By Benjamin Okeke
Those who know President Muhammadu Buhari whether as a former Head of State, elder statesman and now as a democratically elected President are unanimous in the belief that the retired army general is not effusive with praises. Many say his deadpan visage and taciturnity are a spin-off of his military background. In fact, in the run-up to the 2015 elections, these character components were a major campaign tool of the opposition, which said he will be an apathetic and detached President. That notion was never explicitly corrected. Hate him or like him, the President cannot be stampeded (who can even dare?) to talk or praise anyone except he is profoundly convinced that the person deserved it.
Yet, if there’s any man whose singular actions have always impressed, excited and humanised President Buhari, it is none other than Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN. When it is about Osinbajo, President Buhari lights up, sings his praises whether he was present or not, and never shies away from telling anybody who cares to listen that Nigeria could not have had a better Vice President; and that he is luckiest to have him by his side.
At the height of his ill health in 2017, President Buhari invited Osinbajo to London where he was recuperating to personally thank him for his performance, dedication and service to the country as Acting President. “The efforts by the Vice President as the Acting President are commendable. He deployed his youth and intellect to run all over the place. Thank God that I have the time to watch him on NTA 24 hours and I congratulate him,” the President said, adding, “I allowed him to come and see me so that I can personally thank him for all that he has done,” Buhari said. There are not many people who have been so eulogised by Buhari in this lifetime.
On the occasion of his 60th birthday, the President described Osinbajo as a running mate turned partner in the service to Nigeria. A year later, while congratulating him on yet another birthday, President Buhari thanked Osinbajo for being a loyal and dependable partner and wished him many more years of service to God, to Nigeria, and humanity. Beyond birthdays, in the line of duty proper, President Buhari has never been tongue in cheek in his assessment of the Vice President; he says it as he feels it. At a meeting with traditional rulers in Ogun State earlier in the year, Buhari spoke of Osinbajo’s pivotal role in delivering on the ‘Change Agenda’ in the past four years, particularly in his capacity as the Head of the National Economic Council (NEC). Responding to the Vice President’s presentation at the meeting on the economic outlook in the country in the last four years and how the APC-led administration had done more with fewer resources, the President said: “(Osinbajo) being the Chairman of NEC is in a very strong position to know what we are earning and what we are doing with the earnings. I am very pleased with his vast experience and intellect.
He has captured effectively what the administration has done and I commend him for playing a very great part in that. Thank you, Mr Vice President.”
Last May, at the breaking of fast at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, where the President hosted top government officials, he said he was upset with the level of poverty in the land and challenged the elite to do something very urgent to ameliorate the pathetic situation. The guests were stunned not knowing what the President was driving at. There was pin-drop silence in the elegantly laid out hall while cutleries hung in midair; many a guest undecided whether to go on eating or stop to get the import of the message.
The President continued, “When I drive around the country, what upset me very much is the status of our poor people – you see young people, the so-called Almajiris with torn dresses, with a plastic bowl. They are looking basically for what to eat. The question of education (to them) is a luxury. I think the Nigerian elite are all failing because I think we should have a programme that will at least guarantee some basic education for our people no matter how poor they are.” Then, the clincher!
“So, I welcome the Vice-President’s initiative of the School feeding programme. If you check in your localities, the enrolment into schools improved because a lot of children can get at least one good meal a day. This is the position of this country,” the President added, as the guests roused in ovation to the VP.
But the President was not done. He pointed out jocularly; “This
market money’ (Tradermoni), I warned the Vice-President. I don’t like him to be mobbed, especially the way I see hefty women coming and confronting him, he should be very careful.” The hall erupted in laughter again. Then the President added seriously, “These are very good initiates. Initially, I was quite reluctant but I must admit that they are very good programmes and they endear this government to a lot of poor people because of this N5, 000 or N10, 000 being given to them as loans. They are fantastic programmes and I have to admit quite honestly that the Vice-President was ahead of me by insisting on them.” Instructively, the President said that even when he is not totally in support of an idea and the VP insisted, “He knows me, I will sayokay, go and do what you like.’ He did it and I’m very pleased as he is being very successful.”
For Prof Osinbajo, loyalty is his strong suit; he wears it like a second skin, a badge of honour which he proudly shows off. On a visit to the palace of the Emir of Katsina, Abdulmumin Usman, for the inauguration of the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Clinic, Osinbajo said, “I feel very much at home in Katsina. More so, because this is the state of the President who has taken me as a brother; in fact, the President has taken me as a son in the way he treats me.” Osinbajo was reported to have also said that with the kind of responsibilities assigned to him, Buhari had left no one in doubt that both of them could live together as brothers. This has been the pattern of the relationship between the President and the Vice President; one of mutual love, loyalty and respect for each other. And the situation is no different from the relationship between Osinbajo and leaders of the All Progressives Congress, APC like Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu and Chief Bisi Akande. Even as Vice President, Osinbajo defers to these men as his political leaders.
Otherwise regarded as the most utilised, ubiquitous and cerebral Vice President that Nigeria has ever had in her democratic experiment; his brilliance and hard work have come in handy for the administration. Do not forget, when the federal government needed to take its social programmes to the masses in markets and farms across the length and breadth of the country, Prof Osinbajo was the man to do the job. And, why not? He is affable and accessible; pressing the flesh comes naturally to him; virtues he deployed to the benefit of a government that tottered on the brink of sheer disconnect with the masses.
Everywhere he went, the Vice President made many do a rethink about the Buhari-led administration. He campaigned and cajoled the people into seeing beyond the prevailing hardship in the country, promising a utopian nation if they got a second term. They have since got the second term but at a huge personal cost to Osinbajo. In the course of taking the field, it would be recalled that the Vice President and nine others escaped unhurt when a hired helicopter conveying them to Kabba, Kogi State, crash-landed. That was in February 2019. In a tweet posted by Garba Shehu, the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity to the President, he stated, “President Muhammadu Buhari has praised what he called ‘the tenacious spirit’ of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, who survived a helicopter crash in Kogi state.”
Undaunted, he went ahead with his campaign mission. Such was his commitment! Earlier in June 2018, a chopper that was to convey Osinbajo from the Nigeria Customs Command and Staff College, Gwagwalada, Abuja, was forced to land immediately after takeoff. Osinbajo was in the school for the graduation ceremony of Senior Division Course 1 /2018 participants. The chopper had earlier taken the Vice-President to the college for the ceremony. However, while taking off, it could not ascend beyond tree level, emitting thick smoke and landing on the same spot abruptly. None of these adversities has stopped the VP from remaining committed to the ideals espoused by his principal.
This is why the unfounded rumours being peddled by political merchants that the presidency is emasculating the VP are nothing but mere fabrications. When the President replaced the Economic Management Team headed by Osinbajo with an Economic Advisory Council, there was widespread panic that Osinbajo’s influence was deliberately being whittled down as he seems to be becoming too formidable a prospective presidential candidate come 2023. Nothing can be further from the truth. Even when the presidency said the move was to change the strategy and direction of the economic agenda, the peddlers of the rumour continued wallowing in scepticism, forgetting that the VP is still the chairman of the National Economic Council, which membership cuts across the 36 state governors, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Minister of Finance, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and other government officials and agencies whose duties hinge on the economy.
At no time has the Vice President mooted the idea of contesting in 2023 even though he is eminently qualified and well-positioned to do so, but for now, his loyalty and commitment is to help his principal achieve the Next Level agenda; and his party, the APC, to fulfil its manifesto of better life for Nigerians across board.
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