Whatever becomes of the aides, however, the real loser is Osinbajo, as the aides may no longer be at his service. Reading Shehu’s statement, one got the impression that, perhaps, Osinbajo didn’t quite share Buhari’s austere ways or philosophy of cutting down costs. Or how else can one interprete the view that he had over time, maintained, at government’s expense, more aides than his master did?
Two explanations within two weeks from the top echelon of government on a single issue reflected the topicality, if not importance, of the issue of the 35 aides of vice president, Yemi Osinbajo who have ceased to act in that capacity. The first announcement came on November 8 via a statement from Garba Shehu, the senior special assistant on Media to President Muhammadu Buhari. Reacting to rumours of the sack of the 35 aides, Shehu said it was meant to “streamline decision-making, cut down multiple authorities and reduce the cost of administration.” In that regard, he pointed out that the decision was also “an appropriate response to the general perception that the Presidency has an oversized and bloated workforce which acts as a drag on efficiency.” His explanation may have earned the Buhari administration some plaudits from people who may have viewed the decision as a way of enforcing change, however belated, in the polity. But the second version from President Buhari that was reported in the media on November 16, gave a different clue. Standing close to an NTA reporter, Buhari, as I imagined it from the video clip, responded to the question put to him: “They said 35 people were sacked in the vice president’s office. We just created a ministry and re-organised and people are giving it ethnic and political dimension. It’s unfortunate,” he said.
It didn’t matter that the aides matter had been dealt with by Shehu. The journalist had to ask questions. As a journalist, I understand how it works. No matter how many times an issue had been addressed, a newsman could still seek new answers, particularly when the subject is an important or influential person. So, the NTA reporter asked the question, and he got an answer.
Some views are explicit enough, some are not. While Shehu’s was clear enough, Buhari’s wasn’t quite so. Yes, a new ministry, he said, was created but were the sacked aides moved there? The president didn’t categorically say so, from the video clip I saw, though some people are now interpreting his view to mean that. Following the president’s comment was a story in the media quoting unnamed sources that what Buhari ordered in regard to the 35 aides was redeployment, not sack. The story was replicated by at least two different media outlets, conveying the same message of redeployment, and not dismissal. If that was the case, how come Shehu didn’t say so in his release? Another way to look at it is to wonder whether a top government official (or a number of them), with hidden agenda, reversed the president’s order. Since the days of military rule, Aso Rock, Nigeria’s seat of power, has never been short of power brokers, and if it is now being speculated that the president’s order was flouted, who did this?
Whichever way we consider it, that was one of those moments you feel pity for people whose duty it is to speak for others. To say something and have your master contradict you isn’t ideal, but, at the moment, Buhari’s view supercedes that of Shehu, and those aides who have been the talk of the town for days on end, with all manners of ethnic and political allusions to their fate, may already have breathed a sigh of relief that, contrary to the sack news, they won’t be seeking new opportunities outside government so soon, in a country with an unbelievably high jobless rate. In essence, it’s still job for the boys and girls, if the Buhari angle is to be believed!
…the argument in some quarters that the sacked or redeployed staff in question were meant to dent Osinbajo’s political aspiration, may not be out of place, as they could well deploy their services to him in that regard, irrespective of their portfolios. Politicians, after all, hardly go to sleep, as they often have their sights on the next election!
Whatever becomes of the aides, however, the real loser is Osinbajo, as the aides may no longer be at his service. Reading Shehu’s statement, one got the impression that, perhaps, Osinbajo didn’t quite share Buhari’s austere ways or philosophy of cutting down costs. Or how else can one interprete the view that he had over time, maintained, at government’s expense, more aides than his master did? What happened to personal example that was to be a principle of this administration and, indeed, the change they all trumpeted? It’s still all like yesterday when I listened to Osinbajo on radio talking about how things would change for good in Nigeria if the APC won the 2015 election. One report back then showed him in a commercial bus in Lagos talking to commuters on why change needed to happen. I do not know how challenging his job as vice president currently is that required him having more aides than the president but cutting down the cost of governance required reducing to the barest minimum, his personal staff, from the onset of this administration and then moving on to purge the civil service of idle hands that are known to dominate it. Doing so would help save funds that could be deployed in more ways than one for the benefit of all. If conditions were right in the country, and citizens had support in the form of infrastructural and social amenities by government and loans from banks, irrespective of one’s status as happens in many other countries, not a few Nigerians would be better off working for themselves.
The former aides of Osinbajo in question are Nigerians and deserve as much support from government and good lives, as other less fortunate Nigerians in the streets but the idea that the vice president maintains idle or unproductive staff at tax payers expense is a poor advertisement for an administration that professes change. Over the years, one has seen or heard of the activities of some aides that leave little or no doubt that the tag of SA (special assistant) SSA (senior special assistant) or whatever else they are called, is more for the realisation of personal goals. Thus the argument in some quarters that the sacked or redeployed staff in question were meant to dent Osinbajo’s political aspiration, may not be out of place, as they could well deploy their services to him in that regard, irrespective of their portfolios. Politicians, after all, hardly go to sleep, as they often have their sights on the next election! But the goal should be about the people, not self.
Anthony Akaeze is an award-winning freelance investigative journalist and author.