The crisis rocking the presidency yesterday worsened as President Muhammadu Buhari sacked 35 aides of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Daily Trust reports.
But the presidency also yesterday insisted that there was no rift between the president and his embattled deputy.
Multiple presidency sources confirmed the sack of the aides of the vice president, heightening the tension in the country's seat of power amidst insinuations that the unfolding drama was about the 2023 presidential election.
The vice president reportedly had over 80 aides who were deployed in many strategic positions, with sources around the corridors of power saying the recent attention around the vice president was aimed at reducing his influence, just as it happened to ex-Vice President Atiku Abubakar shortly after ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo won a second term.
A presidency source said letters relieving the aides of the vice president of their appointments were issued to those affected yesterday. Daily Trust gathered that the affected aides were attached to different Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
One of the sources, who sought anonymity said: "The letters were distributed to the affected aides through the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. They were not working within the precinct of the presidential villa."
Why VP retrieved sack letters
However, two other presidential villa sources told Daily Trust last night that Vice President Osinbajo had retrieved the sack letters from the affected aides "pending the return of the president."
One of the sources said: "The vice president has retrieved the sack letters from the affected aides. He is unhappy with the development and awaiting the return of the president from the United Kingdom."
The second source, who also corroborated the retrieval of the letters, said the vice president wanted to know whether the 35 aides were relieved of their appointments on the order of the president.
"I have spoken to one of the affected persons who confirmed that the sack letters have been retrieved by their boss," he said.
President Buhari, who is on a 15-day private visit to the United Kingdom, is expected back home on November 17.
It was also gathered that access tags to the presidential villa of some of the aides of the vice president were retrieved yesterday by security personnel attached to the villa.
Another report, however, suggested that the action was taken to prevent the aides from being redundant as some of the jobs being undertaken by them were no longer under the control of the vice president.
Contacted separately, the Senior Special Assistants to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu and Mr Laolu Akande who normally spoke on behalf of the vice president, neither confirmed nor dismissed the reported sack of the 35 aides.
A text message sent to our correspondent by Shehu reads: "The SGF has responsibility for the issuance of letters of appointment, and where the need arises, sack letters as well. Please meet him with your questions."
For his part, Akande said, "I just heard it just like anybody. But I'm going to find out what is happening."
SGF feigns ignorance
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Boss Mustapha, said yesterday he was not aware of the sack of 35 aides of the vice president.
The Director, Information, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF), Mr. Willie Bassey, told Daily Trust that his office was not aware of the development.
"We are not aware of this, please," Bassey said.
No rift between Buhari and Osinbajo - Presidency
The Senior Special Assistants to the President on National Assembly Matters, Babajide Omoworare (Senate) and Umar El-Yakub (House of Representatives), told journalists that there was no rift between Buhari and Osinbajo.
Omoworare said the alleged misunderstanding between the Office of the President and that of the Vice President was untrue.
On the issue of signing the Deep offshore bill by the president in London, Omoworare said the constitution permitted the president to discharge his duties from anywhere.
However, he was silent on why President Muhammadu Buhari failed to transmit a letter to the National Assembly handing over responsibilities to Osinbajo as he was doing before.
Resign now, Afenifere tells Osinbajo
The spokesman of the Pan-Yoruba Socio-cultural group, Afenifere, Mr. Yinka Odumakin, said yesterday that Osinbajo should resign because he had lost his relevance.
He said the vice president was virtually stripped of all his functions, humiliated several times and that the honourable thing to do was to resign.
Speaking to our correspondent, Odumakin said, "Clearly, they have totally humiliated him out. They have stripped him of all his functions, humiliated him in so many ways... "
He said Osinbajo was recently at a function with the Minister of Interior, Mr. Rauf Aregbesola, but to his surprise, the minister stood up to read the president's speech.
"So what he is doing in that government is what I don't understand. His position in the current government has become untenable," he said.
On the statement by the Presidency that Buhari could rule from anywhere around the world, he said, "I think it is about time we elected a Diaspora president."
But a former deputy national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olabode George advised the government and the ruling party to "thread softly."
A former national secretary of the PDP, Chief Ebenezer Babatope, said although the VP had not told anyone he was interested in the 2023 presidency, the brewing crisis within the presidency would eventually blow out.
A former PDP chairman in Lagos, Capt. Tunji Shelle, also aligned with Odumakin, saying it would be preferable for Osinbajo to resign if he felt he was no longer respected and recognized in the government.
He said recent developments around the vice president showed that "something is terribly wrong."
"Without mincing words, I can tell you that something is terribly wrong somewhere," he said, adding that stripping the VP of his many functions was a slap on his face.
Also speaking, a lecturer in the department of Political Science, Bauchi State University, Dr. Yusuf Ibrahim Gamawa said, "I don't think this is a cabal issue because there is no way this will happen without the knowledge of the president.
"And I don't think the president is someone that will be part of an emerging cabal. There must be something serious. We should be patient, the details as to why those officials were sacked will become clear."
Crisis in villa worsening - PDP
The PDP said yesterday that the sacking of Osinbajo's aides was an indication that the crisis in the presidential villa was worsening.
PDP National Publicity Secretary Kola Ologbondiyan who spoke with our correspondent in a telephone interview yesterday, said with the serious crisis bedevilling the seat of power, there was no hope that the present government would deliver good governance to the people.
"When we observe disharmony and crisis in the villa, we advised them that if indeed they set out to achieve good governance, they should resolve their crisis. But they refused to. So what do you expect of that government?" he asked.
"This is a government of disharmony and that is why up till now, they cannot do anything about good governance. So the expectations of Nigerians have been dashed. However, they must know and accept the fact that Nigerians did not vote for them," he said.
However, a Chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the South West, Chief Jackson Lekan Ojo, told our correspondent in a telephone chat that if Osinbajo felt that President Buhari was treating him badly, he should resign.
"Let him cry out and resign; Nigerians will have sympathy for him. I wore my shoes, it is paining me in the leg and you are crying for me? Is Osinbajo a fool? No, he is a Professor of Law; he knows the law, he understands the law," he said.