The Insight by Lateef Adewole
There have been “mixed-understanding” of my last week’s article. Many felt I was “tactically” selling Asiwaju Bola Tinubu’s aspiration. Some others interpreted it as an anti-Tinubu piece. The worst of all are people who did not even read the content of the article but simply jump on the title and into conclusions, and started castigating me. They asked what right I have to say that a “kingmaker should not be a king”. Such conclusions and reactions betrayed their ignorance of the content of the article.
I must have triggered something with that article as demands have been made of me to x-ray other aspirants too, against what I intended to do. The loudest of them has to do with the incumbent Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Even my argument that he is yet to declare his ambition could not dissuade those who made that demand. I acceded to it to avoid being tagged “partial”.
When the possible aspirants and candidates for 2023 presidential election are to be considered, no one else is more prominent than Professor Yemi Osinbajo, apart from Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. It’s only these two people, whether directly or indirectly responsible, whose names have become household in the last few years. Many “voluntary” organisations have sprung up all over the country, visiting important personalities in Nigeria, to sell their choice of aspirants. The other people who just declared last week seem not to find their feet yet.
Being the incumbent vice president, many people believed he is best person to take over from President Buhari in 2023. However, this is not a given, considering the enormity of such undertaking. Moreso, his current position position also put a lot of burden on him. There are bags and baggage that he has to bear, for serving in the current administration.
Prof. Osinbajo has every constitutional right to aspire to be the president of Nigeria, just like any bona fide Nigerian. In his personal capacity, he leaves no one in doubt as to his qualifications. He is many peoples’ dream of a president. I remember how his CV posted online sometimes ago was like a textbook. There was this viral video during 2021 Teacher’s Day, where his 40th year as a teacher was celebrated by his former students, many of whom are very prominent in the country and outside Nigeria today. Some of them are as old as him or even older, because he taught them while he was very young, in his early 20’s.
They praised his exceptional brilliance, his unrivalled communication skill and special ability to teach and impact knowledge by breaking down very complex topics to their simplest forms. Law of Tort and Law of Evidence dominated that commentaries. Many, now senior lawyers including SANs, professors, and the rest, claimed they became interested in those aspects of law and went ahead to specialise in them because of how Professor Osinbajo made it so simple for them. This is just one of many accolades given to him, which I can’t begin to describe one after the other here.
Many Lagosians knew of Osinbajo when he was the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General of Lagos State. Coincidentally, he was appointed by Tinubu. However, the public majority might not know much of him since his job was “intangible”. However, all the successes achieved by Lagos state in all legal matters, whether in or outside courts, were attributed to his brilliant performances then. The reforms in Lagos judiciary which made it enviable to other states were said to be carried out under him. All that did not concern the public or masses directly. So, he remained in oblivion to them.
Not until 2014 when he suddenly emerged as the vice presidential candidate to then General Buhari, from “nowhere”. I say this because, no one would ordinarily have thought of him as he wasn’t a “deft politician” like many frontrunners at the time. That very scenario that threw him up have recently become a source of controversy as to who actually nominated him or not. That’s by the way.
Personally, like many other Nigerians, more so that I wasn’t living in Lagos all those years too, I never knew Osinbajo seriously. It was after he became the vice presidential candidate that I had to read about him in more detail and I was awed. When he won my respect was in January 2017. Just like now, I have been conscious of, and concerned about the Nigerian situation for so long. I have the image of the kind of country I want in my mind and the kind of president and what he or she should do, to move the country forward.
For many years, I criticised many governments where they fall short of my expectations and praise them where I felt they did well. Let me give few examples. I criticised President Obasanjo’s administration for many things but I credited him with the survival of our democracy since 1999. My opinion is that, had it not been for a personality like Obasanjo’s, who is strong-willed and courageous, the military boys could have overthrown that government not long after he came on board. Those guys were still desperate to hold on to power. Many of them would have “cursed” General Abdulsalam for handing over so quickly to a civilian government. So, it was President Obasanjo who stabilised the country at that early stage. He also reversed our status as a pariah nation at the time, a situation that the late General Sani Abacha put us in.
The restoration of peace into the boiling Niger Delta was the greatest achievement of the short-lived administration of the late President Yar’Adua. Obasanjo failed in that. As for President Jonathan, his efforts at improving the electoral process was his best legacy. Having improved, freer, fairer and more credible elections, started under him. South-West progressive AC/ACN party reclaimed the region because of this. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be talking about any APC-dominated South-West now. It was this positive reforms that took him out of power as well.
So, before President Buhari went on medical leave in January 2017, the third time in just over a year into their administration, things were beginning to nosedive, especially economically. It was caused by uncertainties in fiscal and monetary policies, not promptly addressing pressing issues like subsidy and outstanding refunds to petroleum importers and marketers, mismanagement of our plurality by the president, leading to breakdown of peace in Niger Delta.
Crude oil production began to drop due to increasing restiveness in the region. Revenue began to drop with attendant depleting foreign reserve, leading to shortage of dollars. It became obvious in the dropping value of naira which could no longer be defended by the CBN.
Then the president fell sick and had to “properly and fully” hand over power to his vice, before leaving for London. Things were still rosy within the camp then. Professor Osinbajo rose to the occasion and stemmed the sliding tide of naira and Nigerian economy at large. From a terribly low value of 525 naira to a dollar, it gradually began to recover till it finally stabilised at 350-360 naira per dollar for years to follow. Let’s not forget that Buhari’s administration met dollar at about 210 naira when he took over. Official price was 195 naira per dollar.
