Osinbajo: As the gentleman-vice president takes a bow,

“We act in these matters in the right, as a matter of high principle. We act out of the integrity and conviction of our most deep-founded beliefs. If we permit ourselves to be tempted by narrow self-interest and vain ambition, if we barter our beliefs for short-term advantage, who will listen when we claim to speak for conscience, and who will contend that our words deserve to be heeded?” – Gabriel Haile Sellasie, 1963

In a matter of hours, Professor Oluyemi Osinbajo will be completing his tour of duty as the vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. It will bring to an end eight years of service as the second-in-command to the inimitable President Muhammadu Buhari, with whom he was elected to office in 2015 in a historic poll that saw an incumbent president, for the first time, lose an election. Professor Osinbajo would be the first vice-president to have served a full tenure of two terms without a record of rancour and friction, unlike what was the case during the second term of President Obasanjo and his deputy, Vice President Atiku Abubakar.

As insignificant as that might be to some, it is not so to some of us, as it is offers a window into the nature of both men, whose relationship has progressed, over time, into what some might even tag a ‘bromance’. For Osinbajo, that he has distinguished himself in office, first with a sense of loyalty that is nonpareil and an uncommon fidelity to the values of Omoluabi, has not come as a surprise. If anything, it is how he has brought his character to bear on the processes of governance and engagement with the people, that has been quite refreshing to see. In the estimation of Nigeria’s former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon (rtd.), “Prof. Osinbajo is one of the most effective vice presidents Nigeria has ever had”. That, he says, is because Osinbajo “is known for his collaborative approach to governance which has enabled him to work effectively with different stakeholders in achieving common goals.”

Even in the face of Nigeria’s prolonged economic downturn, first triggered by the 2015 crash in the price of oil, which led to economic recession and the unprecedented headwinds that came with COVID-19 pandemic, there is no doubt that the outgoing administration recorded major strides that should speak for it now, and in the future. The investment in heavy infrastructure, such as railways, major highways and bridges, especially the second Niger Bridges, is quite striking. Also worthy of note is the funding template developed through which infrastructure development has come from a mix of funds (the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF), Sukuk bonds and Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme), apart from long term facilities.

In analysing some of the landmark achievements of the administration, especially in its first term, commentators always find a way of identifying the imprint of the vice president on some of the policies and programmes. The idea of the social investment programmes and what was accomplished through the different vehicles, even with limited resources, will always stand out for me. The Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), which led to an early exit from recession in 2017, and other programmes executed to mitigate the effect of COVID-19, leading to what experts referred to as ‘an earlier than expected exit’ in 2021 from the economic doldrums that was induced, are quite remarkable.

It is instructive that it is the social investment programme, which I consider to be about the most defining of his work as vice president, perhaps on account of a philosophical disposition that has been deliberately misconstrued, and weaponised by latter-day antagonists of the man. Again, and for the record. TraderMoni was never about the vice president going around marketplaces distributing cash to traders, as fabricated by mischief makers. Rather, Tradermoni, along with MarketMoni and FarmerMoni, are micro-credit schemes under the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), which are one leg of the Social Investment Programme. Their implementation was carried out by the Bank of Industry, with petty traders, who had their profiles and biometric data recorded, being enabled to access interest-free, collateral free loans, payable over a six-month period. The funds were disbursed electronically through the phones of the petty traders into their bank accounts or mobile wallets. The vice president only visited the markets a few times at the launch and on assessment tours, at which he interacted directly with some of the beneficiaries.

Of course, some of those who had peddled false claims about this programme might never come around to accepting they were in error, but that is understandable. “The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion…draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects or despises, or else by some distinction sets aside or rejects,” Francis Bacon had warned us. For some of us, who subscribe to the philosophy of growing the economy from the bottom, while keying into the under-tapped potentials of the informal sector, it was good to see the different faces of the programme, including the N-Power scheme, Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) and Home-Grown School Feeding Programme, directly impact millions lives of those at the bottom of the pyramid. In any case, this idea is not native to us. Muhammad Yunus pioneered the microcredit concept in Bangladesh, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 2006. The good thing is that the programme was well received by the beneficiaries, and it apparently endeared the person of Yemi Osinbajo to them.

That might have been not just on account of the impact of the programme in their lives, but also on account of Osinbajo’s personality. Obviously blessed with the gift of the gab and intellectual depth, his magnetic personality and ability to connect at every level has won him many admirers at home and abroad. “As a man of faith, Prof. Osinbajo would never wish anyone evil. He is a true man of virtues and noble person. He genuinely respects the wisdom of the old and embraces the innovativeness of the youth, both groups loving him back,” Gambo Manzo says.

