What a typical day in Vice President Osinbajo's office looks like [Pulse Interview]
The nation's number two citizen is addicted to his iPad and enjoys the enormous support and trust of President Muhammadu Buhari, his top aide says.
On COVID-19 stimulus package for Nigerians
Just before the coronavirus-induced lockdown, the president summoned the vice president, ministers and heads to fashion out the federal government’s response to the fallout of the pandemic.
So, the vice president and members of the sustainability committee met and submitted a report which had the N2.3 trillion stimulus package--the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP).
The president had an inkling of what was going to happen to the economy due to the pandemic and the lockdown.
The survival fund and the payroll support program are now in progress. The payroll support program is a part of the survival fund scheme.
This will assist MSMEs (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) reeling from the effect of the coronavirus in paying their employees' salaries through the survival fund payroll support program.
Based on certain criteria, the federal government has started paying their salaries. We have about 300,000 beneficiaries right now whose salaries are being paid. We are in the second month now. We pay them N50,000 per month.
We are supporting businesses who couldn’t make income because of the pandemic, who couldn’t pay their staff, because we don’t want these staff to be laid off.
There is also the artisan grant scheme which will aid drivers, hairdressers, technicians with a one-time grant of N30,000.
We are also going to be paying the registration cost of young people who are starting small businesses. At the moment, 100,000 new businesses have been registered. The target is to register 250,000 businesses with the corporate affairs commission for free.
We also have the social housing scheme aimed at addressing the housing deficit in the country, where we want to build 300,000 houses for low income earners.
The prototype has been built, the vice president has been there earlier this month (January 2021), it’s going to cost between N1.8 million and N2 million. We want to make it affordable for people that are earning as low as N30,000 monthly.
We are ensuring that the cost of building these homes are reduced and thereby affordable for the targeted demography.
We have gotten concessions from the major cement manufacturers in the country like Dangote, BUA and Lafarge so that the homes will be supplied at very reasonable costs.
We’ve started these in Abuja and other places. With this project, we are also creating jobs for builders, for architects, for carpenters. Everything that will be used here will be produced locally...doors, windows, hinges, toilets etc.
We are making sure that states are involved in the process as well.
We also have a solar installation plan where we intend to install solar panels in 5 million homes across the country. We currently have homes that aren’t on the national grid.
This will impact about 25 million people. This will also create jobs for panel installers, maintainers etc.
We are going to make affordable lending rates available from CBN for the social housing and solar installations. We will have a concessional lending fund in place so that more people can be hired for these services to be delivered.
In Agriculture, we have a plan to increase food security by identifying new farmers. We intend to identify five million smallholder farmers through bigger partnerships. Here, there will be a geospatial identification. We are hiring about 30,000 former N-Power beneficiaries that will do a geospatial mapping of all of these farms.
And then through CBN concessionary lending, we will supply them fertilizers, treatment, tractors, seedlings, extension services, so that will really be a business. And there will also be offtake.
I think we're already making good progress in geospatial mapping.
On plans to reach more people with these programmes
There have been a lot of testimonies on social media from artisans who have received monies, from people whose businesses have been registered for free...and we want to do more. It’s a big country and we are always trying to see how we can scale up and impact more and more people.
The vice president always emphasizes that this is a country of 200 million people. When we reach one million, two million beneficiaries, we know there’s still a lot more work to be done, that we've only just scratched the surface.
So, yeah, there are plans to scale up. So, if you look at the Social Investment Programmes (SIP) which is now a part of the ESP, the president has said that we should increase the number of beneficiaries from 500,000 to one million.
That means in the next iteration of N-Power, we are going to do one million, which means more money will be budgeted for the stimulus package.
Right now, we are talking with cooperatives for social housing. We have identified thousands of cooperatives across the country, we have spoken to their leadership who will now bring thousands of their members to apply. If you are not a cooperative, of course you can apply directly.
For all of these programmes, we are also asking state governments to provide us with land so that we can do more.
