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A great asset to public life

PROFESSOR Yemi Osinbajo, currently the Acting President, is acquiring an almost heroic status in many circles because he is so polished and oozes integrity, erudition, competence, humility, courage, objectivity and compassion.

Ag Pres Osinbajo

The man is, in a nutshell, a Class Act who also has a Common Touch. He is an elitist when international-level high standards are called for…and a populist when it is necessary to come down to earth and sincerely empathise with ordinary folks.

Last month, he amazed everyone by embarking on a foray into Garki Market, to find out for himself what basic commodities cost and interact with the traders. This good-natured willingness to descend from the gold-plated ivory tower that most VIPs occupy was impressive, to put it mildly, and won him many new fans.

Security reasons

Last week, a Northern Muslim friend called me from Maiduguri to marvel at the fact that Osinbajo – whom he admiringly described as “the best type of Christian” – had taken the trouble to leave the cosy cocoon that is Abuja and fly to the embattled North-East to visit a camp for Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs.

According to my friend, Osinbajo had been urged to totally avoid that part of the country for security reasons – i.e, because Boko Haram had just brutally attacked a local community – but had ignored the warnings and was now being widely hailed across the North as a fine gentleman who cares deeply about ALL Nigerians.

According to my friend, Osinbajo has been raising hopes and spirits all year.

Meanwhile, I have spoken to several senior Niger Deltans who have met Osinbajo whenever he has visited South-South states. He of course is an APC stalwart and President Muhammadu Buhari’s loyal running mate and deputy, while most of the Niger Deltan leaders are PDP members who staunchly support ex-President Goodluck Jonathan.

But none of the Niger Deltans I’ve talked to – not one! – has had anything bad to say about Osinbajo, presumably because he possesses impeccable manners and has jettisoned partisan pettiness whenever he has been a guest on their terrain, treating his hosts with respect (in Port Harcourt, for example, he acknowledged the work that Governor Nyesom Wike was doing and nicknamed him “Mr. Projects.”)

The Igbos with whom I’ve discussed Osinbajo also respond positively to his statesmanlike personality and respectful utterances, even if some of them don’t share his firm commitment to the One Nigeria “ideal”.

When he gave the keynote speech during a colloquium to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Biafra, he pointed out that “no country is perfect” and that “around the world we have seen and continue to see expressions of intra-national discontent. Indeed, not many Nigerians seem to know that the oft-quoted line about Nigeria being a ‘mere geographical expression’ originally applied to Italy.”

He went on to poignantly reminisce about an Igbo primary school pal called Emeka and his Auntie Bunmi who had married an Igbo. The former and latter fled Lagos for the East when civil war hostilities commenced; and he never saw them again.

My mother is Igbo and my late father was the Biafran Representative (Ojukwu’s ambassador) to the United Kingdom; and my early childhood was spent singing defiant little ditties that contained lines like: “We are Biafrans, we are Biafrans, we will NEVER NEVER be Nigerians!”

I remember myself weeping copiously when Daddy came into my bedroom in 1970 and told me and my sister that we had lost the war. And, sure, I’ve gotten over the disappointment (!); and there are times when I like Nigeria as it is. But scepticism about the whole One Nigeria thing is my default setting when things go wrong.

However, I find it hard to identify with Nnamdi Kanu and this new generation of Biafran activists who are so very different from my father and his colleagues.

Ethnic nationalities

Meanwhile, some of Osinbajo’s comments at the Biafra Anniversary event struck a chord and were real food for thought. For instance: “Today some are suggesting that we must go back to the ethnic nationalities from which Nigeria was formed. They say that secession is the answer to the charges of marginalisation. They argue that separation from the Nigerian State will ultimately result in successful smaller states. They argue eloquently, I might add, that Nigeria is a colonial contraption that cannot endure. This is also the sum and substance of the agitation for Biafra. The campaign is often bitter and vitriolic, and has sometimes degenerated to fatal violence. Brothers and sisters permit me to differ and to suggest that we’re greater together than apart….

“…The truth is that many, if not most nations of the world are made up of different peoples and cultures and beliefs and religions, who find themselves thrown together by circumstance….The most successful of the nations of the world are those who do not fall into the lure of secession. But who through thick and thin forge unity in diversity…[We are] presented with a great opportunity to combine all our strengths into a nation that is truly, to borrow an expression, more than the sum of its parts…There is a solid body of research that shows that groups that score high on diversity turn out to be more innovative than less diverse ones.”

Anyway, Igbos have quite a few legitimate grievances and Osinbajo was, as usual, conciliatory rather than offensive; and thought-provoking rather than brash.

But, though he’s a pastor, no mere mortal is a saint; and I have one reservation about him. I’m told that most of his aides are fellow Yorubas or members of his church (Redeemed). And I don’t approve of clannishness or religious bias.

I think he should aim for a more inclusive workplace.

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