By Ismail Mudashir, Saawua Terzungwe & Nurudeen Oyewole
While the names of President Muhammadu Buhari and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, two major presidential contenders for 2019, currently dominate the nation’s political airwaves, their choices of running mates are not passing unnoticed, as there is already a growing consensus among Nigerians on the impact that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and former Governor Peter Obi will bring to bear on their respective presidential tickets. Daily Trust on Sunday digs into how the two lieutenants will define 2019.
According to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), 73 political parties are fielding candidates for the 2019 presidential election due to hold in February. Going by the provision of the Electoral Act, all the 73 parties must have presidential running mates.
But despite the huge number of the running mates in the race, all eyes will be focused on Osinbajo and Obi, the two vice presidential candidates for the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the major opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) respectively.
Buhari, from the NorthWest, first picked Osinbajo, from the South-West, as his deputy in 2015. Atiku, who hails from Adamawa State in the North-East, chose Obi, a former governor of Anambra State in the South-East.
Analysts believe the choices of the running mates are strategic.
Until his emergence as the running mate to President Buhari in 2014, Prof. Osinbajo, 61, was not popular outside Lagos, save in the Redeemed Christian Church circles where he is a pastor.
A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Prof. Osinbajo had served as Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice for Lagos State throughout the tenure of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (1999-2007).
His selection, midwifed by Tinubu, the oracle of the politics of the South-West geopolitical zone, gave President Buhari an upper-hand over the then President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan in the 2015 presidential election.
For about eight years after he left as the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos State, Prof. Osinbajo was out of the political limelight, focusing instead on his tripartite interest areas: lecturing, church shepherding and private law practice. Thus, at the time of his selection as the running mate of President Buhari, Osinbajo was not known to have built any political structure anywhere in the South-West.
He began to build and expand his political followership as vice president through an association of friends under the umbrella of what is known as Prof. Yemi Osinbajo Organisation (PYO).
The PYO is only becoming known at a time the re-election campaign of Osinbajo and his principal, President Buhari is gaining momentum. Until now, it was never known as a vibrant political movement or ideological school of sort. Yet, what Osinbajo lacks in a concrete political structure, he has in abundance in other unique selling propositions that are hard to ignore in political permutation. These factors, observers believe, might turn out to become key deciders in the 2019 presidential election.
The first selling point of Osinbajo is what could be described as his “studentship of Asiwaju Tinubu’s political school.”
Arguably, Osinbajo is the highest political office holder to have emerged from that “school,” and for a man who is not known to be flippant, the Tinubu political machinery, which incidentally is the most potent in the South-West political corridor today, has always been there to protect Osinbajo, and by extension, Buhari’s interests.
By being regarded as the representative of Tinubu’s powerful block, Osinbajo has got his foot in the door in the area of enjoying the support of the South-West region, which their ticket needs dearly, observers said.
Osinbajo’s charisma is also another factor many believe will always count in his favour. Gifted with oratory, Osinbajo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, lecturer cum pastor, is perceived by many in the academia as a shining star of the Buhari administration. His sharp intellect, grasp of policies and ability to break such down to the understanding of the average men in the streets, coupled with his unassuming personae, appear to have endeared him into the hearts of many in a region where academic sagacity is considered a valuable asset.
Being younger than Buhari also endears him to the youth across various parts of the country. Osinbajo’s relevance does not only stop at elections, his supporters say that as vice president, he has shown versatility in statecraft, especially whenever Buhari was out of the country.
Raji Cardoso, a Lagos-based civil rights activist and social affairs commentator, said one important factor about the personality of Prof. Osinbajo that must not be swept under the carpet is his denomination in Christianity which is a big selling point in all the six geo-political zones.
According to Cardoso, in a political climate where ethnicity and religious affiliations are key considerations of winning electorates’ support, Osinbajo has an edge by belonging to the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), an evangelical church with mass followership in the South-West.
“Many may want to tell you that the church’s General Overseer is apolitical, but that’s to the extent of being fair to all and sundry.When the whole thing comes to the crunchy time, we know where the pendulum can swing in terms of political sympathy.
“In fact, Osinbajo is not just a member of the church, he was the presiding pastor of the parish within his area of residence until his emergence as the vice president. I recall that in one of his interviews before the last election, he did say he sought and secured Pastor Enoch Adeboye’s permission before accepting to become Buhari’s running mate,” Cardoso said.
On the religious front, the vice president, who retains his position as the pastor in charge of the Lagos Province 48 of the Redeemed Christian Church of God despite his political office, is expected to shape the 2019 presidential election and mobilise votes for their second term bid, especially in the South and North-Central states.
