By Felix Onuah and Ulf Laessing
When protesters marched on Nigeria’s presidential villa earlier this month to complain about a biting recession, they were not repelled by baton-wielding policemen, the usual fate for anyone arriving uninvited at the gate of the country’s power centre.
Instead, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who is standing in for the country’s sick leader, sent a vehicle to ferry the protest leaders to his office, where they complained about widespread corruption.
In a frank admission, Osinbajo acknowledged the government had failed to make as much progress fighting graft as it had hoped.
“We hear you loud and clear,” he told the protesters.
President Muhammadu Buhari has been in London for six weeks on medical leave, raising questions over his capacity to govern Africa’s largest economy.
In his absence, diplomats and business leaders say the presidency has acted with an energy rarely seen in the two years since Buhari, 74, was elected.
Civil servants say they are handling heftier workloads, while investors are praising a new, long-needed foreign exchange policy. Meanwhile, diplomats say Osinbajo’s inner circle is gaining influence inside the presidency.
To be sure, Osinbajo has made clear his loyalty lies with Buhari, a retired general who has struggled to define a clear strategy to deal with Nigeria’s slide into recession and stands accused by opponents of inaction.
But the 59-year-old lawyer is getting work done. He has relaxed visa rules to lure foreign investors — a plan drawn up by Buhari but which like others got stuck in his chief of staff’s office, according to diplomats.
Officials in the Aso Rock presidential complex in Abuja have seen their working hours extended to 7 p.m. when Osinbajo leaves, or later. Buhari and his aides typically close shop at 4 p.m., officials said.
“This man is a workaholic,” one presidency insider said. “I wonder whether he rests at all because he even shifts some of the meetings to his official residence.”