•Why he may be Tinubu’s joker
By Omeiza Ajayi, Abuja
In the wake of the increasing agitations by separatists across the country, one “official” voice which has been loud in calling for unity is that of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
While many political pundits have continued to ascribe political colourations to his recent outings, the vice president has often said he is focused on his current assignment and should not be distracted.
However, checks within the ruling All Progressives Congress APC show that the vice president is in a pole position for the top job due to the confidence reposed in him by a cross section of political stakeholders.
First, he is said to have the confidence of his boss, President Muhammadu Buhari. On the occasion of Osinbajo’s 64th birthday in March, President Buhari had described Osinbajo as “a reliable and dedicated deputy”.
He had said; “I am proud to have selected Yemi Osinbajo as my running mate. He has given a good account of himself since our journey began in 2015. Osinbajo is not only admirably competent but also exudes confidence and passion in the performance of his job.
“Vice-President Osinbajo is an incredibly patient politician, who demonstrates remarkable intellectual and mental energy in the discharge of his duties.”
Though he belongs to the Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu political tendency, the vice president appears to be the only Tinubu protege who has been able to maintain a balance between his political roots and his present calling.
While many critical stakeholders of the ruling party are currently rooting for an Osinbajo presidency, there are those who also see him as Tinubu’s likely candidate, rspecially in the event that Tinubu decides not to run.
Many believe that the former Lagos State Governor has his eyes on the presidency but a top official of the party who did not want his name in print said Osinbajo could be “Tinubu’s joker”.
He said; “Osinbajo has comported himself very well to the admiration of the president and his allies. At the same time, he has not betrayed his political roots. If you look at most of those from the same political roots as him and who are now eyeing the presidency, he is the only one who has not fought anyone.
“This is why many of us see him as Tinubu’s joker. Same way Tinubu pushed him for this current position, he is also likely to do that in 2023. Osinbajo has a mediating influence on the various aggrieved groups in the party and so he is in a vantage position to clinch the party’s ticket”.
Gospel of Unity
To Osinbajo, Nigerians have more to gain from being citizens of a united country than they may derive from any secessionist entity that emerges from the nation’s fragmentation.
At several fora, the Number Two citizen who seems to have a flawless understanding of Nigeria’s existential threats has never failed to proffer some broad-based solutions.
It is his considered opinion that secession is the surest way to Nigeria’s extinction.
“We must be able to say to the young men and women who, for instance, say that secession is the only way or that we should break into little nations and that that is the only way. We must be able to say to them that that is the way to extinction not development”, he said.
Speaking at the National Social Cohesion Dialogue on 26th of August 2021, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, who was the special guest of honour at the event noted that Nigeria’s challenges are not insurmountable and that many countries have undergone and are undergoing similar trials as part of their historical evolution.
The dialogue which was organized by the Africa Polling Institute and the Ford Foundation and held at the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre featured the presentation of the 2021 edition of the Nigeria Social Cohesion Survey Report.
There are some who would argue that this current moment in our national history is hardly conducive for making ringing affirmations of unity in diversity.
He however conceded that the dialogue was holding against the backdrop of economic adversity, inflamed fault lines and social resentments; the insurgency in the Northeast, kidnappings and terrorist acts in the Northwest and threats of secession in the Southeast and Southwest.
According to him, the recessionary climate induced by historically low oil prices has been compounded by the adverse impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic. All these trends are bracketed by a pervasive sense of insecurity stemming from the ravages of crime and terrorism.
He highlighted the tasks of “lifting people out of poverty, promoting economic growth and securing territory from domestic and foreign enemies” as well as “healing communities torn apart by conflict, addressing historical grievances, doing justice and forging a common identity in a diverse society” as imperatives which Nigeria must address.
Professor Osinbajo also said that the “long history of internal trade has created synergies between our communities which have become strengthened over the course of centuries.”
He asserted that advocates of the country’s disintegration were overlooking the strong economic ties that have developed which now make unity an economic necessity. “There is now a dense web of socioeconomic mutuality that has created strong bonds of complementarity among our people,” he said. “The truth is that Nigeria has evolved beyond the sort of easy balkanization that is proposed by some separatists.”
Politics of exclusion
The Vice President stated that Nigerians do not hate one another but must stand for fairness, inclusion and justice that have driven wedges between communities. “In many quarters, there are genuine feelings of alienation and exclusion. We must strengthen institutions which at every level can deliver justice, inclusion and mutual security”, he said.
