The former lecturer's short stint as Acting President may have many voters hoping for more of him in 2019
In March 2017, while President Buhari was on the second leg of his medical leave in the UK, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo visited Abia and Anambra, traditionally Igbo states as part of his Niger-Delta tour. In retrospect, these visits now seem like a masterstroke.
A small minority of residents in these states had voted a 72-year old former military dictator as President, against popular opinion and biases enforced by history.
Others had come to realise that they were under the man’s leadership till the next elections, regardless of their affiliations. 24 months after the fact, Osinbajo’s visit marked the first time they would be visited by their president, and it was not the man they voted for.
As 2017 draws to an end, we are inching closer towards election season. Some would even go as far as saying that campaigns have already begun, as sightings and jingles of various political heavyweights have already started appearing across the nation.
In Kano, Rabiu Kwankwanso’s election machinery has been in swing since the results of the last election were announced. Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose has also announced his intention to run for President in 2019.
Ask anyone who is most likely to be in the conversation and a familiar list of names will arise; Abubakar Atiku is already ahead of the pack and President Buhari’s base will expect him to complete another unlikely victory come election day.
However, in the midst of these veterans of Nigeria’s too-predictable politics, Yemi Osinbajo might be the only name that matters after February 16, 2019.
The most important reason is the most simple of all. Yemi Osinbajo is a seasoned lawyer, a veteran of Nigeria’s academic halls and a senior advocate of Nigeria and a professor of law.
In the past, Nigerian politics has been dominated by power players and bigwigs with little to show that suspicious conglomerates and the support of their base, either towns, states or regions.
While this was enough to be a strength and not a hindrance in the past, an increase in political awareness has led a new generation of Nigerians to lament the fact that a large number of our political leaders have very little expertise in any particular field or the intellectual acumen to prove their worth among peers around the world.
This is not a problem Osinbajo is likely to face. His sophisticated demeanour and eloquence have endeared him to the younger generation who crave a young, intelligent and vibrant leader.
In the same vein, he has also earned the respect of the older generation who would consider his level of education and his experience in both the public and private sectors.
Osinbajo has served in various capacities throughout his 36-year career. Starting out in 1981 as a lecturer of law at the University of Lagos, he later attained the title of Senior Lecturer of Law at the same institution from 1983 to 1986.
From 1999 to 2007, he served as a member of Bola Tinubu’s cabinet as Attorney General of Lagos State, and also Commissioner of Justice.
Experience, of course, is not enough to win an election. In a country where godfathers decide voting patterns, an important factor is the support power players. Osinbajo has some of the most influential politicians in Nigeria as allies, one of which is the current President, Buhari.
The relationship between the president and vice president infers that there is a high level of trust and loyalty. The oyalty shown by Osinbajo to President Buhari, during his absence, seems to have endeared him to the president, an element that may prove important as Osinbajo will need Buhari’s support and blessing in the North if the latter decides not to contest the next election.
There are a couple of reasons why most commentators expect Buhari may not contest in the 2019 elections, the most important of which is his health. The circumstances surrounding the President’s health are unknown to the public.
Starting with his medical leave, they have been subject to a lot of rumours and speculation and his media spokespersons have chosen to ‘clear the air’ with very sad “statements” that seem like jokes and reasons to worry at the same time.
It is not far-fetched to believe that the president would prefer to succumb to nature when his first term ends. As it stands now, it appears that few politicians command the following in key Northern states that Buhari has.
All things being equal, this would be another phalanx in Osinbajo’s battle strategy. For Atiku, who will need to rely on the Northern vote, it is not the best of indicators.
Another key ally of Osinbajo is the former governor of Lagos state and the national leader of the APC, Bola Ahmed Tinubu. On the surface, it would be easy to refer to Osinbajo as Tinubu’s “boy”, and credit him as being the reason why Osinbajo is vice president.
Tinubu commands a lot of respect and powers in the South-West and states such as Lagos and Osun.
Things may not be the same as they were in 2015 but in the absence of any credible candidate from the South, Tinubu’s support will be pivotal in gathering follower-ship and building enthusiasm for Osinbajo’s candidacy.
Should he choose to run, Osinbajo can call his record as Vice-President and his stint in the President’s seat as a reference point.
In an office that his predecessor, Namadi Sambo has defined with lethargy and the art of disappearing, Osinbajo as vice president has functioned as the level-headed and articulate deputy to a rash, often impulsive Buhari.
In the latter’s absence, he has functioned as a sort of damage control officer and an approachable ambassador for the Buhari administration.
Most notably, Osinbajo has been mobile, almost to a fault. He has led with his attendance at various events and dialogues across the country (especially in parts of the country that President Buhari has mysteriously not visited since he assumed office).
His leadership during his 6-month stint in the presidency viewed as stable and not overly ambitious (a trait which deepened the trust Buhari has for him).
That stint did much to help Osinbajo’s popularity; his willingness to communicate and address sensitive issues doused tensions at key moments such as the 50th anniversary of the Biafra War.
The implication of this was so tangible that a lot of people even felt that the economic hardship eased up under Osinbajo.
Finally, Osinbajo is a pastor. Say what you may about Nigeria’s division along religious lines, the “Man of God” factor will help him greatly among the demographic of voters who take religion as an important criterion in deciding who they vote for.
If Osinbajo was a store product, he would be in the middle of the shelf, in the part of the store that is most patronised with labels that scream “TRY THIS OUT”.
The 60-year old may be one of the most well equipped and most marketable candidates for the 2019 elections. He has no scandals trailing his name, a rarity in a nation where every politician has a case file with Linda Ikeji or the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He also has the sophistication and presentation to encourage a large youth turnout that will undoubtedly prove vital in the next elections.
It goes without saying that this is mostly speculation, and with Nigerian politics in a constant state of flux, it may be too early to call the elections.
Still, should Osinbajo’s name appear on the ballot in 2019, he can rely on the platform of a reputation and experience that present him as a standout among all-too-familiar options.