His roles in the presidency
As the number two citizen, Osinbajo oversees one of the three agenda of the present administration in the country. While President Buhari takes charge of the security and corruption fight, Osinbajo is said to be in charge of the revival of the country’s economy.
The administration’s Social Intervention Programmes (SIP) is under his office. In recent times, Osinbajo has been moving from
one state to other, popularising one of the SIP projects, ‘TraderMoni’, whereby traders are given N10, 000 loans.
Osinbajo had served as the acting president in the absence of President Buhari, and during the periods, he never showed any weakness in taking sensitive decisions that endeared him to the populace. For instance, it was while he was acting president that the letter for the confirmation of the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFFC), Ibrahim Magu, was first transmitted to the National Assembly in July 2016 for confirmation.
In August this year, while acting, Osinbajo sacked the Director-General of the Department of State Service (DSS), Lawal Daura, one of the most powerful kitchen cabinet members of the administration following the invasion of the National Assembly by operatives of the Service.
Also, his order that the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) of the police be disbanded and overhauled while he was acting president ballooned his popularity in the face of the masses across the country and in the hearts of many who especially had nasty experiences in the hands of the operatives.
And most importantly, his unquestionable loyalty to Buhari is seen as a plus to the overall 2019 project. Many stalwarts in the North believe that President Buhari is safe with Osinbajo, believing that his uncompromising religious doctrine makes him less ambitious as evident in the fact that there was no evidence of rift between him and his principal.
The Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan (APC, Yobe) says comparing Prof. Osinbajo with Peter Obi “is like comparing apples with oranges.”
“With all due respect to Peter Obi, he was never a vice president, he was never an acting president, so I don’t know how you can compare him with someone who has discharged his responsibilities so well with excellence and integrity with someone who was just a governor in one out of 36 states.
“To me, actually, there is nothing to compare Obi with the vice president. Therefore, we are not fair to try to compare Obi with the vice president because the vice president is far ahead of him. Maybe we should compare him (Obi) with Senator Chris Ngige who was a Governor in Anambra State but certainly not the vice president,” he said.
Lawan said Osinbajo possesses all that is required to man the office of the vice president.
“First, he is bringing in loyalty, capacity, trustworthiness, integrity, and as someone who has been tested as vice president, you will agree with me that he has a very good chemistry with the president. They understand themselves so well and he has discharged his responsibilities as vice president with dignity, discipline, capacity and the loyalty that is required,” he said.
The ranking lawmaker, who has been at the National Assembly since 1999, said at different times when Prof. Osinbajo acted in the absence of President Buhari, he displayed high level of loyalty, capacity and thoroughness in piloting the affairs of the country.
“As an acting president, he has shown capacity to continue with the programmes the president and the administration have been pursuing. Today in Nigerian history, there is no vice president who has demonstrated those kinds of traits or attitudes to work when they were in the office.
“The president and the vice president share so many things in common. They are all pro-people. They believe in the necessity and imperative of making Nigeria’s natural resources work for ordinary and vulnerable Nigerians. It is a fantastic combination that we have the president running with the vice president. I cannot see any team better than this one in the current contest going on in the country,” he said.
The publicity secretary of the APC in Lagos State, Joe Igbokwe, said Osinbajo’s Omoluabi’s reputation is the added advantage that would earn him a joint ticket with President Buhari’s massive votes from the South-West geopolitical zone.
Omoluabi, literarily means “dignified” or “integrity-personified” in Yoruba language and Igbokwe said it was a virtue deliberately and carefully searched for, which made Osinbajo qualified to have been selected and worked as Buhari’s running mate in the last four years.
“The virtue of Omoluabi is still in him and it is one key feature that will attract votes for the Buhari/Osinbajo ticket. If anyone thinks the South-West will jettison the virtue of Omoluabi for anything, such a person is deceiving himself or herself. This is a virtue that was carefully looked for and deliberately executed.
“Another thing of consideration is that the vice president and his boss have worked to deserve a second term. The man that has been writing letters from Ota; what was the situation of the road leading to his house until now? The Lagos-Ibadan expressway and the railway connecting Lagos to Ibadan in less than 50 minutes are some of the things people will consider to re-elect Osinbajo and Buhari.
“People should be on the lookout. It would be massive votes in 2019. The South-West region is solidly behind Osinbajo and their expected massive victory at the poll next year would justify that,” Igbokwe said.
Obi is a former governor of Anambra State who has profound political and socio-economic pedigree.
He was an honorary Special Adviser to the President on Finance and member of the Presidential Economic Management Team during the Goodluck Jonathan presidency.
Obi is a product of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka and has attended several educational institutions, home and abroad, focusing mostly on business.
