Vice President Yemi Osinbajo early Monday morning declared his intention to bid for the ticket of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) for the 2023 presidential election, ending months of speculations on the development.
Mr Osinbajo’s declaration, made through a broadcast he posted on his Twitter handle, put him in the APC presidential primary for which his former boss as Lagos governor, Bola Tinubu; the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi; the Ebonyi State Governor, Dave Umahi; and Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State, had earlier declared interest.
Meanwhile, Ekiti State Governor Kayode Fayemi; the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, also continue to be linked to the race.
The APC has not fixed a date for that contest. But since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has set June 3 as the deadline for the submission of presidential candidates by political parties, the ruling party has just over six weeks to nominate its own.
Mr Osinbajo’s ambition had long seemed obvious but his office had been quick to dispel every rumour that he was going to declare. However, it has now been confirmed that he had all the while been setting the stage and conducting rehearsals for the declaration.
PREMIUM TIMES, in a report on Sunday that stated Mr Osinabjo would declare the following day, revealed that his team had conducted a series of opinion polls to guide his decision. In one of such polls, which asked participants whether they would vote for Mr Osinbajo if he were a candidate in the 2023 presidential election, sources said the response was a massive 63 per cent yes.
Taking encouragement from the polls, Mr Osinbajo was said to have gone on consultations across the country, including informing President Muhammadu Buhari and Enoch Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), where Mr Osinbajo is also a pastor.
Mr Osinbajo concluded his consultations on Sunday night with a meeting with APC governors at the Akinola Aguda House, his official residence.
A newspaper reported that the meeting lasted for about three hours and was attended by 12 governors, led by Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State who is the Chairman of the Progressive Governors Forum (PGF).
Ahead of the declaration, the vice president had also opened a campaign office at 15B, Buchanan Crescent, Wuse 2 in the Central Area of Abuja, with staff and state of the art equipment already installed.
A heartbeat away from the presidency
Americans describe the office of the vice president as a heartbeat away from the presidency. This is in reference to the fact that the vice president automatically succeeds the president in the event of the latter’s death, incapacitation or removal from office. Nigeria experienced that scenario in 2010 following the death of President Umaru Yar’adua and the inauguration of President Goodluck Jonathan to complete their term.
In some advanced democracies too, especially in the United States, the vice president is usually the front runner to succeed a term-barred president. Given the foregoing, why are there speculations about Mr Osinbajo’s ambition?
At 65, he is not considered too old to run for the office. He is also not known to have a health challenge, at least not since he came to Abuja in 2015. When early in their first term Mr Buhari was away in London for medical treatment, he transferred power to Mr Osinbajo as acting president.
Mr Osinbajo is widely seen as a loyal and competent vice president. There is no record in the public domain of a dispute between him and the president, which is a remarkable development given the recent history of power relations at that level in Nigeria.
President Obasanjo once remarked that not even a woman could get between him and Vice President Atiku Abubakar. But their relationship had soured by 2003 to the extent that the vice president only decided at the last hour against challenging his re-nomination. Their second term in office was ruined by each trying to run the other out of office, with the court coming to the rescue of Mr Abubakar. He was eventually expelled from their Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and ran for president in 2007 on the ticket of an opposition party, the defunct Action Congress, while Mr Obasanjo handed the ruling party’s ticket to a sick state governor, Mr Yar’Adua.
Patience Jonathan also once publicly recalled the humiliation her husband allegedly suffered as a vice to President Umaru Yar’adua, before the National Assembly made him the acting president through the “Doctrine of Necessity” following the infirmity of the president. She said Mr Jonathan was only going to his office to read newspapers, as he had been sidelined by a “cabal” that allegedly ran Mr Yar’Adua’s presidency.
No rancour was publicly reported between President Jonathan and his vice, Namadi Sambo, who stood by the president when their party imploded over Mr Jonathan’s reelection bid in 2004. But they never got to the point together where My Sambo would have expected a payback.
Buhari’s preferred candidate
Mr Osinbajo is at that point now. Is he running on the encouragement of the president?
This question is appropriate because unlike Mr Tinubu and the state governors in the race, the vice president does not have a structure in the party that he can rely on for votes at the primary.
Mr Osinbajo was first appointed into a political office as Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos by Mr Tinubu in 1999. His membership of Mr Tinubu’s camp led him into the APC and to his nomination as running mate to Mr Buhari as the party’s flag bearer in 2015, even though a recent revision has suggested that the nomination was in spite, rather than due to the support, of Mr Tinubu.
As vice president, Mr Osinbajo has not exercised any obvious influence on the politics of Lagos, where partisan politics all began for him, or of his ancestral Ogun State. His former boss, Mr Tinubu, continues to be influential in the two states as in other states in the South-west, even in the state where the governor is speculated to be preparing to join the presidential race.
