By John Mayaki
For all intents and purposes, it appears that the Nigerian media and its most prominent thought leaders (whether columnists, analysts, or contributors) have elected their own Presidential candidate for the 2023 election, an event that has enlivened Nigeria’s political space and compelled the casting of otherwise benign actions as the unfurling of a conspiratorial plot.
The evidence of this is present on the back pages of newspapers and the most popular columns. There, you will find numerous analyses and dissertations focused on the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo. He only needs to step out of his office into the sunlight. Before dusk, the otherwise non-event would be the subject of intense scrutiny and heated conversations. There will be loud musings about whether his gait or strides are affected, mirroring those of any of the country’s previous Presidents, notably his principal President Muhammadu Buhari.
That is not to say that his coverage has solely been about trifle matters. A good number of the analysis and columns have been on his public service record, right from his days as a state Attorney-General when he single-handedly initiated and argued out reforms that improved the country’s understanding of her constitution and provided a legal framework of operations for several other states – even until this day.
There have also been spirited efforts to peek into his mind to see and project what the ‘Osinbajo Presidency’ might look like. A respected and widely-read columnist recently invoked the term ‘Osinbajonomics’ to speculate on the set of economic policies the Vice President would pursue if placed in charge of the country as its number one citizen come 2023. He said this when he, like several others, analyzed and overanalyzed a simple statement by the Vice President that closing the gaping arbitrage windows in the country’s foreign exchange market is critical to achieving the CBN’s goal of stabilizing and strengthening the naira.
Regardless of the nature of this intense focus, be it the sublime or ridiculous, the serious or mundane, a common thread runs through the dissections and analyses: a subtle but telling endorsement of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as the most suitable candidate to succeed President Muhammadu Buhari.
Attention, as most have come to understand, is an expression of admiration – even if the media and its independent minders conduct such affairs in an unusual way. To be admired and respected by these minders is to be subjected to a different, elevated set of standards. Love letters do not contain explicit, effusive praises. Rather you will find grudgingly conceded commendations (especially when the evidence becomes overwhelming like in the case of the Prof) and continuous probing to see if there remains any layer of a perceived veil remaining to pierce.
The problem with this, of course, is that it sometimes results in a loss of context and perspective and the mounting of undue pressure. It’s like the favorite child who is made to study extra hours after coming first because another pupil in a completely different school and environment had more percentage points, while the other children are celebrated for moving a position higher from the bottom three. Uneasy lies the head expected to wear the crown.
On the part of Prof. Osinbajo, his burden is not made any lighter by the fact that the tacit endorsement of the media, reflected by the almost unanimous decision that he is perhaps the only possible candidate with the body of work and mental agility to hold his own in an evolving, productive intellectual debate on the problems the country faces today, is an echo of the words on the streets in all parts of the country.
Whether in the South, North, and East, the popular opinion is that Prof. Osinbajo is by far the most ideal candidate for the presidency. Smart and scholarly, but not in the insular way of intellectuals whose orbit includes only like-minded persons. His ties to the common man, made stronger by grassroots engagement under social investment schemes he supervised to global commendation, has sharpened his insights on the immediate needs of the ordinary Nigerian and how to balance those needs with other concerns in the face of declining revenue.
To many, he is a talented politician who is not versed in the paralyzing, fruitless and self-aggrandizing power-play that others have come to symbolize and unwittingly advertise, to their detriment, as strongest claim to power. He is a breath of fresh air that knows his way around and can set Nigeria’s leadership and politics on a different path, thus perfecting that which President Muhammadu Buhari began with the vitality and brilliance capable of inspiring and restoring the faith of a generation in their country.
Like the people, the media has declared for Prof. Osinbajo. He is their favorite candidate to spar with. Their jabs he can withstand – and when he does return with his own powerful left, they are forced to do what thinkers love to do: reconsider the wisdom of their approach when confronted with a superior argument. Their articles represent a call to serve. They want him, they need him. Productive debates expand the media’s knowledge and raise relevance. But will the Prof answer? We have to wait and see.