Nigeria’s First Lady, Aisha Buhari has discounted widespread rumors of any rancor between her and her husband, President Muhammadu Buhari, which allegedly forced her to stay away from the country for an unusually extended period.
Mrs Buhari, who arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja via a British Airways flight told state-owned Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) shortly after she returned to Abuja early Sunday morning; that she was in the United Kingdom to be with her children. She also disclosed that she saw her doctors while in London, adding that she has always travelled out for vacation for six weeks every year. This, she said, was nothing unusual.
”It has been a tradition for us. For like 20 to 27 years now, if our children are on holiday, we used to spend holiday with them,” Mrs Buhari said, adding: ”I never abandon my children and last year, I went to Spain and spent two months with Zahra when she gave birth.
“So, the same this year’s holiday in U.K, I fell sick. So, I stayed back to see a doctor and the doctor advised me to stay back to attend to my health. From the U.K., I travelled to Saudi Arabia for Hajj and returned to England on doctor’s advice and they also advised that I should slow down my activities.’’
Mrs Buhari said she was able to focus on her health and “family” because President Muhammadu Buhari approved the appointment of special assistants to her office to assist her achieve her mission of improving the lives and wellbeing of women and children in Nigeria.
Her silence while she was away generated a few rumors. It was insinuated that she irked the oft-mentioned powerful cabal in the presidency and was pushed to the background. The rumors got to a head during the week when it was rumored that Buhari was going to take another wife as a punishment for the First Lady’s absence.
Social media has been awash with claims that President Buhari will be getting married to Sadiya Umar Farouq, Minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, because Mrs Buhari has been away for months. Several hashtags have been trending on Twitter on the premise of the wedding and the “sudden” return of Mrs Buhari to the country to stop the wedding. #TheWedding, #BUSA19, #AISHA, #Presidentialwedding; and several others.
Other local news platforms also circulated the wedding claim, citing a close source at the Presidential Villa who revealed that the marriage was scheduled for Friday, October 11, 2019. Mrs Buhari chalked the rumors down to fake news, negative impacts of which she said her family has endured in the past. “The genesis of this fake news started when my husband fell sick and perpetrators of this act were showing fake Ambulance, Hospital and dead body suggesting that my husband is dead,” she said.
“That time, I received so many calls from other first ladies and Presidents of other countries to confirm; so I called the attention of NCC, NBC and the National Orientation Agency. Fake news will lead this country to something else if actions are not taken with immediate effect.”
Dangote Tomatoes Processing Plant has established a N3 billion Green House nursery in Kano, designed to process over 300 to 350 million tons of hybrid tomato seedlings expected to make Nigeria self-sufficient in tomatoes production. The Managing-Director of the Farm, Mr. Abdulkarim Lawal Kaita, said that the nursery would facilitate increased production of high quality seedlings which the company plans to roll out to tomatoes farmers to boostt production of fresh tomatoes and locally made tomatoes paste in the country.
Kaita told reporters yesterday that, for the Federal Government to sustain the new quest for consumption of locally made farm produce; there was need to place a total ban on the importation of fresh and processed tomatoes, as the company has the capacity to produce for both domestic consumption and exports.
According to him, the company’s new investment in production of fresh and processed tomatoes was capable of stopping the over $350 million the nation was spending annually on importation of processed tomatoes. He stated that Nigeria consumes 2.3 million tons of tomato paste, “but we have the capacity to produce 8 million tons annually, exceeding local consumption. You can now imagine how much the country can make on foreign exchange.”
Kaita also added that the farm which is fully automated was the largest and first of its kind in West Africa, pointing out that the farm was expected to enhance the economy of local tomato farmers, as the technology was expected to increase their harvest from the current 10 tons per acre to as much as 40 tons per acre. “The management of the Dangote Tomatoes Processing Limited which is a subsidiary of Dangote Farms is excited to reveal the tremendous effort that we are making to ensure that Nigeria becomes self –sufficient in tomato production. The planting medium you are looking at is called PAT MOOSE which has the capacity of producing 350 million seedlings per season that can be used to plant an estimated 12,000 hectares of tomato farm.
“We are glad to disclose that we are the first to bring this new technology into the country and this is going to fast track the yield of our tomato farmers tremendously. “The project is being executed under the CBN Tomato Anchor-Borrowers Programme. The CBN will be paying for the seedling that we are cultivating, and it will be distributed to farmers. The PAT MOOSE process you are seeing takes three weeks, after which it goes to the next stage, and the whole process of growing the tomato takes just three months,” he explained.
Shedding more light into the value addition which the Green House farm would provide, Kaita, noted that the introduction of the technology would put an end to post-harvest losses, as well as increase the volume of harvest of the commodity. He further explained that the introduction of the technology would lead to expansion of production of the commodity, beyond the over 2.5 million tons current consumption demand.
