Since Vice President Yemi Osinbajo formally declared his candidacy for the presidency, the theme of treachery has been circulating in the political space notably propounded by the camp of Bola Tinubu, the other candidate for the exalted office. Osinbajo’s entry has been depicted as an act of disloyalty towards a political benefactor, a rebellion by a heedless son against a benevolent father and a grand betrayal.
On the morning of April 15, Good Friday, residents of Abuja woke up to the sight of posters across the city featuring a photograph of the Vice President with the caption “The Judas who betrayed his master…Repent because Jesus is coming.” The message was in spectacularly bad taste but it could not be clearer. The Tinubu camp thought nothing of insulting the sensibilities of Christians on Good Friday and Muslims – for Jesus is a revered figure in Islam – by equating Tinubu with Jesus. Given all this talk of betrayal, the question of who actually betrayed whom merits closer examination.
To begin with, the idea that Osinbajo was marinating in the wilderness of obscurity before Tinubu swooped in to kindly fish him out is patently preposterous. Osinbajo was already an accomplished law professor at the University of Lagos, had established a successful legal practice and served as an adviser to the then Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Bola Ajibola, all before being appointed Attorney General of Lagos State by the then Governor Tinubu 1999.
As Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Osinbajo undertook comprehensive reforms of the justice sector that transformed the Lagos court system. When the Tinubu administration created Local Council Development Areas in 2003 – an act which caused the Olusegun Obasanjo-led Federal Government to freeze allocations to the state, Osinbajo led a legal challenge to affirm that Lagos had acted well within its rights under the law. His challenge of the Federal Government earned Lagos a victory at the Supreme Court and pushed the boundaries of true federalism even further. Tinubu is on public record praising Osinbajo’s legal expertise and leadership during that testing period. Thus far, what can be established is that the relationship between Tinubu and Osinbajo was not one-sided but that of political allies in a mutually beneficial alliance.
On to the next pillar of falsehood. Tinubu’s much storied and intentionally exaggerated role in the emergence of Osinbajo as the APC’s vice presidential candidate in 2015 has been comprehensively debunked. While he did play a role, so did other figures in the APC and the ultimate decision to pick Osinbajo as his running mate was made by the then presidential candidate, Muhammadu Buhari.
Over the years. Tinubu and his minions have floated a narrative in which the Asiwaju sent Osinbajo to the Villa in his stead in the same way that Ahmadu Bello reportedly sent Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, whom he described as “my lieutenant” to run the Federal Government in Lagos in 1959. There are those who saw Osinbajo merely as Tinubu’s lieutenant, a proxy ensconced in the Presidency to represent his master’s interests. They were gravely mistaken.
What has inspired these projectiles of venomous malice that the Tinubu camp has been hurling at Osinbajo is a fairly simple grievance. As Vice President, Osinbajo had taken the Oath of Allegiance and pledged loyalty to Nigeria. In the discharge of his duties, he has remained steadfastly loyal to his principal, President Muhammadu Buhari. In expecting and demanding that Osinbajo should serve as his proxy in the Villa, Tinubu was expecting and demanding that the Vice President betray the President and violate his oath to his country. While remaining entirely respectfully of his erstwhile boss, Osinbajo made it clear that this was out of the question.
Osinbajo’s track record in public life is that of a public servant that discharges his duties diligently and with utmost loyalty to his principals. This was the case when he served as Attorney General in the Tinubu administration in Lagos and has been the case throughout his time serving as President Buhari’s deputy. In seeking control of Osinbajo, Tinubu was effectively asking him to be disloyal to Buhari – something the Vice President would never do. Thus, in actual fact, Osinbajo has not earned the enmity of Tinubu and his minions by engaging in betrayal but by refusing to engage in betrayal. This is what set the stage for the real act of treachery.
In late 2019, after the APC had clinched a national victory and a second term in office, Tinubu conspired with Abba Kyari, the late Chief of Staff to the President and a cabal of political actors to cripple the Vice President’s office and emasculate him politically. This conspiracy resulted in the removal of the National Social Investment Programme from the Vice President’s supervision and the dissolution of the Economic Management Team which he chaired. Several of his aides were also summarily fired from the villa or redeployed.
The calculated deconstruction of Osinbajo’s office was aimed at destroying him politically and hounding him out of office. But what was the reason for this assault?
Events before and during the 2019 elections had revealed something unexpected. The Vice President had emerged as the APC’s frontline political asset after Buhari. He was genuinely popular, truly charismatic and his outings were drawing huge crowds. His identification as the proponent of the Social Investment Programmes which benefitted everyone from unemployed youths to market women had made him immensely popular. Osinbajo’s rising political profile alarmed Tinubu and other political players. In a short space of time, Osinbajo had moved from being an irritant to being a threat; a political star that needed to be permanently dimmed and Tinubu decided that his erstwhile comrade had to be brutally cut down – a project for which he found willing collaborators.
In orchestrating his spiteful persecution of Osinbajo, it did not matter to Tinubu that millions of people who had benefitted and stood to benefit from the administration’s successful social investment programme would suffer or that the programme itself would be terminally damaged. It did not matter that destroying the Economic Management Team – the entity responsible for economic policy coordination led by the Vice President – would sabotage the Buhari administration which he claimed to support.