With Mr Tinubu also running for the APC ticket, Mr Osinbajo obviously now has to keep a different lane, the first time he would be doing so since he joined partisan politics.
Mr Osinbajo’s best source of fuel for his bid is his current boss, who is yet to show his hand in this race.
Asked during an interview with Channels Television in January who his preferred candidate was, President Buhari replied: “It is (a) secret.”
“No, I wouldn’t say because he may be eliminated if I mention. I better keep it,” he had stated with a smile.
Is that candidate Mr Osinbajo? In his declaration speech, the vice president presented himself as the candidate for continuity.
He said: “In the past seven years, I have served as Vice President under a true Nigerian patriot, a servant of the nation in war and peace, and a man of integrity, President Muhammadu Buhari.
“We have, together, worked through some of the most difficult times in the history of our Nation, but we have remained focused on securing the country, providing infrastructure and growing our economy.
“In this period of seven years, I have served the government in several capacities, and have, at the direction of Mr. President, represented our country in sensitive high level international engagements. I have been to practically all local governments in Nigeria.”
While he has genuine reasons to hope for the endorsement of the president, another close associate of the president, Mr Amaechi, has also thrown his hat into the ring. Another, Mr Ngige, is also said to be preparing to do so. And Mr Fayemi, the Ekiti governor who is also the Chairman of the Nigerian Governors Forum, was also a minister under Mr Buhari. Each of them would also have informed the president of their ambitions and sought his blessing.
Unless the president is playing a game of subterfuge by having all of them in the race to protect the “preferred candidate” from the fury of the rejected, it appears the president may not have a horse in the race.
Osinbajo and governors
If Mr Osinbajo does not enjoy the anointment of his current boss, the next best source of support are the governors. According to a Thisday newspaper report on Monday, Mr Osinbajo expects the support of the governors, the reason he informed them at the meeting the night before his declaration.
Quoting an unnamed source, the newspaper said: “Professor Osinbajo has a special relationship with the APC governors as well as governors of other parties, most of whom he has built fraternal bond with in the last seven years as the chairman of the National Economic Council of which all the governors are statutory members.
“The VP felt being his key allies, he needed to formally inform them (governors) and seek their cooperation in the political journey ahead. Besides, many of the governors (APC) are also members or directors of some FG-owned agencies, where the VP is Chairman and their relationships in these agencies have also been deepened over the years.”
Governors are powerful in party politics. They are essentially responsible for selecting the delegates who vote in indirect primaries, meaning that the state governors can determine who emerges as the presidential candidate of the party if they agree among themselves.
According to some media reports, 12 governors attended the meeting with Mr Osinbajo on Sunday. Aside from Mr Bagudu of Kebbi, the others include Nasir El-Rufa’I of Kaduna, Dapo Abiodun of Ogun, Hope Uzodinma of Imo, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos and Gboyega Oyetola of Osun. It was not stated why the 10 other state governors did not attend the meeting. However, it is clear that not all those who attended did so to demonstrate support for Mr Osinbajo’s bid. Some of them, like Messrs Sanwo-Olu and Oyetola, are close associates of Mr Tinubu.
Mr Osinbajo’s greatest asset in this race is his seeming good standing with voters across the country, at least from the findings of the polls conducted by his team and his popularity on social media where he seems to connect with young Nigerians.
On Monday, a supporter, Richard Akinola, reported an enthusiastic response to his declaration on Twitter.
“Record breaking Twitter response 345,000 views. 27,000 likes. 18,000 retweets Over 3 million impressions. In less than 6 hours
Over 150,000 views on Facebook and over 15,000 views on YouTube within six hours”, Mr Akinnola posted on his Facebook page.
As a pentecostal Christian, Mr Osinbajo is also popular with the entire Christian community, which leading organisation, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), had demanded that the next president should be a southern Christian.
But that support has come with potential danger. An article by a popular columnist, Farooq Kperogi, warning that an Osinbajo presidency would trigger a religious war in Nigeria, trended for many weeks and has been translated into Hausa for circulation in Northern Nigeria. The article followed a report that Mr Osinbajo’s church had set up units across the country to mobilise support for members of the church running for political offices.
An Islamic organisation, MURIC, responded by urging Muslims to beware of Mr Osinbajo. With the possibility of the PDP nominating a northern Muslim, Mr Osinbajo’s candidature faces the danger of seeming less appealing to APC leaders in that region.
If Mr Osinbajo is presented to INEC in June as the flag bearer of the ruling party for next year’s election, he stands the chance of becoming the first sitting vice president in Nigeria to be elected president. Mr Jonathan won his election in 2011 as a sitting president, his principal having died several months before the election. Mr Abubakar ran unsuccessfully for the top job in 2007 from the exile of an opposition party. Alex Ekwueme did not even have the opportunity to bid for the ticket of the National Party of Nigeria before the soldiers sacked the Second Republic in 1983.