The emergence of Prof. Yemi Osinbajo as the running mate of Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) adds twists to the presidential battle, AKEEM LASISI writes
Just when the All Progressives Congress began to celebrate the successful completion of its presidential primary, another trial curiously came its way. This bordered on who would be the running mate of Maj. Gen. Muhammadu Buhari, who is contesting in the upcoming presidential election for the third time since democracy returned in 1999.
Not many people believed that the search for Buhari’s running mate would be as intense as it turned out to be in the past few days. About a week earlier, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, which has had the benefit of starting the campaign for President Goodluck Jonathan’s second term earlier – initially through the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria – had settled the question of who would sprint with Jonathan.
After what looked like a critical re-evaluation and a little skepticism, the President had re-anointed his vice, Namadi Sambo, as his running mate. With that, the PDP had no problem in taking a position on the track, as there was no known resistance to the choice of Sambo from any quarters.
As for the APC, political prophets as usual beat their chests as they forecast who Buhari’s running mate would be. Or, at least, if they could not say exactly who it would be among the about four shortlisted, they could swear they knew who it was not going to be. But eventually, their predictions did not come to pass.
By Tuesday, the observers had narrowed the possible choices down to Governor Babatunde Fashola of Lagos State, Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers State, Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State and Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha. Indeed, various informal polls were floated, with many of them putting Fashola on top. But apart from the fact that fielding Fashola would fuel the ageless Muslim/Muslim ticket palaver, such people must have undermined the fact that the conflict that made Fashola and his godfather, Bola Tinubu, to support different aspirants during the APC primary in Lagos State could hardly make him support Fashola to emerge as Buhari’s running mate.
But the intrigue began to rear its head when it was said that Buhari had, in appreciation of what he (Tinubu) has done so far and in anticipation of what he would still do, asked him to more or less name the running mate. By late Monday, however, there appeared to be a deadlock as Tinubu was said to have offered himself for the role, a move that other gladiators in the party did not seem to have endorsed.
A statement issued by Tinubu on Wednesday, noting that it was Buhari that asked him to be his running mate, shed some light on the issue. But the main story now is the emergence of a former Lagos State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, as Buhari’s running mate. While the possibility had begun to manifest since Tuesday, the confirmation on Wednesday has, nevertheless, affirmed a new twist to the whole game.
As if somehow in fulfilment of the biblical saying that the first shall be the last and the last the first, Osinbajo was selected from a list on which his name was apparently initially absent. What has, however, now become the subject of discourse is whether or not the APC made the right decision or whether or not Osinbajo merits the offer.
Since Nigeria is a country where religion plays a major role, many believe that his being a Christian at the level of a senior pastor/assistant overseer of one of the biggest churches, The Redeemed Christian Church of God, is strategic. Being a Muslim – who some had even described as a fundamentalist – Buhari needs a Christian to run with. Indeed, this is the reason many had denounced initial hints that he might run with Tinubu or Fashola. Of course, one of the theories that the PDP has to battle with now is the thought/myth that many Redeemers/Christians could fly with Osinbajo on February 24, 2015.
This sounds tricky, but it is actually interesting to imagine two scenarios: the day President Goodluck Jonathan, probably in company with Sambo, would kneel before the RCCG’s General Overseer, Pastor Enoch Adeboye for blessing – as is the custom – and the day Buhari and Osinbajo would do the same. Perhaps only the typical mischievous stand-up comedian can guess what will transpire.
Back to a serious matter, however, the calculation that favours Osinbajo has also got to do with the fact that the APC seemingly wants to position a Yoruba man as the potential Number 2 citizen from May 29, 2015, in response to the argument that the current administration has thoroughly marginalised the South-West. Added to this is the fact that Osinbajo is ‘an in-law’ of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, having married one of the sage’s grandchildren, Dolapo. His emergence could also thus be seen as a way of courting the Awo heritage.
His academic and legal background also seems to be a plus for the party – coupled with the fact that he is some 17 years younger than Buhari. The APC needs this balance to persuade those who have accused it of positioning an old soldier to rule a 21st century Nigeria. Osinbajo is said to be a thoroughbred professional who contributed immensely to the legal reforms and battles that Tinubu prosecuted when he served in his government between 1999 and 2007.
But since this is politics, there are some sentiments that the choice may also have exposed the APC to. Some people have, for instance, noted that in terms of influence, the party already had enough in Yorubaland, with the weight of Tinubu and the governors of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun and Osun states. The argument is that Buhari already has enough base in the South-West, meaning that he did not need to pick his running mate from there. Rather, those who hold the opinion preferred he took someone from either the South-South or the South-East, where the PDP has a stronghold. Besides, they do not see Osinbajo as having much political weight. This is where they saw an Amaechi and Okorocha as a better co-runner.
The choice of Osinbajo could also mean that the APC has to pacify the likes of Amaechi, Okorocha and Oshiomhole one way or the other. Observers say this is important based on the fact that governors are key to funding political parties in Nigeria.
It is also not impossible for the PDP to remind Nigerians that Osinbajo’s Christian background cannot injure its hope and determination to return Jonathan to Aso Rock next year. Right or wrong, its officials are likely to argue that he is more of Tinubu’s candidate than anything else. It may also note that when Jonathan defeated Buhari in 2011, the latter had another influential man of God – Pastor Tunde Bakare – as his running mate.
This is apart from the fact that Jonathan has hailed Sambo as a diligent and loyal VP, he is also well read, boasting a Bachelors of Science degree from the Ahmadu Bello University and a Master’s degree in Architecture from the same institution. Yet, the fact that Sambo had won the governorship election in Kaduna State in 2007 could mean that those who say he does not wield much political influence may have underrated him. The battle ahead may thus be more exciting than the way many Nigerians, who desire and deserve true liberation, expect.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria and Senior Partner in the Law firm of Simmons Cooper Partners. Osinbanjo was the Head of Department of Public Law at the University of Lagos between 1997 and 1999.
The man who had his tertiary education at UNILAG and the London School of Economics and Political Science, obtaining the LLB and LLM degrees respectively, previously served as the Special Adviser to the Attorney-General of Nigeria (1988-1992).
Another aspect of his profile that his party will want to flaunt is the fact that apart from having authored several books, he is also the Ethics Adviser to the Advisory Board of the African Development Bank and is a non-executive Director of Citibank. He has served in various roles within the United Nations, United Nations Centre on Transnational Corporations, the United Nations African Institute for Crime Prevention, the International Criminal court for Rwanda in Arusha, Tanzania, the department of Peacekeeping operations and the United Nations Peace Operations in Somalia.