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The Yemi Osinbajo Option In APC’s 2023 Presidential Gambit, By Johnson Momodu



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As President Muhammadu Buhari passes the mid-point of his second term in office, it is natural that political conversations across the country now verge on who takes over as president in 2023. Talks of presidential ambition of certain politicians are no longer discussed in hush-hush tones even as politicians have started crisscrossing not only geographically, but also party-wise, for consultations. Indeed, there have been significant movements across party lines by notable politicians in a gale of defections, with 2023 politics as the raison d’etre.

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Seasonal politicians are not left out in these rising political tides as they have started crawling out of their shells after the last general election to position one another strategically in readiness for what has become for them mere rituals. Some of these people have not lifted their voices since the last electoral exercise to the many issues of governance pervading the country as if democracy is only about elections. Even in the two major political parties, the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), there are ongoing altercations and fights over control of the parties.

And, more importantly, some sections of the media have started a frenzied x-ray of the possible presidential options available to citizens in 2023. Fair enough, democracy is an inclusive process. One of the options, and I dare propose, the best option for Nigerians as their president in 2023 is the current Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. Just a few days ago, a group flooded Abuja with posters adverting public attention to the robustness of his candidature.  The group had even suggested that the ticket should have serving Kano governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje as his running mate. Good enough.  I am sure more of such advocacy would be witnessed in days ahead.  Meanwhile, some of the analyses one has come across regarding suitability for presidency in 2023 have grudgingly mentioned the Vice President in passing. Only a few lines were devoted to the chances of this highly cerebral man succeeding his boss in 2023. Instead, pages are wasted in analyzing the chances of even some politicians whose candidatures would repulse citizens endlessly on many grounds.

For many Nigerians, an Osinbajo presidency not only appeals but also tickles the fancy for many reasons. First and foremost, Nigeria is in a bad place at the moment and needs a leadership in 2023 that recognizes the urgency of the situation. Such a leadership must be knowledge-driven, hands-on, with the right democratic reflexes and satisfies the vexed issue of the diversity of the country and the need to manage it effectively with social justice, equity and fairness.

Thus, in line with equity, justice and fairness to all parts of our dear country, it is possible to mathematize the 2023 political scenario by applying the simple equation formula of Elimination.  What is very clear to a majority of Nigerians is that their next president must come from the southern part of the country. In the South today, who is more politically visible than Vice President Yemi Osinbajo? Who is more eminently qualified than him? Also, in line with the principles of fairness, a majority of Nigerians are also agreed on the position that it would be more appropriate that their next president be a Christian with a Moslem deputy in tow. Pastor Yemi Osinbajo, without a doubt, satisfies this wish. Thus, with this simple formula, we can see how the entire field of professional and perennial aspirants, pretenders, jesters and wannabe presidents have been wiped out in one fell swoop and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo standing tall. Never you underrate the power of justice, equity and fairness.

Yes, there will be questions of “why Osinbajo” in 2023? Yes, the Vice President has been around since 2015 as the number 2 citizen. Yes, many people believe that the Buhari government over-promised and under-delivered. Whether one likes it or not, what we have since May 29, 2015, is the Buhari Presidency, not Osinbajo’s. It is well expected that some people will strive to throw mud at the Vice-president with some of the grievous failings of his boss, President Buhari, by arguing with the deceptive notion of a joint ticket. Yes, it is true that there is a joint ticket but is there an equally joint power and joint responsibility? No! Therefore, any mud vicariously thrown at Osinbajo on account of his association with President Buhari would not stick.

By the way, in the United States from where we tailored our democracy, the position of vice-president is ideally seen as an alternate president in the sense that the incumbent must be as qualified as the president. There, presidents choose their deputies on account of the qualities that would, other things being equal, complement their own deficiencies and thus fortify their presidencies. Sadly, in our firmament, once presidential candidates emerge from their parties, people close to them deviously advise them to be wary of running mates who are strong characters or risk being undermined. Yet, what made the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket most appealing to Nigerians in 2015 against a sitting president, was how their qualities complement and even reinforce each other’s. Even more unfortunate is the fact that once election victory was archived, those who do not mean well for the country apparently succeeded in convincing President Buhari to view his erudite and competent vice-president with the lenses of a competitor rather than that of an assistant.

Although the Constitution does not give definite powers to the vice-president except chairing a few statutory agencies and councils, day after day in the life of this government, many citizens expected to see the imprimatur of Osinbajo, a man who has had a distinguished record of service defined by knowledge and high competency, in this administration. Instead, they were to be disappointed with the government flying what Shakespeare calls in his classic, “Julius Caesar”, an “ordinary pitch”. They were confronted daily by conscious efforts of those who were not even voted for, and who are bereft of ideas of how to govern a modern state, undermine the powers and influence of an elected vice-president. Admirably in his profound stoic mien, Vice-president Osinbajo has remained loyal to his boss, the President, the government and his party, APC, in the face of many provocations. Another less introspective character most probably would flex his powers and rock the boat. But Osinbajo places national interest above his own personal concerns. That is the stuff of enlightened leadership.

