A few years ago Professor Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President, did what is not done in our clime. He gave the Ministers in President Muhammadu Buhari’s cabinet books as new year gifts. I don’t know if he added bags of rice or bottles of cognac or champagne or some hampers with a huge pile of goodies. I doubt. But I was eminently impressed with his choice of books as a gift and even more thrilled by the choice of Malcolm Gladwell’s books. Gladwell is a Canadian journalist, author and public speaker who works for the New Yorker. His debut book, The Tipping Point, is a global bestseller because it deals with how little things can make a big difference. It is research-based and wisdom-filled. His other books include David and Goliath, Outliers, Blink and What the Dog Saw. Decision-makers around the world and other people who crave success consider his books a must-read.
Professor Osinbajo is hereby advised to read again The Tipping Point to see if he can find the tiny speck that is causing the swirling tornado around him and putting him in the flux of controversy. When he was thrust into the presidential circuit as Buhari’s running mate in 2015, many people thought he was a good find and an invaluable addition to the ticket. Apart from providing a geographical and religious balance to the ticket, he brought good education, a good knowledge of the law, the moral audacity of a devoted pastor, rhetorical clarity and erudition and the credentials of a libertarian visionary, which he exhibited as an Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos under Governor Bola Tinubu. These qualities were likely to stand him and the Presidency in good stead because his boss came from a stiff, stilted and unbending military tradition even though those who marketed him had adorned him with the toga of “a born-again democrat.” A little later, we also came to see Osinbajo as a man of courage and fairness, an apolitical politician, a technocrat in politics who seems to be guilty of being loyal and decent in a profession that is brutally indecent. He seems to have won the trust and confidence of his boss who never hesitated to dispatch him to various zones, including the Niger Delta region, the Middle Belt, South East and South West, on trouble-shooting missions. Because of his deep knowledge of affairs generally and his admirable public speaking credentials, he was assigned from time to time to attend international conferences on behalf of Nigeria. That trust between him and Buhari was cemented by the fact that he discharged those assignments with a high level of efficiency and transparency. And where the government’s information machinery seemed to revel in fruitlessly combative propaganda, Osinbajo often brought a high measure of coherence, clarity and civility to the articulation of public issues. He admitted that Buhari treats him like his son and we were left to feel that he also treats Buhari as his father. But beyond the image of father and son there is the feeling that both of them are committed to the success of their Presidency. The two men come from different and contrasting backgrounds and worldviews but their disagreements, if any, did not come to the fore and did not become the staple of public conversation. There seems to have existed between them a high level of respect and trust even when he took decisions, as Acting President, that some of the President’s hawks may not have liked. The removal by Osinbajo of the director-general of the DSS, Mr. Lawal Musa Daura, on account of the invasion of the National Assembly by hooded security men must have been a sore point in their relationship but Buhari did not recall Daura on his return from medical vacation. He did not scold Osinbajo for firing the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, who was accused of malfeasance and did not recall the errant public officer either. Even if Buhari was unhappy with these decisions, he was ice-calm on his return and may have felt that, in the final analysis, those decisions were good for his image and that of his government, which had been savagely pounded by the public on the two issues. As proof of his fierce fidelity to his boss Osinbajo, at a meeting with ministers of God in Lagos, was able to summon his oratorical prowess in defence of Buhari’s skewed appointments, which had been a subject of frequent criticism in the media. At the same time, the Vice President was able to display courage where partisanship may have been expected by political flunkeys. He praised Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, a man who takes pot shots from time to time at the Federal Government, for his development projects. He even nicknamed him “Mr. Projects.” That kind of courageous truth-telling is alien to Nigerian politics. That makes him a truly civilized and decent man.
A lot of rumours and speculations have been swirling around him based on some recent actions taken by the Buhari government. The government has established a new Economic Advisory Council (EAC) to advise Buhari on economic policy and management. This is a replacement for the former Economic Management Team, which was headed by the Vice President. The new council, made up of mainly economic and finance experts, will report directly to Buhari. In the same week, the Presidential Committee on Asset Recovery, which was under the Vice President’s supervision, was transferred to the office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. However, the Vice President, by virtue of the Constitution still heads the National Economic Council, a forum that includes all state governors and the governor of the Central Bank. This body is expected to advise the President on the economy. These actions have set teeth on edge. People are asking whether the VP is being sidelined, marginalised or left in the cold. On top of this, some publications have surfaced that tend to put a question mark on his integrity. For him, it not only rains but it pours. This seems to be the first time in the last five years that the Vice President is facing a challenge to his integrity. There is obviously something cooking within the Presidency and environs, which may not be too palatable to the Vice President. Even if we cannot put our fingers on, it we can simply say that what is going on is simply politics. It was Sir Winston Churchill who said that “politics are almost as exciting as war and quite as dangerous. In war, you can only be killed once but in politics many times.” Osinbajo apparently does not want to be killed even once. He says he is ready to waive his immunity to defend his hard-earned reputation. This column does not know whether or not immunity is waive-able but his declaration shows the measure of his concern about the attempt by those he called “fifth columnists” to rub mud on him in what looks like a calumnious campaign for the 2023 presidency. In 2023, the presidential slot, by the rotation system, ought to go to the South. Osinbajo has declared that he does not intend to run in 2023. Do the purveyors of false information about his integrity doubt his sincerity on the matter? Or do they think, even if he is not running, he is in a vantage position to help someone of his choosing? If that is the case, he will pose a strong stumbling block to the aspirations of those interested parties now hovering on the horizon. Do they think that he has an interest in promoting the interest of Tinubu, who is believed to be a speculative candidate for 2023? If he has that interest at the back of his mind, he would be repaying the double debt that he owes Tinubu for making him his Attorney-General in Lagos and nominating him for the VP slot. But who says that if the presidency is zoned to the South in 2023 it will necessarily go to the South West when that zone had done two terms of eight years at the beginning of this Republic? However, politics may masquerade as a contest of principles but it is not; it lacks the virtues of fairness, selflessness and principles. It is a carnivorous game, utterly bereft of principles. Now, President Buhari has allowed us to know that he is not interested in a third term. Is it possible that there are politicians from the North who think that the Presidency must stay in the North whether Buhari wants it or not? If there are, do they worry about the dings and dents of this infighting and what it would do to the Buhari presidency? The presidency is a bifurcated presidency made up of the President and the Vice President. Any attempt to destroy the Vice President without any cogent, reliable and verifiable information of malfeasance against him will damage in equal measure the institution of the Presidency. The original idea of a vilification campaign may be small and limited but at the end the damage to the polity may be huge and extensive. That is what the Tipping Point is about.
Let me offer an unsolicited advice to all the vultures hovering in the sky and hoping that 2023 is theirs for the picking. It is fair for individuals or groups to be ambitious but, as an American columnist George F. Will said in one of his columns, “in elections there are knowns, unknowns and unknown unknowns.” My view is that it is only God that determines those unknown unknowns.