Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was yet again mortified after President Muhammadu Buhari discarded his proposal on the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) Establishment Bill, 2022, and adopted that of Sadiya Farouq, the humanitarian minister, marking yet another affair that underscores the trivial influence of the second-in-command in the administration.
Mr Osinbajo, who had spent about two years working on his proposed bill with extensive deliberations with state governors and other technocrats on poverty alleviation, had his efforts thwarted after Ms Farouq told the president she had a different bill, according to senior administration officials and federal cabinet documents obtained by Peoples Gazette.
Mr Buhari promptly threw out Mr Osinbajo’s proposed bill, which had the backing of the National Economic Council, in favour of Ms Farouq’s document, The Gazette learnt, which he then forwarded to the National Assembly last week for enactment.
Several administration officials, including at least one minister, quickly deemed the president’s action as an unmistakable humiliation of the Mr Osinbajo and said the entire affair was orchestrated to remind the vice president that he has no enviable role in the government.
‘A desolate proposal’
In June 2021, the president reiterated his commitment to lifting 100 million Nigerians out of poverty with the set-up of a National Poverty Reduction with Growth Strategy (NPRGS) steering committee headed by the vice president that promised a prudent and transparent project delivery.
After deliberations by the committee, it was, among others, proposed that the NSIP be operated in a manner in which the 36 states would own the process based on support from the federal government, documents said.
Governors expressed confidence in the work of Mr Osinbajo’s office, saying it mirrored the initial social investment framework that the vice president steered in 2016, according to one southern governor familiar with the matter.
But the proposal of Ms Farouq sought to ensure the scheme is domiciled in and operated by her ministry and civil servants, which was widely rejected by members of the Federal Executive Council, who argued that it was contrary to that of Mr Osinbajo and that such could deny the states their constitutional mandates.
During the executive council meeting of July 27, 2022, members shredded critical sections of Ms Farouq’s proposal on the sources of funds for the NSIP through budgetary allocation, five percent of recovered loot, and VAT from companies working for the federal government, among others, per documents reviewed by The Gazette.
A minister described Ms Farouq’s work as “a desolate proposal” that was hurriedly put together in order to scheme the vice president out of the legislation.
“She did it in a manner that showed all of us that she just wanted to continue reminding everyone that humanitarian affair is her turf,” a minister said under anonymity to avoid cabinet backlash. “But instead we’re all being put on notice that the vice president’s role in this government is at best perfunctory.”
Documents showed the council objected to another section of Ms Farouq’s proposal restricting Nigerians who are gainfully employed from benefiting from the poverty alleviation programmes. They argued that some Nigerians, such as subsistence farmers and janitors, are still largely poor despite being gainfully employed.
They also argued that should the purview of the programmes be removed from Mr Osinbajo-headed committee and moved to the humanitarian ministry, its objectives would be easily scotched because they sought to circumvent state and local authorities.
Still, the president accepted Ms Farouq’s proposal to the discomfort of cabinet members, according to a September 2 document seen by The Gazette.
Femi Adesina, a spokesman for the president, and Laolu Akande, a spokesman for the vice president, both declined The Gazette’s requests for comments on the controversy. Ms Farouq did not return a request seeking comments.
Whereas the internal rancour over the social safety bill cast a pall that could publicly mar its impact, the underlying desperation by Mr Buhari in seeking codification of the policy could go largely unnoticed, an official said.
As the administration winds down in less than six months, Mr Buhari has become increasingly desperate to leave a programme that could bolster his legacy as a compassionate leader who prioritised the plight of the nation’s poor to the very end.
“People are still talking about how President Obasanjo helped clear crippling debt and brought economic stability that attracted many Nigerians in the diaspora back to the country,” an official said. “The president, by this bill, is hoping people will be talking about how he made it a law for schoolchildren to be regularly fed and for the elderly to be paid a monthly stipend.”
But the official said the vice president should have been allowed to drive the legislation since the policy was his brainchild to begin with.
Mr Osinbajo instituted the social safety net programmes in early 2016 and remained its face until 2019 when they were removed from his office and handed over to Ms Farouq, who had been appointed to the cabinet earlier that year under a newly-created humanitarian affairs ministry.
The programmes include the N-power, the conditional cash transfer, the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Program (GEEP), and the Home Grown School Feeding Program (HGSF), all targeted at relieving poverty by supporting vulnerable groups across the country.
While he was administering the programmes, Mr Osinbajo earned nationwide ridicule after being pictured having lunch with pupils in Ondo. Another photo of his one-on-one chats with Utako market traders in Abuja, during the inauguration of TraderMoni, also went viral on social media.
But during his Independence Day speech in 2019, Mr Buhari said the NSIP had been moved from the office of the vice president to the newly-created Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. Further controversies ensued after several aides to Mr Osinbajo were dismissed shortly after the announcement, effectively crippling the vice president’s office.
“The vice president has just been going about representing the president at events ever since,” an official said. “He has not been able to implement any serious initiatives.”
Mr Buhari’s rejection of Mr Osinbajo’s proposed bill on social security mirrored similar embarrassments that he has endured since the administration was inaugurated in May 2015.
In 2019, Mr Osinbajo worked on a programme to address the violent rampage of killer herdsmen that gripped the country when it peaked between 2016 and 2018. The national livestock transformation plan, which also earned the backing of state governors by way of NEC, was axed by the president following objections of his then-chief of staff, Abba Kyari.
The president subsequently approved a botched arrangement that nonetheless cost the country about N12 billion in fraudulent payouts to the administration’s cronies, The Gazette reported.
Also in 2019, Mr Kyari, who passed on after contracting COVID-19 in 2020, took the amended Deep Offshore Act Bill to Mr Buhari, who was on a private visit to London, undermining the vice president.
But despite the string of humiliations, Mr Osinbajo earlier this year insisted that he and his principal have never had issues since assuming office in 2015.
“President Buhari is a devout Muslim and I am a pastor; both of us have worked together for about seven years; we have not had issues,” the vice president said in March.