By Levinus Nwabughiogu
His fifth week as Acting President wasn’t too savory as he may have run into trouble with the Senate. And the situation, if left unchecked, may haunt Professor Yemi Osinabjo in the weeks ahead.
He did it quietly the first time and so, there were no hassles, no palpitations, no qualms. And, consequently, on Sunday, February 19, the media was awash with the news of the indelible large imprints that would engrave his name on the sands of time.
Even if he stops functioning in his present capacity now, the truth is that Acting President Yemi Osinabjo has a place in the annals of Nigerian politics because not everyone, not every Vice President in the past, has been this opportune to act in the place of his principal and leave legacies behind without qualms. The closest someone got after high wired politics was in 2010 and thereafter his presidency was the most troubled.
And so, Osinbajo, on Saturday, February 18, made history, assenting to, in one fell swoop, seven bills passed by the National Assembly into law.
The bills were Oaths(Amendment) Act, 2017; Defence Space Administration Act, 2017; Veterinary Surgeons(Amendment)Act, 2017; National Film and Video Censors Board(Amendment)Act, 2017; Pension Rights of Judges(Amendment) Act, 2017; Nigeria Institute of Soil Science(Establishment, etc.) Act, 2017 and Mortgage Institutions(Amendment)Act, 2016.
But as simple as it was for him on the first plank, the Acting President, perhaps, didn’t envisage the coming of another issue which signalled a face-off and ruptured his relationship with the powers-that-be.
At the moment, Osinbajo is the new bride and his actions so far, especially the sending of the name of the Acting Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Justice Walter Onneghen to the Senate for confirmation and the order to the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to rejig the nation’s foreign exchange policy which is beginning to yield result with the Naira gaining more strength over the dollar, have endeared more people to him.
But, predictably, barring any eventual compromise, the Acting President may run into troubled waters with the National Assembly for not assenting to the second set of bills submitted to him.
The bills are Dangerous Drugs Amendment Bill 2016, National Lottery Commission Bill 2016, Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund 2016, and Currency Conversion Freezing Order Amendment Bill 2016.
Perhaps, the Senate had thought Osinbajo would, like the previous occasion, expressively append his signature to the second set of bill, but never knew that the professor of law had his problems with them. And, in unambiguous terms, Osinbajo stated the problems in a letter he wrote to Senate President Bukola Saraki and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara.
For the Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2016, the Acting President wouldn’t sign because of “the concerns surrounding board composition, funding arrangements, limitation of liability of funds and proposals to increase levels of uncollateralised loans from N5,000 to N250,000.”
On the Currency Conversion (Freezing Orders) (Amendment) Bill 2016, he said “the concern regarding modalities for the communication of asset forfeiture orders.”
Osinbajo explained that he failed to assent to Dangerous (Amendment) Bill 2016 because of “certain words and phrases utilised in the draft bill that may be inconsistent with the Principal Act (for example Section 6 of the Bill with Section 21 of the Principal Act) and the spirit behind the proposed amendments.”
The National Lottery (Amendment) Bill 2016 suffered the same fate as he said that the “rationale for withholding assent to the bill is the existence of pending legal challenge to the competence of the National Assembly to legislate on the matter.”
Unknowingly to the Acting President, the rejection of the bills may have subtly kicked started his “problem” with the National Assembly and so, through out last week, storms raged. While he found grounds for his action in Section 58 of the Constitution, the senators, who have already started throwing tantrums, also cashed, in on the provisions of the same Section, threatening to veto Osinbajo President.
Section 58 states:
(1) The power of the National Assembly to make laws shall be exercised by bills passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives and, except as otherwise provided by subsection (5) of this section, assented to by the President.
(2) A bill may originate in either the Senate or the House of Representatives and shall not become law unless it has been passed and, except as otherwise provided by this section and section 59 of this Constitution, assented to in accordance with the provisions of this section.
(3) Where a bill has been passed by the House in which it originated, it shall be sent to the other House, and it shall be presented to the President for assent when it has been passed by that other House and agreement has been reached between the two Houses on any amendment made on it.