“Based on study under the GEMS project, from the 12 States that engage in massive tomato production, there is over 171,000 hectares of land for tomato production, and if you multiply this with the over 40 tons which the technology is capable of producing per hectare, that means we can grow our production to around 8 million tons. With this; in the next two years, if Government effects the ban on the importation of the commodity, just as it has been done in the case of rice, Nigeria will soon become a net exporter of the commodity.”
In The Spotlight
The ongoing controversy surrounding Vice President Yemi Osinbajo over an alleged strained relationship between him and President Muhammadu Buhari, took a dramatic turn yesterday when Osinbajo in a statement declared his readiness to waive his constitutional immunity to “enable the most robust adjudication” of several baseless allegations, insinuation, and falsehoods against his person and office.
Last week, Buhari set up an Economic Advisory Council (EAC) which, according to a statement from by his media aide, was to replace the Economic Management Team (EMT) headed by Osinbajo with directives that members of the newly created body would report directly to the president. The decision, which was given several interpretations, suggested that Buhari in collaboration with the cabal in Aso Rock have made up their mind to frustrate the vice president or force him to resign.
Osinbajo has also recently been accused of mismanaging N90 billion, being funds allegedly provided by the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) for the prosecution of the general elections. But Osinbajo, in a tweet he personally tweeted and made available to the media by the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Laolu Akande, said: “In the past few days, a spate of reckless and malicious falsehoods have been peddled in the media against me by a group of malicious individuals.
“The defamatory and misleading assertions invented by this clique had mostly been making the social media rounds anonymously. I have today instructed the commencement of legal action against two individuals, one Timi Frank, and another Katch Ononuju, who have put their names to these odious falsehoods. I will waive my constitutional immunity to enable the most robust adjudication of these claims of libel and malicious falsehood.”
However, Osinbajo’s plan to waive his immunity is generating mixed reactions, with some Nigerians questioning the legality and constitutionality of such an action. The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, fired the first salvo, saying the vice president does not have the capacity as an individual to waive his immunity.
In another reaction, a former Minister of Information, Prince Tony Momoh, who is also a lawyer, said the vice president has no constitutional right to waive his immunity as far as Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution is concerned. According to Momoh, “Osinbajo has no right to waive his immunity except he resigns from office or if he is impeached. My advice to him is to allow those who made the allegation to go and prove their case in the court. As a public officer and politician, he should develop a thick skin to accommodate all forms of criticism.”
A professor of History and Strategic Studies, Ayodeji Olukoju, opined that even though the constitution does not allow the vice president to waive his immunity, “if the man feels strongly to defend his integrity, he should be given the opportunity.”
But sharing a different opinion, factional chairman of All Progressives Congress (APC) in Lagos State, Mr. Fouad Oki, said it is within the ambit of Osinbajo to waive his immunity if he feels strongly that his name and integrity are at stake. “Since Osinbajo is a beneficiary of the immunity clause, he also has the right to waive it to prove his integrity.”
Osinbajo’s travails might not be unconnected with the struggle for power among southwest political gladiators ahead of the 2023 elections. The rising profile of the vice president and his acceptability in the north in recent times is said to be creating confusion in some camps that have vowed to bring him down. Nothing exposes the fact that Osinbajo is not a politician than the recent decision to announce his resolve or preparedness to waive the constitutional immunity conferred on his office in a bid to regain his credibility in the face of allegations of purloining campaign funds.
As a lawyer and pastor, Osinbajo seems not to have come to terms with the knife fights in Nigerian politics. As such, by joining issues with those who flew the kite about his current travails with the famed presidency cabal on the claim of unaccounted campaign fund deployment, he fell into an ambush. Despite the alleged imbalance in the use of the campaign fund believed to be from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), the vice president should have known better that as sociologists say, scandal improves by refutation.
But jumping the gun to extricate himself from the messy tales, the law professor will be surprised by other details that have been making the rounds in hushed tones. Now having been boxed into a corner, the vice president will begin to confront his travails all alone because Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who should have taken up the fight, allegedly has some misgivings about him too, and Tinubu is widely believed in certain quarters as being the brain behind the ambush of Osinbajo.
It is alleged that Osinbajo, at the height of his efforts to distance his political progression from Tinubu, claimed at one point, “somebody somewhere nominated me as running mate to Buhari.” Apart from that, sources said it was allegedly the vice president’s covert plot to use the Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) as a possible platform for his 2023 presidential ambition that threw some ice on his relationship with the former Lagos State governor.
