By Ibraheem Dooba
Since President Muhammadu Buhari (PMB) began his vacation and the appointment of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as the acting president, many have argued about who owns the credits resulting from the positive outcomes due to the actions of Osinbajo.
PMB’s supporters believe that some of the activities of the acting president have been initiated for some time, therefore, if Osinbajo runs the final lap, it would be mischievous to credit him exclusively.
Buhari’s opponents on the other hand, including those who are fondly called the “wailers”, said that PMB had an ample time to do many of what Osinbajo is doing now and didn’t do them. And if someone is executing them now, they argue, that person should be credited and not the time-waster.
Who is right and who is wrong? Is there a discernable pattern that has emerged that is consistent enough to distinguish PMB’s time and Osinbajo’s style? Or is this a false dichotomy? Let’s examine the evidence.
We should inspect at least three actions of the acting president over the past month to see if we could extract some insights.
One, the appreciation of the naira. Fact: the emir of Kano, Muhammadu Sanusi II, a former CBN governor, visited the acting president (on February 8). Fact: A week after the visit, Osinbajo sent a directive to the CBN to review its foreign exchange policy (on February 16). Fact: A week after the directive, CBN changed its foreign exchange rules. Fact: naira immediately appreciated in the parallel market.
The visit of Emir Sanusi was a curious thing. Obviously, he had been giving advice on the economy in secret and the open; but those concerned wouldn’t listen, until he made an outburst recently. Still nothing happened.
However, many Nigerians, this writer included, believed government shouldn’t only listen, but also accommodate insights from people like Emir Sanusi, a card carrying risk manager and forecaster. It would appear he’s patriotic and selfless enough. And he’s not exactly overburdened by the considerations that his frequent interventions would cause him personal harm – consider how his whistle blew him out of the CBN governor seat.
He also appears to know what he’s doing. Even the Qur’an says: Ask those who know [experts], whenever you don’t know. Osinbajo might have heeded this call after all. Because for a while, the CBN seemed to have been scared out of its wits on what to do with naira’s southward movement.
And when Atedo Peterside argued for a rethink at the Daily Trust Annual Dialogue in January, the CBN governor, Mr. Godwin Emefiele, the CBN governor, got angry. At issue was the multiple exchange rates. Experts have counted 11. Mr. Peterside, in particular, faulted the allocation of 60% forex to the manufacturing sector when it contributes only 10% to our GDP. When Emiefile collected the microphone to counter, he could hardly contain his anger. They were convinced they were doing the right thing, he said, because they like Peterside, cared for the nation.
The sending of a directive to the CBN would appear to have engendered the change in policy.
In the foregoing, there is a pattern for those who observe. Yet, it might not be Emir Sanusi’s visit that set the policy in motion, after all the decision was reached at a Federal Executive Council meeting. Probably, Osinbajo’s directive came at the right time, because during this time, our foreign reserve appreciated to almost $30 billion, so that the CBN was able to pump $500 into our forex pipeline. Before now, we simply couldn’t afford our imports because we didn’t have enough exchange rate to buy them. Oil, which used to give us that foreign exchange has not been doing well because crude oil price fell and militants in the Niger Delta disrupted production such that the 2.2 million barrels per day was no longer feasible; then our balance of trade nose-dived into a deficit, meaning, we import more than we export.
However, if the visit of Sanusi has anything to do with this, would PMB have invited him to give such advice, or is it something that only Osinbajo would do? Another way to frame the question is, would PMB have listened to the experts? An even better question is, when Osinbajo aggregated the advice of experts, did he mention it to the president before sending the directive to CBN? It is my opinion that it was likely that he did.
Two, The dizzying speed at which Osinbajo signed seven bills into law, left many compatriots who were already getting used to the snail-speed disposition of the PMB, dazed. If supporters of PMB – including the fanatical ones – would accept any one fault of his, this is the one. They concede that PMB – and the nation – can benefit from the hurry sickness (no pun intended) rather than taking forever to implement even the simplest of decisions.
Therefore, was the signing of the bills only Osinbajo’s doing or PMB also contributed? It’s possible, but not probable that the acting president would sign seven important bills into law without the input of his principal. Therefore, they must have shared notes on this before the final decision.
Three, the visit to the Murtala Muhammad International Airport by the acting president has Osinbajo written all over it. It is not in the character of PMB to do that; ironically, it is in the character of his deputies. Even when he was younger, PMB wasn’t exactly the “management by moving around” type of leader, but Idiagbon was. He had his fingers on most of the switches in the country as he jumped from one end to the other. Now Osinbajo also seems to be like that.
Osinbajo understands that improvement in the ease of doing business in Nigeria wouldn’t happen if our embassies are allowed to do the gate-keeping. They have made getting a Nigerian visa one of most difficult in the world. Therefore, you can now come to Nigeria, and collect your visa at a Nigerian airport as other countries do. Although this initiative was started long before Osinbajo started acting, visiting the airport was a distinctively Osinbajo move.
So who should get the credit for all the positive outcomes that have resulted since Professor Yemi Osinbajo started acting? Team PMB or Osinbajo alone? It’s my opinion that this is a false dichotomy. What is happening between the president on vacation and the acting president, I think, is what is called the “commander’s intent” in military parlance. Because of the understanding that no strategy survives contact with the enemy, instead of elaborate details, the commanders reduce their strategies to intents. “I want you to take out the bridge,” he may say for example. He wouldn’t tell them how they should do it. In the case of Buhari and Osinbajo, PMB might have told him “look, I trust your judgement. Take any decision that is right for our people.”
Again, PMB is the kind of leader that would do that. Even though many accuse him of overdoing it, PMB puts a great deal of stock on delegation. But what is leadership if not delegation?
Dooba writes from Abuja.