Public discourse has naturally shifted to permutations about the next Chief of Staff to President Muhammadu Buhari, following Abba Kyari’s death. One newspaper reported that 26 persons, including current and former Ministers, Governors and Senators, were already jostling for the position of Chief of Staff. What will or should the Buhari presidency look like after Abba Kyari? Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, holds the aces to a successful Buhari Presidency, regardless of who replaces Kyari.
Some caveats are crucial at this stage. For the avoidance of doubt, I have never met Professor Osinbajo. I am not a contractor and I do not seek a job in government. By the grace of God, I have a permanent academic position in a top 100 global university. The Supreme Court of Canada struck down mandatory retirement for University Professors. That means I do not have to retire from my position. Therefore, in a country like Nigeria where motives are understandably dissected and clinically shredded, I would like to be clear that I have no ulterior motive.
Yemi Osinbajo served as Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos State between 1999 and 2007, under Chief Bola Tinubu. As the All Progressives Congress, APC, emerged to challenge President Goodluck Jonathan and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the 2015 elections, the choice of a suitable running mate for Muhammadu Buhari became a politically contentious matter. Tinubu was the obvious choice, given his broad political influence and the crucial role he played in the formation of APC. Some APC stalwarts were concerned that a Muslim-Muslim ticket would be risky, despite the historic Abiola-Kingibe ticket. There were also concerns about feeding into a supposed Islamisation and sharia agenda by Buhari. Religious grounds — rightly or wrongly — were used to knock Tinubu out of consideration for Vice President. Olusegun Adeniyi notes in his book Against the Run of Play that Buhari asked Tinubu to nominate three individuals. The Jagaban of Borgu Kingdom presented only one name — Yemi Osinbajo. The rest is history.
A Vice President is largely as effective as the principal allows in a Presidential system of government. The Vice Presidency is a difficult position anywhere in the world. A President is right to carefully calibrate the powers delegated to a Vice President and weigh the individual’s loyalty, ethics, and capacity. Professor Osinbajo has suffered serious indignities as Vice President, with the epithet “VP academic” a summation of it all. He has borne insults, disrespect and belittlement with uncommon grace.
The fiasco during the invasion of the National Assembly by agents of the Department of State Services, DSS, in August 2018 compelled Yemi Osinbajo, as acting President, to remove Lawal Daura from the position of Director General of the DSS. It was absolutely the right decision to take, given the ignominy the incident brought on the government and Nigeria’s democratic practice. Professor Osinbajo has paid a heavy price for that decision. Those who thought it was a good idea to have Abba Kyari take a bill to President Buhari in London in November 2018, disrespected the ice president. Why take a bill to London for the President’s signature when there was a capable Vice President?
President Buhari needs to allow his Deputy to use his knowledge to shape the direction of the government. Osinbajo does not have overweening ambitions. He will seek little credit for himself and not outshine his principal. He is smart and loyal. He has proven to be a bridge-builder in a politically fractured society.
The removal of the Vice President’s key Aides, refusal to name him Acting President during President Buhari’s subsequent trips overseas and creation of a parallel economic think-tank vis-à-vis that headed by the VP, exemplify his travails in the Presidency. People who have neither his character nor his intellect have undermined him in the Presidency. Ultimately, such characters do not wish Nigeria well.
Nevertheless, Professor Osinbajo has proven his mettle. In August 2017, President Buhari commended Osinbajo and noted that he “used his intellect” to govern the country as acting President during his extended stay overseas for medical reasons. Buhari also emphasised the “loyalty and dedication” of Osinbajo on the Vice President’s 63rd birthday in March. The likes of the Emir of Daura, Alhaji Farouk Umar, have also acknowledged the loyalty, commitment and dedication of Osinbajo. Some other VP could have begun to scheme to usurp power once the President became ill.
Recall his engagement with the Niger Delta crisis and the relative calm in the region since then. There was also palpable calmness in Nigeria when Osinbajo was Acting President, particularly in 2018. The stock market loved him; he was viewed as a steady and secure pair of hands. People who have been part of strategy sessions with him attest to his acuity.
I have emphasised for a while that those still spending time criticising the Buhari Presidency are wasting their time. This is time for solutions. This government needs help. The sea-washed lifeless body of three-year old Alan Kurdi, a boy fleeing war-torn Syria with his family in 2015, is a compelling reason why we must wish our country well, even if you do not wish the government good luck (no pun intended). This government and this country may unravel at the seams if President Buhari allows — implicitly or explicitly — his deputy to be marginalised in a post-Kyari Aso Rock.
Osinbajo holds the key to any sound legacy President Buhari may wish to establish. Undermine Osinbajo at your peril.