While the vice president was said to have worked in cahoots with the very cabal that is currently going for his jugular to ensure that ANN was put beyond Mr. Gbenga Olawepo, Tinubu was informed about that scheme. Moreover, the fact that the sum of N500 million was allegedly moved into ANN’s account from the presidency to engineer the quiet takeover of the party, seemed to have convinced Tinubu that the vice president was not being frank to him.
In his home state of Ogun, at the peak of the supremacy battle between former governors Ibikunle Amosun and Segun Osoba, Osinbajo was said to have adopted the ostrich style by refusing to back Osoba or Amosun. But while he was adopting the non-aligned posture in the southwest caucus of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Osinbajo was made to walk a tight rope in the presidency.
Sitting at the head of the committee that investigated former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir David Lawal, the vice president refused to use “the eyes of an elder” to view the case against Buhari’s Adamawa-born ally. Although the indictment of former Director-General of National Intelligence Agency (NIA), Ayo Oke, was meant to uphold Osinbajo’s impartiality, at the end of the day, the cabal reportedly held the fall of Babachir against him.
Again, the duo of Chief of Staff Abba Kyari and Babagana Monguno were said not to be impressed with the way Osinbajo capitulated to the intrigues in the Adamawa chapter of APC, which led to the fall of Babachir. Yet, the insistence of the vice president on retaining Ibrahim Magu as the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was said to have convinced Buhari’s inner men that Osinbajo wants to measure strength with them.
To make matters worse, the speed with which the vice president pushed through the sack of a former past Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura, was said to have compelled the cabal to move against the pastor. Relieved of his position in the DSS, Daura was said to have invested his time digging into various departments and agencies under the vice president, especially all dealings that had to do with money. Having come to the conclusion that Osinbajo’s continued stay in office could jeopardise their plans to execute a mutually beneficial succession plan in 2023, the cabal allegedly decided to unleash their well-orchestrated plan of diminishing his clout and possibly engineering his resignation from office.
It all started with a seemingly innocuous internal memo to the Executive Chairman of FIRS, Babatunde Fowler, seeking clarifications over a shortfall in internally- generated revenue. Then came the howler from Comrade Timi Frank, which claimed that the unfolding travails of the vice president were traceable to the sum of N90 billion from FIRS, which Osinbajo could allegedly not account for.
Meanwhile, The Vanguard yesterday issued an apology on its FIRS story. It said: “On our website publication of Monday, September 23, 2019, we published a story titled “N 90 Bn FIRS Election Fund: Osinbajo’s problem, not 2023 politics.” We have since discovered that the story lacks factual substance and we hereby retract it in its entirety. We tender our profound apology to Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, the vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria on whom the story touches directly, the All Progressives Congress, and the FIRS for any inconvenience or embarrassment the publication has occasioned them. We hold Prof. Osinbajo in the highest esteem.”
In other reactions by legal minds on Osinbajo’s willingness to waive his immunity, the simple answer is no. It will take a very creative interpretation of the constitution for him to ascribe and waive immunity, since immunity does not stop the investigation. It only stops the prosecution. He cannot waive his immunity. There is no constitutional provision for this under the CFRN 1999. If he is so serious and insistent, then he can resign his position and be subjected to prosecution. There are no precedents for such waiver.
In The Spotlight
President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent replacement of the Economic Management Team (EMT) headed by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo with an Economic Advisory Council (EAC) headed by Prof. Doyin Salami has led to speculations on the import of this move, including for the continued relevance of Osinbajo, (seen, at least during the government’s first term in office, as the poster boy of the Buhari administration).
Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity Femi Adesina in a statement said the EAC would advise the president on economic policy matters, including fiscal analysis, economic growth and a range of internal and global economic issues, working with the relevant cabinet members and heads of monetary and fiscal agencies. He said the EAC, which is expected to assist the president in the development of critical policies, would hold monthly sessions and report directly to the President. He also said the Council will have monthly technical sessions and scheduled quarterly meetings with the president, though its chairman can also request unscheduled meetings if the need arises. In addition to Prof Doyin Salami, other members of the EAC are Dr. Mohammed Sagagi (vice chairman), Prof. Ode Ojowu (member), Dr. Shehu Yahaya (member), Dr. Iyabo Masha (member), Prof. Chukwuma Soludo (member), Mr. Bismark Rewane (member), and Dr. Mohammed Adaya Salisu (secretary).
Some have hailed the setting up of the EAC as evidence that President Buhari seriously wants to tackle the issues of economic underperformance and worsening poverty in the country, especially amid criticisms that the Osinbajo-led economic management team was made up mostly of distinguished lawyers, but hardly any economist of note. For instance the Emir of Kano, not known to be effusive with praises of governments, including the Buhari government, was reported to have said:
“In my opinion this is the single most important decision taken by the President in his second term with great potential for turning the economy around. The team he has assembled is first class by all standards and each and every one of them is held in high regard by all our professional colleagues.
