In this discourse, AHURAKA YUSUF ISAH narrates the natural coincidence which led acting President Yemi Osinbajo to assume three hierarchical positions at the same time, just as he shows the differences arising from similar condition in the past in the country.
Let me crave your indulgence with a quote as prologue for this discourse. An American woman novelist, Sydney Sheldon has taken the title of her book, too ‘’Windmills of the Gods’’ from the same immortal statement of the anonymous American –born German writer, H.L.Dietrich. In his book, ‘’A Final Destiny’’, Dietrich solemnly said, ‘’we are all victims, Anselmo. Our destinies are decided by a cosmic roll of the dice, the winds of the stars, “the vagrant breezes of fortune that blow from the windmills of the gods’’.
Though, a similar event did take place in the country but not so exact and elaborate, quintessential and deliberately natural, wherein the acting President, Yemi Osinbajo triple as the President, Vice-President and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) the same moment.
This partly began on April 19, 2017 when President Muhammadu Buhari ordered an investigation into the allegations of violations of law and due process made against the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr David Babachir Lawal, in the award of contracts under the Presidential Initiative on the North East (PINE). This was just as the President directed the suspension of the SGF from office pending the outcome of the investigations.
President Buhari who left Nigeria on January 19, 2017 for London to “undergo routine medical check-ups” during a short holiday, only to return on March 10, 2017 after an extended period of medical treatment; left again for London on Sunday night May 7, 2017 for a follow up medical checkup, leaving Vice President Osinbajo to lead the country once again.
But in a letter to the Senate notifying it of his trip, which was read by the Senate President, Bukola Saraki to his colleagues on May 9, 2017, President Buhari says Vice President Yemi Osinbajo will “coordinate” the nation’s affairs while he is abroad for medical treatment.
Though this however raised questions about Osinbajo’s powers after Buhari failed to address him as “acting president”, leading to his confirmation as acting President by the senate, but the wisdom and strategic reason for naming Osinbajo as ‘’coordinator’’ is the significance of his been ‘’three – in one’’ while Buhari was away; just as the SGF, the heartbeat of the Federal Government is in limbo.
Buhari who left Nigeria that Sunday night, shortly after receiving 82 Chibok girls who regained freedom after three years in Boko Haram captivity; traveled out for the fourth time since coming to power in May 2015 leaving Osinbajo to act on his behalf as the president.
The monstrous power and function of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Osinbajo takes charge of, places him with responsibility to “ensure the effective coordination and monitoring of the implementation of government policies and programmes for the overall development of the country”.
Specifically the office undertakes coordination of policy design and formulation by Ministries, Departments and Agencies for approval by Government; serving as Secretary to the Council of State, the Federal Executive Council and other Constitutional Councils, which are chaired by the President; coordinating the activities of Ministries and Government Agencies on the implementation of Government decisions, policies and programmes; dealing with constitutional, political and socio-economic matters as may be referred to the Presidency; coordinates administrative Tribunals (like CCT), Commissions and Panels of Enquiry; coordinating national security and public safety matters; National Honours Award; Prerogative of Mercy and Protocol Matters Others include the channeling of papers and directives of the President; processing and granting Government approval for Overseas Tours, Intergovernmental Meetings/Conferences, medical check-up/treatment by Public Officers; processing requests for Overseas Duty Tours/Conferences including medical check-up/treatment abroad for members of the Judiciary; coordinating the appointments to Headship of Statutory Bodies, Commissions and Agencies by the President; Intergovernmental Affairs and relations with State and Local Governments; liaison with Secretaries to State Governments; and the allocation of office accommodation to Political Office Holders; among others
The SGF supervises Parastatals/Agencies such as Ecological Fund, National Poverty Eradication Programme (NAPEP); National Economic Intelligence Committee; Presidential Advisory Council; Code of Conduct Tribunal; Code of Conduct Bureau; Petroleum Product Pricing Regulatory Agency; National Hospital; Federal Road Safety Commission; National Commission for Refugees; Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC); South-South Health Care Programme; Ministry of Special Duties; just to name but few of them.
The SGF is imbued with enormous powers which naturally sets the tone and direction of any administration in a manner which should affect, positively, the lives of the people of the country. Yet Osinbajo directly supervises the SGF since there is no substantive SGF on ground now.
The nearest condition, and the person who was also ‘’three–in-one’ at certain time in Nigeria, but just for some hours, as against several months Osinbajo has existed in this trio-seat or ‘’Trinity of Power’’ was the Late Senator Nwafor Orizu who was the Senate President, Acting President and acting Prime Minister (Head of State) of Nigeria. Mind you, this ‘’Trinity of Power’’, though on the same page for supremacy, but does not convey similar celestial aura of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity; the Biblical Trinitarian terms for Father, Son, Holy Ghost; or God in the three consubstantial persons of the Holy Spirit; in other words, the “one God in three Divine Persons.
Dr Orizu who was Nigeria’s second Senate President from November 16, 1960 to January 15, 1966; became acting President after the President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, left the country in late 1965 first for Europe, then on a health cruise to the Caribbean, after allegedly being tipped off by his cousin, Major Ifeajuna, one of the masterminds of the coup and, some say, overall leader.
