On Wednesday, December 17, 2014, the Presidential flagbearer of the leading opposition party in Nigeria, the All Progressive Congress (APC), General Muhammadu Buhari picked his running mate. After days of speculation amidst varying theories and opinions, the popular statesman picked Professor Yemi Osinbajo as his Vice President for the upcoming 2015 elections. Mr. Osinbajo’s credentials have been disseminated to the electorate over the past weeks. Therefore, in the interest of time, I would point to the critical accomplishments of the diminutive lawyer-turned politician that I believe are a major benefit to General Buhari and the APC. As a result, the strengths and weaknesses (if any) of Mr. Osinbajo will be amplified, with sole of aim of highlighting his influences and deficiencies.
Mr. Osinbajo is a 55-year old lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). He served as the Attorney General of Lagos State between 1999 and 2007. Prior to his appointment, he had worked as a Special Adviser to Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Prince Bola Ajibola (SAN) till 1992. During his tenure as the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Lagos State underwent judicial reforms that served as the backbone for the economic and social development of the state. Since his last stint in public service, Mr. Osinbajo has focused his energy in the private sector. From June 2007, he has managed his time between working as a Senior Partner in the prestigious SimmonsCooper law firm and his private firm, Hermon Barristers, Solicitors & Notary Public.
Based on the aforementioned credentials, it is ludicrous to even attempt to discard Osinbajo’s competence. Furthermore, the critical role he played by virtue of his portfolio during the infamous battle between the then Governor of Lagos State, Bola Tinubu, and former President Olusegun Obasanjo demonstrates his ability as a fighter. Additionally, in a period of total disregard for the rule of law and a complete lack of accountability, Osinbajo’s experience as a legal practitioner is a great asset to General Buhari’s chances. These positives can also tackle two different but connected issues in the mind of many Nigerians. Despite its plea to us to continue to support our troops in the war against Boko Haram, it is now a fact that the Nigerian government has convicted more soldiers than terrorists. The mere presence of a running mate that can ensure a higher conviction rate of anyone tied to terrorism is refreshing. Mr. Osinbajo’s record of adhering to the rule of law and due process also counters the worn out human rights accusations leveled against General Buhari’s person.
Mr. Osinbajo’s has also dedicated a lot of energy to working as a Senior Pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God. He pastors the Olive Tree Parish and is a close aide of the influential General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enouch Adeboye. According to the revered Pastor, his church has outposts in 110 countries. He has 14,000 branches—claiming 5 million members—in his home country of Nigeria alone.” As a Board Member, Mr. Osinbajo has a greater ability to convince his members of the need to change Nigeria for the better. The RCCG is arguably the most prominent Church in Nigeria. According to Andrew Rice, the RCCG is “one of Africa’s most vigorously expansionary religious movements, a homegrown Pentecostal denomination that is crusading to become a global faith.”
As a Christian, Mr. Osinbajo jettisons the hope of certain divisive public commentators and the PDP hierarchy. General Buhari’s decision to pick a Christian as his running mate significantly but not totally damages the hope of the ruling to party to use religion as a political tool against the APC. Nevertheless, it is critical to note that it was this same strategy, albeit under different circumstances that General Buhari picked the charismatic Pastor Tunde Bakare. Unfortunately, the calculation did not change the result of the 2015 elections. However, Osinbajo arguably brings more to the table that Pastor Bakare did in 2011 for various reasons. Firstly, Pastor Bakare’s Latter Rain Assembly does not have the reach of RCCG. Secondly, while Bakare is viewed as an upright, uncompromising and honorable leader, many strategists questioned his political capital. Interestingly, it is due to a lack of political capital that a serving Governor would have added to General Buhari’s chances over Mr. Osinbajo, Senator Olurunnimbe Mamora, Senator Oluremi Tinubu or the non-partisan Madame Oby Ezekwesilli. As fate would have it, the geo-political aspect of Nigerian politics increased the complexities of the choice of a Governor as General Buhari’s running mate.
At the outset, the decision of the APC Leadership to zone the position of party Chairman to the South South zone was the first sign that the party was planning to zone the Vice Presidency to the South West. For those that advocated for an able Governor to serve as Vice President, they suddenly found themselves at a crossroad. In all the APC controlled states of the South West region, only Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti was a Christian. And, on June 23, 2014, he lost his seat to Ayo Fayose of the PDP, despite his remarkable achievements. Nonetheless, even before the June 23rd gubernatorial election in Ekiti, some observers had doubted Governor Fayemi’s electoral clout. In a similar vein to Mr. Osinbajo, Fayemi falls into the technocratic bracket that the likes of Emir Sanusi Muhammad Sanusi II, Nasir El-Rufai, Chukuma Soludo, Nuhu Ribadu Oby Ezekwesilli and even Governor Babatunde Fashola.
Most Nigerians regard these individuals as effective administrators that lack political will and awareness. Whether one agrees with this assessment is an argument for another day. What is abundantly clear is that the most political influential leaders in Nigeria are State Governors. And, all the South West APC Governors that were electorally valuable were Muslims. Governor Fashola of Lagos was the favorite based on his record, popularity and persona. Hence, the justification for a Fashola Vice Presidency despite knowing very well that such a position plays directly into the hands of the ruling party as a one-faith ticket. Furthermore, if General Buhari serves a term as many believe he will. Then, it is imperative to ensure that his number two is more than capable of running the affairs of the country based on our recent experience. Moreover, most Buharists know that the General prefers a number two that he can rely and consult on many issues concerning governance.