“He also has put together a team with balance. In there you have experts in macroeconomics, monetary policy, fiscal policy, development theory and financial markets. I can think of no better team of advisers at this point and we look forward to discussing and debating with and encouraging them as they serve the nation and the President.
“The President deserves to be praised on this decision and supported. It is evidence of commitment to focus on the economy. This team will add a lot of value to policy and strategy and will also be frank and honest in its advice. I honestly have not been so excited about prospect on the economy as I am today and you know me. I do not dish out praise,” he concluded.”
There are a couple of concerns about the new EAC – depending on where one is located in the active controversies of the day:
One, one of the issues thrown up by the new EAC is how to avoid conflict between its functions and the statutory National Economic Council headed by the VP. Under Section H of Part 1 of the Third Schedule to the 1999 Constitution, NEC is the body constitutionally empowered to ‘advise’ the President on economic affairs. For instance even when former World Bank vice-president Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was named coordinating minister of the economy by the Jonathan government, the economic management team she was part of was still headed by the vice-president, Namadi Sambo.
Two, there are possibilities that the new EAC may set the stage for ideological conflicts between the team whose members are mostly independent minded free marketers and Buhari whose instincts even from his first coming as a military dictator is interventionist and protectionist. For instance while Salami, like Rewane, is a known proponent of currency devaluation, Buhari has favoured a series of interventions by the Central Bank to ‘stabilize’ the value of the naira. In 2017 Salami reportedly described the CBN as a piggy bank that irrationally funds government’s activities. So with the new EAC, are we going to see the end of Buhari’s ‘welfarist’ programmes like ‘Tradermoni’, school feeding’, CBN’s interventions in the FOREX market to stabilize the Naira etc.?
Three, given the president’s antecedents, just how much power will the new EAC be allowed to wield? Will the group also become captive of the high-wire politics of the alleged contending centres of power in the presidency? Is the team just assembled to give the government more credibility or is the President signally that he is willing to learn to be left-handed in his old age? Since most of the members of the EAC are seen as independent minded, if they feel sidelined or their advice persistently ignored, and they begin to resign one after the other, how will that affect the legitimacy of the government?
Four, is the new EAC an orchestrated attempt to whittle down the influence of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo - as some suggested? We are a country where almost every official move triggers a wave of conspiracy theories. In the case of the EAC, some have noted that
just a day after Osinbajo’s Economic Management Team was replaced, the presidency also announced the dissolution of the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property, which was established in August 2017 by Osinbajo in his capacity as Acting President, to investigate specifically mandated cases of corruption, abuse of office and similar offences by public officers. According to Femi Adesina, who made the announcement, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami has been directed to immediately take over all outstanding investigations and other activities of the SPIP. There were also reports that Osinbajo has been directed to seek approvals for agencies under him. As if to buttress the numerous conspiracy theories around the new EAC, The Nation newspaper, seen largely as an organ of the APC, especially tendencies within the party which are loyal Bola Tinubu, the paper’s owner, reported that there has been “disquiet within the government and the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) over alleged plans to relocate some top aides of the Vice President from the Presidential Villa to some Ministries, Departments and Agencies”. Laolu Akande, the Media Assistant to the President attached to the Office of the Vice President dismissed these insinuations as efforts to drive a wedge between the President and the Vice President, whom he said have mutual respect for each other.
Five, there is no doubt that the politics of 2023 will be at the shadow of most moves by the government and politicians from now till the whistle is blown for that contest. Osinbajo himself is part of that political chess game, even if he doesn’t want to be seen as actively playing that game. But if there is one consistent thing about Buhari, it is that he can be quite unpredictable in his own political choices and moves. For instance after the last presidential election, it was widely thought that Buhari would dump Tinubu because he allegedly no longer had any need for him. But to the surprise of many people, a number of suspected loyalists of the Jagaban were able to make it to Buhari’s new cabinet and Tinubu’s choices for the leadership of the National Assembly also triumphed. So it may be too hasty to use some of these developments to conclude that Osinbajo has become politically emasculated. If one day is said to be like a life time in politics, four years could be likened to eternity. We just have to wait and see how those affected by Buhari’s new moves make their own counter moves, in Osinbajo’s case, in his very unobtrusive ways.
Six, the trajectory of governance in Buhari’s second term will be dictated by the politics of 2023 and the President’s sense of leaving a legacy. In our type of environment where “your people” will always ask what you did for them while you were in office, the notion of ‘legacy’ will inevitably be in two parts: your legacy to the country as a whole and your legacy to ‘your people’ (however the office holder wants to define it). Essentially therefore, whether the new EAC succeeds or not will be determined by the interaction between the politics of 2023 and Buhari’s sense of the legacy he wants to leave behind.