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OPINION

Yahaya Adoza Bello and memories of Mohammed Abdulsalam Onuka, By Debo Alabi

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Each time I see television reports, online videos and snippets from the actions, activities and pronouncements of Yahaya Adoza Bello, the governor of Kogi State, I cannot but draw comparisons between him and Mohamed Abdulsalam Onuka. Not many remember the latter, but he was a lieutenant colonel in the Nigerian Army, who was deployed to serve as military administrator of Edo State, during the administration of Gen Sani Abacha.

In a state brimming with top class military talent across the services at the time, Abacha favoured the young Onuka at the time and made him chief executive of one of Nigeria’s most politically sophisticated states. Just in case you have forgotten, Edo State is the home of Brig-Gen Samuel Osaigbovo, who as military governor of the Old Midwestern State, was easily one of the greatest success stories of the Yakubu Gowon dispensation. Edo State is also the birthplace of Admirals Augustus Aikhomu and Mike Okhai Akhigbe, who served at various times as Nigeria’s Number Two citizens, in the official designation of Chief of General Staff, CGS.

Onuka was famous for intemperate language, abrasive comportment and unbridled arrogance of power. He was brusque, brash and impulsive. He traversed the expanse of Edo State, with his trademark swagger stick, barking orders, spewing threats, sacking and dismissing workers in tow. He seemed overzealous to impress his masters in Abuja, who were even more discerning and genteel than he was, as the Abacha gang strove to legitimise itself in the immediate post ‘June 12’ era.

I cannot forget one of Onuka’s televised appearances on Nigerian Television Authority, NTA Network news, in the course of his visit to one of the many state-owned parastatals, sometime in 1994. I recall I was visiting a friend in his Oregun, Lagos accommodation that day and like the newsmen we are, we tuned to the news telecast to catch up with the day’s events. And there was the voice of Onuka belching out of one of the news reports, his eyes blazing like the furnace of the bronze casters on Igun Street, Benin City: ‘This is the last time I want to see things this way. The next time I have cause (to) come back here, you will see the redness of my eyes.’ Then he stormed out, military escorts and security personnel fawning over themselves to clear the way for him…

I don’t know if Abacha watched that Aminian dramatization by Onuka. I wouldn’t know if it was the CGS to Abacha, Lt. Gen Oladipo Diya who did. Better still, I can’t recall if it was the revered royalty in Benin, the Omo N’Oba N’Edo, Uku Akpolokpolo, N’Ogidigan, Oba Erediauwa II himself who put a call through to Aso Rock, Abuja, seeking an end to the continued repression and mistreatment of his subjects by Onuka. What I know for sure is that a few days after that inglorious outing on national television by Onuka, his tour of duty as military administrator of Edo State, came to an unceremonious denouement.

Appointed as chief executive of the state on December 9, 1993, Onuka got the boot on September 14, 1994, after barely nine months in office. He was promptly replaced by a more mature, more charismatic, less noisy and controversial Bassey Asuquo, an army colonel. And trust the military with its punitive, if not vindictive reward for misdeamenour, Onuka was flung, with immediate effect, to the battlefields of Sierra Leone on a peacekeeping mission in a nondescript capacity. And that marked the beginning of the end of an otherwise promising career, the same pedestal on which the Hamid Alis, the Jafaar Isas, the Olagunsoye Oyinlolas and the Buba Marwas, among others, rode to subsisting national acclaim and relevance.

I have been checking Wikipedia recently and it tells me Yahaya Adoza Bello of Kogi State and Mohamed Abdulsalam Onuka, are indeed first cousins! Maybe herein lies the uncanny congruences and affinities in their destinies, persona, official carriage and administrative demeanour.

Yahaya Bello loves the military swagger stick. It is a part of his customary sartorial make-up. The only times I have not seen his walking stick with him, are in those short video clips of his boxing trainings where the gloves he wears, prevent him from adorning the stick. From the biography of him in the public space, he was most probably still in secondary school when his older cousin was military administrator and strutted about with that trademark stick. And he loved it.