So how does Mr. Osinbajo bring a little more than Pastor Bakare? As a Commissioner, he has contested for an elective position and does not have the political capital that Governor Fayemi has (yet the latter lost as an incumbent). Does this mean that other than his educational background and record, Mr. Osinbajo actually brings less to the table, right? Wrong. Very wrong! The only person with more political capital than any Governor in the South West, or arguably all the South West Governors combined is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu. As a strong ally of Asiwaju, Osinbajo’s major weakness in the political capital department becomes a non-issue if he has the blessings of his former boss. And, fortunately for the APC, General Muhammadu Buhari and Nigeria as a whole, he does.
But, if Asiwaju kick-starts his political machinery for Mr. Osinbajo, the PDP will continue to promote their baseless claims that Mr. Osinbajo is a lackey of the National Leader of the APC. It is common knowledge that the failure of General Buhari’s defunct CPC and Asiwaju’s defunct ACN to agree on the issue of the Vice President during 2011 elections is what led to the PDP and President Jonathan winning massively in all the South West states, with the exception of Osun. Therefore, the PDP knows the threat of a combination of Asiwaju’s political machinery in the South West and General Buhari’s cult like following in the North West, North East and some parts of the North Central. Regardless, it is essential to clarify that the allegations that a mind as brilliant as Mr. Osinbajo’s can be a puppet to anyone are baseless. A reliable source confirmed Osinbajo’s independent mindedness, and re-called numerous cases of serious ideological disagreements between him and Asiwaju.
So, Mr. Osinbajo passes the ever-important competence test that is necessary for all leaders vying for any position with ease. He also passes the unfortunate but important religious test with distinction due to his position as a good Christian and a Senior Pastor in an influential Church. His supposed deficiency in political capital is made up by the political war chest of Asiwaju. So what else can he do? Well, a few days after his nomination as General Buhari’s running made, Mr. Osinbajo made headlines when he spontaneously engaged commuters on the popular transit BRT in Lagos State. And, in a move that further illustrates his ability to take initiative and fortify his weakness; he has embarked on a rigorous grass root campaign in Lagos. “His Walk The Ward” campaign has been nothing but a breath of fresh air in the political campaigning of Nigeria. Yesterday, he paid a visit to traders and diverse communities and engaged them on the need to change Nigeria. At his stop in Obalende, Mr. Osinbajo told commercial and transport workers that the “APC is out to transform Nigeria for good. And, we are only asking for your support.”
The Vice Presidential aspirant has also taken to social media in an Atiku-esque manner. He has used his Twitter feed to update the electorate about his grass root campaign and what he believes are the most important issues voters should focus on when going to the polling unit in 2015. From Mr. Osinbajo’s perspective, the most important issues are jobs, power, security and the economy. The APC Manifesto adds education to the list and the need to fully implement the Universal Basic Education (UBE) across the entire country. Mr. Osinbajo’s top quality is his level of education. It is the drive behind his success in both the public and private sector. The next step is for Mr. Osinbajo to take his grass root strategy to the other regions of country. While answering a question from one of his over 30, 000 followers on Twitter, the brilliant lawyer stated his plans to take his “Walk The Ward” campaign to the “South South, Ibadan, Owerri, Kaduna and everywhere Nigerians are.” What Nigerians must do is to objectively engage Mr. Osinbajo and the APC on issues that have hindered our collective economic and social development. We must resist the urge to give into religious and tribal politics and only hold elective officials on their record and ideas to rescue our country from its present dire straits.
The APC had already done us proud by its ability to conduct a transparent and open Presidential primary. Its ability to weather the Vice Presidency storm was the icing on the cake. The decision of General Buhari, with the consultation of the Party Leadership to settle for the safe choice, Mr. Osinbajo, was the politically shrewd choice. I can also unashamedly declare that my stance for Governor Fashola as Vice President could have put our party in a difficult and unnecessary position. What position is that, one might wonder? Well, it is the position that the PDP flourishes around. The position where religion and ethnic politics come to the forefront, and pointless bickering overshadow issues and substance. Despite his qualifications and universal acceptance as a first-class administrator, I believe the choice of the more experienced politicians to pick Mr. Osinbajo was wiser than mine. Moreover, the thought of APC having experienced and reform minded leaders such as Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankasso and Governor Fashola as senior cabinet officials is mouth-watering. Are any PDP members ready to bet that Governor Fashola cannot sort out the mess in the power sector or that Governor Kwankasso cannot sanitize Abuja back to what it was during El-Rufai’s tenure? I highly doubt it.
On a more personal note, Mr. Osinbajo represents what I believe we urgently need in Nigeria at the moment. Mr. Osinbajo is like a breath of fresh air that symbolizes a transition from an accomplished private sector career to public service. I went to the same college as his daughter Damilola, and had the pleasure of meeting him during her graduation ceremony. He exhibited simplicity, patience and compassion in everything he did that day. A few years later, I re-call how he patiently sat down in my bedroom until I finished my prayer to condole me about the loss of my brother. So, even if I were not a Buharist, I would lean towards the APC ticket not just out of rationality, but because the man has already captured my vote and that of many Nigerians. As I write this, Aisha Osori, a House of Representative that won the AMAC/Bwari federal constituency decamped from the PDP to the APC because of Mr. Osinbajo. Ms. Osori explained what convinced her to decamp from the ruling party, “Osinbajo used to teach me at the University of Lagos, faculty of law, I believe that is a great combination that would move the country forward and I want to be part of that team.”
To all the PDP members and undeclared voters that still have their reservations, can we settle this once and for all by conducting a Presidential and Vice Presidential debate on some of the important issues, jobs, security, power and education? Or, should we simply hand the heavyweight championship belt to the smallest man in the ring and call it quits. For even in a not so sane society like ours, the difference in quality is crystal clear. Mr. Osinbajo is doing the right thing. And we are behind him and our leader, General Buhari.