Rudolf Okonkwo: The moral burden of Yemi Osinbajo
Many people voted for Muhammadu Buhari as president in 2015 because he had Professor Yemi Osinbajo as his vice-presidential candidate. In 2011, one election cycle before that, Buhari found his John the Baptist in Pastor Tunde Bakare. In 2015, when he picked Osinbajo, he found his Jesus Christ and hit the jackpot. What Buhari wanted to achieve with Bakare in 2011, he finally accomplished with Osinbajo in 2015. Six years later, the question left for Osinbajo to answer is whether it is all worth it.
Is it worth it? Is it worth it for him, Osinbajo? Is it worth it for the people who put aside their suspicions of Buhari to vote for the ticket because they trusted Osinbajo?
While only Osinbajo can answer if it is worth it for him being part of the government of Muhammadu Buhari in the last six years, the people of Nigeria are beginning to make their evaluation about whether it was worth it for them to make assumptions about what Osinbajo would bring to the presidency of Muhammadu Buhari.
The choice of Osinbajo, “a mere commissioner” in the words of Bukola Saraki, a former Senate President, was a thoughtfully negotiated deal. Nigeria’s political henchmen who turned against Goodluck Jonathan in favor of Muhammadu Buhari arrived at Osinbajo as a compromise candidate for vice president.
They thought that Buhari’s well-documented Islamic extremism would be neutered by Osinbajo’s publicly displayed Christian fundamentalism. They believed that Osinbajo’s proven studiousness would nullify Buhari’s legendary intellectual laziness. They were confident that Osinbajo’s often-touted legal acumen would blunt Buhari’s propensity for tyranny.
For the voters who made that judgment call, as the cliché goes, if there was a match made in heaven, this was it–the pastor and the Islamist, the law professor and the army general. It was a winning team. Six years later, can any of such voters still say that it was a winning team? Why did it fail? Who bears the burden for that failure? What moral burden does that failure heap on Vice President Yemi Osinbajo?
It is important to have that conversation now because there are two more years left before the Buhari-Osinbajo presidency comes to an end. Even if Osinbajo wakes up on May 30, 2023, to cry that he was sidelined inside Buhari’s presidency, history that joined the two in the hip will not untangle him.
Even if Osinbajo wakes up on May 30, 2023, and writes a tell-all-book of several volumes trying to exonerate himself from all the atrocities of the last six years, history will not blink in its harsh judgment. It will not be enough to crawl out, after the fact, to say this was what I did while Nigeria was dying. As he would know very well, even though Pontius Pilate washed his hands, he was still not absolved of responsibilities in the death of Jesus.
It might have been naïve of the voters to think that a vice president could significantly influence the policy direction, especially when the president and his kitchen cabinet (that excluded the Vice President) had their own agenda. But the Osinbajo voters did hang their hopes on Osinbajo. And if he has a functional conscience, that will constitute a moral burden for him.
It has been observed across every democracy that practices a presidential system that the vice president is as good as the president wants him or her to be. Most presidents do not want their vice president to outshine them. And most vice presidents do not want to be so forward as to be seen as their own man, pursuing their own agenda. It has been the source of historical conflicts between vice presidents and presidents.
It is usually a delicate path to tread for the vice president, in particular. Those who succeeded in breaking loose and exerting themselves beyond what the president had approved, typically found out quickly that the power of the president was so enormous that it could crush the vice president in minutes. Abubakar Atiku, Obasanjo’s Vice President, learned it the hard way. Vice President William Ruto of Kenya is currently in the thick of it under President Uhuru Kenyatta.
Yemi Osinbajo’s situation is complicated because his political godfather, Bola Tinubu, has an active ambition to become Nigeria’s president after Buhari. Tinubu’s ambition handicaps Osinbajo on some levels. Firstly, if Osinbajo has the ambition to be president, he must be subtle about pursuing it.
Secondly, because Osinbajo has a bigger masquerade in Tinubu waiting in the wings, the political juggernauts are not coalescing around him as Buhari’s time runs out. But Tinubu’s ambition also creates a space for Osinbajo to operate outside the spotlight of those watching out for the shenanigans of the heir apparent wanna-be. The vice president has not utilized that space well.
If anyone is assuring Osinbajo that free school meals and conditional cash transfer to selected Nigerians will absolve him from condemnation for his role in the destruction of Nigeria during Buhari’s two terms in office, the person is deceiving him. If anyone is convincing Osinbajo that he has a good alibi in his often-repeated plea that he could only do the things the president wanted him to do, nothing more and nothing less, he should also understand that historically it has not sufficed.
The usual excuse that things could have been worse without him as vice president is always countered by the argument that by being there, he provided cover for evil and extended its shelf life.
When challenged, Osinbajo always raises the placard that shows how as acting president in 2017, he fired DSS director, Lawal Daura, and appointed the corrupt Walter Onnoghen the Chief Justice of Nigeria. And then what? Hand me the presidency and see what I can do. It doesn’t work like that.
Since Osinbajo survived a helicopter crash in Kabba, Kogi State, he has failed those who thought he would see the opportunity for a new lease on life as a call to dedicate himself more to the job of rescuing Nigeria irrespective of the cost. For being “the most trustworthy Vice President of Nigeria” in the eyes of the Emir of Daura, Faruk Umar, an equivalent of “being a good boy”, Osinbajo got rewarded with the title of the Danmadamin Daura. The reward that matters in the eye of history is the one in the hearts of Nigerians watching helplessly as Nigeria crumbles under the watch of Buhari and Osinbajo.
For Nigerians dying every day in the hands of bandits, Boko Haram, killer herdsmen, government security agents, and unknown gunmen, all products the incompetence and pure negligence of the Buhari and Osinbajo government, the vice president has this new consolation for them: “we must not sound like the children of Israel, fearful before Goliath, petrified and complaining at the Red Sea, as Pharaoh and his hostile hosts approached.”
In ordinary times, it is a virtue to be a loyal vice president. In extraordinary times, it is a vice. No time, since the civil war, is as extraordinary as today’s Nigeria. Osinbajo sitting at home, swallowing insults, and crushing his testicles is not a mark of loyalty to the nation he was elected to serve or the voters who elected him. His loyalty to the people of Nigeria supersedes whatever loyalty he owes to the man who picked him as vice president.
While Osinbajo could choose to continue to play a loyal vice president, the voters who trusted him are making up their minds. Their judgment would be as relevant as the judgment of history. Whatever Osinbajo would blame for his impotence of today, their judgment would not be reversed.
Osinbajo has recently mastered how to cry out that he is a political target of those paid by his perceived political opponents. What an old and tired excuse! It is like jumping into a boxing ring and complaining about punches coming your way. As a way of reducing pressure, he denies any interest in contesting in the 2023 presidential election. Good for him. It may be time for him to deny being part of the wrecking crew of Buhari and co plowing through what remains of Nigeria and leaving behind kilometers of carnage from North to South and East to West.
“What do you want him to do?” Some observers have asked. I am sure Osinbajo knows what to do. It may require more courage than he had deployed before. But it is the only path that will absolve him from being regarded as an accomplice in the demise of Nigeria. For Osinbajo, he has little time left to use his tongue to count his teeth. Once the clock runs out, he will find himself arguing with history – and his ancestors.
Rudolf Okonkwo is the author of a new book ‘The Secret Letters of President Donald Trump’ on Amazon.
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