For Yemi Osinbajo – the dovish but chameleonic Vice President of Nigeria – it is now or never. The time for pretence is over. For seven years, the amiable law professor and church pastor has carefully tiptoed the treacherous waters of Nigerian politics and played his cards quite well.
He apparently has learned invaluable lessons from at least two of his predecessors in office. To his boss and the hawkish members of his inner circle, he is careful to present himself as a loyal and supportive deputy.
To his godfather who brought him from obscurity to the limelight and even recommended him for the position of Vice President, he is careful to appear grateful and loyal.
To Nigerians, who have been victims of the administration’s incompetence and sometimes disastrous economic and security policies, he has carefully cultivated the image of a well-spoken, brilliant, and safe pair of hands that understands their yearnings.
Amid all these, he has carefully disguised his vaulting ambitions, hoping that like Jonathan, he would do nothing and fate would catapult him to the presidency.
He may have genuinely believed the propaganda of the party leaders in 2014/15 that the plan was for Buhari to handle security while he handles the economy and governance.
In the hope of being the next Idiagbon of the Buhari administration, he campaigned furiously, lying through his teeth that Buhari had a Christian son-in-law just to show that his boss is not a religious fanatic as he was then portrayed, and to prove his utility to the team.
However, his dream of sharing power with his boss fell flat when Buhari showed no appetite for power-sharing. Still, he soldiered on, believing, perhaps, God was only testing his patience.
He kept his head down, ignored or sacrificed all principles, refused to see no evil and speak no evil. He kept a studied silence as his boss bludgeoned the economy with one disastrous policy after another, massacred Nigerian Shiites, destroyed the judiciary, removed one building block of Nigeria’s fledgling democracy after another, and dragged millions of Nigerians into extreme poverty.
He just kept his head down. In place of principled opposition to the illegality and pulverization of the people, he resorted to motivational speaking!
In 2019, he had nothing to present to his people to show the administration deserved a second term. He was quick to abandon all pretences to policy appeals and picked up the ethnic dog whistle. He – and the rest of the Lagos star boys – quickly became Yoruba ethnic champions, reminding their fellow Yorubas that it will be their turn to produce the president in 2023 but only if they vote for the Buhari administration again in 2019.
Most egregious, however, was his silence as his boss sent in troops to massacre peaceful protesters at the Lekki toll gate in October 2020. Many commentators at the time incorrectly opined that the Lekki massacre has put paid to the 2023 electoral ambitions of the Lagos big boys.
I however argued then that such assessment was naive at best. It was an underestimation of the power of ethnic politics in Nigeria. I argued that regardless of the grievance in October 2020, these ethnic champions “will bet on the short memory of Nigerians and the appeal of ethnic politics to rally the southwest to their course in 2023.”
Amid all these, he has carefully disguised his vaulting ambitions, hoping that like Jonathan, he would do nothing and fate would catapult him to the presidency
Well, as expected, as the 2023 election approaches, the Lekki massacre has all but faded from public memory and the Lagos “big boys” are now jostling to replace Buhari; for as Babatunde Fashola reminded us in 2019, “Your child cannot surrender her waist for edifying beads and you will use the beads to decorate another child’s waist.”
The snag for the dovish Osinbajo however is that his expectations have not panned out. Fate has not thrown the presidency on his lap like Jonathan. His boss has also not deemed it fit to reward his seven years of loyalty by beckoning on him to succeed him.
But much more challenging, his godfather and mentor, who put him in the position in the first place, is also very interested in the presidency and is going all out to campaign for it.
This has put Osinbajo in a bind. And since he isn’t a grassroots politician with a strong following of his own, this may be his best and only shot at the presidency. Out of power, he may not even get a mention.
For now, he has gone about his campaign in the usual Nigerian way: getting so-called groups of “concerned citizens of Nigeria,” “National Women’s Coalition for Osinbajo (NWCO) and “The New Tribe (TNT) to launch a bogus petition urging him to contest as the “most qualified person to be president in 2023” and threatening to drag him into the race against his will.
But no matter how he disguises his ambition and campaign, he will eventually have to show his hands. The Presidency in 2023 cannot land on his lapse without him going all out for it and fighting dirty with his godfather and mentor. It is now or never!