The intensity of the conversation around and about the 2023 general elections as it is usual about elections in Nigeria always drift away from core issues relating to the fundamentals of the process. From Nigerians, the expectations should have been around the amended electoral Act, especially its impact and workability in bringing reforms and providing a level playing field for political parties and aspirants. The conversation should also include at least ways of ensuring the absence of intimidation during campaigns and voting, transparency, and fairness for the voters who spend hours electing their candidates. Also, in the same tradition it is not about the economy and how the weakened Naira can be shored up through introduction of productive industrial activities but a plethora of what could pass for discussion garbage.
In descending order, the trending issue which should never had been in this discourse and one which is supposed to be a non-issue is the attempt to prop up Professor Oluyemi Osinbajo, the Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria over and above the man on whom his political structure is built, nurtured and sustained till fortune smiled on him and catapulted him into his current political turf. The emergence and relevance of Osinbajo today in the national arena today was powered by the political machinery of Chief Bola Ahmed Tinubu. Commonly referred to as Asiwaju by his numerous acolytes because of his title or Jagaban by some, and as BAT from his initials by others. He is the enigmatic former governor of Lagos state who has built an empire in a scale and magnitude that many before him never achieved as governors of the state by the Lagoon. The empire has political and economic roots in Lagos but with several flourishing branches that have provided and are still providing financial fruits in many parts of the South-west, and other regions of the country. One of these branches is the person of Prof. Osinbajo.
There are so many narratives today about the relationship which was largely that of a mentor and a mentee. A benefactor and a beneficiary. A leader and a follower. A relationship that was akin to apprenticeship built on the expectation that one man’s duel will be the cause of the other. No doubt that Prof was a top academic but what he learnt working with Asiwaju, cannot be found in any educational facility with the rich curriculum to have provided him those syllabi and the knowledge garnered in those years of close association, hand holding and mentoring.
They were invaluable years of tutelage that is rarely found in the annals of Nigeria’s political history. Prof. Osinbajo emerged in the political scene in 1999, when he was appointed as Lagos State Attorney General & Commissioner for Justice. A just man, humble, brilliant and a man who has a knack for the pursuit of excellence. Adjudged by many as the best Vice president, in this country, since the adoption of the presidential system, in 1979. Early in this second term of the Buhari administration, Osinbajo was humiliated, almost rendered irrelevant. Virtually all his aides were removed, without valid reasons, while official responsibilities and privileges that were part of his duties as a vice president were withdrawn. He never made any statement or complained. His rating soared, his political capital appreciated during that storm and he enjoyed tremendous support from those who understand the finer details of democratic governance. All that he earned in that period was due to the sense of his political maturity and endurance.
However, the signals have changed. The eagle it seems has established its dominance of its nest and the environ and is strengthened to take on its adversary. But should the adversary be the Jagaban under whose wings he prospered? It is unfortunate that Osinbajo is not choosing his battles wisely. Chronicles of current events indicate that Osinbajo is warming up and preparing his arsenal for the 2023 presidential election against his mentor, his benefactor, Bola Tinubu. As it is commonly said, observers are worried if this will augur well for the relationship and political empire that both of them contributed to building since 1999. If the speculations are true, it is the height of folly for him to desire a shot at the presidency when his former principal has made his position known while they were in the camp together years ago. It would be no less horrifying as the encounter between Brutus and Caesar.
Although those around him are sounding the drum of the contest, the most frustrating part of his campaign is the mind game he has chosen to play with his mentor. As the grapevine is swirling with stories of his preparations, there is the pretension or lack of affirmation from the man himself. What has agitated the minds of many discerning Nigerians is whether those whom we know can descend to this level to bite the proverbial finger that fed him and brought him to political limelight.
What becomes of the Judeo-Christian ethics of order and decency which were the tenets he upheld in his relationship with Asiwaju? Where is the respect for hierarchical ascension that is the strong pillar of the Christian faith? Can Osinbajo, considered a role model of Christian, spiritual leadership, decency and responsibility, be hoodwinked by the forces spawned by political villains with the promise of power, betray the man who canvassed for and stood by him as he became the second most powerful Nigerian? Has Prof Osinbajo forgotten that leadership doesn’t just get thrown at anyone but is a product of evolvement and horse trading and in his own case managed by the Asiwaju?
Apparently, this is a river that has forgotten its source and there is only one way to go; drying up in the process. The prof as a highly rated member of the clergy and a student of biblical history should be familiar with the story of Absalom and his toxic claim to royalty at the expense of his father King David. But if he is not enamored with the Old Testament, there is a more recent and applicable story of the infamy and notoriety of Judas Iscariot. The prof is brilliant enough to know that no one who betrays his benefactor has succeeded in supplanting his mentor. There are always consequences of unimaginable magnitude.
