By Olu Fasan
NOW we know! The Jagaban of Borgu and Asiwaju of Lagos, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will run for president in 2023. He hasn’t said so publicly himself, of course. But his apparent confidant, Tanko Yakasai, a founding member of Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF, recently affirmed Tinubu’s presidential ambition.
Speaking to a national daily, Yakasai said Tinubu’s widely- publicised visit to him on November 24 was to solicit his support for his ambition to become Nigeria’s next president. Asked if Tinubu categorically told him he would join the 2023 presidential race, Yakasai replied: “He did and he asked for my support.”
Well, Tinubu’s presidential ambition triggers many issues for future columns, but my only concern here is whether it would throw up apolitical oddity in which a sitting vice president defies the law of natural progression and refuses to run for president because his “godfather” wants to run for the office.
Surely, if Tinubu wants to run for president in 2023, the inevitable questions are: What about Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo? Would he too seek his party’s nomination? Or would he chicken out and throw in the towelbecause of Tinubu?
Let me state at this point that neither Osinbajo’s candidacy nor, even less so, Tinubu’s candidacy is of interest to me. This is because my principled position is that Nigeria’s next president should be of Igbo extraction.
If a Yoruba becomes president in 2023 and does eight years, power will then return to the North for another eight years. Thus, by 2039, the Igbo would have produced no president for 40 years since 1999. That’s not a fair way to treat one leg of the tripod of the largest ethnic groups on which Nigeria originally stood.
Nor is that sustainable in terms of this country’s unity and stability. So, my preference is for the two main parties, APC and PDP, to pick their presidential candidates from the South-East.
That said, my pragmatic assumption is that APC would not give its presidential ticket to the South-East where it’s electorally weak. Consider the recent Anambra State governorship election: Andy Uba, APC’s candidate, came a distant third. Thus, more likely, APC would give its presidential ticket to the South-West, which then makes the Tinubu-Osinbajo political calculations interesting and intriguing.
Tellingly, the argument about why Osinbajo should not run for president if Tinubu wants the job turns on loyalty and gratitude. The argument goes like this: Osinbajo would not have been vice president without Tinubu; so he owes Tinubu an eternal debt, and would be disloyal to challenge him for their party’s presidential ticket. But this is utter hogwash, based on a false narrative that Tinubu helped Osinbajo to become APC’s presidential running-mate in 2015 out of sheer generosity or favour. But that’s not true!
In reality, once Tinubu couldn’t becomeGeneral Muhammadu Buhari’s running-mate because Nigerians wouldn’t accept a Muslim-Muslim ticket,the challenge for APC was finding a Yoruba Christian who could enhance the Buhari ticket. Remember: Buhari was deeply unpopular in the South-West.
Even in 2011, when he ran with Pastor Tunde Bakare, a Yoruba Christian, as his running-mate, he secured only 321,609 votes in the South-West as against Goodluck Jonathan’s 1,369,943. In 2015, Jonathan, who had warmed himself to Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s biological and political families, secured the support ofAfenifere by promising to implement the report of his government’s 2014 National Conference, if re-elected.
In those circumstances, Osinbajo’s choice as Buhari’s running-mate was strategic. A pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, he received Pastor Adeboye’s endorsement and the support of most Pentecostal Christians in the South-West.
Then, there was the Awolowo connection. Osinbajo is married to one of Chief Awolowo’s granddaughters, andAwolowo’s wife, HID, publicly welcomed his choice as Buhari’s running-mate. Truth is: Osinbajo’s choice won the APC lots of Christian votes in the South-West and blunted Afenifere’s support for Jonathan. Even so, Jonathan still won 42 percent of the South-West’s votes as against Buhari’s 56 percent! Hard to imagine the outcome without Osinbajo on the ticket!
Of course, no one can deny Tinubu’s role in Osinbajo’s emergence as APC’s vice-presidential candidate in 2015. But everyone gets a helping hand in life, including Tinubu himself. He became the gubernatorial candidate of Alliance for Democracy, AD,in 1999 because Chief Abraham Adesanya and other Afenifere leaders, who controlled the party, preferred him to his rivals.
My point here is that Osinbajo’s choice as Buhari’s running-mate in 2015 wasn’t merely a product of Tinubu’s generosity or favour; rather, it was a function of strategic and pragmatic calculations: Osinbajo brought something to the table!
But let’s leave aside how Osinbajo became APC’s vice-presidential nominee in 2015. The fact is that he has been Nigeria’s vice president since 2015 and has served the president loyally and the country meritoriously.
Recently, the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, LCCI, a non-partisan private sector organisation, paid a glowing tribute to Osinbajo, calling him a “worthy Vice President and fantastic leader of this country”. Wouldn’t it be perverse if he doesn’t run for president?
In the US, over the past 50 years, no vice-president who sought to succeed a president has failed to get their party’s nomination. In Nigeria, Alex Ekwueme and Atiku Abubakar failed: Ekwueme because of a coup, Atiku because he fell out with his boss, Olusegun Obasanjo.
Only Jonathan succeeded, well, by replacing his boss, Umaru Yar’Adua, who died in office. But Osinbajo’s case is different. By 2023, he would have served outstandingly as vice-president for eight years. Elsewhere, he would have the inside track when it comes to running for his party’s presidential nomination.
Here are two questions for Professor Osinbajo: Does he believe he can run Nigeria as president? Does he have the fire in his belly to fight for his party’s nomination? If he answers “yes” to both questions, then he would be a coward not to throw his hat into the ring. Simply put: He must!