The role of vice president is one that John Adams, the first person in the United States to hold the position, called “the most insignificant position that the invention of man has ever devised.”
Patience Jonathan from Nigeria captured the situation in her sarcastic response to a journalist who asked her about her husband, Goodluck Jonathan, when he was vice president. She said, “He’s in his office reading newspapers.”
But in recent years, Nigeria’s current MP Yemi Osinbajo has defied normal expectations by spearheading a series of projects aimed at making life a little easier for people in a country where daily life is difficult.
“I think the vice president is worth congratulating that development initiatives usually tend to come out of the aid agency workbook,” said Obadiah Mailafia, an economist. “But we have these that are homegrown.”
In mid-2016, Mercy Izuagba passed an aptitude test that qualified her for a job in the Nigerian government. She had graduated in industrial chemistry as one of the top students from her university in 2008, but had struggled to find meaningful employment in a country where people generally require connections with someone who knows someone who knows someone.
“I had been taking aptitude tests for government jobs and I was doing well, but no one would hire me,” said the 36-year-old, who lives in the capital Abuja. “Some were willing to employ, but they wanted you to bribe them first.”
Izuagba was sent to a public high school to teach science from 2016 to 2020, in a scheme supervised by Osinbajo, aimed at unemployed college graduates, part of a broader Nigerian unemployment and youth development scheme, N-Power. There she has won awards for “best teacher”.
The N-Power project has so far employed some 500,000 Nigerian graduates in education, agriculture and technology, according to government reports. The monthly salary of roughly $ 100 (£ 70) can be very useful in a country where the World Bank reports that almost half of its 200 million inhabitants live on less than a dollar a day.
Other projects led by Osinbajo include: Ease of doing business, Home school feeding program, Clinics for MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) and the National Social Registry.
“All of these projects were conceptualized, hatched, and implemented in the vice president’s office,” said Lanre Shasore, who is in charge of planning in the Osinbajo office. “The execution started here, before they were institutionalized elsewhere, like in the humanitarian affairs ministry. Our office continues to work closely with the relevant ministries. “
He stressed that these initiatives were entirely Nigerian-led and funded by taxpayers, which is particularly surprising in a continent of countries that rely heavily on foreign expertise and development aid.
Adigun Agbaje, policy and governance expert and professor of politics at the University of Ibadan in southwestern Nigeria, said: “We have the human capacity both within the country and around the world to meet these seemingly insoluble challenges and offer solutions. It is another step forward that we are now drawing on from our own experience; and the courage of the current government leaders to take advantage of that instead of turning to Oxford University professors, as well as so-called British and American experts. “
The goal of Ease of Doing Business is to remove the bottlenecks that make it difficult to start and run a business in Nigeria. One of its main benefits is that visitors can now apply online before boarding a flight and then receive their visa upon arrival in the country. This replaces the tortuous and unpredictable interactions with Nigerian embassies, which are notorious for irritating foreign investors. Between 2016 and 2020, Nigeria climbed 39 places in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Index.
Then there was the school feeding program, which provided one meal a day to millions of students in thousands of public schools across the country. It tackles malnutrition and encourages school attendance, boosts the economy by using produce grown by farmers in a school location, and creates catering and food handling jobs. And he is Nigerian.
Another project brings together small businesses in different states to meet with government agencies that can solve bureaucratic problems on the spot. Shared facilities and infrastructure can also be provided. In north-central Benue state, for example, yam growers rent space in a large barn rather than fighting to keep their own. In Lagos state, the commercial capital, tailors can rent specialized machinery.
The National Social Register is Nigeria’s first attempt to create a database of the country’s poorest people, who then receive a monthly lifetime payment of 5,000 naira (£ 9). Following its start in 2016, it now has around five million names, according to Shasore, as identification and registration work continues.
“At the national level, this is the first time that Nigeria has had these kinds of structured interventions, in terms of the scale, structure and diversity of people touched or destined to be touched,” said Agbaje.
However, not all of the vice president’s efforts have received praise. The Government Enterprises and Empowerment Program, which gives micro-enterprises access to credit, sometimes for amounts as low as 10,000 naira, was viewed with suspicion when the loans were implemented near the 2019 presidential elections.
“The concept is good, but you shouldn’t do it in a way that makes people feel like you’re doing it just to win favor,” said Mailafia, who was also a candidate for the presidential election. “People started saying it was more like a bribe for voting.”
Osinbajo’s diligence at the office may have something to do with his background. The 64-year-old is a professor and lawyer, with years of experience in public service as a Lagos attorney general. He is also a longtime pastor at one of Nigeria’s most popular mega-churches, the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Dolapo, his wife of 32 years, is the granddaughter of Obafemi Awolowo, one of Nigeria’s founding fathers and most notable statesmen. She generally remains out of the limelight, but organizes philanthropic projects targeting widows and against gender-based violence, and is often dressed less extravagantly when the wives of civil servants meet in office.
“Here you have a man of ideas, who combines that with his role as a man of action, without fear of bringing ideas to the table, without fear of pursuing ideas in the field of action,” said Agbaje. “He has also shown a level of transparency and a level of honesty in dealing with his director, the president. All of that has helped. “
Mailafia, who ran against President Muhammadu Buhari in 2019, said: “Every politician has ambition, but this vice president has not allowed his ambition to cloud his sense of focus. I think the president is lucky to have someone like him ”.
Osinbajo has publicly attributed his successes to the president. In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Buhari asked him to oversee an economic sustainability plan that, among other strategies to protect livelihoods, has paid monthly stipends to the urban poor and salaries to the staff of private education companies. and transportation.
“What the president wanted was to pay all the employees in the private sector [in these sectors] but the cost was enormous, so we had to rationalize, ”Osinbajo said this month. “It’s good that most of the people got paid. By the time I report to the president, I will encourage him. “
Agbaje worries that Osinbajo’s impact could provoke negative reactions from politicians and presidential allies, who may feel that the vice president has become too visible and too involved. “To some extent, they have had some negative success in the sense that there have been all kinds of stories surrounding some of these initiatives and they have steered them under a new ministry and all kinds of institutional infighting,” he said.
Whatever happens, even critics agree that Osinbajo has bucked the trend to use the Nigerian vice presidency as a time to sit in his office reading newspapers or wait patiently for the president to die.
“You can create a Nigeria for everyone, not just the people of the party, or the people of your local government, region or ethnic group,” Agbaje said. “It means that those in office can work to directly impact the people, and not just their party members and their loyalists and those who follow them.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism