By Kola King
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is at once a professor, pastor and politician conducted to the nation’s second highest political position by happenstance. In short, he was catapulted from obscurity to national limelight. He is a beneficiary of the unwritten elite code that has resolved that the nation’s highest leadership would be shared between a Muslim candidate and a Christian running mate or vice versa. In a way, religion has taken a central role in the affairs of the nation such that a candidate will ignore it at his own peril.
The journey of Professor Yemi Osinbajo to national prominence requires a quick recap. In the run up to the 2015 presidential election, the candidate of the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari had secured the party’s ticket for president and the next thing was to pick a running mate. Simple as it seemed, this presented a tough choice for the new party. The former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu who played a key role in the merger of three other parties that subsumed to become the APC was also angling for the vice president ticket. Both Bola Tinubu and Muhammadu Buhari are of the same faith. Yet such a ticket posed a real problem for the new party. Besides the new leadership frowned at such a combination, believing it would be a costly mistake the party could ill-afford at such a critical juncture.
In general, realpolitik dictated that a Muslim-Muslim ticket would be a hard sell among Nigerians. The nation had become polarized along religious lines over the years such that a one-sided ticket would not make any headway, no matter how competent or well-meaning the candidates may appear to be. Because of this, the APC candidate had to shop for another candidate of the Christian faith, despite being under pressure to pick Bola Tinubu. Back in 1993, religion took a backseat to politics, and which accounts for the reason why the Social Democratic Party (SDP) fielded Bashorun MKO Abiola and Ambassador Babagana Kingibe, both Muslims as flag bearers of the party. The SDP ticket presumably won the June 12, 1993 elections. But the elections were annulled by the ruling military junta. Today, things have turned full circle; religion has taken centre stage with everything being determined from the prism of religion.
In any case, there was a lot of intrigue, schemes and stratagems that went into the choice of a vice presidential candidate. But at the end of the day, Yemi Osinbajo, a law professor and former Attorney-General of Lagos State was nominated for the position. Osinbajo is also a pastor of the Pentecostal movement. The ticket was a combination of old age and experience as well as relative youth, intellect and technical-know-how. Thereafter, the Buhari-Osinbajo ticket went on to trounce the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the presidential elections.
Over the years, Prof Yemi Osinbajo has not only grown in stature in his position as vice president, he has also enhanced the position, giving it more luster and higher visibility. At the same time, he has transformed into a statesman. He comes across as a philosopher-king. He has used his vantage position to preach peace and unity among the two main faiths and the various ethnic nationalities that have complained of marginalization, as well as those calling for the balkanization of the country. He has maintained that our diversity is our strength and that we are better together as a nation than being splintered into several smaller groups. He has always raised the banner of hope at critical moments, especially when things were looking dreary. His patriotic intervention at a period when the nation was stretched to breaking point has been widely acknowledged.
He served on two occasions as acting president when President Buhari went on an extended medical vacation. During that time, Professor Yemi Osinbajo displayed unusual competence and immense capacity. He was able to hold the country together despite the pull and push forces aiming to tear the nation apart. Apart from that, he took prompt and decisive actions on burning national issues. He had always acted with swiftness and dispatch as acting president. Furthermore, he brought dynamism and clarity to governance. In the absence of the president, he kept the momentum going. Above all, he has been a supportive partner to the president, bringing gravitas to the ticket. Although things have not been smooth sailing all the time. He has faced challenges and attempts were made to clip his wings due to his rising profile. But he has always handled such challenges with equanimity and stoic calmness.
But what’s Osinbajo bringing to the table. His vision can be summed up in his own words where he said “only leaders who do not pursue personal profit can bring about national transformation.” Speaking at the annual general assembly of Catholics in Politics and Catholic Business Leaders, he said transformational leadership, particularly in a multi-ethnic and multi-faceted country like Nigeria is needed as its primary focus is the pursuit of the common good to ensure fairness, justice, unity and development.
“History teaches us that everywhere there has been a national transformation, it has been brought about by public-spirited men and women of goodwill who, inspired by their belief in a higher purpose other than their own profit, have entered the public square to champion the common good,” he said.
Moreover, he added that “The purpose of power is service, not domination, it is to uplift and empower others rather than to control or oppress. This is a model of leadership that is inseparable from our conception of the common good.” Going forward, he notes that, “Transformational leadership is, therefore, the pursuit of the common good. But the pursuit of the common good itself is not as easy as it sounds. This is especially so where the wounds and enmities of ethnic and religious conflicts are deep.”
With the 2023 general elections around the corner, Yemi Osinbajo faces his biggest political test. The chain of questions on the lips of many Nigerians is whether he will run or not. And whether he will get the blessing of his principal. Also, whether he will receive the blessing of the party fathers. Still, many see him as the natural successor to President Buhari. Though that legacy comes with a major drawback, in the sense of prevailing general insecurity and economic hardships.
However, the race becomes more complicated with the National Leader of the APC, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu also throwing his hat into the ring. Bola Tinubu has jumped the gun and intimated the president of his intention to run for president. He is the front runner for the party’s ticket. Besides, Tinubu is perceived as the mentor of the vice president. In this case, would Osinbajo be ready to upstage his mentor. If eventually he makes up his mind to run, he would have to put on his political gloves and square with his mentor in the political arena, where he will be mired in sweat and dust, as it were. This will no doubt set off a political tremor within the party, the end result of which no one can easily predict.
Even though Osinbajo has not been upfront with his ambition to run for president, but various support groups have been canvassing for his candidacy. Proxies have been fighting the political battles on his behalf. However, when he finally comes out of the closet, he would no doubt have some critical challenge to face. For one thing, he lacks a full grip on the party machinery. The Governors Forum is another big obstacle to his candidacy. Moreover, the party leadership which appears to have been cornered by the Governors Forum is not particularly enamoured of an Osinbajo candidacy. The forum is rumoured to be interested in fielding Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State along with another governor from the north as running mate. That’s why the battle for the soul of the party leadership has assumed a fierce dimension. To a large extent, those who control the levers of the party will determine the outcome of the party’s primaries, especially where the president appears aloof and looking sideways as ambitions collide and conflate.
While President Muhammadu Buhari and the APC seem lukewarm about an Osinbajo candidacy, it is most curious that the opposition seems to be rooting for the vice president. Former governor of Niger State and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) stalwart, Dr Babangida Aliyu has thrown his weight behind Osinbajo. He considers him the best candidate within the APC and the country at large. He says Osinbajo has demonstrated capacity and competence for the job. In the same vein, the deputy governor of Edo State, Comrade Phillip Shuaibu has pledged support for the vice president, describing him as the best candidate for the position. According to him, the entire Edo people are with the VP to ensure his victory in 2023. Shuaibu made this declaration at the installation of the Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Clem Agba as the Odumha of Auchi at the Otaru of Auchi’s palace.
Despite validation by the opposition and other leading lights of the society, Osinbajo faces a formidable obstacle within his party. Indeed the odds are stacked against him. But then, politics is the art of the possible. He’s not a traditional politician. He’s a technocrat turned politician. But he has mastered the ropes within a short time
Over the years, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has built bridges across the country. Unlike other contenders in the party who excite negative passion across the regions, Osinbajo, on his part, seems acceptable across the political divide. He is particularly a favourite among the youths. His handling of the social intervention programmes such as Trader Moni and the like has endeared him to the hearts of the ordinary people. All this notwithstanding, still Osinbajo has many rivers to cross to clinch the party’s ticket for president.