By Tope Templer Olaiya
There’s presently no challenger; Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is the undisputed poster boy of Buhari’s first-term presidency. And by each passing day, the Professor of Law and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) carves a niche for himself through his conduct and carriage of rising above the ashes of a floundering administration to earn the sobriquet, Star Boy.
Long before President Muhammadu Buhari inaugurated his cabinet in November 2015, one man had been primed to take that space, the former governor of Lagos State. Babatunde Raji Fashola, a.k.a. Eko oni baje, was propelled then as the poster boy of the newly formed All Progressives Congress (APC) that won the hearts of many during the 2015 elections.
And when the cabinet was unveiled with the president assigning three heavy portfolios – power, works and housing – to Fashola, the coast was clear for the Lagos ‘golden boy’ to transit from APC’s poster boy to Buhari’s actualizer, but it is another Lagos ‘golden boy’ that has taken the shine and grabbed the medal of this administration’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) award. He is by popular acclaim the Buhari administration’s ‘Star Boy,’ the poster boy of efficiency, commitment, honesty and loyalty.
Both friends and foes, young and old are left enamored by the vice president’s exemplary and humble lifestyle, especially his ebullient spirit and ability to maintain uncommon composure in the face of threats and barrages of attacks.
Tuesday’s incident was unscripted. It was the latest of the vice president’s recurring civility and addition to his expanding crest lined with badges of honour. Angry youths of Gbagyi village in Abuja had blocked the busy Umaru Yar’Adua expressway connecting the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport to protest against the alleged land grab by the Nigerian Army.
The vice president was heading to the airport on his way to Ekiti State to launch the Homegrown School Feeding Programme when he ran into the protesters at Goza village. The protesters blocked Osinbajo’s motorcade and all entreaties by his security aides to appease the youths failed. They were only disarmed and placated when the Star Boy seized the moment, alighted from his bulletproof Mercedes Benz to engage with the angry youths, by proposing to meet with their leaders on the matter and intervene with a view to finding an amicable solution.
Instantly, the people ended the protest and opened the highway for free passage. Still not done, the vice president didn’t order his convoy to squeeze through the congested road, he waited to ensure cars ahead of his convoy went on first and then got back into his car to continue his trip to the airport. Deservedly, the once incensed youths now formed a guard of honour that stretched several miles to bid him goodbye.
That was a simple but classic act of courage and leadership, which has never failed the vice president in the last four years, especially at critical periods when he mounted the saddle as acting president.
Acting otherwise with an excessive show of force would have been expected but out of character for Osinbajo. A similar incident with a different outcome occurred in December 2015 when the convoy of the Chief of Army Staff, Lt-Gen. Tukur Buratai, ran into the annual procession of the Shiites Muslim sect in Zaria, Kaduna State.
The ensuing clash turned violent, leading to the deaths of over 300 sect members and incarceration of the sect leader, Sheikh Ibraheem El-Zakzaky and his wife since then. It is, therefore, left to be imagined what would have been left in the wake of such obstruction if it had been the motorcade of the president and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces.
Osinbajo left that rowdy scene, arrived in Ekiti, performed his official function but what makes the man so much loved still trailed him to Ekiti when he visited the man who served as official driver to Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The senior citizen, Pa Olajide Olabode, aged 87 and his family was visibly elated and felt honoured.
Apart from serving as official driver to the late sage, he also functioned in same capacity and had the privilege to interact with the former governor of Western Region, Oba Adesoji Tadeniawo Aderemi, who was also the Ooni of Ife; the former Premier, Western Region, Chief Samuel Ladoke Akintola and the first Military Governor, Western Region, General Adeyinka Adebayo. Pa Olabode was also the chauffeur of visiting head of states that included Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.
Before then, Osinbajo had sat on a school bench to eat with pupils of St. Michael’s African Primary School, Ado-Ekiti after the launch of School Feeding Programme.
Long before the TraderMoni social intervention scheme was launched that would see Osinbajo visit major markets across the length and breath of the country, he had also being a crowd’s man. Osinbajo in 2017 had almost caused a scare in Calabar, the Cross River State capital, when he went for a state visit.
On arrival at the airport, then acting president Osinbajo had inspected the guard of honour mounted by troops of the Army, Navy and Air Force before proceeding to the palace of the Obong of Calabar for a brief interaction. On the way, a visibly elated Osinbajo stopped his motorcade along the IBB Way to meet the cheering crowd, especially pupils of Federal Government Girls College, Calabar, who trooped out to catch a glimpse of his motorcade.
He not only walked a long distance just to shake hands with the crowd, an elderly woman from the throng forced her way to Osinbajo bringing freshly harvested vegetables to present to the vice president in a tray. That gesture melted the heart of Osinbajo who couldn’t help but reward the old woman with a tight hug.
Ever since then, the vice president has always been greeted by a mob wherever he goes, a situation even his security details sometimes find difficult to control.
