Private thoughts on Osinbajo
We are still talking the Buhari administration’s first year. In this democracy, some state actors, no matter how good are not to be seen. They work tirelessly behind the scene and most times, take little or no credit. That is the lot of vice presidents and deputy governors, as the case may be.
Since we commenced this democratic journey in 1998/99, many have attempted to critic the sense in constitution of the Federal Republic 1999, which in Section 142, makes the selection of a vice presidential candidate, or deputy governor a compulsory requirement for the flag bearer of a party, but goes no further to provide statutory assignment for the office, save for what his principal makes available or when the principal is absent or indisposed.
The interpretation of this seeming constitutional lacuna depends entirely on moods. A lot is left for the mood of the party that jointly presented the candidate and his vice, the largeness of heart of the principal and the capacity of a vice to fend for himself. The mood of the party is not something that is sustainable over a long period.
At the time of presenting the president and his vice, the mood in a party could be so joyous and all seeming very well and perfect. The state of mind of the principal is another variable that is indeterminable. Anything can happen to a man after presidential power has been handed to him. Sometimes, power gets into the head and a hitherto well-behaved man becomes megalomaniac. How a vice manages his affairs, the political war chest he has amassed and support base could temper the way he is managed or mismanaged by a principal.
It is the interplay of these variables that have largely defined the relationship between president and vice, governors and deputies in the last 16 years.
We have seen it play out in various shades. We have seen deputy governors that never had a defined schedule of work. Deliberately, some deputies in the states were subjected to harrowing experiences in the hands of their principals, a lot of times, viciously. Some deputies got so badly treated they had to run for dear life. The usual setting in a typical government house is one where the deputy governor’s office is marooned on some inconsequential corner, where he cannot share the limelight with his principal and his wife or wives. Sometimes, the so-called first lady is given more functions and resources to distribute rice and launder money through some dubious projects.
The kernel of today’s outing is more about relationships between our presidents and their deputies; and to use the opportunity to see how far our current vice, prof. Yemi Osibanjo has fared in that office in his first year. A lot has been documented on what transpired between former president Obasanjo and Atiku. It was well in the beginning until matters went awry. Obasanjo has been rugged from time, tasted many battles and never shied from fresh ones. His travails in the hands of late dictator, Gen. Abacha did little to humble him. Atiku, on the other hand was the robust and all-round politicians, friendly and deft at the same time.
They partnered very well in the first two years and manageably through the first term. In those years, Atiku was a conspicuous presence and regular player. He managed a good chunk of government’s economic matters and was not idle. The mood in the party favoured him, together with his personal clout and his principal’s belief in his capacity. Then ambition set in. It became very rough that Aso Rock could not contain the two of them. No two masters can run the presidency, and I guess that was why drafters of the constitution tactically rendered one of the offices significantly subservient, so that at no time should the two occupants ever find reason to lock horns.
Obasanjo and Atiku did lock horns, and it was the Supreme Court that disentangled the lock. Till date, each still nurses the bruises of that encounter, and it is more noticeable on the part of the principal, who most times forgets nothing and forgives nothing.
The late Umaru Yar’Adua and former president Goodluck Jonathan were both recruited by Obasanjo, to continue from where he stopped in 2007. On that note, the principal and his vice owed their coming to one source and were expected to be very close. Indeed, they were, to the extent that the two were peace loving and self-effacing. But other players in the corridor of power tried to cash in on the situation to play high wire politics. Whereas Atiku was a major player in the early days of the OBJ presidency, Jonathan was not actually visible or identifiable with any key role. It became more pronounced when the hawks that lurked in Aso Rock noticed the withdrawal tendency of Yar’Adua, as he managed his health. Jonathan, according to reports was not in the know of what went on, after Aso Rock had been hijacked. Some governors, it was said also did not reckon with him in the corner he was sidelined.
Between Jonathan and his vice, Namadi Sambo, was some noticeable rapport. Sambo was an active player in that presidency. He managed power (electricity) related issues and was a top player on party matters. Even when some northern governors worked very hard to return the presidency to the north in 2015, Sambo remained very loyal, until the two were unhorsed. Their tenure witnessed a relatively peaceful presidency.
When candidate Buhari was to select a running mate after he was crowned flag bearer at the APC primary of December 2014 in Lagos, he masterfully went for one who was least promoted by bookmakers. Just like when Samuel was on a search for a king for Israel, the Great book said he went for the scrawniest of the house of Jesse. But his choice, David, became the greatest of all.
Osinbajo had the least of political experience from what was said to be the array of possible picks. He was only a former commissioner and attorney general; whereas, others had governed states and played realpolitik. But he had been a law professor, and pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God. Technically, he had no ground troops of his own to deploy in this cutthroat business. But he has a godfather in Lagos, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, who used to have more than enough ground troops to defend his choices. So, there was some assurance for the learned man of God, who also seemed undaunted.
In the campaigns, Osinbajo neither deployed silver and gold, nor engaged in thuggish outbursts. He chose to ride in buses and shared his thoughts in a manner that was humbling. In the process, he became socially inclined to see the things citizens direly need, free feeding for school children and other social safety nets to rescue the poor. And then, APC won and formed government.
The events between May 29 and June 9 2015 betrayed a mood swing in the APC. The party was formed, yes. Elections had been won, sure. And a government had been formed. So what? To your tent oh partisans. There were clear signs that the great Jagaban Borgu had lost some foot soldiers in the campaign to plant more vassals in Abuja, in addition to the VP slot that had been granted him. And the worry was, will Osinbajo not be lonely up there? More worries came when President Buhari’s kitchen cabinet were drawn from old acquaintances that made the presidency appear clannish.
Not long after, there were tales that the Aso Rock Villa Chaplain, which had served Obasanjo and Jonathan had suddenly become too noisy and needed to be relocated. More worries on behalf of the pastor VP. But Osinbajo calmed the rumour and the storm it was meant to generate. And he went about doing his job.
So far, so good, the presidency has been calm and there are no issues. Staying focused on the delivery of campaign promises, Osinbajo softens the toughness that is associated with the present government. He came to Lagos when his principal could not and minimized the doubts about the relationship between Lagos and Abuja. He went to Ogoni when Buhari could not and prayed for the wounded land. Then, hostilities abated and now there are calls for dialogue, instead of threats to crush every opponent.
I have not come here to praise Caeser, just to mention that sometimes, a careful balancing act could make some good difference in just one year.