In particular, the Vice President stressed that various forms of systematic discrimination are obstacles to national integration.
Osinbajo said; “We see this whenever Nigerians are denied opportunity on the basis of their state of origin or because they are non-indigenes.
“We see it when a Nigerian that has been resident in a state all his life is suddenly excluded from admission into an educational institution or an employment opportunity because he is not considered an ‘indigene’. Or when a young Nigerian that has served in a particular state during his National Youth Service Corps year is suddenly excluded from opportunity because he or she is dubbed a ‘non-indigene’ of the state. Not only do these practices subvert social cohesion, they also feed profound resentments,” he added.
Decrying the differentiation of indigenes from non-indigenes as “apartheid”, Osinbajo affirmed that “all Nigerians have a constitutional right to live, work and enjoy their lives in peace and safety under the law,” and stressed that governments at all levels have a responsibility to uphold the rights of Nigerians.
He called for an end to all forms of discrimination and cited the Social Investment Programmes as an example of a government programme under which eligible beneficiaries had been chosen based on where they reside and without consideration of their ethnicity or religion.
In respect of crime and insecurity, the Vice President observed that Governments at all levels are adopting more local and decentralized policing strategies but urged State Governments to ensure that localized security arrangements “are constituted in an inclusive manner and reflect the true diversity of those who live in local communities.”
“This way,” he said, “the whole community, will gain a sense of belonging and more importantly feel that they have a stake in protecting their homesteads from criminals. No truly sustainable security umbrella can be built on the basis of exclusion.”
Against the background of communal conflicts, Professor Osinbajo insisted that “criminals must not be seen as representatives of any ethnic or religious group” and that “it is unjust to harass an entire community for the crimes alleged to have been committed by some of its members.”
Osinbajo argued that calls for the breakup of the country are rooted in socioeconomic frustration rather than any deep desire for disintegration. “I remain convinced that the majority of Nigerians want to succeed in their country rather than secede from it,” he stated.
Also speaking last Thursday at the 2020 Leadership Conference and Awards, Prof. Osinbajo said Nigeria’s challenges were not externally generated.
Speaking on the theme, “National and Regional Insecurity: The Role of Political and Non-Political Actors in Stabilization and Consensus Building”, the vice president said it is worth noting that often when we explore the concepts of national and regional security, there is a tendency to anchor the discourse around the machinations and intrigues of externally-generated vulnerabilities, external adversaries.
“So, we argue that the problem of State fragility in Africa is on account of the colonial origins of her nation-states, the notion that Nigeria is a hastily and arbitrarily cobbled together patchwork of mutually alienated kingdoms and as a result, has remained plagued by fundamental challenges rooted in its founding is popular, but not the whole truth.
“Indeed, it is my view that the colonial beginnings of African nation-states do not constitute the sort of immutable obstacle to nation-building that it is made out to be. After all, colonialism was a historical global phenomenon that spawned nation-states everywhere across the world from Europe and Africa to Asia, North America, and South America. We have examples of many of such nation-states that are successful. Colonial origins are therefore not necessarily a predictor of national prosperity or state failure.
“The truth therefore it seems to me is that the external reasons we cite as reasons for our problems cannot thrive without severe internal weaknesses in our society. The chief weakness is a human one – our elite, our political, economic, and religious elite.
“An elite that has so far proved to be socially irresponsible, i.e., one which either by selfishness, negligence or ignorance or a lack of self-awareness has so far been unable to build the institutions and more importantly, the social and political consensus upon which a just and orderly society can stand. And because dominance must be premised on some consensus, the elite depend on a dubious one, promotion of tribal and religious fault lines for legitimacy”, he added.
He said on a nationwide and region-wide scale, Nigeria is seeing challenges to national order driven by a profound and pervasive sense of exclusion and marginalization.
“And I do not speak of ethnic or religious marginalisation which is really another elite dog whisper to acquire more for themselves in the contest for booty. I speak of a division between the have- nots who have no hope and the haves who seem to have it all. So, the attacks we see on law and order are themselves symptomatic and they are driven by emergent critiques of the fabric of order itself.
