What is likely to change if the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, took heed of the growing call to run against Senator Bola Tinubu for the presidential ticket of the All Progressives Congress?

Like other proteges before him, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is not only under pressure from millions of his supporters in and outside government to contest the 2023 presidential election even as his benefactor, former Lagos State Governor, Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has his eyes fixed on the coveted seat, Osinbajo has also become the new bride in the Nigerian political landscape-harvesting record support across political divide in the last few months. With these in the kitty and if the whispers from some quarters are anything to go by; the odds seem to favour him even if he is yet to indicate interest.

Trajectory of the 2023 presidential contest, particularly within the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is becoming clearer. Among the frontline aspirants that are daily springing up for the top job, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the acclaimed national leader of the APC, Senator Bola Tinubu, have apparently become the leading contenders in a seemingly crowded field.

On Monday, January 10, Tinubu made his much-anticipated declaration to contest for the office of the president come 2023. He made the declaration after meeting President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa just a few days after President Buhari declared in a televised interview that he would not openly declare the identity of his successor. It was alleged that Tinubu became rattled when Buhari declined question on who will succeed him. The impression in most quarters was that the President was referring to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, who is believed to be Buhari’s anointed candidate.

Consequently, the APC National Leader who was allegedly said to have gotten wind of the plot to edge him out of the race, quickly let his intention out of the bag. Anyone in Tinubu’s position would no doubt do the same thing- roar like a lion to fend off would-be intruders and intimidate them against further attempts to encroach his territory.

Since his declaration, the political atmosphere in the country has been heating up at an incredible pace, leading to direct confrontation on social media platforms between his supporters and various groups rooting for the Vice President at any slight provocation.

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Vihese developments signal the beginning of a major political gambit that will determine how the ruling party goes in and comes out of its national convention and beyond. It also suggests that he (Tinubu) will remain the fulcrum of political discussion in the next few months and all of these put together will define the latest phase and fate of his political journey.

For so many factors before him, his formal entry to the race has presented to him a challenge that seems daunting even for the most talented politician, especially at a time like this in the history of the country when most Nigerians are calling for a younger and vibrant head to steer the affairs of the country.

‘‘Tinubu knows what is before him. He is very much aware of the huddles on his way and he is battle-ready,” said a source in his camp.

But how ready is Tinubu to confront the same powers that edged out Oshiomhole’s NWC allegedly under his control and subsequently installed a caretaker committee under Mai Mala Buni?

Tinubu’s declaration has opened the floodgates of declaration both in the ruling party and across the political landscape, as other notable declarations also took place in quick succession, which includes Governor of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi, former Governor of Abia, the current Senator representing Abia North senatorial district, Orji Uzor Kalu, former Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha who declared a couple of days as well as Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, who threw his hat into the ring last year.

While in the APC those who have not made open declarations of intentions but are also interested in the top job are the current Governor of Ekiti State, Kayode Fayemi and the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi.

So far, Osinbajo remains the one individual who is yet to make any open or public declaration of his interest to become the presidential flag-bearer of the ruling party and eventually succeed President Buhari. However, despite this, the political landscape has become filled with endorsements and approbation from millions of Nigerians across partisan lines.

The Vice President has kept the growing numbers of his supporters in suspense over rumour of his plans to throw his hat into the ring, perhaps to square up against his political mentor, Ahmed Bola Tinubu, who is firmly waiting to devour any rival with his experience in politics, structure and of course, deep pockets to win the party’s primary election. Will confront Osinbajo Tinubu at the APC presidential primary?

Osinbajo Will Contest

Contrary to speculations in some quarters, Osinbajo is without doubt in the race to become Nigeria’s next president. A source in the Vice President camp who spoke with THISDAY in confidence admitted that Osinbajo will contest and would declare his intention soon. He said Tinubu had before now dropped his aspiration to contest since November last year when he was allegedly told that Osinbajo had been penciled down to succeed Buhari but people around him went back to rekindle his appetite to test the waters.