Former Group Managing Director of Access Bank Plc., Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede reports that “only recently, heads of state gathered in Kenya for the Ibrahim Governance Week and I couldn’t attend this year, but I asked those who attended how it went and it was plaudits about the contributions of our own vice president who stood out as always… Prof Osinbajo is a master of soft power and through this mastery, I believe he is probably one of the most admired vice presidents across the world and will be remembered when many Presidents will be forgotten.”

To the outgoing Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, “Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is a God-fearing man, he is conscientious, he is deliberate, and he holds his values very high. His principles and actions are always informed by his Godly heritage, and he will never, for whatever considerations, give up that heritage and do anything otherwise that would call to question his faith and his belief.”
At a recent book launch, former Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor, His Royal Highness Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, described Professor Osinbajo as one who “represents a perfect picture of what an ideal Nigerian leader should look like… And I dare say, we all agree that Nigeria is worse off for not having someone like him (Osinbajo) as president, but I do hope that he will be available to serve and to advise and to put in his best for the country and continue to do. So, I’m sure he will, in whatever capacity he finds himself in the future, and maybe we’ll still be lucky to have him lead us at some point or take some leadership role as a statesman.”

Whereas the historian, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. had argued that the office of the vice president is a redundant one, “It is like the human appendix, a vestigial organ on the body politic,” he posited, yet Professor Oluyemi Osinbajo assumed that office and redefined it in a way that makes him stand out. I have watched him from the distance and at close quarters. I had the privilege of being a part of his presidential campaign and I saw, first-hand, how he carried himself, comported himself with dignity and respect, for everyone all through.

Not once did he stray from the simple, straightforward message about his experience and response to a call to serve the nation. He kept to the high road in his words and conduct, and ensured that we kept to this narrow path all through, not compromising his values and conviction in anyway. Indeed, he ran a good race. It was the same way he took to the office of the vice president, with humility and diligence, that he has approached every other assignment. As I once said about him, “I have seen him, in settings not exactly public, handle difficult situations in not-too-friendly territories. He is never ruffled. He never loses his cool. He seems to never lose that confidence to explain a situation until he earns the conviction of his audience…Professor Olúyẹmí Òsínbájọ̀ strikes you as one with a clear mind on the prime place of Ọmọlúàbísm and Iwapẹlẹ́ism. His steps and words are measured and on purpose.” Unassuming, sharp and alert. Sound, brilliant, yet humble. His sense of humour is intact – he would give and take in equal measures. He is an embodiment of Iwapẹlẹ́ism.

There is more to the future than we can immediately see, but the task for the moment is to keep our heads high, get busy with the challenges of the moment for the sake of the future. As Professor Osinbajo once said, albeit, in a different context, “We mustn’t give up and we mustn’t keep looking back. The challenges of today are meant for those of us who are here and alive today…” It is instructive that Osinbajo’s path forward is already being defined in the international space for him. His advocacy for a just energy transition, anchored around debt swap for climate financing, has given it fillip, making it a compelling proposition by the day. Making reference to Vice President Osinbajo at the event in Kenya, former President of the African Development Bank, Dr Donald Kaberuka, said, “I think this gentleman has done an excellent job in his country. I don’t think we have seen the last of him.”

Before an audience comprising of Heads of State, Mo Ibrahim said to Osinbajo, “You are an example to all our leaders.” Before the formal session, Mo Ibrahim had also had a chat with the VP, which has somehow found its way into the public space. Speaking to Osinbajo, he said, “now we really need statesmen like you coming out of office to really go and save the society and do something for Africa…It will be wonderful because there’s life after office and you can have your voice…you say it as it is and then really give an example to all our leaders who handle different jobs. We can go and get things done and get the respect of the international community and you will do the best job.”

I believe that history will be kind to Osinbajo. I believe that the future will even be kinder. It will be said that we had a gentleman who gave his best in the course of service and distinguished himself in office as the nation’s vice president. It will be said that here was a man of conviction, who kept faith with his values, never losing his head, despite the high office he occupied. He did not lose himself. He did not betray his faith and sense of loyalty. Ọ̀jọ̀gbọ́n Olúyẹmí Òsínbájọ̀. Akíkanjú Ọmọlúàbí. A bridge-builder whose temperament and sense of balance is without question. A man of courage, he stood up for the sake of the country when the moment beckoned upon him. Bibi’re ko se f’owo ra. It will be said of Professor Yemi Osinbajo that Nigeria indeed had an Omoluabi as vice president.

Written by Simbo Olorunfemi


Simbo Olorunfemi works for Hoofbeatdotcom, a Nigerian communications consultancy and publisher of Africa Enterprise.

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