Nigeria 2023: Will Tinubu step down for Osinbajo again?

By Akin Irede
Posted on Monday, 1 November 2021 09:01

Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (left) and APC leader Bola Tinubu

The struggle to succeed Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari in 2023 could prove as the biggest test of loyalty between Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo and his mentor, Bola Tinubu

“Who is Muhammadu Buhari’s running mate?” one columnist asked on 17 December 2014, shortly after Buhari revealed the little known cleric as his running mate ahead of the 2015 presidential election. “Is his surname spelt ‘Osinbajo’, ‘Osibajo’ or ‘Oshinbajo’ because several newspapers are spelling it differently”.

Although Osinbajo was a senior pastor at the Redeemed Christian Church of God – one of the largest churches in the country – he was largely unknown outside Lagos. Introducing him to a large crowd of supporters at a campaign rally in Owerri on January 14, 2015, Buhari introduced him as ‘Prof. Yemi Osunbade’, clear evidence that he really did not know who would be accompanying him to Aso Villa as his deputy.

Osinbajo’s emergence as Buhari’s running mate was not as straightforward as some may think.

The official story from Tinubu’s camp is that he was poised to be Buhari’s running mate, but because both Buhari and Tinubu are Muslims, and due to Buhari’s controversial past of openly supporting Sharia law in the north in the early 2000s, it was nearly impossible to sell a joint Muslim-Muslim presidential ticket without scaring Christian conservatives.

Eventually, Tinubu settled for Osinbajo, who had served under him as attorney-general of Lagos State for eight years. Buhari and Osinbajo would go on to win the presidential election, a victory unprecedented in the annals of Nigeria, while Tinubu would remain the man who almost became vice-president.

However, according to President Buhari’s official biographer, Prof. James Paden, it was Buhari who insisted that Osinbajo, the only Christian option on the table, be named as his running mate despite pressure from Tinubu for Buhari to do otherwise. Regardless of what version of the story is true, it remains clear that Osinbajo’s emergence as vice-president came at a cost to Tinubu.

Two presidential ambitions

With Buhari’s tenure ending in 20 months time, the race for who will succeed him has continued to intensify. With widespread belief within the APC that power will shift to the south, it is expected that the south-west will be the preferred zone to get the presidential ticket, being the strongest southern base of the party.

Although none of them has openly declared interest in the race, Tinubu and Osinbajo are the most mentioned names in the APC and they have the most vibrant campaign support groups. These support groups have separately been endorsed by governors and other traditional establishments and have even opened campaign offices and websites.

Sources within both camps tell The Africa Report that since the race began to intensify, the two politicians have not been as close as they used to be.

Tinubu’s London trip

While he was away in London for over three months for a knee surgery, Tinubu received visitors from all over the country.

The most notable ones include: President Muhammadu Buhari, Governors Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun), Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano) and Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo). Others are the speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila; senators and even members of the northern caucus of the House.

Osinbajo was not one of those who visited Tinubu.

In Tinubu’s absence, Osinbajo visited one of the most influential monarchs in the south-west, the Alaafin of Oyo, Lamidi Adeyemi III, in Ibadan on 13 September 2021, along with his wife, Dolapo, who is the granddaughter of Obafemi Awolowo, one of the nation’s founding fathers. Uncharacteristically, Osinbajo refused to speak with the media, but sped off with his convoy after the visit.

The information given to Tinubu after the meeting was that Osinbajo had gone to seek the blessings of the revered monarch ahead of 2023. A close aide to the APC leader says the details of this meeting were leaked to Tinubu who felt betrayed.

“We were shocked that Osinbajo never visited London all through Tinubu’s stay. Ironically, during this period, Osinbajo met some south-west figures including a very prominent traditional ruler, informing him of his intention to contest the presidency and whether the monarch would support him. Tinubu received this information from the highest possible authority,” a trusted ally of Tinubu says.

The ally further states that Osinbajo’s politicking while Tinubu was still on medical vacation was hurtful and disrespectful.

Osinbajo is not desperate for power. Many people want him to contest but he is not an ingrate. He knows the role Tinubu has played in his success… It is overzealous supporters, including some people around Tinubu, that are causing this division.

On the day Osinbajo travelled to London on an official visit, Tinubu suddenly returned to Nigeria unannounced.

Two credible sources tell The Africa Report that Tinubu’s handlers advised him to leave London in order to avoid seeing Osinbajo.

The Abuja surprise

After frustrated efforts to see Tinubu, Osinbajo finally succeeded on 29 October when he visited his former boss at the Lagos House, Abuja where Tinubu stayed. Tinubu had been in Abuja for some days to visit President Buhari, attend the wedding of the son of Katsina Senator, Abu Ibrahim, and receive a status update on the activities of campaign groups.

Key sources within Tinubu’s household tell The Africa Report that Osinbajo travelled with minimal security detail and came into Tinubu’s home unannounced.

“We had a list of guests that we were expecting. Osinbajo’s name was not on the list. So, we were startled to see him. He and Tinubu embraced each other and [spoke] for about an hour. He apologised to Tinubu for how things have turned [out],” says one of Tinubu’s aides.

One of Osinbajo’s aides tells The Africa Report that the visit was evidence that Tinubu and Osinbajo remained close.

“Osinbajo is not desperate for power. Many people want him to contest but he is not an ingrate. He knows the role Tinubu has played in his success. He is talking with Tinubu and consultations are still on. It is overzealous supporters, including some people around Tinubu, that are causing this division,” the aide says.

Will Tinubu step down?

Since Tinubu’s return to Nigeria over three weeks ago, his campaign has continued to gather steam, especially with the launch of nationwide offices by support groups apparently acting on Tinubu’s orders. With his huge financial arsenal and grass-roots support, the chances of anyone in the south-west defeating him in a fair contest seem unlikely.

Aware of his political handicap, Osinbajo’s supporters now hope Tinubu can endorse him once more while also downplaying the severity of their cold war. They believe Tinubu, who has been battling health challenges and is a bit more advanced in age, should be magnanimous enough to support Osinbajo.

One of such groups is the Progressive Consolidation Group (PCG), the only support group formally recognised by the APC.

“Both President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo must reach an accord for timely preparation of a more vibrant successor-administration to be headed by the current vice president, while APC national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, should reconsider his ambition,” the group said in a recent statement.

However, Tinubu’s allies say there is no going back and the only thing that can stop him is his health.

“If Tinubu’s health condition does not improve, then he may consider endorsing someone else but he will do so on his terms and I doubt if it will be Osinbajo that he will pick,” says an aide.

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