‘‘Osinbajo will contest, even Tinubu knows this. The Vice President is more focused on official duties at the moment. Tinubu lu is a smart politician and he knows what he is doing. Normally, as a kingmaker, he is supposed to declare last but because he has seen that the President’s body language favours Osinbajo, he became rattled.

‘‘Buhari’s recent interview betrayed his intention. If the President had made his choice known, I bet, Asiwaju would not have declared because he cannot openly go against the President’s candidate. Osinbajo will declare soon,” the source said.

Some party faithful have described the President’s stance on who will succeed him and his indifference to the crises rocking the party in the last two years as catastrophic. A chieftain of the party and a leading voice in Edo State, Abu Abdulganiyu, had advised that the President takes a decisive position and open up to stakeholders of the party on who succeeds him to save the party from implosion.

He said: ‘‘His disposition on party matters is unhelpful, unless it is deliberate. If we have between now and June to agree on a presidential candidate and candidates for other elective positions, the President must be seen to be interested in the survival of the party post convention. For APC to win the elections next year requires deliberate efforts to reposition the party for the greater good of all. And who is better to play this role than the President? I am of the opinion that the earlier he begins to realize that he is the ultimate leader of the party, the better. He cannot watch while members destroy the party for their selfish interests,” he advised.

Osinbajo’s silence amidst speculations and his recent call on his supporters against using derogatory words on Tinubu speak volume. His silence to some extent corroborates claims in some quarters that he has been penciled down by some powerful forces in government to succeed Buhari. His choice to remain silent could be likened to the words of Italian inventor and artist, Leonardo da Vinci; ‘‘Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.”

Just like the way the presidential ambition of his mentor has been gaining traction, with the Governors of Kano and Borno, proclaiming his right of first refusal, Osinbajo candidacy has also been generating interest, with a growing number of support groups and coalitions under such umbrella bodies as the Progressives Consolidation Group (PCG), Businessmen For Osinbajo (BFO), the Osinbajo Grassroots Organization, the New Tribe Nigeria (NTN) and The Progressives Project (TPP) drumming the divine mandate for an Osinbajo presidency in 2023.

While Tinubu’s advocates and promoters are political bigwigs and structures that have benefited chiefly from the kingmaker, most of those clamouring and rooting for Osinbajo are mid level politicians, activists, scholars, youths and student groups, majority of them doing so in the spirit of national interest.

These bodies rooting for Osinbajo cut across different ethnic, political and religious backgrounds. They have resolved to give money bags politicians a fight for their money at the APC’s national convention billed for February.

“It is a mass movement based on the genuineness of Nigerians who believe that this country deserves someone with the pedigree and quality of Osinbajo’s intellectual capacity, honestly, trust and the fact the he had demonstrated competency during the period he was the Acting President, Olajide Michael one of the spokespersons of The Progressive Project (TPP) told our correspondent in a telephone interview.

The TPP which is the umbrella body for several advocacy groups for Osinbajo across the country, has constantly maintained that Osinbajo remains the best asset for the ruling party going into 2023.

Those in the thick of the plot for Osinbajo emergence contend that he has the national outlook and appeal as well as the intellectual capacity to restore forgone hopes and restore the national vision, making him more credible candidate over and above his political benefactor, whose candidacy they say comes with an albatross.

“The moment has chosen for us a man that Providence has prepared for the task. The moment speaks to choosing a man who transcends all tribes, an embodiment of the new Tribe defined not by the cacophony of dialects but the symphony of our common humanity. The moment requires a man who is able to galvanise the ideals and ideas that will unfold the beckoning glory of a new Nigeria.

“My compatriots, history is encapsulated in moments. This moment of Nigerian history, has itself chosen a man and that man is Professor Oluyemi Oluleke Osinbajo, the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Yemi Osinbajo is the man of the moment for Nigeria. He is well-grounded and adequately prepared. A tested and trusted hand, with the right temperament, the intellectual fire power, and governance ethos best suited for this moment. Yemi Osinbajo is the man for the moment. Not for his own sake, but for the sake of our country, Nigeria’’, said Senator Sola Adeyeye at a recent event in Kano where loyalists of the Vice President converged to urge him to declare his interest.

