Nigeria 2023: VP Yemi Osinbajo announces candidacy; Tinubu challenge looms

By Akin Irede
Posted on Friday, 8 April 2022 17:26, updated on Monday, 11 April 2022 09:55

Nigeria's vice-president Yemi Osinbajo (Laurent Gillieron/Keystone via AP)

After weeks of denial and leaks, Nigeria's Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has announced his candidacy for the presidential race. But the ambition of his political benefactor, Bola Tinubu, continues to complicate his path.

In a polished video posted to social media, Osinbajo connected his presidential run to the outgoing president Buhari. The pitch attempts to ground Osinbajo’s experience in leading Nigeria through some of “the most difficult times in the history of our nation”.

Osinbajo, in his pitch talks about the ‘listening’ trips he has taken around the country – from oil communities Delta to refugee camps the North East – will be banking on the national exposure he gained in the last seven years as Vice-President.

“I’m convinced beyond doubt that we have the creativity, the courage, the talent and the resources, to be the foremost black nation on earth”, says Osinbajo.

The Tinubu Challenge

With President Muhammadu Buhari’s tenure coming to an end, Osinbajo is being primed as a successor who can hit the ground running from day one having been part of the Buhari administration.

A survey by Osinbajo’s supporters secretly commissioned by the Vice-President’s Office also shows that he has acceptability across the country and stands a good chance of winning next year’s election if he emerges as the Presidential candidate of the ruling party in the primaries next month.

He has one major challenge though. His political benefactor, Bola Tinubu, is also running for office and insists that this is a lifelong ambition that will not be killed.

The support groups calling on Osinbajo have continued to increase everyday with many calling on him to put the interest of Nigerians ahead of his loyalty to Tinubu, the Lagos godfather who took him from relative obscurity to national prominence in 2014.

Deja vu?

The Africa Report understands that Osinbajo’s ambition is being viewed as an insult and an act of betrayal by Tinubu’s team. The social media pages of known Tinubu supporters and strategists also include memes and jibes fired at Osinbajo.

A senior adviser of the VP, Senator Babafemi Ojudu, an erstwhile acolyte of Tinubu, has also grown frustrated with the constant attacks for supporting Osinbajo. He also vowed not to support Tinubu even if he emerges as the Presidential candidate of the party

“For the irritants that have been sending threat messages to me and members of my family or calling to abuse me for not supporting Tinubu, do know that is not democracy. It is something else,” he said in a lengthy Facebook post.

Already, the feud between both sides is drawing comparisons with the fight between the Premier of the defunct Western Region Obafemi Awolowo, and his successor and trusted protégé, Ladoke Akintola. The disagreement between Akintola and his erstwhile benefactor snowballed into a near civil war in the southwest which contributed to the collapse of the 1st Republic.

Some 60 years after that incident, there are fears that the feud between Tinubu and Osinbajo could threaten the chances of the southwest in producing the next President of Nigeria if things are not handled properly.

Osinbajo and Tinubu

Tinubu appointed Osinbajo into his cabinet as attorney-general of Lagos State in 1999, a position he held for eight years. Osinbajo also remained a personal lawyer and adviser to Tinubu and thus knows almost all the secrets of the Lagos godfather.

As a mark of their closeness, Osinbajo became the chief organiser of the annual Bola Tinubu symposium which is held in commemoration of Tinubu’s birthday celebration every 29 March.

Speaking at the 10th colloquium in 2018, Osinbajo recalled, “Let me first say that we started this colloquium about 10 years ago, and I’m sure that most of us have heard the story. Many of those who started the idea of the colloquium probably are here with us today.

“And we decided that every year, on the occasion of his birthday, we would take time to discuss matters of national importance. Part of the reason why we did so was because Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was an unusual governor in Lagos State.”

But Osinbajo’s absence from the planning and the event this year showed how badly their relationship had degenerated.

These were only convenient excuses. Osinbajo knows that he would have been booed by Tinubu’s overzealous supporters had he attended that event.

“Osinbajo had been the chief planner of all the previous 13 symposiums and he was doing a good job. However, this time around, he was shut out completely because they don’t trust him. We couldn’t even find a keynote speaker on time. Everything was in total disarray until the last minute and it showed,” an aide to Tinubu told The Africa Report.

In the end, Osinbajo shelved the event, opting to visit Kaduna State to commiserate with victims of the train bombing. Tinubu also ended the event abruptly, citing the terror incident.

“These were only convenient excuses. Osinbajo knows that he would have been booed by Tinubu’s overzealous supporters had he attended that event,” Tinubu’s aide added.

Osinbajo’s chances

Although he has been Vice-President for about seven years, Osinbajo still lacks a core base in the APC. He has no structure in any of the states including in Ogun where he comes from.

In the last Presidential election in 2019, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), won at Osinbajo’s polling unit located at highbrow Victoria Garden City, a development which has been used by his traducers to mock him since the ability of a politician to win his polling unit is often a mark of popularity.

President Buhari has also not openly endorsed Osinbajo even though analysts say the Vice-President remains the safest option.

While some of the APC governors have openly endorsed Tinubu, a few others are still keeping their cards close to their chests. Consequently, the analysis shows that Osinbajo will need Buhari’s 100% support to win the ticket and it may have to be through a consensus, a move which Tinubu will not take lightly.

“If Tinubu is cheated and the ticket is given to Osinbajo, you can be sure that we will not work for him,” said a lawmaker who is part of Tinubu’s campaign team.

Should Osinbajo emerge as the APC candidate, his chances would also depend on who the PDP picks as its Presidential ticket. While the Vice-President could win comfortably in many parts of Christian south, it may not be as easy in the Muslim parts of the north where religion and ethnicity play a much bigger role in politics and voter turnout is significantly higher.

The immediate goal, however, is for him to declare his interest publicly and then win the APC primary, his supporters say.

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