By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, please allow me to quickly apologise for not concluding the series I started last week on the importance of celebrity journalism, the basis of my Fellowship at The African Studies Centre, University of Oxford. The reason for this change of plan must be pretty obvious, and predictable. A subject of pressing, and urgent, importance, and necessity, has presented itself. And it has to do with the systematic and instalmental, harassment, intimidation, degradation and denudation of our dear beloved Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. He is being shorn of most of his statutory and constitutional powers with veiled and unsubstantiated insinuations that he has not been following due process when he clearly has been doing a stickler for such due process. Such inferences are at best rich when one considers that we are talking about a Presidency in which the President is famed for delegating powers and trying not to engage as demonstrated by the much publicised stripping of his constitutional powers in favour of a Chief of Staff who has no constitutional or statutory governmental authority. The contradiction and irony are stark and makes a mockery of what is being done. The situation is aptly captured by the Yorubas when they say, “ejo l’owo ninu” (the snake has hands in its stomach)! There is certainly more to the recent events than meets the eye!
Let the dramatis personae deny there is nothing of such and claim this is only a figment of our fertile imagination, or even call it a false alarm, or whatever nomenclature catches their fancy. However, no matter the denials, what is unfolding, before our very eyes is more than a storm in a teacup. It is a stuff of a multi-billion-dollar box office thriller and the suspenseful drama and twists would make Alfred Hitchcock green with envy. Not even Samuel Beckett could have scripted this sort of absurdist drama.
We can now start from the beginning, if you like, call it genesis. A cerebral technocrat, thoroughbred professional, a teacher who is an accomplished Professor of Law for that matter, and a preacher of values and morals as a Pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God to boot, Yemi Osinbajo, was selected by retired Major General Muhammadu Buhari as Vice Presidential candidate sometime in 2014. The selection was applauded by many onlookers as a counterbalance to a Presidential candidate who was accused, and being pummelled, for not possessing the minimum educational requirement for the job applied, and also as a reassurance to those who regarded the APC candidate as a Muslim fundamentalist. Beyond religion, Osinbajo also represented a much younger segment of our society who saw Buhari as being too old, too conservative, too out of tune with modern trends and much more. Osinbajo was thus a seemingly perfect choice, and those of us who were Buharists, once upon a time, rejoiced and dreamt of a new Nigeria, clothed in tranquillity and unity. How wrong we were. Little did we realise that this was not a one-part story but one of which we were only seeing the prequel, without the benefit that there would be a sequel and possibly even a serialisation! We foolishly thought that this was a story that could not have a Part 2.
Please, let’s move forward, slowly and steadily. Osinbajo soon threw himself into his assignment and campaigned much more than any deputy would be expected to do. It was a forerunner of what we wished for and hoped would occur when eventually their team won the election. He crisscrossed Nigeria and navigated his ways across the seas, to far flung places, preaching the gospel of Saint Buhari and the good news of his imminent kingdom. Osinbajo is not just a lawyer and preacher, he is an orator, and he sold his boss to the world at a premium. They won the 2015 Presidential election and we were mostly thankful to God that we had succeeded in getting rid of the profligate and pernicious PDP behemoth, after 16 years.
The duo was elected and President Buhari made it clear that he had put his trust and faith in his able lieutenant and Vice President, Professor Osinbajo. He quickly made him the head of his economic team, and Osinbajo did the rest. He quietly and unassumingly took charge without seeking to upstage his boss, the President. He was a deputy who knew his place and although a little-known cabal at the time was hurling brickbats at him behind the scene, he handled all with his unusual equanimity and charm. I am sure that his famed tolerance and rectitude comes from the fantastic combination of lawyer, teacher and priest.
Man proposes but God disposes. Like all mortals, especially at that advance age, President Buhari took Ill. The sickness was so massive and scary that we nearly had another Umaru Yar’Adua situation on our hands. It will be recalled that Yar’Adua was the penultimate President before Buhari, and he had died in office, in 2010, before the expiration of his first term. His Vice President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, had to complete that term before seeking and winning his own full term. Had anything happened to Buhari then, God forbid, Pastor Professor Osinbajo, constitutionally, would have stepped in, gingerly, to claim power as President and Commander-in-Chief. But, God so loved Buhari, and as he acknowledged himself, the prayers of Nigerians, and their intercession, intervened on his behalf, and healed him greatly.
It was during that interlude in governance that mutual mistrust and distrust which had been germinating for some time began to spring to the surface. Some members of the President’s inner caucus who were not used to taking orders from anyone suddenly found themselves reporting to one man with what they called “avuncular attitude”. They were angry and livid, but according to James Hadley Chase in his book titled, “The Vulture is a Patient Bird” they waited quietly. Osinbajo took decisions that they considered inimical to their interests, but they kept their arms akimbo knowing that their time would come, and they would bare their fangs. Their ire and fury were greatly stoked by the success and popularity that Osinbajo was attracting, without realising that the ultimate beneficiary was a government which had previously been seen as slow, inept and incapable.
