By Senator Adeyeye
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is a man in a difficult place. He has declared for president and many Nigerians have had a thing or two to say about this, some in favour and others not so much. But for Osinbajo, to rephrase that earworm aphorism of academia, it is run or perish!
That is usually the untenable position of vice presidents or deputy governors. It is usually worse for vice presidents. They cannot drop down to contest for Senate or governor. I mean, technically, no law says they can’t, but it would be seen as a step down. So, it is either they declare for president or ease themselves into political retirement.
Now there is something political retirement does to politicians because there are categories of retired politicians. There are those who have built a political base and have deep pockets (whether through legitimate businesses or through thieving public funds). These ones retain some relevance, a sort of vaunted political afterglow. They get to handpick people to serve in certain positions, they get to be consulted by other politicians (like IBB) until perhaps some impudent upshot seizes the political structure and retires them for good.
There are also those in the Namadi Sambo class. Those with a limited structure who, through sheer circumstances, end up overreaching, becoming vice president and yet falling short of the presidency and ending up drifting into oblivion.
There are also those who retire, with no political structure to call their own and perhaps no deep pockets to bankroll (no apologies to Fani Kayode) other candidates and end up with only tepid welcomes at public functions as former this and that.
That is the kind of political retirement many politicians do not want.
Before becoming VP, Prof Osinbajo’s highest public office was as Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice of Lagos State, appointed by Governor Bola Tinubu. After that, he returned to his private interests, notably, his role at the Redeem Christian Church of God before Tinubu and co., drew him back into active politics to run alongside Buhari. He came out of the left field. So far out that even Buhari struggled to remember his name and called him “Yemi Osunbade” during a campaign rally. At the times President Buhari had embarked on his many travels outside the country and transferred power to him, Osinbajo had shone. He was able to bring some articulation to the ramblings of this government. He addressed Nigerians in a way that made things make some kind of sense, in a way the president has never been capable of doing.
He grew his popularity in those early days. And that got him into trouble with those around the president and those who had eyes on the presidency in 2023. If his profile continued to rise, he was going to upset the apple cart. So, he was pruned. Politically emasculated. His office was stripped of some of its functions, his aides snipped and he was often ignored when the president took to his jet.
When it became clear this government wasn’t going to deliver on the high expectations it rode to office, some Nigerians called for Osinbajo to, as a man of honour and principle etc, make a statement by resigning. That call echoed each time something terrible happened, like bandits’ attacks, or #EndSARS.
Even if he had considered it, his circle would have advised against it and his church would certainly have asked him not to. You don’t get chances like this on a platter every day.
Yes, a resignation would have been spectacularly dramatic but ultimately pointless. A new VP would have been appointed and he would have committed not only political but class suicide and the same Nigerians who goaded him to resign, even if they would hail him for that bravado, would not provide him with a platform to run for president and deliver him to the villa. The reason is simple. The platforms are all in the hands of these maligned politicians and the average Nigerian has not had the attention span long enough to create an alternative.
In a great team, I think Osinbajo would have been great. But this team was and is inherently abysmal.
He had tried to keep his head above waters, riding out the storms and then make a dash for the presidency when the chance came. All things considered, it was his only reasonable alternative. Go home and retire? Or go out in a blaze of glory and maybe even nick the presidency?
But therein lies the problem. His ambition is tied to many variables. He does not have the political structure to bulldoze his way to the front, so he would have to play smart, keep his head down, remain loyal and maybe somehow win the president’s support. But Buhari is notoriously nonchalant about politics that does not directly profit him, as anyone who remembers his disastrously shambolic CPC days would know. While the president’s circle desperately tries to push Buhari to take more than a passive interest and support a candidate that would “secure his legacy” (and I deliberately put that in quotes), Osinbajo would have to keep himself an option.
And so, in his declaration to run, he showed his hand, starting by reminding Nigerians of his rather painful association with a president that has flattered to deceive, had been notoriously reluctant to intervene on behalf of the masses who gave their lives and resources for his presidency to become a reality. Don’t get me wrong, the president is still popular within the circles that still find reasons to worship him but there is no denying that he has lost Nigeria and lost many Nigerians–to deaths from insecurity, to a mass exodus of the country and to his reticence to actually govern.
Yet it is unrealistic that Nigerians expected Osinbajo to declare for president and distance himself from Buhari in the same breath. Such political idealism would lead him nowhere. He is fighting a battle here on several fronts. There is the small matter of Bola Tinubu’s long-standing ambition and his role in Osinbajo’s political journey. Not to talk of his deep pockets and political reach. Winning that battle would require the support of the villa. He would have to please Buhari and yet somehow win over Nigerians. That might take a miracle.
But Osinbajo is a believer. He is after all a pastor in the RCCG and enjoys the support of that church. He has in fact been branded a religious fanatic, one who surrounds himself with people from his church, one who advances his church members’ interests. It is a branding he would struggle to shake off, if he can. But then again, didn’t Buhari himself shake off the branding of having the agenda to “Islamise Nigeria?” Well, with thanks to David Axelrod and his AKPD.
No matter how well the RCCG machinery runs, it would be a massive undertaking for them to pull this off alone.
Osinbajo needs allies. And the first ally he needs to bag is the president. So, if his declaration starts off sounding like a presidential brown-nosing, well, guess what? That is what it is.
But then again, I wouldn’t have expected him to make that front and centre of his declaration. One would have expected more finesse from one of the most refined figures in the menagerie of crudity that we have been witnesses to over the last seven years. And one certainly wouldn’t have expected him to make such exaggerated claims of having visited most of the local government areas in the country. And maybe, no, definitely, tone down a lot on that of continuing the legacy of this government because the legacy many Nigerians would remember of this administration would be that of needlessly losing their loved ones to the insecurity this president promised to address, failed to do so and watched, unsympathetic, with neither kind word nor firm assurance to the victims and their loved6 ones. After the Kaduna train attack, there has been a senseless massacre in Plateau State this week. A daily reality for Nigerians now. Certainly not a legacy anyone should associate with.
Prof. Osinbajo will have to learn to navigate this minefield carefully, and smartly. He would have to learn the big things and the small things, like taking off his shoes where they need taking off and when to step away from a long shadow that would taint him, more than it has already.