From Romanus Ugwu, Abuja
Obviously, the presidential question has become more of a test of resilience for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. In the long list of presidential aspirants jostling for the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Osinbajo’s declaration of interest appears to have spurred the most intense reactions. Among those for or against him, an unending contention continues.
Remarkably, the endless debate over his entry into the race has nothing to do with his capability, capacity and administrative competence; it also has nothing to do with his foreign and domestic experiences, political sagacity, social network, economic blueprint or administrative acumen, but more of the unusual threat he poses to other aspirants.
Even before picking up the gauntlet, Osinbajo had become a random target for anxiety-driven supporters of one or two other major aspirants merely on the basis of speculations and it was no big surprise that such a trend escalated shortly after his official declaration.
In their attacks, they labelled and branded him with all manners of derogatory inscriptions, including some that are strong enough to blackmail, intimidate or plainly railroad him out of the contest. For some of the attackers, if it were not for such descriptions as saboteur and betrayal, lampooning him for daring to venture into an impossible competition with his estranged godfather, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, it would be a wrong depiction of him as a religious bigot or fanatic.
Clearly, Vice President Osinbajo’s decision to join the 2023 presidential race, especially alongside his erstwhile political godfather, has drawn unnecessary criticisms from some quarters with some people accusing him of betrayal.
It was that bad that as the quest to clinch the presidential tickets of the ruling party pitched the gladiators against one another, Osinbajo’s entry has surprisingly introduced new lexicons into the political parlance like ‘Judas’ ‘Betrayal’ ‘RCCGnation’ ‘Kingmaker’ ‘Life ambitionist’. Some of these appear reminiscent of the purported ‘Islamization agenda’ labelled against the name of Osinbajo’s principal, Muhammadu Buhari before the 2015 presidential nomination
Osinbajo’s honest intention has apparently drawn a lion’s share of attacks than party chieftains like former Senate President, Ken Nnamani, Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr. Chris Ngige, Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, Senator Rochas Okorocha, the Chairman of the Governors Forum and Ekiti State Governor, Kayode Fayemi and former Ogun State governor, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, among others that have indicated interest and even purchased the expression of interest and nomination forms.
However, despite the unnecessary criticisms and with the coast getting clearer that the APC might most likely cede its presidential ticket to the Southern part of the country, other aspirants, seeing that they have in Osinbajo a very tough nut to crack and contend with, have heightened the hostilities against him.
The focus is so intense that much more than others, every one of his comments appears speedily weighed on a scale and sometimes deliberately misinterpreted according to their merit or demerit but often, along patterns intended to discredit him as being unworthy of the aspiration.
Knowing that Osinbajo is not a pushover, it has not however been an all-out attack as Nigerians including the detractors have taken time to explore the intrinsic qualities he possessed which made him the right man for the job.
With the intimidating pedigree as former Lagos State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice for eight years during the administration of Asiwaju Tinubu as governor and now seven plus years as Vice President under President Buhari, the hostilities against Osinbajo is certainly not based on competence but on the threat he poses against some people’s ambition.
Although Osinbajo like any other Nigerian citizen has constitutional rights to indicate interest to contest such election, the needless sponsored resentment from some quarters and their pointed focus on making his aspiration appear cloudy, dirty and sentimental, has apparently pitched him against few persons especially his erstwhile boss, Asiwaju Tinubu.
Nonetheless, since his April 12, 2022 formal declaration, Osinbajo and scores of support groups under the banner of The Progressive Project (TPP) have continued to vigorously take his message of hope to some individuals and ethnic nationalities. It is quite noteworthy that the Vice President has continued to approach his ambition with decorum, maturity and candour.
The hostility against his aspiration heightened over certain comments that detractors considered an anathema to the sensibility of many suffering Nigerians, especially the claim to continue where his boss, President Buhari stopped.
Ignoring the tantrums and allegations of religious fanaticism, he had while declaring formally to succeed President Buhari in a viral video, assured that he would use his experiences, insights and opportunities in the last seven years for the country and its great people.
While arguing that if he were that religiously fanatic as the hecklers claimed, he would not have spent those years working under a Muslim as the President, he insisted that he is the right man for the job of leading the country to a new era of progressive leadership and social change.
“True Nigerian patriot, as a servant of the nation in war and peace, and a man of integrity, I have spent the last seven years working through some of the most difficult times in the history of the country, focusing on securing the country, providing infrastructure and growing its economy.
“In this period of seven years, I have served the government in several capacities and I have, at the direction of Mr. President, represented our country in sensitive high-level international engagements.
“I have been to practically all local governments in Nigeria. I have been to markets, factories, schools and farms. I have been in agricultural, mining and oil-producing communities in the Delta, in Kebbi, Enugu, Borno; Rivers, Plateau and Ondo; among others, listening to the diverse experiences and yearnings of our people.
