Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is having his second stint as Acting President while President Muhammadu Buhari is on medical vacation in the United Kingdom.
In his first stint, he undertook a tour of the Niger Delta, meeting with stakeholders and scoring points for seemingly understanding their agitations. He also loosened restrictions on the naira.
He has not lost steam in his current stint either. In the past three weeks, he has signed three executive orders aimed at improving the ease of doing business in Nigeria, timely submission of annual budgetary estimates by all statutory and non-statutory agencies, including companies owned by the Federal Government and support for local content in public procurement by the Federal Government.
These executive orders are his way of working his talk that prayers and fasting alone will not be sufficient to pull Nigeria out of the economic doldrums it is in currently.
While this looks pretty obvious to anyone, it is a break from the norm of Nigerian leaders asking citizens to seek divine intervention without concerted efforts.
What caught our attention the most, was the impressive speech he gave at an event marking the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the Republic of Biafra which led to a 30-month civil war.
While his attendance at the event alone sent a huge message, he went further to differ on the usual government policy on many fundamental issues such as Nigerian unity, the civil war and issues of marginalisation and exclusion of not just the South-East but all sections of Nigeria.
While successive Nigerian governments have continued to insist that the question of Nigeria’s unity was non-negotiable – the Jonathan and Obasanjo administrations made it no-go areas during the national conferences they organised – Acting President Osinbajo took a different tack by stating that any section of Nigeria had the right to decide if they want to belong to Nigeria and on what basis.
This position is an important one, considering the fact that no ethnic nationality was consulted by the British colonial authorities before being included in Nigeria; indeed, we all woke up one day to find that we were Nigerians. As such, it will be foolhardy to insist that every group of persons currently in Nigeria have to remain Nigerians.
Not only that, Osinbajo’s position may have opened up the conversation for various ethnic nationalities to discuss on whether they want to remain part of the country.
This was what he did when he kept harping on how we are greater together as Nigeria, by emphasising how we have become intertwined as a nation and any breakup will disrupt trade and social links that have been built over a century.
We hope that this new position by the Acting President will not just end with his speech but will reflect how the government approaches feelings of marginalisation by sections of the country and agitations for self-determination.
For far too long, the Nigerian government has made it an anathema for groups and ethnic nationalities to protest what they feel is an unfair hand they are being dealt.
While these agitations always start peacefully, they are always met with decisive force, turning the struggles violent and in the end, forcing the government to listen to them.
This should not be the situation – the government needs to pay attention to these agitations before they turn violent and become the playground of demagogues and extremists, which is the situation when certain conversations are made a taboo because of how discomfiting they are to the government.
We hope that Acting President Osinbajo’s speech will herald a new beginning and a paradigm shift in thinking within the Nigerian government.