Very much like Onuka, Bello was awarded the governorship of Kogi State on a platter of platinum. Here is a man who didn’t campaign to be elected governor, whose name was not on the ballot paper, who didn’t contest to be governor, but who was woken up by a phone call and presented the position as a fait accompli! Yes, Abubakar Audu, a two-time governor of the state and candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, was coasting home to victory in that November 2015 gubernatorial election, when the unexpected happened and he died just before the conclusion of the election. Against all electoral and political permutations, a strange legalistic invention to the effect that the runner-up in the primary election which produced Audu as candidate, become beneficiary of the votes cast for Audu, and by extension, ‘duly elected’ governor of Kogi State! And thus entered Yahaya Bello. Bello, before then was totally unknown in Kogi State.

Yes, he contested the APC governorship primaries in the state in 2015, but he walked away as soon as he lost. There is no record of him accompanying the campaign train of the APC in the build up to that election, because he was sore and bitter from his predicted loss at the primaries, and he opted to abstain from the process.

Onuka, his cousin, was as well an unknown quantity in the Nigerian Army, probably serving as Staff Officer or Battalion Commander in Bama or Bakassi, retiring to a bottle or two of kunu or Trophy lager beer at the close of work every day, before fate catapulted him to the leadership of Edo State.

And what has Yahaya Bello done with this fairy tale opportunity since his inauguration as governor of Kogi State in January 2016? He has striven assiduously, committedly and consistently to make the state the headquarters of national scorn and public opprobrium in all ways possible. Kogi State is easily the capital of mass suffering, pervading misery, palpitating insecurity, inestimable despondency and crippling despair across the country.

Workers’ salaries and emoluments are unpaid. Labour unions have been unanimous and consistent in saying that the salary backlog is in hovering around the 40-month mark. The civil service has been phenomenally degraded and debased such that permanent secretaries at the topmost echelon of the bureaucracy commute to work on motorbikes! Pensioners who gave their active and productive years in the service of state and country are deprived their gratuities and entitlements.

The economy of the state, largely powered by the civil service, is virtually crippled. Sales are low, businesses folding up. Many businessmen have indeed folded up and left the state. Hunger walks on all fours in the state, poverty has become a way of life. Kogi State today holds the infamous national medal for the state with the highest rates of depression, stroke and suicides.

Amidst such despair and hopelessness, ‘GYB Boys’ as the clique of like-minded characters around Yahaya Bello brand themselves, live in such grandeur and opulence, with contrasts so disturbingly sharply with the overall morass around and about them. They ride the choicest, automobiles adorned with women procured from tertiary institutions in the state, move about with bands of police escorts and live large like tomorrow will never come. They virtually talk down the people by their body language, as though saying: ‘This is our time, to hell with you.’ Kleptocracy is at its despicable best, even as a recent intelligence report indicated that an attempt to convert the sum of N7 Billion for a serving, top government official in Kogi State, to USD, was discovered, blocked and reported to the President.

Gangsterism, thuggery and lawlessness have become critical aspects of governance and statecraft by a governor so power-drunk he’s ever taking an aim at critics, enemies and antagonists, real or imagined. The Office of the Deputy Governor has been virtually abrogated and the powers transferred to the Chief of Staff. Even as the National Judicial Council, NJC, found no merit whatsoever in the governor’s petition seeking his summary removal, Bello has since instigated the pathologically genuflecting state assembly to orchestrate the ouster of the Chief Judge. Such is the reign of terror foisted on Kogi State by Yahaya Bello.

You descend into the lounge of your hotel in Lokoja, and you are greeted by gruff-looking, gun-wielding fellows in unfamiliar uniforms pacing about. They are operatives of the private army of the Bello government, christened the Kogi State Vigilante Services, whose very activities as they patrol in unmarked vehicles is a recurring source of trepidation for the people.

The recent general elections witnessed a new high in provocative, state-sponsored illegality and brigandage, where state appointees, notably commissioners, advisers and local government administrators personally bore arms and targeted hapless citizens, as they fell over themselves attempting to impress the Capone in the hall of infamy. This is the abyys into which Yahaya Bello has dragged Kogi State, in the last 40 months.