Adeyeye said Osinbajo’s rise to prominence is not a fluke or a national infatuation but the consequence of his remarkable skills -a keen intellect, noble intentions and the wit and grace to express them in ways that have inspired millions across the country.

Plethora of Endorsements

Osinbajo’s presidential bid as echoed by various support groups across the length and breadth of the country, has been resounding with Nigerians and politicians saying that he is the solution to the multiple challenges currently confronting the country. However, he needs more than this to climb the ladder.

Both Tinubu and Osinbajo recognize the value of acceptability of the north to the presidential ambition of any aspirant. While Tinubu has won the sympathy of some section in the north through his generosity and Muslim identity, Osinbajo has equally won their hearts in the region through his loyalty, diplomacy and apparent intellectual dexterity. Despite the balance of support between the two, analysts believe that Osinbajo has an edge over his benefactor on the grounds of age, health and the direly required capacity to solve the persistent and intractable problems of poverty and insecurity in the region.

Even across the political aisle, in the camp of the opposition the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), there are those particularly in the north that are and will be favourable to and entrust Osinbajo with their mandates than Tinubu.

Speaking recently in Kano, former governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu, said that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is the best candidate in the APC for the 2023 presidential election. Babangida Aliyu made the remarks during the 2022 annual lecture of Ahmedu Bello Memorial Foundation.

He said: “riff-raff or moneybags” will not get to the highest office in the land, even if they offer money in the 2023 election. No matter how much money he has, let him bring the money, we will collect it.

“Mr. Vice President, do you know you are the best candidate in your party?” asked the former Niger State governor, adding that Osinbajo is the only candidate that knows the country and has the acceptance of everyone across the country regardless of tribe and religion.

The Emir of Lafia, Justice Sidi Bage (rtd), who also spoke at the occasion heaped praises on the Vice President, promising that Nasarawa State would give him all the necessary support to enable him to become the next President of the country. Saying, “Mr Vice President, wherever you go, we will follow.

The support of the Emir of Nasarawa is in line with the position of his state governor, Abdullahi Sule, who in September 2021 told Osinbajo’s supporters that the Vice President is the best the party could sell to Nigeria. He said Osinbajo is a leader Nigerians may not want to neglect if he is inspired to contest the Presidential elections in 2023.

“Since the formation of the party, it has been built around President Buhari and the concern of progressive governors of the party is how to move the party forward after Buhari’s exit as President. Our concern is how do we sustain the party beyond Buhari’s tenure. So, as you are going about to sell this man, I want you to know that not every product is sellable. But Osinbajo is the most sellable,” said Governor Abdullahi.

Former military President, Ibrahim Babangida, had also towed the part of his northern kinsmen when he expressed unequivocal support for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as the best person to lead Nigeria in 2023.

“Osinbajo has great passion for Nigeria, he is one that can communicate with the country and inspire people among other qualities; he is the best person to lead Nigeria in 2023.

“I know the Vice President very well; he is a good man; a man who has conviction about Nigeria; a man who can communicate with the country and inspire people. Such a man is a worthy person to work with; we need a good man to lead Nigeria; a man who has passion for this country’s economy; Nigeria is a good country; the people of Nigeria are good, said Ibrahim Babangida.

Another reputable northern monarch that has commented on the persona of the Vice President in the context of the contest for the highest office in the land is the Emir of Daura, Dr. Umar Farouk Umar, during the installation of the President’s son, Yusuf Buhari, as the Talban Daura, an occasion witnessed by Osinbajo while his principal was on a diplomatic trip to Turkey.

“We extend our appreciation to his excellency, the representative of the President. He is a noble man who keeps his promises and a trustworthy person who has so much patience and knows what to do at any given time”, he said.

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More notable voices from the north have been heard endorsing Osinbajo and the number keeps increasing just as his support base continues to expand. Apart from these big names in the north, four northern governors are also said to be rooting for Osinbajo and a good number of federal lawmakers are also said to have queued behind him.

