trust of each other is what is built over time. How the Buhari-Osinbajo collaboration is yielding results, what to learn from it, plus its benefits are analysed in this account by FADEMI OLUWATOBILOBA. 

When you fully trust someone, surely, you get one of the two results: “A person for life,” or “a lesson for life.” Without doubt, Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari has gotten the former from his Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, going by the bond and confidence we see existing between these two exemplary leaders.

Trust is so fragile when it exists, anything is possible between people or nations. Prof Yemi Osinbajo has earned the trust of President Buhari over time and this has affirmed the saying of Arthur Ashe that: “Trust has to be earned and should come only with time.”

The fact that the Vice President, Prof Osinbajo, has, on several occasions, earned the vote of confidence from President Buhari, goes a long way in bringing to fore the trust and confidence the President has in his deputy.

Let’s, first of all, assess it from here: not too long ago, felicitating Prof Osinbajo during his 64th birthday, President Buhari described his Vice President as “a reliable and dedicated deputy, who is not only admirably competent but also exudes confidence and passion in the performance of his job.”

President Buhari said: “I’m proud to have selected Osinbajo as my running mate and he has given a good account of himself since our journey began in 2015.”

He went further to describe the Vice President as a coolheaded gentleman, who puts the interest of Nigeria above other narrow considerations.

“Vice President Osinbajo is an incredibly patient politician, who demonstrates remarkable intellectual and mental energy in the discharge of his duties,” President Buhari said, while he wished his Vice President many more prosperous years, and asked the Almighty God to continually guide him.

President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. (File photo)

Also, Vice President Osinbajo, delivering a remark at the book launch on the mid-term scorecard on the President Buhari administration by the Media Section of the State House at the State Conference Centre Abuja on 16th November, 2017, extolled the virtues of his boss.

Osinbajo said, in a country where politicians sometimes want to be as wealthy as Dangote, it is refreshing to have a President who most people won’t even dare to discuss any private benefit on a project let alone a bribe or a kick-back.

“Nigeria’s major problem is corruption, it is the main reason for the depletion of our resources, such that we had no savings when oil prices fell, and we were losing over 1 billion barrels a day.

“It was the prudence and honesty of the President that ensured that despite the economic downturn, we were able to support the States, spend N1.3 trillion on capital expenditure, the largest in the history of the nation, and also to ensure we met all our other obligations, both foreign and local.

“Mr President’s unassuming personality and humility, is in my view, probably his greatest strength. This is why he is never flattered, or carried away by praise or adulation. He has always said: “I don’t pretend to know all the answers. I am here to provide stability and leadership, to a generation, a group of people, determined to run this country honestly, to provide jobs and prosperity to the poor, and our huge youth population.”

Besides what the Vice President said of his boss, an incorruptible man he was known to be, even in his days as a uniformed man, now reflecting on the President’s statement and how Osinbajo merited his many kind words, it suffices to say that the Vice President must have won the trust and confidence of his boss at a time the President was away on medical leave in London, the United Kingdom. It may predate this, but assessing developments at this period, not minding his direct access to the powers of a Commander-in-Chief, one striking thing then was how Osinbajo as the Acting President diligently and loyally superintended over the country, and still kept a tab on the President, while keeping him in the know with the affairs of the country.

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Even at that, there was still this rumour that some of the President’s Northern kinsmen who made up the infamous “Aso Rock Cabal” had schemed for a change of the Vice President, purportedly to replace him with their “anointed nominee” for the office of the Vice President, preparatory to a possible establishment change, as it was believed with the President’s unwellness, he may either not return to occupy his office, or if he returns, he may not be fit enough to rule as the President and Commander-in-Chief anymore due to his worsening state of health.

With the political meandering bringing up streams of unpalatable developments, then as the Acting President, Osinbajo was neither perturbed nor seen to be agitated, rather, he maintained his stability and focus, while he remained committed to the progressive Nigerian project. He was not distracted, but stayed glued and committed to the matters of governance, while as a sagacious and tenacious administrator, he held an impenetrable fort until his boss returned and resumed office. It is good to note that as a loyal subordinate, and much more being a pastor, he must have interceded for his boss to return hail and hearty, and as someone found worthy of God as His servant, the Almighty answered his prayer. Buhari returned alive with a sound mind, vigorous and doing well.

Since his arrival, President Buhari has never shied away from publicly appreciating and acknowledging his deputy anytime the occasion demands for it. I recall on a particular Sallah festival, the President couldn’t resist pouring expressions of praise on his loyal deputy when the Vice President, in the company of the Service Chiefs and a delegation from the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), paid President Buhari the traditional Sallah homage at the Villa,

Buhari, receiving his guests, said he was pleased with the activities of the Vice President, while he urged him not to relent despite the challenges.