Traditional rulers who were once the conscience of the people, who spoke truth to power in the service of their subjects, have become an integral part of the propaganda machinery of the administration. Except for the revered Ohinoyi of Ebiraland, Alhaji Abdul Rahman Ado Ibrahim (the paramount ruler of Bello’s home ethnicity by the way), who has been typically blunt and courageous in telling the governor some stinging truths, the others have been cringing and caterwauling before him, for fear of being deposed or not being presented their staff of office, for those who haven’t been installed.

Those of us who believe in the energy, the vibrancy, the resourcefulness and the creativity which the youth can bring to any sphere of human endeavour and have always canvssed youth inclusiveness, as well as members of the younger generation themselves, must be thoroughly disappointed and embarrassed by the below par outing of Yahaya Bello in Kogi State. Yet, our democracy has thrown up genuinely youthful bright lights across the political spectrum who left positive imprints on the sands of time. Donald Duke was 37 when he was elevated governor of Cross River State in 1999. His legacies still echo around and about the state. Nnamani Chimaroke became governor of Enugu State at 39, Bukola Saraki became chief executive of Kwara State at 41, we can go on and on with examples.

My mind just keeps going back to how people stroll into irredeemable oblivion, after handcrafting the mismanagement of providential opportunities, very much like Yahaya Bello.

There are loud insinuations that he may not get the governorship ticket of the APC at the August 2019 primaries. If the party desires to begin the process of salvaging whatever is left of its battered reputation in Kogi State, that would be strategically face-saving. Yahaya Bello is a grievously unsellable brand.

If the courts rule that his sack of Haddy Ametuo-led APC executive last year and his singlehanded installation of a new executive is null, void and of no effect like we’ve witnessed in Rivers, Delta and Zamfara states, that report card of his conquest in the last elections, culminating in two senatorial positions, seven House of Representatives seats and 25 State House of Assembly offices, becomes ash dust.

If perchance he survives these two landmines and confronts the rage of the people at the polls on Saturday November 16, 2019, not even the fear of guns, bullets and machetes will break the resolve of a people he has so Pharaonically suppressed.

And Yahaya Bello, head bowed, shoulder dropping, takes the long walk to join his ageing kinsman and mentor, Mohammed Abdulsalam Onuka, on the vacant, lonely roadway to Agassa.

* Debo Alabi is a public affairs analysts

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OPINION

Why the noise about the Nigerian Presidency and the Power Cabal? By Segun Awoniyi

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Cabals exist everywhere and at all levels of authority, tiers of government, organizational administration even at community levels. Bad commentaries and pouring invectives on the leadership at any level are to say the least, denigrating, demoralizing and demotivating. A king or monarch without a “stonewall or bulwark’’ mounted by trusted servants, aides or officials is vulnerable to attacks and all kinds of assault.

Cabals hold sway at palaces as the king is naturally protected against direct assaults and verbal duels.  Even when his majesty is seated, the Prime Minister and any other authorized spokesperson speaks on his behalf and takes the heat or backlashes.

To see the king, and going by the set up at the palaces, one has to go through the several levels of gate-keeping authorities for clearance, security checks and approvals and that is why security breaches are a rarity at that level.
In big companies, conglomerates, organizations, associations and business empires, “cabals’’ in the form of Executive Management, Boards or Committees do exist. This is  because some level of politics is involved in decision-making and to give teeth to the executive orders. It is commonplace to hear at that level that the “MD/CEO says or approves so and so.’’

In governance, aides appointed by the helmsman and Chief Executive are trusted and tested, who must be of phlegmatic temperament and are willing and ready to carry out tasks to the letter with the appointor’s stamp of authority. The aide(s) must be disingenuous, plucky, calm, upbeat and well-informed about developments, ready to ward off any gale-force, fend off cooked up allegations, throw lifebelt to floundering issues in consultation with his Principal.

Experientially, serving and past governors all have powerful aides with some of them later becoming governors, ministers and ambassadors. One of such is the Chief of Staff position. If the head of the cabal or kitchen cabinet had not mastered the state craft with a pedigree of astuteness, master-organizer/planner and tactician, he will stand no chance of being entrusted with power.

In Nigeria today, the man who calls the shot at the nation’s seat of power is Abba Kyari, who was appointed to that office on August 27, 2015.