As a polemicist, Osinbajo enjoys sermonizing. He likes to espouse on issues. As a university lecturer and senior advocate, he is in his elements when engaging on issues to win diehards to his side. As a vice president, he has taken his long years of scholarly antecedents with measured steps to tackle the matters of state that begged his attention.
He won hearts, even from unexpected quarters, and somewhat courted some enemies, with his swift response to the blockade of the National Assembly by operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) during one of his stints as acting president last year.
While some of the president’s appointees have riden roughshod in their line of duty with no respect for democratic norms and ethos, Osinbajo had stood at variance from such malfeasance like a rare breed cut out from a refined piece. That was what Lawal Daura, the sacked director-general of the DSS, tried to display when he ordered his operatives to take over the National Assembly. He had a mission, to prevent the leadership of the National Assembly from holding their scheduled meeting. But Osinbajo aborted the Daura coup.
It would also be recalled that while Buhari was away on his routine medical trips, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) staged a public show. It demanded a referendum on Biafra. Osinbajo, also acting president at that time, handled the situation with the maturity it deserved.
“Nigeria’s unity is one for which enough blood has been spilled and many hundreds of thousands of lives have been lost. Many have paid for the unity of this country with their lives, and it will be wrong of us, as men and women of goodwill in this generation, to toy with those sacrifices that have been made.
“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,” he said.
Osinbajo, subscribing to this civilised tenets of democratic form of government, weaved through the thorny issue of self-actualisation, but once he reverted to his nominal role as vice president, the cart soon turned and a crackdown was ordered on the unarmed and defenceless members of IPOB, codenamed Operation Python Dance. Many lost their lives in the process.
But the vice president is not all out for the show. He brings his intellectual rigour into governance. Last week, the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, though started late due to other state assignments he anchored in the absence of the president, went on late into the night on Thursday. That was not his first time; last year when he had cause to take charge of FEC meeting, the ministers were forced to deliberate for seven long hours.
His forward thinking approach to governance has been the soothing balm in moments of crisis. Once on a tour of duty in Rivers State in 2017, Osinbajo declared that the federal government would work with illegal refineries and help convert them to modular refineries.
His approach to the Niger Delta challenge is an approach of intelligence and diplomacy, which has achieved more in the restive region than the president’s ‘command and obey’ tactics. The man approached the region with compassion and understanding, not with threats and bluster.
He physically visited and toured the region, not to canvass for votes, but actually to get a firsthand on-the-spot assessment of the issues befuddling the Niger Delta. What was the result of his avowed civility, oil production continued to rise and militancy waned.
He is an efficient technocrat in politics. Little wonder he is regarded across combustible and corrosive party lines as Nigeria’s most effective No. 2 citizen ever. He gets the work done. He is down to earth. His brainpower and people management skill more than compensate for what he lacks in a towering physique.
Where many are announced by raw physical presence only, Osinbajo only needs to speak to announce his presence: very articulate, never caught unprepared in situations needing empirical validation; always thinking on his feet and hard as granite under the harmless exterior. And when situations demand it, he is never short on quotable riposte like his anecdote of the looted empty shop and needless security over it during his sparring session with Mr. Peter Obi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the vice presidential debate.
Again, Osinbajo does not strike one as an individual who has been changed by the power of his office. He is still the same good old ‘Jebby’ that his friends called him in the formative years. He appears more comfortable with being called ‘Prof. Yemi Osinbajo’ than being tagged with the awe-inducing ‘His Excellency’ label that tends to create a distance between the leader and the led.
Nigerians won’t forget in a hurry other few incidences where the vice president has shone brightly standing the middle ground between the government and the governed. In February 2017, there had been a mass movement of Nigerians mobilized for a nationwide anti-government protest tagged #IStandWithNigeria.
The protest was championed by music star, Tu Face Idibia, but he later succumbed to threats by the police not to lead Nigerians out on the protest. The rally lost a bit of momentum when the Afro-pop singer pulled out, citing security concerns, but his call to action had received widespread popular support and several civil society organisations keyed into it.
Yet at such difficult moment when responsibility fell on his shoulder to keep the country together in the midst of economic crisis skyrocketing prices of food items, then acting president, Osinbajo, received the protesters in Abuja and said: “We hear you loud and clear, those who are on the streets protesting the economic situation across the country and even those who are not, but feel the pain of economic hardship, we hear you loud and clear. You deserve a decent life and we are working night and day to make life easier.”
That statement, which was also posted on his social media handles, poured cold water on the fire the mass movement was generating.
It was a masterstroke that even disarmed a regular critic of the Buhari presidency, Reno Omokri. He had said then: “The man speaks to Nigerians as a leader should. He does not talk at us like the president. He talks to us. I may have issues with what he says sometimes but I am still impressed by his conduct and courteousness in office. Even if you do not like him, you must respect Vice President Osinbajo.