(4) Where a bill is presented to the President for assent, he shall within thirty days thereof signify that he assents or that he withholds assent.
(5) Where the President withholds his assent and the bill is again passed by each House by two-thirds majority, the bill shall become law and the assent of the President shall not be required.
Of course, Senate President Saraki wouldn’t let the the fireworks go unending, hence his smart intervention to save Osinbajo embarrassment on the floor of the Senate.
He said: “I think the procedure is we would refer this to our legal department to give us advice on interpretation on some of the things that you have said for us to be properly guided. But I agree with you that it is a matter that we must take seriously because it goes down to the issue of separation of powers. We would get the opinion of the legal department.”
Meanwhile, senators are warming up to explore subsection 5 of the provisions to override the Acting President. Analysts say it is definitely a bad omen for Osinbajo should this happen after 30 days. But it remains to be seen what both arms of government, the executive and legislature, would do.
Like the previous weeks, Osinbajo’s fifth week was hectic. First, he was billed to visit Akure, Ondo State capital, on Monday, February 20, but the trip failed due to persisted bad weather.
And one would think that the Acting President would “rest”, but no, he had a meeting underway.
Later that day, he met with the Presidential Task Force on wheat and rice. Inaugurated last June by President Muhammadu Buhari, the mandate of the committee was to improve the production of wheat and rice to self-sufficiency.
The Monday meeting featured the governors of Ebonyi, Dave Umahi, Kano, Abdullahi Ganduje, Kebbi, Abubakar Bagudu and Jigawa, Badaru Abubakar. The Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Audu Ogbeh, his counterpart in Finance, Mrs Kemi Adeosun, as well as the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emiefele, were also in attendance.
Other members of the Task Force were the President of Wheat Farmers Association and President of the Rice Farmers Association.
Bagudu, who spoke to State House correspondents afterwards, said: “This is the meeting of Presidential Task Force on Rice and wheat and we reviewed the wheat programme and what we can do more to support states in order to increase production of wheat. And to ensure that our farmers who have responded to the call are supported in terms of getting good price for their output in order to sustain their interests. We reviewed where we are with rice production, the Acting President noted with satisfaction all the efforts be different stakeholders to attain sufficiency in the shortest possible time. The Acting President assured the meeting that the Federal Government will continue to support the drive towards self sufficiency in food security. He said the government of necessity will support the farmers, the millers and other stakeholders involved in the value chain. I think we have done very well, we have remarkable increase in the number of states that have produced wheat from the last season. Last season we had about five states but today we are hearing reports from about 11 States and the increase in output per state is quiet significant as well. So we believe that with sustained trajectory that we are seeing we will be able to achieve our self-sufficiency”.
Tuesday, February 21- A day of awards
The Acting President also got busy on Tuesday. For a better part of that day, Osinbajo was at the Nicon Luxury Hotel, Abuja to hand over different awards at the Labour Productivity Merit Awards ceremony.
Wednesday, February 22- FEC meeting
Wednesdays are sacrosanct. They are a day for the meeting of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, and the Acting President was on hand to preside over the meeting. However, the day’s FEC was a special one as it ended pretty early. It was later to be known that Osinbajo, the marathon meeting man, ended the meeting to start off a valedictory session for the outgoing Minister of Environment, Mrs Amina Mohammed who’s got a new job as the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. At the session conducted by Osinabjo, the ministers took turns to eulogize one of their own.
Also later that day, the Acting President played host to the Commander of the US-Africa Command, General Thomas D. Waldhauser, and the American Ambassador to Nigeria, Honorable W. Stuart Symington, among other dignitaries who were in the Presidential Villa on a courtesy call on him.
Thursday, February 23-A day of history at NSE
The Acting President got very busy on Thursday. His activities saw him flying to Lagos in the morning to kick-start the process of launching Africa’s first Sovereign Green Bond, a brand new addition to the Nigerian capital market instruments funding portfolio at the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE, Lagos.