According to Wikipedia, Kyari a retired Nigerian Army one-star General (Brigadier), was a military governor in the North, Commander, Nigerian Army’s 1 Brigade and Army’s Artillery. As an attestation to his stellar performance in public office as governor, he successfully implemented a master plan for Kaduna City.

He also led the Northern delegation to the 1994 National Constitutional Conference and had the singular opportunity to chair the Defence Committee. Kyari has since made a successful foray into business and politics.

Kyari, a public administrator par excellence in the eye of the public and from people’s assessment, has a lot of political and administrative savvy, aversion to media publicity, pulling himself always by his bootstraps, unperturbed and focused always on his duties, and giving no room for any distraction. A man still full of energy at his age and as highly circumspect as his Principal.

Without being immodest, those giving Kyari bashing and calling him names such as the head of a cabal at Presidency are either ignorant of his duties and roles as the head of the presidential staff and the president’s closest aide or are mischievous. For the purpose of education, the word “cabal’’ (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English) is suggestive of a “ small group of people who make secret plans, especially in order to have political power.’’

Such plans, inter alia, are political, administrative, economic, social, security etc for the smooth and effective coordination of the Presidency and governance.

The structure and organization of American Presidency is apposite. The presidency is really a group of organizations rather than an individual person. The President is the Chief of State as well as the Chief Executive Officer, representing the country in its relationship with other nations even as Chief diplomat as well as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.

With the enormousness of his powers, duties, influence and relevance, the president, therefore, needs a “strong’’ aide in the capacity of the Chief of Staff to assist him in enhancing his capacity to deliver and discharge his gargantuan functions as president. There is no gainsaying that the President is expected to fill the position with somebody with political support, loyalty and acumen who, of course, is also sympathetic to his administration’s aims, objectives and policies.

In U.S. where we borrowed our model of presidency from, the White House consists of hundreds of people who are the president’s personal staff, trusted and loyal; most of whom are his friends or former employees.

However, in Nigeria, the sponsored hue and cry, huffing and campaign of calumny against Abba Kyari is probably as a result of his stature, enigmatic expressions and unwavering loyalty to Mr President.
He is passionate in his desire for the President’s success, for the wheel of governance to run smoothly devoid of the distraction of the 2023 succession battles. Kyari brands such distractions as a disservice to the electorate and Mr President. He is equally averse to the use of state resources by the President’s appointees to prosecute the 2023 polls, still more than three and a half years away.

Kyari’s forte is delivering next level good governance, bequeathing a legacy of electoral reform and non-imposition of candidates or “anointing’’ of a successor – wants a divine arrangement; zero tolerance for graft and malfeasance in government.

Observably since the return of Nigeria to full-blown democracy in 1999, Kyari, no doubts, has emerged the most powerful and effective Chief of Staff in Aso Rock. In politics anywhere in the world, it is trendy to hear of “demolition job’’, that is, opposition and some senior party leaders, who have an agenda to set out to do a “demolition job’’ either on the President and or the Chief of Staff.

The goal is simple: Get rid of the hard-wired CoS, the president’s master-shield and pare down or whittle down the president’s influence, powers, or the strong presidency, compromise and take advantage of its vulnerability as well as plant their own cabal to actualise the dream (2023).

Recounting our rich political history, the great sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, by the strength of character of his “cabal’’ at that time (trusted aides) – Ex-Govs. Adekunle Ajasin, Bola Ige, Lateef Jakande, Ambrose Alli, Bisi Onabanjo, Profs. Banji Akintoye, Bamiro etc) was able to successfully implement the free and qualitative education in the defunct Western Region of Nigeria, the first in Africa and even before our colonisers, Britain introduced free education.
A weak presidency with lily-livered aides is synonymous to a floundering presidency and government, while a strong presidency with men of courage and sangfroid will translate to a strong, effective and stable polity. A masquerade without the man behind the masquerader is nothing but a mere costume. Only the guilty and those that Prof. Wole Soyinka referred to as “corruption fighting back’’ and those positioning themselves so soon after the 2019 elections for the 2023 presidential race, are afraid of an uncompromising CoS Abba Kyari.