Is rural Nigeria being carried along in these programmes?
Rural Nigeria is not being cut off from these programmes. Take N-Power for instance: we have people coming from every local government. Every state and local government is represented and these people are coming from the grassroots. We have ways in which we reach people in local governments.
For instance, the National Orientation Agency (NOA) has offices all over this country. At the local governments, information is available on radio for people who do not have access to the internet or to smartphones.
And like I said, we will keep doing more to ensure we reach more and more people. The solar panel installation is targeting people in the rural areas because most of these people aren’t connected to the grid.
What is the presidency doing to curtail open grazing and curb farmers-herders crisis?
Some states have commenced pilots as it has to do with the National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP).
Here, we intend to do more in terms of providing federal government funding, state government support so that we can actually escalate the implementation of grazing areas for livestock farmers with a view to drastically cutting down on open grazing.
For the states who have rolled out this initiative, we have to support them. The National Economic Council (NEC) and the president think this is the best way to go and the president has approved it as well.
The agriculture minister recently stated that this is the way forward and of course we are also hoping that the private sector buys into it.
The NLTP is the way forward to solve the recurring farmers-herders crisis in the country.
How soon is Nigeria getting COVID-19 vaccines?
There is an articulated plan to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines when they arrive. 10 million doses will be coming from the African Union supply effort, there are 100,000 doses that are coming from Pfizer.
What the federal government is trying to do now is encourage local production of the vaccines. We have a local vaccine candidate that is being developed.
The same team that worked on Ebola to global acclaim, is putting together a local COVID-19 vaccine and we’ve also been told that it’s possible to have this local vaccine within a year.
We are seriously looking at producing COVID-19 vaccine in Nigeria since we have the experts who have international recognition here. There is the center of excellence for infectious diseases in this country.
The federal government is working closely with these experts to see how we can produce COVID-19 vaccines here.
How does the vice president spend a typical day?
He starts in his study with his paperwork and stuff that he has to read, and then he gets the briefing of what is in the news and then he commences his meetings, some of which stretch for hours.
He always arrives early and leaves late. He didn’t leave the office until 10 minutes after 11pm yesterday, for instance.
He is very hardworking. It’s just that you can’t call your boss a workaholic (laughs).
How does the vice president source for news and information?
He uses his iPad very much to communicate and to read the news in order to keep a handle on what’s trending.
We give him a review of what’s in the newspapers and on social media. But he does his own research as well. He reads widely. He reads online newspapers more than the hard copies. He’s a techie guy.
He has more than one iPad and he carries an iPad wherever he goes. He reads his speeches with the aid of a teleprompter.
He’s somebody that is very conversant and comfortable with technology. If you see him going into a meeting, he’s likely going to carry his iPad with him.
If you want to be a friendly member of staff of the vice president or be in his good books as a staffer, you have to understand that his communication is technology-based. He sends emails, he reads his own emails. He reads his own text messages by himself.
What's the relationship between the president and his deputy like?
The president and the vice president share a common vision and aspiration and that inspires those of us who work in the presidency.
There’s mutual respect between them and the president gives the vice president a lot of assignments, you know.
Currently, the president has asked the vice president to lead the implementation of the economic sustainability plan.
And there are several committees and responsibilities that the president gives to his vice president that keep him busy and engaged; and both men meet regularly to compare notes and bounce ideas off the other.
This week is barely three days in but they’ve met twice, besides official functions like the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting. They are very close and this bodes well for our nation and this means we are on the right path as a nation.
Given their harmonious working relationship, is the President keen on handing over to Osinbajo in 2023? Is Osinbajo interested in becoming President?
Let’s not waste time discussing what will happen in 2023 when we have serious challenges in 2021. Let’s talk about that in 2023 please.
I don’t think Osinbajo succeeding Buhari is the issue on the table right now. I think the vice president has a responsibility to support the president to deliver on his mandate.
That’s his primary concern right now.
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