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The President said: “I want to appreciate the number two man of the country (Osinbajo) because he knows what we are going through very quietly; I am very pleased that you came with this very powerful constituency.

“I appeal to you to remain exemplary so that those under you will know that the country is doing very well. If you break down and complain, the impact will reverberate all over and then the government will not be popular and whatever efforts we are making will not be appreciated.’’

During their visit, typical of his dramatic approach to issues, President Buhari with histrionic gestures, took the guests down the memory lane of his long journey to Presidency starting from 2003, 2007, 2011 to 2015, which he said were interesting political developments that enabled him to visit all the 774 local governments in the country. And as he thanked his supporters for their steadfastness and pledged to give his best in service to the country despite the odds, VP Osinbajo congratulated the President on the solemn occasion that marked the end of Ramadan.

In the Vice President’s response, we can see the level of cordiality and fondness for each other, as he equally used that occasion to further thank God on the life of the President, saying, “God has been extremely good to the President and the government.”

His words: “I believe that our country is at a threshold of the breakthrough that we have been praying for and hoping for all these many years. And this is why many challenges are going on.

“Challenges around security, religion, people who are stoking up ambers of the lagoon, religious grievance and ethnic divisions and all that. But this gathering is one of those gatherings that we are at liberty, political leadership, religious leadership to demonstrate to our people that this country is a country of one people, the Nigerian people.

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“They may be different in their faith, ethnicity but we are one people. We are one and united people. I want to commend all our leaders, who are here for making this tradition, that we will come together, Christians, Muslims, and people of a different faith to demonstrate that this country is united; and that those who will want to stoke up embers or division we will not allow them to do so.

“So, I want to urge all our leaders here that we must not allow the rhetoric of religion to supersede the rhetoric of unity; we must also speak up; we must seek ways that will unite our country,’’ Prof Osinbajo said.

Undoubtedly, as frankly stated, the Vice President’s statements made real the fact that both himself and President Buhari are marching in unison in moving Nigeria forward without minding their religious, tribal and language differences. They both understood each other as belonging to one Nigeria.

All these are testimonies to the reason the confidence, trust and belief, the President has for his deputy is so strong, which is a relationship, one can’t say past Vice President enjoyed with their bosses in the nation’s democratic history.

Even, within official circles, the conviviality we see is impressive and inspiring, not to now imagine how the air that blows around them relaxing will be so fresh. For his competence earlier spoken to, and this robust relationship, one can say is the reason President Buhari handed over to his deputy some crucial national tasks in the country. He has entrusted him with policy-making, social intervention programmes and implementations, heading and chairing of key committees that would bring about major changes and interventions in the county.

For instance, when the coronavirus pandemic came ravaging and sending its venom into the fabrics of the economies of countries around the world, the President could not think of a better antidote than his deputy. He was directed to draw up a plan that will cushion the effect of the menace and this birthed the Economic Sustainability Committee chaired by Vice President Osinbajo, with members drawn from the cabinet, which include the Minister of Finance; Budget and National Planning, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment; Minister of Labour and Employment; Minister of Works and Housing; Minister of State for Petroleum Resources; Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development; among other principal officers in the country.

The committee swung into action under the supervision of the Vice President to devise a sustainable strategy that would keep the economy going, while also making provisions for Nigerians in relief measures to ensure that the country was able to retain jobs and as well create more. The committee was also expected to boost the country’s economy in a way that the polity would take advantage of the challenges of the times and convert it to opportunities.

As if the COVID-19 devastation was not enough, the country’s economy at this time had already suffered a recession, and the only thing needed was an urgent measure, plus a drastic, radical and bold approach to salvage the situation. Low and behold, again, the Vice President, fortunately, rose to the occasion with the development of the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) initiative which saw the country exit recession unexpectedly in a record time.

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We need to thank the Federal Government for this COVID-19 stimulus package, which salvaged the Nigerian economy from degenerating as many feared would happen. And in all, at least over two million jobs have both been created and saved with the implementation of the Economic Sustainability Plan.

As gathered from the highlights of the Vice President while presiding over a virtual meeting of the Economic Sustainability Committee to measure the implementation of the initiative, he said, though the target of N2.3 trillion estimated to be spent under the plan has not been achieved just as yet, the Federal Government’s appropriation part of that total being N500 billion has been completely released by the end of May 2021, making it possible to attain several objectives of the ESP directly supporting a few million Nigerians.

While a total of 2,100,021 jobs have been saved and created altogether, the breakdown of the figures indicate that 1.3 million jobs have been retained through interventions in the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) space, including the Payroll Support. The 774,000 jobs from the Public Works Programme and 26,021 jobs from construction and rehabilitation projects across the country were among those freshly created.