“This is why I am today, with utmost humility, formally declaring my intention to run for the office of the President of Nigeria, on the platform of our great party, the APC,” he had made a formal declaration.
However, the backlash and fresh attacks that trailed the declaration were perhaps a child’s play to the erroneous impression of how he emerged as running mate to President Buhari, which erupted just when the infamous comment by his estranged godfather, Asiwaju Tinubu that he has ‘no son grown up enough to declare to contest president against him’, was ebbing out.
Apparently dismissing the insinuations that he is biting the fingers that fed him contesting against Asiwaju Tinubu who recommended him to be President Buhari’s Vice, he made it clear that there is no iota of truth in such claims.
Explaining how he became Vice President, Osinbajo, who spoke during an Iftar with State House Correspondents, said: “I was working on the case at Peniel Apartments in Abuja on December 18, 2014, when at 1 a.m. I received a call from Rauf Aregbesola that they were coming to Lagos to pick me up. I said I was in Abuja. He said: ‘good, because you have been nominated as the vice presidential candidate’ and I said: ‘Is that how you nominate people?”
He added that after his case that day, he returned to his hotel accommodation in the city and immediately after he removed his wig, he was hit by a feeling that: “This is probably the last time I will be wearing it.”
Osinbajo’s track record in public life is that of a public servant that discharges his duties diligently and with utmost loyalty to his principals. And it was evidenced when he served as Attorney General in the Tinubu-led administration in Lagos and has been the case throughout his time serving as President Buhari’s a loyal deputy.
A confirmation that his capacity has never been in doubt is that as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Osinbajo undertook comprehensive reforms of the justice sector that transformed the Lagos court system. Osinbajo led a legal challenge to affirm that Lagos had acted well within its rights under the law against the Federal Government to freeze allocations to the state because it created Local Council Development Areas in 2003.
Many have attributed Osinbajo’s pragmatic expressions of his pledged loyalty to Nigeria after taking the Oath of Allegiance rather than having allegiance to a godfather, as the major factor which inspired these projectiles of venomous malice that a certain camp has been hurling at him.
According to a public analyst, Dokun Adedeji; “some of the allegations against Osinbajo come with clear struggles, trying to lend veracity to their ‘tales by moonlight’!
“Have we gotten to the point where we sacrifice decency and professionalism at the altar of demagoguery? It seems as if some accusers are not familiar with the fact that before Osinbajo’s Commissionership in Lagos state, he wasn’t living in obscurity.
Adedeji explained further: “In a fortuitous way, Osinbajo was lecturing his students on a fateful day when Prince Bola Ajibola came into that lecture room and for Ajibola to have stayed throughout the duration of that lecture, he must have seen and heard something because at the end of the lecture, he engaged the lecturer in a discussion which culminated in Ajibola’s invitation to Osinbajo to see him the next morning in his office. Ajibola was at that time, the Attorney General and Minister for Justice of the Federation.
“It was at that meeting that Prof Osinbajo was offered the position of a Special Adviser to him! From thence, he went to serve on various international organisations and committees related to his area of known expertise.
“Those of us who write also owe our readers some measure of respect by being factual: sell your candidate but don’t denigrate others through half-truths, innuendos and apparent falsehoods!” Adedeji appealed.
In his characteristic way, Osinbajo has not only ignored the gladiators to the court of public opinion, but has rather intensified his campaign and consultations, declaring that it will be great injustice and disservice to humanity if he does not contest the 2023 presidential election, considering his vast experience in the last seven years in office.
Speaking when he visited Governor Oluwarotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State in his office in Akure, Osinbajo said: “I declared to contest because, first of all, there is nobody that can be anything God does not decide that he would be, only God can make a person president, vice president, governor, anything whatsoever.
“So, I believe the hand of God must be on anything we are doing, but I declared my intention based on first, the fact that I have served, again by the sheer grace of God, I have served for seven years and some months.
“President Buhari, just out of his open-mindedness and his own generosity, ensured that I was given very serious responsibilities as vice president and I also acted as president. In those capacities, I got to know so many things that most people will never come across, even people in government will never come across and I gained a lot of experience on that account.
“Many times the President, when he was away, said pointedly to me that look, I don’t want to falter your discretion in any way, as acting President; you are president, just make sure you are fair and just, don’t refer anything to me, don’t ask me any questions, just do whatever you need to do.
“I think it will be a betrayal to our country, to our nation, this is a nation that many people died for, people died for this country, if I, with all that has been given to me by the grace of God, retire quietly either to Lagos or Ikenne and go and be writing my memoirs, it will be a great injustice to our country, that is why I throw my hat in the ring and ensure I make the best case for the position of President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he said.
Speaking further about his preparedness for higher responsibilities, he stressed that few people have the kind of training and experience he had, adding that in terms of preparedness for the job, he easily stands out among all other aspirants vying for the APC presidential ticket.