Only President Muhammadu Buhari could say whether he meant it or he was joking when he declared on Friday that the position of his deputy, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, after the 2019 general election, could not be guaranteed.
The Vice President’s office declined comments when contacted on Friday by Saturday Tribune.
President Buhari was reacting to a request of some female lawmakers who visited him at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, that he should cede the post of the vice president, some Senate and House of Representatives seats to them in next year’s election.
The women from various states of the federation, under the aegis of Conference of Nigeria Female Parliamentarians (CONFEPA), urged the president to consider a woman for the post presently being occupied by Professor Osinbajo.
Buhari told his guests that with their request, Osinbajo’s job was being threatened.
“It is a pity that the Vice President is not here, but I am sure the Secretary to the Government of the Federation will brief him that his position is threatened,” Buhari said.
On their request for him to make a pronouncement for more legislative seats for women, the president reminded them that he was not “as powerful as you think,” noting that he lacked the powers to make such a pronouncement.
He said such request could only be made by a military head of state as he reminded them that he had already dropped the uniform for “agbada.”
He said: “I am not all that powerful that when I talk, it becomes a decree. As I said, it is only the Vice President that is threatened”.
The president appreciated the support given to him by women in the four times he ran for president.
He recalled reports he received during elections of pregnant women queueing up to vote for him.
Buhari urged the delegation to take a message to their colleagues to extend the same support since he has declared to seek a second term.
But Osinbajo’s spokesperson, Laolu Akande, when asked to react to the president’s statement, declined comments, asking why he was being asked to comment on what the president said.
“The president has spoken (so) why are you asking me to comment,” he told Saturday Tribune when he was contacted by phone on Friday afternoon.
Led by a former Speaker of the Edo State House of Assembly, Mrs Elizabeth Ativie, the women also demanded that the president make a pronouncement that one out of every three senatorial positions in states as well as three out of nine seats in the House of Representatives be reserved for women.
Reading from a prepared text, Ativie said: “Your Excellency, all over the world, the issue of women is being advocated.
“Currently, many African and European nations are daily finding ways to include more women in governance. Some have elected or appointed women as Heads of States, Prime Ministers, Heads of Foreign Ministries and other key positions of decision making.
“It will not be out of place, Your Excellency, for women to be given such opportunities in our dear nation. Even God created them male and female.”
Mrs Ativie told President Buhari that Nigerian women were being marginalised by their male counterparts.
She pointed out Nigeria had had only one female principal officer in each of the two chambers of the National Assembly since return to democracy in 1999.
She noted that as president, whatever Buhari says “will become policy and subsequently law”.
Ativie added: “Politically, women account for over 50 percent of voters in any election. They are very loyal politicians and do not cross-carpet. They wait patiently to cast their votes under the rain and even in the scorching sun.
“It will interest Your Excellency to know that Nigeria is a signatory to several conventions and treaties supporting and encouraging the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women, women liberation and political participation such as the African Charter in Human Rights (1981).
“The Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW, 1995), the Beijing Declaration and platform for action (1995), the goal No. 3 of the Millennium Development Goals No. 5 (SDGs), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to but a few.
“However, Nigerian women have not been given their rightful place in the scheme of things. Women political empowerment in Nigeria ranks a lowly 111th position of 145 countries surveyed in the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report.
“Today, Nigeria falls short of the National Gender Policy benchmark of 35 percent minimum representation for women as well as the global and regional benchmarks of which she is a signatory, ranking 181 out of 193 countries in female representation according to statistics from inter parliamentary union.”
The former Speaker extolled the qualities of the president, saying: “The impunity with which the former handlers embezzled with reckless abandon has become a thing of the past in our country because of Your Excellency’s doggedness, courage, firmness and integrity in standing for truth, fairness and equity.”
While allaying fears of female marginalisation, President Buhari gave the assurance that women were being fairly treated as not many of them would have been elected if there was any plot against them.