Osinbajo: An Academic on Probation

University teachers are fond of criticising people in government as well as government programmes and policies. Like spectators watching a football or wrestling match, they are quick to point out scoring chances and the bad moves of players. One thing they rarely do is be among the players. Force one to play and he would lose woefully!

All through my school days, there were always half-literate soldiers or pompous politicians for teachers to pillory. But, 30-something years ago, while I was still in university, a gifted teacher told us the home truth:  academics don’t make good statesmen. At the time, he had examples from Italy and one other country to show – their countries got finished during the reigns of academics. No well-educated person had ruled Nigeria then, and our teachers’ pastime was poking fun on the incompetent elements that were calling the shots in the country.

To a large extent, the situation has changed today. Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan were university teachers who later ruled Nigeria as president. When Jonathan or Alex Ekwueme was vice-president, each could hide under the excuse that his hands were tied as No. 2. Not so, presidents Yar’Adua and Jonathan.

Not so, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo today. This professor of law had, for 50 days (between January and March this year) and from May 7 to date, the full powers of a president.  President Buhari has been sick and has left governance of the nation in Osinbajo’s hands. In my view, the acting president has no excuse to give any longer – he has had a chance to lead Nigeria, if on probation.

I’m not interested in the normal excuses of politicians: Oh he doesn’t want to offend his boss! Oh he’s surrounded by a cabal! Oh Aso Rock’s security is in the hands of Fulani people! Oh he shouldn’t rock the boat, because he would be seen as taking advantage of Buhari’s absence. None does wash with me.

A great leader can do great things within 30 days. As acting president, nothing stops Osinbajo from firing anyone that stands in his way. If I were him, I would reset the cabinet and indeed the structure of the nation’s economy without violating the law. (Thank God he knows the law.) I would respond to the renewed clamour for restructuring of the country.

In February, I noticed the activities of image-makers in the media: there were beautiful articles and posts on platforms glamourizing the exemplary leadership of Osinbajo during Buhari’s absence. They have started praising him again, even as the acting president has continued to carry on like a lecturer that he was. For the past two years, Osinbajo has been presenting beautiful speeches and delivering delicious sermons (as a pastor). What he and Buhari have yet to do is lead well and make Nigerians happy.

On Thursday, at the Yar’Adua Centre, the acting president was in his elements as he spoke on the need to keep Nigeria one and not discuss Biafra anymore. I’ve gone through the empty lecture twice. This man, I presume, has abandoned all the progressive ideas for which his defunct party (ACN) and many academics were noted. Only a deaf person would fail to hear the bell tolling for Nigeria.

Again, on Friday, the acting president was at Garki and Wuse markets. He has earned praises from the same quarters in the media, yet I’ve not heard that traders have reduced the price of tomato or beans or garri since he visited. All we’ve heard are the things that would be done in future to reduce the pains of the common man. Election mode activated!

Perhaps Osinbajo has an eye on 2019 and is therefore preparing the ground to run if Buhari declines to seek re-election. That would be stupid. For one, now is the only time he has to make a mark as a leader. For another, there may be no general election in 2019.

There are many reasons for one to be sceptical about 2019: the people may be too hungry to vote; the majority of voters may die by then; there may be a boycott of the polls in the south-east and south-south if Nigeria is not restructured; there may be no money to fund political parties; the millennials are coming with something different; and the PDP and APC’s implosions may deny the nation of a truly national party.

It’s the economy that presents the greatest danger. I agree it may come out of recession by this year’s end, but it’s likely to move into depression and then total collapse. Nobody is deceived by the liars in government anymore. One of them recently stated that it’s still too early to judge the Buhari administration. Imagine that! A government that has not taken any good step forward in two years is promising to perform wonders in the less than two years left. At midterm, the Buhari-Osinbajo government should admit it has failed on almost all fronts. When it has accepted that fact, it should then listen to voices of reason.

Let me end with a few reminders: Government should set machinery in motion for reforms. It could dust up the 2014 conference and previous conferences’ reports, with the aim of replacing the 36 states with six regions and making the central government weaker through a review of the revenue-allocation formula.

Jobs will not be created until the power problem is solved. Investors will not come until there is adequate power, security and rule of law. How do we hope to see our currency strengthened when only a few are producing things? I know the FG has set up a panel to review the minimum wage, but I don’t believe it’s serious. Common sense should tell one that a government that can’t pay N18, 000 is not likely to pay N50, 000.

Now that resources are lean, government should cease to be an employer of idlers – workers who do no work but earn salary. Move them to farmlands, construction sites and roadsides! Let the physically challenged alone work in offices. Slash the salaries and allowances earned by legislators and other officeholders. Lawmakers, ministers, heads of MDAs and other public “servants” should no longer be allowed to plunder the treasury by earning more than their statutory remunerations. Since the executive does not require the legislature’s assent before determining salaries, the acting president could tap the Revenue Mobilisation, Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC) to revert to the wage structure existing in June 2003.

This system must change because the economy cannot take it. Why should 469 men and women, along with their numerous aides, consume over N150billion in a year for doing almost nothing? Why should recurrent expenditure take 80% of a government’s annual budget?

As Nigerians demonstrated on March 28, 2015, hunger and destitution are not brothers to religion and tribe. All we want is an economy that rewards hard work and gives everyone an opportunity to earn a decent income. A caring government ought to focus on making electricity and other basic infrastructure available so that the creative energies of the youth could flourish. Agriculture can be made more profitable than oil, but nobody would go into agriculture by choice, so long as they see idlers and criminals gathering illicit wealth unchallenged.

Doing something different is the mark of revolutionaries. Is Acting President Osinbajo equal to the task? Few Nigerians are interested in his lectures anymore, and I don’t think he will return to the classroom ever again.  Now that he is in the saddle, he should begin to practise what he has been preaching.

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