Many, especially among the uninitiated might consider the Biblical references as allegories that were content of sacred texts that were centuries old. So, we relate to what has happened within the Yoruba political experience between the eloquent speaker, Chief S. L. Akintola, in 1965 who thought that trading Chief Obafemi Awolowo would give him a ticket to political supremacy but ended up losing all. The tales are many within the Nigerian political landscape. There is also the story of Chief Chuba Okadigbo and Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. In all, it has never had a happy ending. Prof should not emulate them so that his script after all these lofty flights should have a happy landing. The saying is true that the only lesson men learn from history is that they never learn and that history repeats itself first as a farce and secondly as a tragedy. It seems history is about to repeat itself as a tragedy. We await with bated breath.
There are claims built from wrong premises that Asiwaju betrayed Afenifere and Pa. Adesanya. Nothing could be farther from the truth. When President Obasanjo came calling for a Pan Yoruba alliance for his presidential campaign, Asiwaju saw beneath his subterfuge and warned those of the leaders in AD to steer clear of the poisoned chalice that President Obasanjo was offering as the elixir for political freedom. The wise men and women refused to heed his warning and with guile President Obasanjo warmed his way into the South west and the rest as they say is history. Asiwaju saw tomorrow and those who could not bear the pain of President Obasanjo’s sweeping victory and triumphant entry into the Yoruba enclave suffered and who should be the scapegoat, it is Asiwaju. The details of this political romance that turned sour is too fresh to be rewritten by hatchet writers and political jobbers to suit their own template in the blame game.
What we wish for Prof Osinbajo is to close his ears to those who are sounding the political war drum for him because when the chips finally are down those that are clapping for him will be the first to laugh at his error of choice. He should be properly advised and counselled on the sorrowful ending of the war started by Rauf Aregbesola. The prof should have ample lessons and advisories from what transpired between both of them. Clearly, Aregbesola was a regional politician that Asiwaju mentored and brought to national acclaim after serving as Commissioner in Lagos state and the governor in Osun state. Here is a man with little or no capacity and competence to win a local government election in Osun state but rose from that obscurity to become somebody of immense significance in national politics.
Through his nonchalance and lack of understanding of what Asiwaju has provided to shelter him in Osun state, Aregbesola the paper weight thought that he has come of age and can take on his benefactor. Like Osinbajo he refused to act on the wisdom of Chinua Achebe’s ageless proverb that “those for whom a benevolent spirit has cracked their palm kernels should not forget to be grateful.” The virus of ingratitude is wreaking havoc on erstwhile beneficiaries of Asiwaju and the lessons are bound to be bitter.
Thankfully, the political dexterity of Asiwaju saved Osun from slipping out of the grip of the APC in 2018. Aregbesola still did not learn from that experience and was rewarded with a ministerial appointment. But the day of reckoning always comes to Aregbesola, it has come full cycle. He is back to his political dungeon, where he actually belongs. It is our prayer that Prof Osinbajo should learn something here.
Another issue central to the conversation that compounds the inanities of Osinbajo at side stepping his mentor is the attempt by the leadership of the All Progressive Congress to repay the financial, mental, physical and social investment of Asiwaju to remove a level playing field for all contestants in the presidential race. Although the Mai Buni led committee has been replaced it almost threw the APC into disarray with constant shuffling of dates for the party convention. The APC has too much at stake not to follow due process in the election of national officers. If the party is to retain its prime position in the governance process Asiwaju must be given his due worth. He has paid the price for leadership and he deserves the ultimate recognition of being a contestant to the highest leadership seat in Nigeria. This will be another betrayal too many. The hope is that the Caretaker Committee of Governor Abubakar Bello will redeem the APC by holding the party convention on March 25, 2022.
There is a fable that will aptly illustrate the Osinbajo issue. It is the tale of the crafty tortoise. The tortoise told his family that he was embarking on a journey and he was asked when he would likely return. The tortoise shook his head three times, and said, “when I am disgraced.” The curiosity of this whole scenario is that both share cultural and ethnic affinity beyond the political bond which was a later day platform for exploring political gains. Both of them will understand this fable very well. The belief is that it has never been the intention of Asiwaju to see Osibanjo disgraced but if that is the wish of Osinbajo there is no one but himself who will help him avert the disgrace which has lined the path he has chosen. This is so true because beyond Lagos, and into national political consciousness, Asiwaju provided the wind for the sail of Osinbajo.
Ayela is a veteran journalist, based in Lagos.