Commenting further on the implementation of the ESP, Osinbajo said the 100 per cent release of funds appropriated in the budget for the programme was commendable and urged the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to expedite action on the release of funding components of the ESP that are dependent on financing from the bank.

As we can see, the pragmatic approach the Vice President employed with the ESP policy has further reinforced the confidence the President reposed in him, as he beckoned on Prof Osinbajo once again to take up the herculean task of chairing a committee that is tasked with a target of lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years.

This time round, part of the term of reference for the committee was to help reduce poverty in Nigeria, where the poverty rate is already on the high side. This gave birth to the National Steering Committee (NSC) of the National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy (NPRGS) chaired by Osinbajo and have some governors, ministers and a couple of high ranking government officials in the country as members.

At this time, they were tasked with the duty of drawing up plans with simple, common-sense strategies that would deliver results just as the case was with the Economic Sustainability Committee.

Again, when the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) was deeply engulfed in the crisis among the party men and women, to reposition things, strengthen the party and resolve internal challenges, the President inaugurated a Tripartite Consultative Committee of the Executive, Legislature, and leadership of the APC. The committee was set up to amicably resolve conflicts in the party through regular consultations that would create more understanding among the aggrieved members of the party.

Even, to resolve a political party’s issues, the President could not think of a better person to handle and oversee this committee than his trusted Vice President, Prof Osinbajo. He was expected to help align the party’s objectives, ensure electoral promises of the party are met, remind the party members of the need to always move the county forward and for the party to maintain his winning footing on the body politic towards 2023 elections.

Members of the consultative committee which was headed by the Vice President include; the Senate President, Ahmed Ibrahim Lawal, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, Deputy Senate President, Ovie Omo-Agege; Deputy Speaker, Ahmad Idris Wase, Governor of Yobe State/Chairman APC Caretaker Committee, Mai Mala Buni, Senate Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado Dogowa amongst others.

The Vice President subsequently delivered as expected and normalcy returned to the party at least, as his committee swung into action.

Another area worth mentioning is the health sector which has witnessed many and constant challenges in recent times, with the medical doctors frequently going on strike and has even resulted in frequent altercations they’ve had with the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, a fellow on the medical job.

After the National Association of Resident Doctors (NARD) began their traditional national strike, which has lasted for months over labour issues, Mr President saw a need to reform the sector and salvage it from crumbling. Again, the Vice President who has shown competence and diligence on assignments and tasks giving to him by the President was called upon to take charge of the committee that would bring about the transformation and redemption needed in the country’s health sector.

The national president of NARD, Dr Okhuaihesuyi Uyilawa, reacting to this development could not hide his trust and belief in the Vice President when he confessed on a national TV that he believed in competence and integrity of Prof Osinbajo to salvage the situation in the health sector has found itself.

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Dr Uyilawa said on Channels TV, “The Vice President is our only hope,” when asked if the association believes the Vice President to handle the situation, NARD president further said: “The Vice President has integrity, trust and he is somebody I believe can make things work.” And to confirm this, only a few days after Osinbajo’s intervention, the resident doctors on Monday, October 4, 2021 suspended their 63-day old industrial action, as announced by NARD president after a National Executive Council resolution of the association. The National President of NARD, Dr Uyilawa, said the suspension will take effect on Wednesday, 6th October, 2021.

This further indicates that the trust and confidence in the person of the Vice President are not limited to the President alone, it has been acknowledged by the Nigerian people who have come in close contact with him.

In another development, the Chairman of the Northern Governors’ Forum, Simon Lalong, while commenting about the Vice President during a public event said: “As Northern Governors, we have enjoyed tremendous cooperation of the Vice President, who gives us a listening ear as an individual and at collective levels and engages us on how to tackle the challenges of our region and the nation.

The Vice President, Prof Osinbajo, has shown true leadership on at different times and he has displayed competence, capacity and capability in diligently delivering on tasks and assignments giving to him at an age where competence and integrity have become a rare commodity.

He has been called “The Fixer” on several occasions, a title well deservedly won going by testimonies at how he handles complex problems facing the country and how he seamlessly proffer solutions to virtually all of them.

Osinbajo has truly proven to be an honourable, dependable and trustworthy person to the President, and Nigerians at large. Little wonder that his boss is enamoured of him and has this rare confidence and trust in the person of his Vice President, Prof Osinbajo. The lives of these two leaders are worth emulating by those who aspire to build formidable partnerships in politics, business, and others areas who you need someone to watch your back. And for a subordinate, check the mien of Osinbajo, and learn from it, cultivate it too. It may not all be rosy, but be sure, there is always a reward for loyalty to a boss and the course joining you together. It is divine, and that is why Osinbajo is excelling treading the paths others once trod and flopped.

Oluwatobiloba is a social analyst and commentator.