This point about the EMT is crucial because another spurious narrative that has been making the rounds is one that portrays Osinbajo as being in charge of the economy. In fact, since the dissolution of the EMT in 2019, Osinbajo has not been responsible for economic policy coordination. As chair of the EMT, Osinbajo oversaw the country’s recovery from recession in 2017.
It is now disingenuous for Tinubu having helped devise the dissolution of the EMT precisely because he didn’t want the Vice President to be in charge of the economy to turn round now to blame Nigeria’s economic woes on Osinbajo. But it is typical of the man – to orchestrate a disaster and then attempt to profit politically from his mischief; to be an arsonist and then pose as a fireman purporting to rescue us from his own act of arson.
Driven by raw, self-aggrandizing spite, Tinubu carried out his subversion of Osinbajo’s office not caring that its practical effect was to ground the administration and do grave damage to the Nigerian people. Those who detect an overweening sense of self-arrogated privilege in Tinubu’s pursuit of the presidency will recognize this streak of prideful and arrogant entitlement that led him to sabotage the Buhari administration.
Yet, Tinubu’s treachery which was ultimately aimed at frustrating Osinbajo out of office failed in that one singular regard as the Vice President revealed a resilient constitution and a graceful and dignified resolve that surprised and dismayed his traducers. Despite the assault on his office and his subjection to political character assassination, Osinbajo has conducted himself with the utmost maturity and civility. He has acted as an Omoluabi. In the North, we would say that he has displayed amana and mutunci – good faith, honour, trust and decency.
Talent-spotting or Puppet Mastery?
From the foregoing, it is clear that Tinubu is a man for whom loyalty counts for very little and treachery of the sort that he inflicted on the Vice President comes naturally to him. The Asiwaju’s minions often describe him as having a rare eye for talent and a habit of promoting his proteges into positions of authority. He is, they say, a man that makes others and they reel out examples such as Babatunde Raji Fashola, his erstwhile Chief of Staff who succeeded him as Governor of Lagos, Kayode Fayemi, Governor of Ekiti and Osinbajo himself among others.
The truth is far uglier. Tinubu’s unbridled thirst for power and control has led him to fall out with nearly all his so-called “proteges.” This is true of Fashola, Fayemi, Osinbajo and most recently Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola, the Minister of Interior, who also served in the Tinubu administration in the 2000s. What should be obvious is that Tinubu isn’t trying to install proteges; he is trying to install puppets that he can control and he inevitably falls out with those that resist his puppetry. This pattern was apparent in 2011 when he almost prevented Fashola from securing a second term as Governor of Lagos until it became apparent that denying the popular performer would be a staggering act of political folly.
Those with longer memories will recall that Tinubu’s first Deputy Governor, Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele, was hounded out of office after suffering indignities such as being locked out of cabinet meetings all for the sin of not being sufficiently subservient. They will also recall that her successor as Deputy Governor, Femi Pedro, suffered similar ignominy at the hands of Tinubu because he had the effrontery to run for Governor. When Pedro tendered his resignation, Tinubu rejected his resignation letter and then orchestrated his impeachment by the House of Assembly. The trademark remorseless spite and mean-spiritedness are part of the Tinubu brand.
With an eye on manipulating the electorate in the Southwest, Tinubu’s camp has invoked the infamous First Republic political feud between Obafemi Awolowo and Samuel Ladoke Akintola. In this analogy, Tinubu is supposed to be the second coming of Awolowo while Osinbajo is cast as Akintola, who was accused of conspiring with Northerners led by Ahmadu Bello to betray Awo. But this analogy is faulty.
Ever since he sponsored cringeworthy billboards during the early 2000s in Lagos comparing his round-rimmed glasses to those worn by Awo, Tinubu has sought to appropriate the mantle of Yoruba leadership. But Tinubu and his minions are perverting history. For it is Tinubu who conspired with a Northerner to betray Osinbajo, his kinsman, in an attempt to destroy him politically. And it is, in fact, Osinbajo who hails from Ikenne, the hometown of Awo, and is related to the sage by marriage, that has the greater claim to affinity with the legendary Nigerian leader.
The social investment programmes which Osinbajo helmed before Tinubu sabotaged them were the closest in scale and substance to the programmes that Awolowo used to transform the Southwest. In many respects, the NSIP was the fulfillment of Awolowo’s progressive welfarist vision for Nigeria applied on a national scale and it is Tinubu who worked to subvert the modern manifestation of this vision. It is clear which figure can lay claim to filial and ideological affinity with Awo and it is not Tinubu.
Everyone familiar with Tinubu’s modus operandi agrees that it would not have made any difference if someone other than Osinbajo was Vice President. The Asiwaju’s exacting demands for absolute fealty and subservience – even where that means crossing ethical lines and committing illegal acts – mean that a falling out with his so-called proteges is always inevitable. It is one of the reasons why Fashola’s successor, Ambode, lasted only one term. It is impossible for any self-respecting, dignified and self-possessed politician to bear the yoke of Tinubu’s endless demands for fawning obeisance. And in all these instances, Tinubu has perfected the art of being the victimizer who poses as the victimized. In this case, he is the betrayer masquerading as the betrayed.
Tinubu is therefore a throwback to the sort of primitive godfatherism that is interested only in capturing the state either directly or through proxies for the purpose of rent-seeking, theft and predatory extraction. His near absolute control of Lagos – a feature that has made that city one of the most unlivable places in the world – is prime evidence of what a Tinubu presidency holds for Nigeria and it is catastrophically ugly. Nigeria deserves better.