President Muhammadu Buhari should not push the panic button or allow himself to be stampeded into tinkering with the configuration at the power centre in the Presidency, else the “stonewall’’ will be broken down and flung open to those on the fray for rough and tumble of politics – ultimately to take over power with deftness in 2023 thereby destroying the gains and legacies of eight years of Buhari Presidency.

The sardonic comments about the person and office of the Chief of Staff are unsavoury. The Office of the Chief of Staff is strategic and remains the fulcrum of the nation’s Presidency and only a trusted, tested and experienced administrator can fit into it.

– Segun Awoniyi writes from Federal Housing Estate, Kubwa, Abuja

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OPINION

Pantami is the man of the year, By Uwa Suleiman

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There is a global conformity in leadership circles to assess the achievements of decision makers using a hundred days as the yardstick. Perhaps, the timeline is based on allowing enough time for political office holders to “settle in” and establish a few quick wins. In Nigeria particularly, it is mostly regarded as a “celebration of 100 days in office” characterised by newspaper advertorials replete with prayers and congratulatory messages. But like everything else, the times are changing, an effective, impactful, innovative and robust pattern of leadership with zero tolerance for down time is emerging and leading the charge, is the Honourable Minister of Communications; the proactive, pragmatic, tirelessly hardworking, intelligent Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim (Pantami).

Dr Isa was sworn into office as a federal minister on August 21st 2019 and he literally hit the ground running. Without compulsion, theatrics or grandiose theoretic, the trail blazer is changing the narrative. He has achieved so much in just forty days, we are confronted with possibilities that cannot be put off for another sixty. On Saturday, September 28th 2019, the Association of Telecommunications Companies of Nigeria (ATCON) and Instinct Wave deservedly honoured him as the IT MAN OF THE YEAR at the annual Nigeria Technology Innovation and Telecommunications Award, an event with a reputation of being the Oscars of IT in Nigeria. Coincidentally, he was in far away Turkey on a national assignment – the e-government Summit where he brokered a strategic win for Nigeria, and could not attend in person. He delegated a worthy representative, the Managing Director of Nigeria Communications Satelite (NIGCOMSAT) Dr Abimbola Alale who stood in excellently.

Some critics may argue that the award, though well merited, is based on his performance as the immediate past Director General of NITDA where he established transformation in unprecedented proportions. I however, believe that Dr Pantami has already set a record – shattering standard, in his present capacity in just forty days to earn his status as IT MAN OF THE YEAR.

Right from the maiden press conference he held on assumption of office, his directives to Agencies and Parastatals under his supervision were clear, precise and in accordance with their various mandates. There was no ambiguity. Direct, impactful actionable instructions. The strategic thinker had done his homework, he came prepared. His in depth knowledge and understanding of the sector immediately reflected in his action plan. As a man who keeps his promises and lives by a strict moral code of completing any task he sets upon, never leaving anything to chance, he has consistently supported and encouraged his able team of CEOs in accomplishing set objectives and this exemplary leadership has brought about the following achievements in the last forty days;