In the early hours of January 15, 1966, during Muslim fasting as well, a group of Army Majors (Kaduna Nzeogwu, Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Timothy Onwuatuegwu, Chris Anuforo, Don Okafor, Humphrey Chukwuka, and Adewale Ademoyega) hatched a coup d’état killing 22 people including the Prime Minister of Nigeria, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, many senior politicians, many senior Army officers (including their wives), and sentinels on protective duty. Other notables killed include two regional premiers, Sir Ahmadu Bello and Chief Akintola as well as the Finance Minister, Chief Okotie-Eboh; just as Brigadiers Zakariya Maimalari and Samuel Adesujo Ademulegun, the Commander 1st Brigade Headquarters in Kaduna went down from their bullets.
In separate testimonies by Alhaji Shehu Shagari and Chief Richard Akinjide, wihen the where about of Balewa was unknown, the rump of his cabinet met and nominated the most senior minister, Zanna Bukar Dipcharima to be sworn as acting Prime Minister by Dr Orizu, but instead declined and cooperated with Major General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi who he later handed power to as military head of state.
In July 2000, at a public book launching ceremony in Nigeria, Chief Richard Akinjide stated: “Talking on the first coup, when Balewa got missing, we knew Okotie-Eboh had been held, we knew Akintola had been killed. We, the members of the Balewa cabinet started meeting. But how can you have a cabinet meeting without the Prime Minister acting or Prime Minister presiding. So, unanimously, we nominated acting Prime Minister amongst us. Then we continued holding our meetings. Then we got a message that we should all assemble at the Cabinet office. All the Ministers were requested by the G.O.C. of the Nigerian Army, General Ironsi to assemble. What was amazing at that time was that Ironsi was going all over Lagos unarmed. We assembled there. Having nominated Zanna Diphcharima as our acting Prime Minister in the absence of the Prime Minister, whose whereabouts we didn’t know, we approached the acting President, Nwafor Orizu to swear him in because he cannot legitimately act as the Prime Minister except he is sworn- in. Nwafor Orizu refused. He said he needed to contact Zik who was then in West Indies.
Under the law, that is, the Interpretation Act, as acting President, Nwazor Orizu had all the powers of the President. The GOC said he wanted to see all the cabinet ministers. And so we assembled at the cabinet office. Well, I have read in many books saying that we handed over to the military. We did not handover.
Ironsi told us that “you either hand over as gentlemen or you handover by force.” Those were his words. Is that voluntary hand-over? So we did not handover. We wanted an Acting Prime Minister to be in place but Ironsi forced us, and I use the word force advisedly, to handover to him. He was controlling the soldiers. The acting President, Nwafor Orizu, who did not cooperate with us, cooperated with the GOC. Dr. Orizu and the GOC prepared speeches which Nwafor Orizu broadcast handing over the government of the country to the army. I here state again categorically as a member of that cabinet that we did not hand-over voluntarily. It was a coup. ”
Corroborating Akinjide’s account, according to Shehu Shagari, in his Book “Beckoned to Serve,” said “However, we decided to recognize Dipcharima, a Kanuri from Bornu, as our interim leader; and to ask the acting President, Dr. Orizu (President Azikiwe was away on leave), to appoint Dipcharima acting Prime Minister.
We, therefore, drove to the residence of Dr. Orizu, and requested him to appoint Dipcharima acting prime minister. Dr. Orizu requested to see our NCNC colleagues to confirm whether they supported our proposition, and they joined us soon afterwards. They had apparently been caucusing at Dr. Mbadiwe’s residence. He (Mbadiwe) was their choice of acting Prime Minister. This was naturally unacceptable to us since the NPC was the major governing party.
“While we were at Orizu’s residence, Major-General Ironsi, who had seemingly secured Lagos, came in with some armed escorts. He requested for a tete-a-tete with Orizu. The two had a 40 minutes discussion in another room, while we waited anxiously in the sitting room, with the armed soldiers standing and staring at us. When Major-General Ironsi finally emerged, he talked to Dipcharima sotto voce; and then drove off with his troops. Dr. Orizu then joined us, regretted his inability in the circumstances to oblige our request. He suggested we all return to our homes and wait until we were required. All efforts to get any clarification failed, and we left in utter desperation.
“I was about to break the Ramadan fast on Sunday January 16, when all ministers were asked to report to the Cabinet Office at 6.30 pm. The whole premises was surrounded by soldiers in battle order that some of us initially hesitated to enter. In the Cabinet chamber were Major General Ironsi, Bukar Dipcharima and Ibrahim Tako Galadima. There were no officials present.
‘’…Acting President Nwafor Orizu made a nationwide broadcast, after he had brief President Nnamdi Azikiwe on the phone the purported decision of the cabinet, announcing the cabinet’s “voluntary” decision to transfer power to the armed forces. Ironsi then made his own broadcast, accepting the “invitation”. On January 17, Major General Ironsi established the Supreme Military Council in Lagos and effectively suspended the constitution’’, Shagari stated.