UNTIL the current coming of Yemi Osinbajo as Nigeria’s Vice-President, the man was holed in the medieval age of our history. Professor Osinbajo is the father of modern day bureaucratic jurisprudence of Lagos State. He was discovered by Bola Tinubu. He went on to become the state’s first Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General in the Third Republic in 1999.
He undertook notable reforms in grassroots judicature and in court room procedures. Through his prudent counsel coupled with Tinubu’s own smart politics, Lagos successfully launched the historic creation of 37 local councils and floored the mighty federal resistance of Olusegun Obasanjo’s government. The councils have come to stay due to the firm substructure Yemi Osinbajo laid. Later, the annals continue, he was retrieved from political retirement again by Tinubu to play a role in the central government in the current dispensation. And on and on we have played the old history of Yemi Osinbajo.
But let us be clear about this: this same history isn’t going to rate Osinbajo on Lagos only in the long run. The ruthless history we all know would demand more from Osinbajo. Had he stayed quietly in the background after his campaign in the old Federal Capital, he might have tamed the extinct records to favour him. However, having succumbed to the temptation to stage a comeback at a higher level, he must wrestle with the dialectics of politics of an upward plane. History is clad in an iron creed: to whom a higher measure of responsibility is given, less can’t be demanded.
So we should not dwell too much on the past of the Vice-President, even if that is what he and his loyalists might fondly desire. In my opinion though, he has delivered himself from the grip of these former times by attempting to present a new Osinbajo. It can’t be denied that he has emerged from the younger Osinbajo we knew in Lagos in Tinubu’s cabinet. We should help him to sustain that process of extrication and discovery of a new-look Osinbajo. In this second coming, if truth be told, he has exceeded expectations, especially in his days as Acting President.
A commentator said during a radio programme the other day that he didn’t know Osinbajo had such large streak of appetite for work and integrity to drive a country in a state of slough in the absence of her ailing President without triggering fears of an own ambitious agenda. He said Osinbajo seemed to have a dog’s chances of survival in the midst of starving lions.
It was another way of saying he underestimated the Ogun State born law professor, despite the sterling performance of the man in Lagos years back. He appeared to be saying that Osinbajo might not be able to repeat the feat as an Acting President.
Now, until we gave Osinbajo (by default) the task of running the presidency in a restricted capacity, we little thought he had the quality to do it in spite of his history. We believed the professional politician might do better than a professional in politics. How tragically wrong this has turned out so far! And the nation has suffered fatal consequences because of this dim view of respect only for the professional politicians.
There are a thousand and one Osinbajos similarly waiting to be unveiled for heroic national service. But we hold them down through a system that sees us concentrate on an effete cabal of choices. It is a process that has thrown up the cycle of the same set of people from a political family and lineage. We don’t look beyond that group to recruit our leaders and representatives. In the advanced countries of the West (UK and USA), this arrangement is called cronyism: the rule in perpetuity of the elite and their families and friends.
Nigeria cannot secure the real change we so desperately need for a complete turnaround if we focus on this strange law of motion that sees us do a lot of running without leaving the spot of activity, without progressing. It is a barren law of motion. We talk much about transitions from military to civil rule, from a third to a fourth republic, a seventh to an eighth national assembly, and from a centripetal to a centrifugal federalism. They are mere talk without substance if we don’t slough off the same set of operators we have had for the past four decades or thereabouts. Just do a check on the personalities in charge from day one of our existence as a country. We come face to face with the same small group of handlers working at solutions to problems they gave the country. It will be impossible to get transforming change if the agents of the procedure are always dredged from the past for a mission to launch you into the future. What they will offer is what we are having in Nigeria: a systemic petrification that has drained life out of a potentially vibrant nation.
This is the reason the challenges of several decades ago remain with us. Read the Nigerian newspapers of the 1960s through the 80s, and the decades after; you won’t find yourself back in time. Fela Anikulapo-Kuti’s fans marked 20 years of the death of the legend early in August 2017, and his music was played all over the country and abroad. Most commentators said the biting lyrics composed scores of years ago to lampoon the failings of government, are still valid as a critique of today’s society and the government. They sound like they were waxed last night.
The way out I think is to bring in new hands from outside the political arena. In the elections to come, we should not behave like the snake that drops off its skin while retaining its venom. Let us do away with the deceptive new skin, the snake and its poison. We need to have more bureaucrats, apolitical figures, professionals and lettered artisans in the executive and legislative arms of government. Politics must no longer be left exclusively in the hands of politicians. Let’s go for an affirmative action policy that gives between 40% and 50% of lawmakers, cabinet members, and public office holders to the plebeians and the man and woman in the backwaters of the land. My thesis is that if we make governance all-inclusive to accommodate the educated hoi polloi, we shall be unlocking the potential of the entire society to serve Nigeria.
Yemi Osinbajo amply proves the thinking that we’ve been losing all along in not reaching out to the vast reserves of our human resources.
Hidden in the recesses of the common people and our professionals is the key to refreshing and oxygenating the dying polity. The present political class is a hollow force. They can’t reinvent themselves for new ideas to redeem Nigeria.
We have counted on a class which has long entered its age of diminishing returns, the same way crude oil is moving into a cul-de-sac as a jaded economic lever.
Ojewale is a writer in Ota, Ogun State.