An unprecedented, solid foundation for security enhancement by ordering the deactivation of all improperly registered SIM cards in the country. It is no news that 90% of cyber crimes (mostly financial), commited in Nigeria today, are carried out using improperly registered SIM cards because, they are almost impossible to trace. He immediately issued a directive to the Telecommunications regulator NCC in that regard. A large percentage of Nigerians initially doubted it could be done, but they failed to reckon with the force called Pantami. He followed up on it and by Wednesday, September 25th 2019 deadline, the order was in full effect. All improperly registered SIM cards are at the moment disabled and are no longer in use. The Nigeria Communications Commission (NCC) reports a figure of 2.2 million in that category! The security advantage of this achievement is already gaining momentum and will be sustained. There is a security apparatus in place to trace any registered SIM card used for criminal purposed within an hour.
As a computer scientist and unapologetic technology advocate, Pantami knows that the use of technology in crime can only be countered in the same deadly measure by dep[oying superior technology against it. The establishment of the country’s first Emergency Communication Centre in Katsina State on September 23rd 2019 assures Pantami’s place in history as a practical problem solver. A man who abhors empty talk, his actions speak for him. The ECCs will be established in all states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory FCT with a 24/7 manned response toll free number 112. This is a first of its kind initiative beneficial to all Nigerians regardless of ethnic, religious or social status. It is leveraging on technology to ensure the safety of lives and property of citizens at its best! In one fell swoop, Pantami has created jobs, bridged the digital divide in the area of security between Nigeria and the developed world and given hope to the ordinary Nigerian that government for the people is a reality.
Having initiated and secured the ISO certification ISO 27001;2013 for the National Information Technology Development Agency as then Director General, the Honourable Minister of Communications again read the riot Act to all Parastatals under his purview. He has directed that by 2020, they must be ISO Certified. It will be done because the processes have begun in earnest . I can guarantee that in the nearest future, the entire civil service will be falling over themselves to be ISO Certified. Wait for it! To be ISO certified means an organization has met the International Standards Organisation’s Quality Management System and is focused on service delivery with customer satisfaction as the main objective. Now, just imagine for a moment a Nigerian Civil Service that is ISO Certified!
I have always maintained that there is no other public personality who exemplifies the spirit of national unity better than Dr Isa and this truth continues to manifest in diverse ways on a daily basis. This is a man whose mentality is so patriotic he is not limited by the petty borders of selfishness. He believes in the noble cause of national development in its entirety. A phenomenal team player who is not enticed by personal praise or gain, he remains the one public servant who will pursue a common goal outside his comfort zone without selfish motives. On September 16th 2019, Pantami wrote to the Honourable Minister of Woks and Hosing Dr Babatunde Raji Fashola imploring him to use his good offices to intervene speedily in addressing the deplorable state of some major road networks in the country.
Dr Pantami is not the Minister of works but he recognises his authority as an influencer and characteristically, he uses his influence for the benefit of all. The economic implication of this request which I am positive will be favourably considered, is not lost on the farmer, the business men and women, the road users in general who have to navigate through triple the normal challenges of getting their goods and services across Nigeria. Security challenges of armed robbery and banditry, loss of lives through vehicle accidents and the total inability of certain services reaching rural areas aided by bad road infrastructure will also be addressed.
Three days later on September 19th 2019, he penned a similar letter to his colleague in Agriculture requesting the inclusion of Gombe, his home state in agricultural interventions citing their proven skill and prowess in that field. This is selfless leadership and how to get things done. Watch and learn.
As a Minister with federal might, he has taken his resilient drive for national development across borders. His commitment to putting Nigeria on the global map is legendary and he pursues his mandate with relentless zeal. On Friday September 20th 2019, he led the Nigerian delegation to a meeting with the Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) Team, organisers of the Global Information Technology Exhibition (GITEX) to canvass for greater visibility for indigenous start ups, better opportunities for exhibitors, strategic networking windows for policy makers and a speaking slot on the global stage for Nigeria.
September 26th 2019, the enigmatic minister arrived Geneva, Switzerland to formally give national consent, to a global resolution of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) at its third Extraordinary Congress. This means Nigeria as a member nation will comply with International Renumeration Rates, uphold the rules for international mail exchanges, stimulate growth in mail, parcel and financial services as well as improve service delivery.
The very next day September 27th 2019, the indefatigable ambassador of change was in Ankara, Turkey leading a delegation of diplomats and industry regulators to an international partnership in the areas of Capacity Building (specifically scholarships for indigent students), e-Government development and broadband penetration, National Information Security System Platform for SIM and Mobile Registration using Digital Identity and Cybersecurity.
This is a worthy ambassador of Nigeria whose intents, words and actions are committed to the pursuit and attainment of nationalistic goals. He is deliberate in everything. Dr Pantami’s every action is strategically keyed into the President’s three point Agenda;
Security
Anti corruption
Economic Growth
His loyalty to President Muhammadu Buhari’s Vision and Mission can be summed up in his own words “The vision and mission of President Muhammadu Buhari is our only vision and mission. We are in office to ensure that the President’s Agenda for national security, anti corruption war and rapid economic development succeeds. We as public officers have no other goal. We are not interested in individual success, our concern is the collective success of Nigeria as a nation and the prosperity and safety of all Nigerians”.
When I wrote in a previous article that “he will disrupt the norm…he will blaze the trail….the sector that gets him is the luckiest”, it was a statement backed by the trusted, guaranteed integrity and credibility of a God fearing, truly patriotic Nigerian. The IT MAN OF THE YEAR award has been earned . Congratulations are in order.
On behalf of the Permanent Secretary Federal Ministry of Communications, the entire Management and staff of the Federal Ministry of Communications and indeed the entire ICT Ecosystem in Nigeria, Congratulations to our boss, the headmaster of technology in Nigeria, the unifier, the enabler and symbol of change, problem solver and Honourable Minister of Communications Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami FNCS, FBCS, FIIM MCPN.

