Professor Yemi Osinbajo, the vice president of Nigeria, needs no introduction. At least, not to anyone who has kept an eye on Nigerian politics in the last three years. Prof. Osinbajo’s popularity soared in the thick of the 2015 election campaigns. One thing marked him out even then: unlike most aspirants to executive political office, many ordinary Nigerians could truthfully claim some type of personal relationship or acquaintance with him.
‘He taught me in university.’
‘He was the partner at a law firm where I interned.’
‘He is my church pastor.’
‘I worked under him when he was Lagos Attorney General.’
Such is the ubiquitous nature of the man’s interactions. Arguably, not since the days of the celebrated Taslim Elias has any single lawyer in Nigeria occupied so many professional and public roles. Taslim Elias may have gone on to become the president of the International Court of Justice but Yemi Osinbajo also has a prime international role as Nigeria’s deputy chief executive.
One may wonder whether or not the roles of pastor, professor, and politician trigger some internal conflict in the man. But that is a problem for philosophers and psychologists and, maybe, for us to ponder later. For now, it is sufficient to note that, by mere strength of career alone, Prof. Osinbajo deserves a spot on many lists.
But this profile piece is not an attempt at a CV puff. What interests me is this: Prof. Osinbajo, briefly and in very limited circumstances, provided Nigerians with a normal presidency this year.
Quite frankly, the Buhari government has been dogged by drama since inception. Scandals, controversial statements, misguided action and inaction have trailed the government of change. Superstar ministers have been demystified. Mystifying ministers have gained superstar notoriety. Nothing seems to have worked out as expected since 2015.
Except, to a very good extent, the office of the vice president. In the midst of all the Abuja drama this year, the office of the vice president continues to maintain a profile of professionalism.
More significantly, this year, Prof. Osinbajo successfully managed the presidency during the political uncertainties of President Buhari’s poor health. This is more surgical than it sounds. Ordinarily, the role of vice president in a country like Nigeria is problematic enough: the occupant has to be politically active without being perceived as unduly ambitious. As acting president, Prof. Osinbajo had to contend with the brouhaha of the ‘coordinator’ nomenclature in the handover note and the troubling rumours of attempted power grabs and manipulative kitchen cabinets. But while the political class dabbled in furtive talk, he just got on with his work: from signing the 2017 budget to renegotiating the memory of Biafra.
And so, Osinbajo’s ‘tenure’ as acting president realised expectations of professional governance. It was unaffected by political drama, engaging with the public, seemingly open to criticism, and ethno-religiously unifying it its attitude. There was a sense that, even if one did not agree with the policies of the office, they were being decided and executed with professional competence and insights. It is no wonder that many Nigerians seemed indifferent to the president’s undisclosed health status and long absence from the country.
Admittedly, Osinbajo is not all saints and no sin. For example, his office has not been free from the malaise of inconsistent statements that has plagued this administration. But, in Nigeria, it is the norm for the underling to withdraw or clarify statements when the ‘oga at the top’ feels insecure.
Indeed, it is hard to praise any public officer in Nigeria. They are already rewarded in cash and in kind to do their work. Nevertheless, the vice president has provided an approach to governance with an untypical measure of professional and personal competence. In an administration that has not fully justified the goodwill of its electoral success, Prof. Osinbajo still gives hope to believers in ‘Change’, and he may even rekindle faith in the backsliders. For being a pastor in more ways than one, vice president Osinpbajo deserves to be named Person of the Year 2017.