He attended the London School of Economics to study Business Policy and Financial Management. He also attended Cambridge and Oxford’s business schools for Advanced Leadership Programmess.
The former governor took the Chief Executive Programme at the Lagos Business School and other courses on Mid to Mid Marketing and Changing the Game at Harvard Business School.
He went to the London School of Economics to study Business Policy and Financial Management, and many more.
Born in 1961, and therefore, now 57 years old, Obi was a director at the Guardian Express Bank, Charms Nigeria, Emerging Capital and Card Centre. He is also said to have many companies to his credit.
His emergence as the presidential running mate of the PDP for the 2019 elections is seen by many as a potential game-changer.
Some PDP stakeholders in the South-East, including Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, protested his emergence on the grounds that they were allegedly not consulted before the choice was made. This is especially so as many others in the region, including Ekweremadu, were eyeing the ticket.
But the visit of Atiku and other PDP bigwigs to Ekweremadu and other stakeholders of the party in the South-East, has raised the hope and chances of the party winning the majority of votes in that geo-political zone.
Sources at the Wadata Plaza told our correspondent that the party postponed its 83rd National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting which was supposed to hold Tuesday, and later met Thursday, on grounds that party’s heavyweights in the South-East have threatened to boycott the meeting over Obi.
But the presence of Ekweremadu at the meeting on Thursday was an indication that the matter was perhaps buried.
Political observers believe that Atiku’s choice of Obi was strategic in his game plan for winning 2019, for many reasons.
While the South-East has proved a hard nut to crack for Buhari since he launched his presidential bid in 2003 despite twice picking his running mates from the region, Obi, it is argued, will attract massive votes for the Atiku/Obi ticket from the South-East and, to some extent, the neighbouring South-South.
His experience as a two-term governor is also being counted as a plus to the ticket, just as his younger age will appeal to the youth.
As an economic guru, experts believe that Atiku has made the right choice of a deputy that can advise government on policies capable of rejuvenating the economy and boosting investor confidence.
A member of the PDP Board of Trustees (BoT) from the South-East, Chief Sam Nkire confirmed to our correspondent in a telephone interview that the issue had been resolved.
Chief Nkire expressed optimism that Obi would win a lot of votes from the South-East for the PDP because of his political antecedents and integrity.
“Peter Obi is tested and trusted. He has theoretical experience, he has practical experience. He was governor of Anambra State for 8 years and gave a quality and good account of himself. He transformed the state; he is well-known in the industry.
“He knows economy more than the running mate of the APC. He is a known voice in the economic trend in the world, not only in Nigeria. And he is known not to be corrupt.
“He will bring a lot of votes from the South-East because he is known to be a man of integrity. He has the capacity to deliver if voted as vice president of Nigeria. He will complement the presidential candidate, Atiku Abubakar, who is also known as an industrialist and employer of labour.
“You know governance all over the world is about jobs. Somebody who had been creating jobs in the private sector, I don’t have any doubt in my mind that he holds what it takes to deliver,” the BoT member said.
On whether some party bigwigs in the South-East would work against the party in 2019, Chief Nkire said, “The leaders affected have a point, but that issue has been resolved. All the parties involved now have their hands on deck to deliver Atiku and Obi. It is a family affair.”
Also speaking, the PDP national chairman, Prince Uche Secondus, said Obi would bring massive votes for the PDP from the South-East because of his prudence and the milestone he recorded as governor of Anambra State.
Secondus, who spoke through his Special Adviser on Media, Mr. Ike Abonyi, said Obi’s emergency as running mate to Atiku Abubakar was hope given to Nigerians by the PDP.
“He is the first person, as difficult as Anambra politics is, to rule Anambra State for 8 years. He is a landmark in governance. A landmark mark no governor in the country has been able to meet. His achievements in the state were tremendous.
“All through his tenure because of his leadership qualities, he was the chairman of the South-East Governors’ Forum. He is liked by the people, so his coming will bring transparency to the process and attract massive votes for the PDP from the South-East.
“He has a fair knowledge of the economy and he is a disciplined person. So he is going to bring that to bear on governance; and he will work with others who have deep knowledge about both the private and the public sectors,” he said.
Similarly, a foundation member of the PDP from the North, Alhaji Aminu Yakudima, told our reporter yesterday that Obi would add value to the electoral process and governance if elected.
“Yes, Peter Obi can add value to PDP’s presidential campaign because he is not only a former governor, but was tested and trusted. He has recorded huge achievements in his state that made him stand tall among his colleagues. From well informed Business Community, Obi can complement the efforts of an Atiku government to improve the economy of the country.
“Obi needs to reach out and redouble efforts. With the cooperation of South-East governors of the PDP, he can galvanise support for an Atiku/Obi presidency,” he said.
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