Because many are not talking or writing about him, I’m going to expound on the self-effacing Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, today. Please, don’t stop reading as I’m sure he doesn’t seem to be an interesting subject. But let’s closely examine the nation’s second most powerful man and one that is, as the records at the Code of Conduct show, richer than his boss. Quietly waltzing through the power corridors, the unassuming Osibanjo is, to me, like the ultimate house mouse: You knew it is there, yet because it doesn’t bother you, you don’t either. Personally, I’m yet to set my eyes on him in real life but I’m sure I wouldn’t recognise him if I bumped into him at Shoprite.
And while President Muhammdu Buhari is getting all the praise (and flak) for real and imaginary strides (or lack of it), the Veep is sometimes overlooked by commentators. But you can’t blame anyone. Before he became VP, he wasn’t a popular figure on the nation’s psyche. Most of his exploits were in law – as a teacher and lawyer in private practice. I asked some school kids the other day to name the current vice president.
Many of them didn’t get it. They are in good company. At one time too, even his boss didn’t quite get the name. But Osibanjo is potent all the same, silently plodding on unlike the men who have sat on his seat before. We have seen super star VP’s like the legendary Alhaji Abubakar Atiku (who, in the beginning, was also richer than his boss). Even the immediate past VP, Namadi Sambo, was something of a maverick. Other unforgettable number twos include Dr. Alex Ekwueme, the lateTunde Idiagbon and Augustus Aikhomu. My other all-time favourites are General Oladipo Diya and Ebitu Ukiwe. These were men who refused to dissolve in the shadows of their bosses. Who can forget the historic travails of Abubakar Atiku? His crisis started when he literally became more powerful than his boss – the strong man himself, President Olusegun Obasanjo. Talks were rife then that Atiku had practically forced the great Obasanjo to his knees to beg the northern governors who had decided Obasanjo isn’t going nowhere. A vindictive Obasanjo was to later engage his deputy in one of the most epic political battles of all time. Today, the two are back as chums having found a common foe in the PDP. Oladipo Diya is another historic number two. He also allegedly went on knees to beg for his life after he was implicated in an attempt to oust the goggled one. Namadi Sambo was the loyal ally who just stood by and watched as his boss got hacked down. He probably couldn’t do much considering the tide at the time. He made some effort though. He called himself Port Harcourt boy (a title already appropriated by the likes of singer Duncan Mighty and Wike) to appeal to a section of southerners maybe. He was almost a pariah in a North that loathed his boss. And when he finally made that abominable slip in reciting a common Islamic prayer at a campaign, he sealed his and his boss’s fate amongst his people. Sambo actually tried because he survived many attempts to push him out; he remained resolute.
But now the new kid on the block is the rather dour subject of this column today. What do you think of him? Views varied but the dominant back story is that Osinbanjo is an intellectual. No one is arguing about that one. The man is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), though someone quickly told me recently that being a SAN is no big deal. Others believe the former commissioner of Justice is just way out of his league. And I can understand that.
In most states, the commissioner of justice is not a man of power. His colleagues at finance, agriculture and works often see more action. And although he is the attorney general of the state, it’s often just a big title. Their infrequent break often comes when there is a big agreement to be signed. Beyond that, they are in the Security Council as observers; they are of course on the big cases the state may be handling and then they watch closely the activities of the agencies under them.
Politically, there isn’t too much action for them like say the SSG or the person in charge of the local government and chieftaincy affairs. So the good professor would have watch things from a distance while in office. And now he is here, second to none other but the fire-spitting, ultimate warrior Buhari. Even in size, his boss must be intimidating to him. Then there is the whole issue of the man’s mystique – a force with which he is running the country. I try to imagine the kind of relationship that exists between the two – one imperial and imposing, the other humble and puny. But then maybe Osibanjo would be lucky as the late Tunde Idiagbon was. Those who remembered said as Buahri and the unsmiling Idiagbon got on well, with some insisting that the latter actually even called the shots. But then Osibanjo is no Idiagbon. I see him smiling most of the time; especially when he is delivering his professorial lectures, which is becoming his trade mark. He shares one thing in common with his boss though – they are both ascetics. While Buhari’s asceticism derives from his faith and career as a soldier, Yemi’s is borne out of faith too and the discipline of the academia. Are they practical people who are not carried away by the dreams of a Utopian state? Are they in touch with the realpolitik of the Nigerian space? Would they continue to be friends or would their similarities someday split them? What drama awaits the duo in the coming years? Well, like they say, that’s what time is for.