Slowly, but surely, the fake news started spreading, clandestinely, that he wanted Buhari dead. The conspiracy theory was rife, but subdued. Osinbajo’s cardinal sin was committed and his fate probably sealed the day he summarily sacked the Director General of the Department of State Security, Lawan Daura, after the invasion of the National Assembly by hooded and gun-toting secret agents. Osinbajo had denied approving such dare-devilry by the executive against the legislature and till this day no one has owned up to what nearly became a coup against the legislative tier of government. Daura was seen as a sacred cow with friends in the ruling cabal, but Osinbajo by a masterstroke had him smitten and the head of one of the gargoyles had been severed by one deft blow! He would not be forgiven and plot after plot were conceived but could not be carried out before the election as Osinbajo was the Joker in the pack, the face of the Buhari Presidency!
Permit me to interject that Osinbajo actually brought stability to the nation by reaching out to every nook and cranny, cementing bonds of friendship across party lines. He visited the Niger-Delta and was able to put a stop to the militancy that was once again threatening to engulf that region of our country. In doing so he improved our economic fortunes by ensuring an increase in production of our main income earner, crude oil. In addition, he brought greater positive image to the Buhari government. Many silently prayed Buhari would give him more responsibilities, and a freer hand to handle the complexities of Nigeria. Again, we were wrong. Any respite for Osinbajo was actually simply for the purpose of navigating the electoral quagmire that the Buhari Presidency had found itself in.
Going back to our narrative, mercifully, Buhari returned after a miraculous rejuvenation. If his mind had been poisoned against his deputy, his straight poker face betrayed nothing. They continued to work harmoniously, at least, in public. As noted, Osinbajo became even more visible, and voluble, as their second term election drew nearer. Osinbajo became their star actor and harbinger of Tradermoni, a popular moniker for feverish distribution of cash in strategic locations, such as markets and similar trading places, for the emancipation of impoverished majority, which traducers suggested was nothing more than an act preparatory to buying votes. Osinbajo took all the savage attacks for Buhari in his stride. He calmly and eloquently defused and debunked all the sordid allegations of incompetence, inability and incapability levelled at his principal. His energy was extraordinary. He did house to house, and door to door campaigns. He made town hall meetings popular and the people trooped out to see and discuss the nation with him. The use of the hustings as the primary focus of the politician to rabble rouse and appeal to voters became a less favourable option as Osinbajo demonstrated that it was important to feel the pulse of the people by personal engagement. He even cheated death on two occasions the second being in Kogi State, after his chopper spectacularly crashed in a haze of dust, but thankfully, not in a burst of flames and everyone onboard survived without as much as a scratch. It was obvious that this was an anointed man of God and that God was with him and his house.
Elections came and APC candidate Buhari was declared victorious. I congratulated them, as normal Democrats would. When there were compelling reasons to do so shortly afterwards, I admonished the APC by adding the proviso that the Party should not over-rejoice but offer an olive branch to the supposed losers.
In a succinct letter I penned to Professor Osinbajo, I took time to explain how to restore sanity to the polity. My letter was misconstrued and instantly rebuffed as an attempt to divide the “one indivisible Presidency…” I was brutally attacked by some people in the office of the Vice President, but I understood their predicament. They were jittery about how the hawks would view my innocuous intervention and genuine intentions. I read panic in their response to me. But I knew today will come, eventually, like it has.
I’m a good student of Nigeria’s political history and trajectory. I’m familiar with the African mythology that witches don’t forgive. What is worse, witches don’t spare anyone, they eat and devour their own children, when in need of flesh. Osinbajo is the latest victim in the vicious cycle of power games in our country. He is being stripped of the last vestiges of relevance and importance, as typified by how the appurtenances of his relatively powerful office have been whittled down and almost totally degraded. His enemies are working overtime and overdrive by spreading spiteful rumours about one of the finest gentlemen in government. He may not be perfect, but Prof is a good man who loves his job and respects his boss, without doubt.
There are already speculations that all the theatre and spectacle that we are witnessing is a prelude to a more devastating attack. The aim is to try and make his position so tenuous untenable that he is forced to resign. If he does not bite the bullet or fall on his sword, my understanding is that he will be pushed. My candid advice and word of caution to the President is that he should resist such temptation. He should not listen to those who do not have any patriotic bone in their body. They are selfish, fearful and also weak. In Osinbajo they see their nemesis. He is everything that they are not. He has achieved outstanding and amazing success in every sphere that he has touched. He is a teacher of international renown and repute, a foremost legal mind, a pastor of great intellect, compassion and suasion. Worse still for them, he has come to their turf and shone as bright as the stars of the constellation to become a consummate politician.
If this game that we are all witnessing is all about who becomes what in 2023, it is complete balderdash. The reason I say so is very simple. Only God gives fortune and power. And only God can take it. No matter how hard man may try, he can never be God, he can only play God. With time such actor will see that he is nothing more than that thespian who must quit the stage at some time or the other. On the other hand, the consecrated vicegerent of God can never be too much honoured and adored. At my age, I have known and met enough men and women of power. Many of them are alive and must be wondering what the fuss was all about in those years gone by. APC has butchered some of its finest people. Do they need more to prove their virility? They should spare Nigeria this endless charade.
Let it be on record that I pleaded.
May God’s will be done.