Osinbajo achieved that within few weeks, 50 days actually, simply by being inclusive in his approach to governance. He brought every aggrieved region together and attended to many of their grievances as promptly as feasible. The people, who hitherto felt like outsiders in their own country, had a sense of belonging. He was not Aso Rock president but hit the ground running. He was all over the country, especially the South-South and South-East which felt alienated before then.
This was despite that all the governors in these regions belong to opposition party PDP and APGA, except Edo and Imo states. He was always in the states, on one official assignment or another. PDP governors started inviting him to commission their projects. They started praising him and he also reciprocated in like manner. It was when he had commissioned so many projects in Rivers State that he nicknamed Governor Wike as “Mr. Project”.
He was never perturbed that they were PDP. People in these regions began to change their hearts and warmed up to him. They began to sing his praises. Oil began to flow. Dollars began to come in. Naira’s value began to rise. This was just one aspect. In a very short period, he displayed previously unseen efficiency and effectiveness in governance. Quality service delivery. Prompt actions on pressing issues. And many more. As I followed all that, I told myself: this is it! This is the kind of leadership I aspired for Nigeria.
Sadly, these tremendous achievements in that short period might have been the beginning of his troubles within the presidency, as evidence in subsequent events. At other times when the president had to travel again, the “cabal” as they are called, always ensured he never had full presidential powers again. One of the time, he was asked to “co-ordinate government activities” in the official letter sent to the National Assembly. Wasn’t that ludicrous?
Since past few years now, President Buhari no longer handover to him to act. The presidency justified it that the president could operate from anywhere in the world, even when on sick bed. That’s the level that Nigeria has been reduced to. Despite all of these, Professor Osinbajo has demonstrated unequal maturity, humility and carried out any assignment given to him, no matter how lowly, with dignity and equanimity. He has remained excellent in all his outings. He is not perfect but has lived up to expectations, given these constrains.
Many times, I have watched Osinbajo represent either Nigeria or the president anywhere, home or abroad. I have always remained proud of him. He always demonstrates a great grasp of issues in the modern world. His cerebral capacity did not end in class, he has brought it to bear on governance in many ways. He is a pastor but has survived accusations of nepotism and religious bigotry. I say this with all confidence after I read a press release by Professor Ishiaq Akintola of Muslim Right Concern (MURIC), where he praised Osinbajo for his non-discrimination against Muslims. Tribes and religions have not influenced his decisions. He embraces all. All attempts to robe him in one corruption or another have failed.
Despite all of these glowing attributes of Osinbajo, he remained the most humble vice president we have ever had. These have endeared him to many Nigerians across the country and around the world. Unfortunately, Nigeria is not a country where you are rewarded or promoted because of your good works or excellent performances, politically, particularly when it comes to the number one position in the country. So, in spite of all that were highlighted above, the vice president has to “fight” for the post, if he ever wants to occupy that seat. Why should this be so? We are in Nigeria.
There is the burden of being part of this APC administration. In all honesty, the performance indices are very bad. Is it economy or insecurities. I have written many times about this. It will sound like a broken record starting all-over again. As the presidency is one, it will be difficult for an “independent” Osinbajo to extricate himself from all failures attributed to this government. He is part and parcel of it. Any failure of this administration is his failure too.
What will he now say when campaign starts, if he happens to get the ticket? What will he tell Nigerians that he will do differently which they will believe him? That’s the biggest albatross he will carry. Any virile opposition party candidate should be able to “chew him raw” with the present conditions in the country, same way they demolished President Jonathan and PDP in 2014/15, even when the situations were not this bad.
Secondly, whichever way it’s looked at, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu remains his boss. While I disagreed with people who simply, wholly attributed his rise, like many others, to Tinubu, because he was a quality product before that, and his contributions, with that of others like him, were the aggregate of what Tinubu is celebrated for as achieving in Lagos. They made that happened. It was a symbiotic relationship. However, he is still his benefactor. Whether he wanted him to be vice president or not, is another thing.
Now that Asiwaju has pre-emptively declared his ambition, Osinbajo must have been boxed into a corner and his plans thrown into disarray, except if he has anticipated and prepared for it. All eyes have been on him to know what he would do; whether he will throw in the towel or thrown his hat in the ring. The situation is dicey. This is because, the primary political based of the two of them is South-West, and the man who “owns and controls” the political structures and machineries in the region, and even large part of the party nationally, is his potential rival; Tinubu. Forget all those prompting him from other regions for now. Charity, they say, begins at home. He has found himself between the rock and the hard place. Everyone is eagerly looking forward to what he will do.
Prof. Osinbajo will be 66 years by 2023. However, his physical outlook does not betray someone who is not fit. Most times, his agility is comparable to far younger persons. That must have been due to disciplined and conservative lifestyle. In the past seven years that he has been in the public eyes, there has not been any known time where serious health scare about him came up. Everyone falls sick but it is safe to say he is healthy, according to what is publicly available and seen. These are pluses for him if he decides to contest for the presidency.
Like I have always said, there are fundamental problems that keep Nigeria down, beyond who becomes the president. Nigeria is not working as it is due to structural problem. The leaders might pretend as much as they like, but that will not make it go away. It is unwieldy. There is need for restructuring. There is need for constitutional reform. The electoral acts have been amended again by the national assembly after the president rejected it. We hope they pass it to him soon and he signs this time around. There is the massive insecurity. There is problem of bloated government with attendant wastefulness. And many more. All these need to be urgently addressed. Doing same thing over and over and expecting different results is insanity, according to Albert Einstein. Nigeria needs to be revisited.
I can only wish Professor Yemi Osinbajo well in his quest, if he eventually declares his ambition.
May God continue to protect us and guide us aright.
God Bless Nigeria.