“These critiques are manifesting as insurrections and insurgencies along various axes of identity. These rejections of formal institutions may be driven by conceptions of religious obligations, ethnic identity and generational antipathies but that is only superficial. What they have in common is that they are patterns of solidarity of those who have no stake in an orderly society because such society offers them nothing, and are fundamentally violent and implacable opposition to a system that appears to favour only a few”, he said.
According to him, the recognition that the system is not working optimally for many Nigerians should inspire a broad-based movement for reform that works to recalibrate the present order and attune it more to the aspirations of our people.
So how do we mediate these conflicts? The vice president proffers a lot of solutions.
First is consensus building. To him, consensus building is essentially about finding an acceptable ‘middle ground’ among contesting options to the resolution of issues. When properly agreed upon, it leads to harmony, equilibrium and stability, and generates mechanisms for pacification in political crises and conflicts.
In Nigeria, a consensus has been built so far in terms of the choice of a Federal System of Government, which has been buttressed by the creation of States; the identification of the boundaries of powers across Federal, State, and Local governance; the notion of affirmative action against marginalisation, such as the federal character principle, etc.
The second, he said is Mediating Elite Competition and Conflict. In considering the role of political and non-political actors in stabilization and consensus building, we must address a threat to peace and safety emanating from society itself, he said.
Speaking further, he said; “We are confronted by a pervasive culture of violence that manifests as two strains. The first is the nature of elite competition for more advantage and privilege that is generally prosecuted without considering the long-term health of society. In this context, we see a quest for power that is conducted in ways that are ruinous and destabilising.
“The second strain is exemplified by resistance to authority driven by non-State actors who are nihilistic and anarchic in both their character and aspirations. These dark forces manifest in the violent imposition of the will of the strong upon the powerless. Violence and impunity have many faces, they are not only garbed in the uniforms of irresponsible agents of the State that abuse their authority, they are also increasingly clad in the garments of ordinariness and in the clothing of a new breed of nihilist combatants that have declared war on society itself”.
Osinbajo believes that discernment today requires all to recognize the various faces and guises of violence and extremism. It is to recognize the agents of anomie and hatred and to call them by their proper names even when they appear to speak the same language as we do or seem to worship as we do.
In calling for compromise and consensus, the vice president said he certainly does not mean that Nigerians should be lulled into a forced silence or a passive acceptance of whatever they find unacceptable. “I mean that their discontent and energy can be channeled towards constructive and positive action. For instance, communities can be mobilised to participate more fully in civil life and drive movements that seek greater accountability across all levels of government”, he stated.
On secession, he said history teaches us that whenever people have succumbed to the temptation to use fear, hatred, and violence to achieve their ends, they have unleashed destructive forces upon their communities with great human and material costs. “A truly just cause can only be pursued by using just means. A truly noble cause cannot be attained by ignoble methods. Whatever is gained by violating and oppressing others cannot last”, he added.
While he contended that the task of uniting the country cannot be accomplished in a climate of sociopolitical instability, Osinbajo added that no project of social renewal and transformation can succeed without the involvement and indeed the leadership of elites.
He said; “We the elites have received much from Nigeria, we are disproportionately beneficiaries of opportunities, gifts, resources, advantages, relationships and other assets that are only possible because we are Nigerian. It is only right that we adopt a sensibility that guides us in giving back to this country that has empowered us so much and to invest in it in ways that offer returns broader than just our own profit.
“Legal practitioners understand that the imperative of transformative leadership in the legal sector today calls for the Bar and the Bench to insist on the integrity of our system of justice, to insist on speed in the dispensation of cases and to call out anyone who compromises the system.
“The Media elite must recognise that they have a responsibility to exercise discernment in the deployment of their platforms and must reflect upon whether they are amplifying the most insensate, intemperate and incendiary voices in our midst while marginalising voices of reason.
“The Political elite must accept, through policies and actions, that the purpose of power must be to better the lives of those we serve and give our young ones great hope for the future.
“Finally, in times of adversity, societies buffeted by uncertainty and anxiety are tempted to drift towards voices that appeal to our darker impulses, to those that traffic in fear, despair and division. Elites such as those gathered here today must counter such voices by inspiring faith, creative optimism and solidarity.
“I remain unyielding in my belief that we will prevail over adversity by the strength of our togetherness. The present moment is crying out for leaders that can bring our people together, heal rifts between communities and build bridges across divides. This too is perhaps the most urgent imperative of transformational elitism today”, the vice president submitted.