A green bond is a tax-exempt bond issued by federally qualified organizations or by municipalities for the development of brownfield sites. Brownfield sites are areas of land that are underutilized, have abandoned buildings or are underdeveloped, often containing low levels of industrial pollution.
Speaking at the event, Osinbajo said it was a crucial achievement for Nigeria.
“Green Bond is a crucial achievement for Nigeria’s determined battle against the consequences of climate change, a phenomenon which in many ways is an important to livelihoods and development of today”, he said.
According to him, the funds accrued from the Bond would benefit Solar Unit Distribution Programme (SUDIP), Renewable Energy Micro-Utilities in 45 communities, Energizing Education Program (EEP), FCT Bus Rapid Transport and Aforestation Programme.
“Power has posed a major challenge and barrier to effective learning institutional operation and student residences in our universities, this programme would improve access to power to 37 federal universities and 7 university teaching hospitals across the country.
“It would also impact the residents of surrounding communities in the total of about 1.110 million people. In total a 119 megawatt of power would be provided in this scheme out of which 60 megawatt would be solar power,” he added.
Osinabjo later flew back to Abuja to, again, chair the valedictory dinner for the same outgoing Ministry of Environment at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa. Indeed, Mrs. Mohammed was roundly celebrated to the envy of his colleagues who of course, wouldn’t resign because, in Africa, it a taboo to resign from government appointment. And this, many believe is the bane of development for the private sector as there are no healthy policies to make the sector thrive as to attract political hangers-on.
Friday, February 24- Another day with poultry farmers
The Acting President spent almost all his day on Friday in the office doing meetings and perhaps, attending to files also. There was no known outside function that he attended. One of the meetings he had on Friday was with the Poultry Framers Association of Nigeria. He had last week Thursday held the first meeting with the association.
A statement from his office later stated that the meetings were in an urgent effort by the Federal Government to address challenges in the agricultural sub-sector and thereby offer relief measures to the ailing industry.
It will be recalled that the poultry industry has had to contend with a number of challenges including an outbreak of Avian Influenza which affected almost 4 million birds in 2015, non-allocation of Foreign Exchange for the importation of needed machinery and other critical inputs, and high production costs in the industry.
“The poultry industry is a local industry that needs to be protected urgently,” the Acting President was quoted as saying at the meeting.
Apart from the National president of the association, Ayoola Oduntan, other officials present at the meeting included the Minister of State for Agriculture, Heineken Lokpobiri, Minister of Finance, Kem Adeosun; Comptroller General of Nigeria customs, Hammed Ali and Central Bank Governor, Godwin Emefiele.
Lokpobiri was later to tell State House correspondents more of what transpired at the meeting.
“We had a meeting with the Acting President over some concerns in the poultry industry. Poultry industry is one of the most organised in Nigeria and one of the most important. Input of the industry are maize and soya beans and because of what happened sometimes last year about the invasion of Army worms on maize farms, we have a huge shortage of maize and soya beans in the country.
“That has made the price of maize go up in the country as high as N140 to N150, 000 and above. They came today to see how we can intervene to get maize available in the market and this is also an opportunity to send a signal to those who are hoarding maize that anybody who is hoarding maize is hoarding at his own peril. The FG will not buy.
“What we have is a program that will deliberately grow more maize which will satisfy the local and international market. We have demands from Algeria and some other countries that if we are able to grow 2 million and above metric tones for them, we will construct a rail line to Kano. We have been directed by the President to a land grower scheme on a sustainable basis guarantee the availability of maize in the country.
“In the short term, the FG has intervened to have maize available for the poultry industry. This and other issues of smuggling. Part of the reasons we have a lot of people down with certain disease, we don’t know, the health hazard due to consumption of frozen chicken. Most times, they used what they use to preserve dead bodies and it cause harm to the kidney.
“Customs too was in the meeting and charged on how to improve their surveillance programme so that we stop that. We discussed other issues about agric equipment which people will benefit from the policy of zero duties and essentially is to see how we can intervene in the poultry industry with membership of over 15 million people. I can proudly say it is the most organised and because we have a huge market so we have a duty to intervene”.