Suleiman is Spokesperson to the Honourable Minister of Communications.

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OPINION

Dyed-in-the-wool: Why Osinbajo’s loyalty to Buhari cannot be questioned, By Benjamin Okeke

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Those who know President Muhammadu Buhari whether as a former Head of State, elder statesman and now as a democratically elected President are unanimous in the belief that the retired army general is not effusive with praises. Many say his deadpan visage and taciturnity are a spin-off of his military background. In fact, in the run-up to the 2015 elections, these character components were a major campaign tool of the opposition, which said he will be an apathetic and detached President. That notion was never explicitly corrected. Hate him or like him, the President cannot be stampeded (who can even dare?) to talk or praise anyone except he is profoundly convinced that the person deserved it.

Yet, if there’s any man whose singular actions have always impressed, excited and humanised President Buhari, it is none other than Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN. When it is about Osinbajo, President Buhari lights up, sings his praises whether he was present or not, and never shies away from telling anybody who cares to listen that Nigeria could not have had a better Vice President; and that he is luckiest to have him by his side.

At the height of his ill health in 2017, President Buhari invited Osinbajo to London where he was recuperating to personally thank him for his performance, dedication and service to the country as Acting President. “The efforts by the Vice President as the Acting President are commendable. He deployed his youth and intellect to run all over the place. Thank God that I have the time to watch him on NTA 24 hours and I congratulate him,” the President said, adding, “I allowed him to come and see me so that I can personally thank him for all that he has done,” Buhari said. There are not many people who have been so eulogised by Buhari in this lifetime.

On the occasion of his 60th birthday, the President described Osinbajo as a running mate turned partner in the service to Nigeria. A year later, while congratulating him on yet another birthday, President Buhari thanked Osinbajo for being a loyal and dependable partner and wished him many more years of service to God, to Nigeria, and humanity. Beyond birthdays, in the line of duty proper, President Buhari has never been tongue in cheek in his assessment of the Vice President; he says it as he feels it. At a meeting with traditional rulers in Ogun State earlier in the year, Buhari spoke of Osinbajo’s pivotal role in delivering on the ‘Change Agenda’ in the past four years, particularly in his capacity as the Head of the National Economic Council (NEC). Responding to the Vice President’s presentation at the meeting on the economic outlook in the country in the last four years and how the APC-led administration had done more with fewer resources, the President said: “(Osinbajo) being the Chairman of NEC is in a very strong position to know what we are earning and what we are doing with the earnings. I am very pleased with his vast experience and intellect.

He has captured effectively what the administration has done and I commend him for playing a very great part in that. Thank you, Mr Vice President.”

Last May, at the breaking of fast at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, where the President hosted top government officials, he said he was upset with the level of poverty in the land and challenged the elite to do something very urgent to ameliorate the pathetic situation. The guests were stunned not knowing what the President was driving at. There was pin-drop silence in the elegantly laid out hall while cutleries hung in midair; many a guest undecided whether to go on eating or stop to get the import of the message.

The President continued, “When I drive around the country, what upset me very much is the status of our poor people – you see young people, the so-called Almajiris with torn dresses, with a plastic bowl. They are looking basically for what to eat. The question of education (to them) is a luxury. I think the Nigerian elite are all failing because I think we should have a programme that will at least guarantee some basic education for our people no matter how poor they are.” Then, the clincher!
“So, I welcome the Vice-President’s initiative of the School feeding programme. If you check in your localities, the enrolment into schools improved because a lot of children can get at least one good meal a day. This is the position of this country,” the President added, as the guests roused in ovation to the VP.

