Vice President Yemi Osinbajo was in Nairobi, Kenya, this weekend to participate in an event organized by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
The Foundation was established in 2006 to promote good governance and leadership in Africa. This weekend’s event, tagged The Ibrahim Governance Weekend (IGW) brought together leading voices from across the continent to speak on important issues on the progress of Africa.
On the sidelines of the weekend activities, Mr. Mo Ibrahim pulled the VP aside and commended him for his leadership qualities and for being a good example for other African leaders.
He then asked the VP to assume the status of an African stateman because ‘’now we really need statesmen like you coming out of office to really go and save the society, and something for Africa. There is life after office…you say it as it is and you really give example to all our leaders. We can go and get things done and get the respect of the international community, and you do the best job’’.
This is the same message that many world leaders and countless Nigerians have been passing to Prof. Osinbajo as the end of his tenures nears.
They all expect the VP to transmute into a global thought leader and international statesman in the mold of Barrack Obama, Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. At a panel discussion during the Nairobi event, a former President of the African Development Bank, Dr. Lawrence Kaberuka, who also spoke on the panel, said of the VP, ‘’I think this gentleman has done an excellent job in his country. I don’t think we have seen the last of him’’. But what are people seeing in Osinbajo?
First, let me introduce Mo Ibrahim to those who might not know him. Sir Mohammed Fathi Ahmed Ibrahim, born May 3, 1946, is a Sudanese-British billionaire businessman.
He worked in several telecommunications companies, before founding Celtel, which when sold, had over 24 million mobile phone subscribers in 14 African countries. After selling Celtel in 2005 for $3.4 billion, he set up the Mo Ibrahim Foundation to encourage better governance in Africa, as well as creating the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, to evaluate nations’ performance. He’s also a member of the African Regional Advisory Board of London Business School.
Since Sir Ibrahim and his foundation are primarily focused on promoting good governance in Africa, a continent that has been damaged by corruption, wars and leadership incompetence, he must have seen in Osinbajo qualities that would stand him out as a global statesman: dignity; virtue; fairness, temperament and wisdom.
Many Nigerians also admire the VP for these and more. Over the years, in words and deeds, Osinbajo has exhibited statesmanlike leadership qualities. He has shown integrity, competence, dedication to duty, loyalty to the government, compassion, empathy, graciousness and courage. He has consistently spoken out against extremism, bigotry and violence in our polity. How I wish he had had the executive powers.
The Vice President’s recent speech at NIPPS on our diversity in which he chided ethnic jingoists, hate mongers and election riggers in a season many other leaders appear too effeminate to speak out or do something signifies the very essence of his ideals. I’m always awed by Osinbajo’s tremendous social conscience.
At Kuru, the VP stressed that in the contest for power, leadership elites must not toy with prejudices that alienate or divide any section of the country, rather they should conduct themselves with a high sense of responsibility in order to build a new Nigeria where there is justice, equity and shared prosperity. Besides, deliberate efforts have to be taken to deal with ethnic profiling and prejudices before they influence political contests. This is a direct rebuke of people like Bayo Onanuga, the spokesman for Bola Tinubu, who have been making incendiary statements soon after the elections.
Said Osinbajo: “the leadership elites have a duty to conduct themselves with a high sense of responsibility even as they prosecute their contest for power’’. He pointed out that historically, conscious and patriotic elites all recognize that, beyond what the letter of the law asserts, there are lines that cannot be crossed in the pursuit of political power. One of such lines is the willful exploitation of sectional sentiments and the invocation of ethnic antipathies to mobilize a political constituency. It is dangerous because it is an attempt that seeks to mobilize by fostering division and hatred”.
Prof. Osinbajo’s stirring condemnation of ethnic bigots who denied some Nigerians their right to vote in the last elections provided the needed balm to a nation that is hurting. It is a sharp contrast to the coldness and aloofness of President Buhari who has remained reticent all through the post-election tensions.
Said the VP: “these elections witnessed the exploitation by political actors of the fears and anxieties of people about so-called outsiders. Any attempts to deny people the right to vote in any locality on the basis that they do not belong in that place is condemnable in the strongest possible terms,’’.
Osinbajo stressed that when ethnic or religious prejudices are weaponized for political purposes, we are confronted with a lethal, potentially destructive situation. This is why most prosperous places are countries that have learned to harness diversity while building ever more inclusive institutions. And it is also the reason discrimination against people on the basis of their identity is explicitly condemned by most legal codes, including the Nigerian Constitution.
The crisis in Nigeria, however, is exacerbated by a tension that exists between new Nigeria and the old Nigeria as understood by a generation that is much more accustomed to political mobilization on the basis of identity. But, as a nation, Nigeria must ennoble and validate the Nigeria that our young people are consciously or unconsciously building. This is the future we want.
The VP urges us to remember that although we may speak different languages, belong to different tribes and profess diverse creeds; we are bound, above all else, by the language of a shared hope, by our common humanity as Nigerians, and a supreme faith in the possibility of our country. Speaking further against all forms of discrimination, the VP stressed that if we are truly committed to economic growth, then we must also be committed to creating inclusive communities and strengthening social cohesion.
Put in another way, he emphasized that the only thing that grows in a climate of tribal hatred is poverty. This is why justice, healing, and a stronger commitment to the ideals of integration are so important.
“Where the forces of primordial division and polarization are harnessed for the sake of electoral gain, the venom of such devices remains and continues to poison communal relations, setting neighbour against neighbour. We have witnessed the catastrophic consequences of the political weaponization of prejudice in places such as Rwanda.”
I therefore align my thoughts with Mo Ibrahim. What many Nigerians and non-Nigerians see in Osinbajo is what Mo Ibrahim has again validated in Kenya last weekend. The ongoing national and global endorsement of this Vice President brings with it an appreciation that goes deeper in value because it makes sense that someone that has served with the commitment, the capacity and the character that Osinbajo has brought to bear ought to be so widely acknowledged.
So like Mo, I also urge Prof Osinbajo to play at the international stage as a statesman after he leaves office. His voice would be needed to douse tensions in many conflict zones, especially in Africa. And at home, he remains a good proof that a new Nigeria is possible indeed.