Mr Ordia Ofeimun, thinker, poet, author, is a former private secretary to Chief Obafemi Awolowo. In this brief interview with THISAGE on the sidelines of a conference, he gives legal and constitutional background to the travails of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and proffer solutions. Excerpts:
As a major stakeholder in the Nigeria Project how would you view the trouble VP Osinbajo is undergoing at present?
Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo was bound to have the problem he is having, not because of his nature or whatever he has done wrong but because the Nigerian Constitution was designed to put every Vice -President in trouble.
You see, because of the North-South problem in Nigeria, no office is properly thought out for Nigerian purposes. It is always edged by the necessity to balance power between North and South, so that when we were constructing the Nigerian Presidency, we put a VP position, which was defended on the ground that VP should have something to do, that it is not good for them to be seen as mere spare tyres that may not be used.
Wrong position. Because a presidency requires that a Vice- President and the President should act as one unit and it should not become a double- barrel headship.
Wherever you mentioned the Vice-Presidency you are mentioning the President. And it requires a civilized President to know how to handle a Vice- Presidency. But in the Nigerian situation, they were looking for a job for the VP. You know under Obasanjo, the VP, properly speaking was a northerner, I mean when he was a Head of State, not when he was a civilian president.
But that could have been corrected so that the VP worked directly under a structure, an organogram that is right under the President.
But because of this need to balance North and South, they had to skew the relationship between the President and his VP, by giving the VP the National Economic Council, NEC. That NEC has no business being under the VP.
But why not?
Just listen. It is a job that both the President and the VP should be at one with. But remember, this necessity always to balance between North and South came into the picture at the eve of the new democratic dispensation.
The first time a proper change should have been done was under General Abdulsalami’s regime in 1998. But under Abdulsalami, they knew who would be President, Obasanjo. And under him, they knew who would be VP, Atiku. So the Constitution, which they did not allow Nigerians to see until the very end of that military Head of State tenure was skewed to make sure a northerner would be in-charge of the NEC and a southerner would be President. Obasanjo spent his first tenure dodging that issue. By his second term, he had managed to find some solution because of his problems with Atiku by creating an economic team. When President Yar’ Adua came, he did not have to worry because both him and his Vice President, Jonathan were civilized people, very civilized.
But between President Buhari and Vice- President Prof Osinbajo, the Buhari set up is not civilized.
What is to be done?
The proper way to change that relationship is to simply take a position to the parliament and get that job done. Many southerners would oppose it because they would say it is trying to undermine the VP but it would have been the correct solution. But if you could not provide that correct solution, it means that you would have to manage that relationship.
President Obasanjo in his time no longer managed that relationship; he simply threw the Vice President, Atiku Abubakar under the bus.
But in Osinbajo’s case, what they did was to make sure that, although, the VP was in charge of the National Economic Council, he really had no power. They would vote money for the exercise like N-Power and the money won’t come.
But more serious is this; that the VP who this time tried to get into the job of real economic decision- making just discovered that he was not on the same page with his President. Everything thing that VP Osinbajo has had to do is makeshift.
But there is the allegation that his problem is traceable to when he was acting without proper consultation with the President, such as his sacking of former DSS boss, Lawan Daura following the invasion of the National Assembly by DSS masked men. How do you see that?
If you are a VP and you are acting for your President, you are supposed to act as a President should and the decisions that Osinbajo took in those periods when he was Acting for President are the kind of decisions that a proper President should take. They just happened to be decisions that his President would probably not have taken.
Now, what is important here is this: The NEC gave the VP in the Nigerian Constitution, a basis for relating to actual movers and shakers in government.
You should also be asking yourself, if a VP has that kind of relationship with all those big offices in the Nigerian federation, what is the president doing at those times?
How does the VP report to the President in a way that does not make the President look like a second hand dealer with all the offices. That is the real issue. The truth is that the Nigerian Constitution has given the VP a role that he ought only to play directly under the President.
And because the VP in the Nigerian Constitution is a very important personage, cutting him down has always been a serious issue. Like I said before, Obasanjo had to cut Atiku down as much as he could.
Look the next President of Nigeria, if that Constitution is the still the way it is, would also have to cut down his VP.
But why did we not have this challenge under the Yar’Adua and Jonathan Presidency?
I have said it before that between Yar’Adua and Jonathan, they were very civilized Presidents. Both of them were very civilized presidents. All those who said Jonathan had no clue are being proved today that they are the ones who had no clue.
There are the permutations ahead of 2023. Don’t you think that is also an issue?
Yes and for those good decisions Osinbajo took when he was Acting, many Nigerians would vote for him if were to run?
How would you explain the allegation of corrupt dealings too?
Look, there is no one in the office of that nature who does not take serious financial decisions. And one of the serious financial decisions that office requires of its holder is to raise money for retaining power.
Many Nigerians are forgetting that that is the real core of the Nigerian crisis: The offices they occupy require raising money for retaining power. In fact in some cases a president who is venal and wicked can ask you to bring money and jail you for stealing.
I won’ explain that.