But the President was not done. He pointed out jocularly; “This `market money’ (Tradermoni), I warned the Vice-President. I don’t like him to be mobbed, especially the way I see hefty women coming and confronting him, he should be very careful.” The hall erupted in laughter again. Then the President added seriously, “These are very good initiates. Initially, I was quite reluctant but I must admit that they are very good programmes and they endear this government to a lot of poor people because of this N5, 000 or N10, 000 being given to them as loans. They are fantastic programmes and I have to admit quite honestly that the Vice-President was ahead of me by insisting on them.” Instructively, the President said that even when he is not totally in support of an idea and the VP insisted, “He knows me, I will say `okay, go and do what you like.’ He did it and I’m very pleased as he is being very successful.”

For Prof Osinbajo, loyalty is his strong suit; he wears it like a second skin, a badge of honour which he proudly shows off. On a visit to the palace of the Emir of Katsina, Abdulmumin Usman, for the inauguration of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Clinic, Osinbajo said, “I feel very much at home in Katsina. More so, because this is the state of the President who has taken me as a brother; in fact, the President has taken me as a son in the way he treats me.” Osinbajo was reported to have also said that with the kind of responsibilities assigned to him, Buhari had left no one in doubt that both of them could live together as brothers. This has been the pattern of the relationship between the President and the Vice President; one of mutual love, loyalty and respect for each other. And the situation is no different from the relationship between Osinbajo and leaders of the All Progressives Congress, APC like Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande. Even as Vice President, Osinbajo defers to these men as his political leaders.

Otherwise regarded as the most utilised, ubiquitous and cerebral Vice President that Nigeria has ever had in her democratic experiment; his brilliance and hard work have come in handy for the administration. Do not forget, when the federal government needed to take its social programmes to the masses in markets and farms across the length and breadth of the country, Prof Osinbajo was the man to do the job. And, why not? He is affable and accessible; pressing the flesh comes naturally to him; virtues he deployed to the benefit of a government that tottered on the brink of sheer disconnect with the masses.

Everywhere he went, the Vice President made many do a rethink about the Buhari-led administration. He campaigned and cajoled the people into seeing beyond the prevailing hardship in the country, promising a utopian nation if they got a second term. They have since got the second term but at a huge personal cost to Osinbajo. In the course of taking the field, it would be recalled that the Vice President and nine others escaped unhurt when a hired helicopter conveying them to Kabba, Kogi State, crash-landed. That was in February 2019. In a tweet posted by Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, he stated, “President Muhammadu Buhari has praised what he called ‘the tenacious spirit’ of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who survived a helicopter crash in Kogi state.”

Undaunted, he went ahead with his campaign mission. Such was his commitment! Earlier in June 2018, a chopper that was to convey Osinbajo from the Nigeria Customs Command and Staff College, Gwagwalada, Abuja, was forced to land immediately after takeoff. Osinbajo was in the school for the graduation ceremony of Senior Division Course 1 /2018 participants. The chopper had earlier taken the Vice-President to the college for the ceremony. However, while taking off, it could not ascend beyond tree level, emitting thick smoke and landing on the same spot abruptly. None of these adversities has stopped the VP from remaining committed to the ideals espoused by his principal.

This is why the unfounded rumours being peddled by political merchants that the presidency is emasculating the VP are nothing but mere fabrications. When the President replaced the Economic Management Team headed by Osinbajo with an Economic Advisory Council, there was widespread panic that Osinbajo’s influence was deliberately being whittled down as he seems to be becoming too formidable a prospective presidential candidate come 2023. Nothing can be further from the truth. Even when the presidency said the move was to change the strategy and direction of the economic agenda, the peddlers of the rumour continued wallowing in scepticism, forgetting that the VP is still the chairman of the National Economic Council, which membership cuts across the 36 state governors, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Minister of Finance, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and other government officials and agencies whose duties hinge on the economy.

At no time has the Vice President mooted the idea of contesting in 2023 even though he is eminently qualified and well-positioned to do so, but for now, his loyalty and commitment is to help his principal achieve the Next Level agenda; and his party, the APC, to fulfil its manifesto of better life for Nigerians across board.

Okeke wrote from Lagos, Nigeria

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