While glowing accolades alone are not enough to win elections particularly against a sophisticated political network and financial war chest of someone of Tinubu’s status, observers aver that it symbolizes an ideological shift in northern sentiment about who should represent the South-west in Nigeria’s precarious political tradition of zoning.

The North without doubt realizes the role Bola Tinubu played to bring Buhari to power in 2015 but the exigencies of the moment cannot be politicized or be slaughtered on the altar of reward.

While the President’s men are cautious and carefully await his decision as to his preferred successor, which is expected despite his recent television interviews, observers believe that the president’s inner circle are rooting for the Vice President. This of course gives credence to the disposition that an Osinbajo presidency would be the lesser of the necessary evils.

The Rebellion Narratives

While Osinbajo has not publicly declared, he has allegedly made moves to test the political waters. Some persons in Tinubu’s camp have construed as rebellious should the Vice President eventually throw his hat into the ring. As it stands, it appears that more of the big names in the South-west and even Tinibu’s proteges in Buhari’s cabinet are currently more disposed towards Osinbajo replacing Buhari.

Promoters of the narratives hinge their argument on contemporary Nigeria’s political history which is often characterized by cases of proteges rebelling against their political godfathers and benefactors, to breakaway and stamp their independence. They have cited cases like former President Goodluck Jonathan and Olusegun Obasanjo, Rabiu Kwankwaso and current Kano Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, Godwin Obaseki and Adams Oshiomhole, and even between former Governor Akinwumi Ambode and the Tinubu.

They are worried over the manner in which Osinbajo’s name is being mentioned and projected everywhere for the 2023 presidential election when the party has not even conducted its primary election. Fingers have also been pointed at the President, who they believe could be behind the favour for Osinbajo.

However, there are those who argue slightly to the contrary but hold that Tinubu should not only be given the right of first refusal but also be rewarded for his contribution to the party since inception. They said however, if the occasion does not provide for, all aspirants should be given the right to contest under a free and fair atmosphere, doing so would entrench the democratic culture in Nigeria.

In a chat with THISDAY, a chieftain of the party and member of APC 2019 Presidential Campaign Council, Elton Onwu, who is also a frontline supporter of the APC National Leader said: ‘‘Asiwaju has over the past 20 years groomed leaders and some of these leaders are running the affairs of the country today.This will be a payback time for most of them.

On the VP, he said :’’This is a case of a student squaring up against his mentor.

It will definitely give Vice President Osinbajo the opportunity to test his popularity with the delegates and stakeholders of the APC as a party.

‘‘Whatever form of primary that the APC adopts, the governors who are mostly on the side of Asiwaju mandate, will control the direction of the delegates and that will be a huge task for Osinbajo, who may eventually cast his vote for Tinubu.

‘‘However, narrowing the contest to just two, will be an injustice to other aspirants, we are in a democracy and Anyone of the APC Presidential Aspirants is free to test his popularity amongst the delegates and stakeholders. The APC has an abundance of leaders with the reach and capacity to lead Nigeria in 2023.

In all, the APC would have deepened and further entrenched the democratic culture in Nigeria as the ruling party and come out stronger for the 2023 general elections,” said Mr. Onwu who appealed to party faithful to rally round Tinubu who has all the experience and expertise to move the country forward.

If the rumour from some quarters about Osinbajo being Buhari’s secret weapon, then the President’s body language will determine where the pendulum swings at the end of the day.

One of the arguments put forward by promoters of an Osinbajo’s candidate is that the President realizes the fact that the joint coalition preceding the 2015 elections that brought the present administration to power is not enough to negotiate for the presidency. They said the President’s influence in the North still remains in the kitty, which is enough to influence the outcome of the party’s primary.

‘‘Buhari still maintains his 15 million cult-like followers. All the president needs is to raise Osinbajo’ hand and the rest is history. I still maintain Tinubu is only doing this because he is privy to who the president is supporting,” a source in Osinbajo’s camp said.

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