And the loser in this dirty political intrigue feeding off on bigotry to bypass a rare gift of a deputy today is the President himself and the entire country for missing out on the opportunity of the right roads not taken — not the carpetbaggers and ethnic lords who have captured the government.

Even then, it can be argued straightaway, that the most effective era of the Buhari presidency so far was the interlude of fifty-one days, which Professor Yemi Osinbajo served as acting president. To be sure, before President Buhari finally collapsed in the face of mounting pressures from his kith and kin, to sideline his loyal deputy, he on two occasions handed power over to the vice-president in accordance with the dictates of Section 145(1) of the 1999 Constitution as amended, while he sought medical care abroad beyond 21 days. The first time was in June 2016 and the other in January 2017.

Those 51 days when Professor Osinbajo acted as President were not only eventful but nostalgic. It was the period the country was drifting into a constitutional crisis because of the lack of political will to confirm the appointment of a rightful person as Chief Justice of Nigeria. Osinbajo did not waste any time to do the needful by sending the name of Justice Walter Onnoghen to the Senate for confirmation as CJN which was done against the will of the famous “cabal” wary of a southerner in that position. Recall also that it was while President Buhari was away and Osinbajo in the saddle that an attempt was made by the Department of State Security (DSS) to block the entrance of the National Assembly and thus prevent legislators from carrying out their constitutionally assigned functions. Those who did that underrated the capacity of Osinbajo to act but were bitterly disappointed as he fired Lawal Daura, the Director General of DSS who had been behaving like an untouchable in Buhari’s government, to send a clear message to other members of the so-called cabal. What does this suggest? Osinbajo as president is not afraid of taking tough decisions especially the right ones in the interest of merit, justice and fairness!

Vice-president Osinbajo during that short period he acted clearly through his leadership style brought down the rising political temperature in the country. He not only brought great energy and urgency to bear but also made himself available to the Nigerian people as a listening leader. Thus, instead of issuing threats, he engaged and consulted and in the process was able to convince agitators especially in the Niger Delta to give peace a chance while government addresses their grievances. Even in the Southeast, while not caving in to secessionist agitations, Osinbajo was ready to talk and was already reaching out to Ohaneze Ndi-Igbo to find an amicable solution in the national interest before President Buhari returned and unleashed the army on IPOB in what was termed operation python dance. We now know better today. It was not therefore not surprising that the BBC declared in one of its reports that Osinbajo is Nigerians’ favourite leader.

For many people, the issue is no longer whether Osinbajo is the country’s best option in 2023. What is worrying for them are two-fold. First, why has Osinbajo, in spite of his unassailable credentials, not raising his hands for the presidency in 2023? But then, Professor Osinbajo is a patriot and considers the good of the country first over and above any personal ambition. He knows the country is going through quite a lot now and all hands must be on deck to salvage it before any talk of 2023 presidency. So, for him, as a patriot, country first!

The second issue is the Ahmed Tinubu factor. The history of the becoming of the Buhari presidency cannot be written without the sterling role of Senator Ahmed Bola Tinubu, the APC national leader. Even after the election, Tinubu has remained a staunch supporter of President Buhari’s government. And it is also no secret that Tinubu, for some time, now has his eyes on 2023 presidency. So, what would APC do with Tinubu now with the self-evident fact that Osinbajo is increasingly appearing to be the best option for 2023 without looking to be ungrateful to the Jagaban?

Believe me, I think national interest will provide a win-win solution to the Tinubu puzzle.  Of late, there have been news of Tinubu’s ill health all over the place. He is reportedly in London now recuperating from an undisclosed ailment.  Like him or hate him, what you cannot take from Tinubu is his ability to discover talents, mentor them and give them the opportunity to rise to the top. Vice-president Osinbajo is one of those talents that Jagaban had discovered and nurtured into national leadership positions. Most times, Tinubu gets it right in his talent hunt as with Governors Raji Fashola and Akinwunmi Ambode of Lagos. But not a few think it was a miss with Buhari in 2015. He has another chance to correct that impression in 2023 by giving Nigerians the opportunity to optimally maximize the incredible capabilities of his protege, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, as Nigerian President in 2023. It will be to Jagaban’s eternal credit and in the national interest.

▪︎Mr Momodu, a political scientist and public issues analyst, writes from Benin, Edo State.

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