Nigeria 2023: Osinbajo’s campaign goes into overdrive despite denial, wins governor’s endorsement

By Akin Irede
Posted on Thursday, 23 September 2021 16:30

Nigerian Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo waves at the crowd after taking the oath of office as the Vice President of Nigeria during the presidential inauguration in Abuja, Nigeria May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Despite regular claims by Nigeria's Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo that he is too busy to be thinking about running in 2023's presidential election, strategic moves are being taken to ensure that he succeeds President Muhammadu Buhari. And a constellation of support groups - from which the Vice-President has distanced himself - are pushing the idea of his candidacy.

President Muhammadu Buhari alongside several governors, ministers, business tycoons and ex-leaders took the town of Bichi by storm last month when the President’s only son, Yusuf, tied the knot with the Emir of Bichi’s daughter, Zahra, in what has been deemed the wedding of the year. The over 20 private jets stationed at the Aminu Kano Airport by guests added to the pomp and ostentation that characterised the high society wedding in Kano State, the North’s commercial capital.

However, one other thing that seemed to divert attention from the main event and attracted media headlines was the strategic display of political posters along several streets in Kano State indicating a pairing of Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and Kano state Governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, for the Presidential election in 2023.

The posters which read, ‘Osinbajo-Ganduje Alliance (OGA)’, ‘For Better Nigeria’, and ‘OGA Na Master’, were strategically placed on streets leading to the venue of the wedding

The OGA, led by Oluleke Moses and Bello Mohammed, quickly leveraged the media buzz with a statement.

It read: “If power rotates to the South, Osinbajo is best placed to unite, heal and inspire our great nation. We also firmly believe that Ganduje’s antecedents as Governor of Kano make him the perfect Northern vice presidential candidate to Osinbajo; one who will advance and protect the interests of a Northern Nigeria plagued by poverty and insecurity.

“Vice-President Osinbajo and Governor Ganduje have both offered the most plausible solutions to ending the security crisis occasioned by the farmers-herders crisis across the country”.

The Vice-President’s spokesperson, Laolu Akande, issued a statement dissociating his boss from the posters, describing them as “a distraction”. Ganduje, who has at several times endorsed the idea of a southerner becoming the President in 2023, did not issue a denial.

Constellation of support

This would not be the first time that promotional materials of the Vice-President would cause a media frenzy. Earlier in May, a group known as the ‘Osinbajo Support Movement’ (OSM) created a website to chronicle the achievements of the Vice-President and garner support for him ahead of the 2023 election.

The group, which is recruiting volunteers across the country, stated on its website, “Osinbajo Support Movement is a group of patriotic Nigerians committed to ensuring that Nigeria’s brilliant, hardworking, reliable, and patriotic Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo contests and wins 2023 Presidential election.”

The Vice-President’s Office again put out a statement distancing Osinbajo from the group.

The Vice-President’s Office, however, did not rule out the possibility of Osinbajo contesting but only said, “Prof. Osinbajo has not declared any interest whatsoever in the 2023 election, but he is rather focused on working in his capacity as Vice-President in the current administration to address all the compelling issues in the country and concerns of Nigerians, including finding effective and lasting solutions to the security challenges.”

Northern support will be key

Perhaps, the most influential of the campaign groups pushing for an Osinbajo Presidency is the Progressives Consolidation Group (PCG) which has now begun a nationwide tour and is being received by northern governors, some of whom are believed to be lobbying for the Vice-President position in 2023. The group’s unfettered access to governors is evidence that it has a strong political backing.

The PCG, led by Aliyu Kurfi, was well received by Katsina State Governor, Aminu Masari, on 28 August . Incidentally, Masari is one of the northern governors that has openly supported a power shift to the South in 2023. The group also visited the Emir of Daura Emirate, Alhaji Umar Faruk, on the issue and held strategic meetings with APC members from all the 34 local government areas in Katsina State, on how to achieve success with the Osinbajo 2023 project. Katsina, which is the President’s home state, also has the 4th largest number of voters in the country after Lagos, Kano and Kaduna.

The campaign received a huge boost earlier in the week when PCG visited Nasarawa State and was given a hero’s welcome by Governor Abdullahi Sule.

Sule made it clear that he and many others would support Osinbajo if he shows interest in contesting the 2023 presidential election.

He said, “Our concern is how we will sustain the party beyond President Buhari. So, if you come up with the idea, you know you will not only get my attention but the attention of every progressive governor in the country.

“So, if you are going about to sell this man, I want you to know that not every product is sellable but Osinbajo is sellable. I pray that all the work (campaign) you are doing now will not be in vain. It will be good for our party and the progress of this country.”

The strategist

Osinbajo, though not a career politician, has always seized every opportunity to promote his ideas.

During President Buhari’s first term, he spent a considerable amount of time visiting rural markets, giving out N10,000 ($24) loans to market women through the TraderMoni scheme, a move which gained him support at the grassroots but condemnation from the elite.

He has also been more accessible to young Nigerians and avoids controversies as much as possible. He has refused to take a hard stance on divisive issues like farmer/herder crisis, ethnic conflicts and the current Value Added Tax issue.

In 2019, he showed his political deftness when he helped orchestrate the downfall of Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State and the victory of Dapo Abiodun, giving him a toehold in Ogun State politics.

He also won plaudits from Governors in the Niger Delta when he made a series of visits to the region during Buhari’s first term, earning a commendation from Governor Wike of Rivers State, the influential financier of the opposition PDP.

How feasible is an Osinbajo Presidency?

The Vice-President is a professor and a senior lawyer. He is also a pastor in the Redeemed Christian Church of God, one of the largest churches in the country with about 14,000 branches across the world and is headed by the influential Pastor Enoch Adeboye, who is Osinbajo’s spiritual father. He is also married to Dolapo, the granddaughter of Obafemi Awolowo, one of the nation’s most respected founding fathers.

Osinbajo, who is a charming orator, also has a good track record of running the country efficiently in Buhari’s absence and is more cosmopolitan than most politicians. He is also widely accepted across religious and ethnic lines having been able to manage the country’s diversity considerably during his time in charge of the country.

However, his biggest challenge is that he lacks a strong political base within the party having only joined partisan politics a few years ago. His lack of authority in the party became more glaring in August when he tried unsuccessfully to stop the APC Ward Congress because its legality was in contention.

Osinbajo’s efforts to stop the congress were repelled by the de facto Chairman of the APC, Mai Mala Buni; the Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami; Governor Atiku Bagudu of Kebbi State; and other influential leaders who have taken over the running of the party since the ouster of Adams Oshiomhole last year.

In recent time also, he has been frustrated by a cabal in the Presidency that has prevented him from having the more influential role he had during the President’s first term when he served as acting President for months and was given more duties by the President.

But a northern senator told The Africa Report that Osinbajo remained the least controversial option and could still be favoured by President Buhari.

“It is true that Osinbajo’s influence in the President’s second term has reduced, but he has a likeable personality; a good reputation. Buhari could pick him as a successor for the sake of continuity and he is sellable both within and outside the party. He is the safest option.

“And if Tinubu supports him that would be a huge boost. He is a Christian and can easily get a strong northern Muslim running mate and that is why he could be favoured,” the senator said.

Osinbajo, who was brought to the limelight by APC stalwart Bola Tinubu, has, however, continued to keep all his cards close to his chest for now while also watching the body language of Buhari and Tinubu, who is also seeking to become President in 2023.

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