The declaration on Monday by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo of his intention to seek the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) to enable him to run for president in 2023 has pitted him against his political godfather, Bola Tinubu.
Osinbajo had announced his readiness for the contest at a meeting Sunday night at Aguda House, his official residence, attended by Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna State, Dapo Abiodun of Ogun, Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi, Muhammad Abubakar of Jigawa, Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano, Simon Lalong of Plateau, Hope Uzodinma of Imo, Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos, Gboyega Oyetola of Osun, Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa, and Hafis Kawu, a former presidential aide and House of Representatives member.
BusinessDay learnt that Sunday night’s meeting with the governors had initially been planned to hold on Thursday but had to be shifted because a number of the governors were unavailable.
However, apart from having to wait until after the party convention, the vice-president was also keen to properly manage and choreograph the communication with President Muhammadu Buhari, with whom he had had at least three meetings, the first of which was in January where he sought counsel and guidance. Both men met on Thursday when Osinbajo told his boss about how he planned to meet governors of the party.
“We have been very deliberate about how the vice-president will step out. Firstly, there was never a question of him not running because of Asiwaju. That was never discussed to the best of my knowledge. So, it was always a matter of timing and sequencing because we wanted to get it right from the very first step,” one source said.
Osinbajo made a deliberate effort to court and extoll governors of the ruling APC when he hosted them, according to those close to the meeting. Emerging details of the meeting showed that the vice-president, who said he had called the gathering to consult them and break news of his desire to seek the presidential ticket of the party, went on to highlight the pivotal place of the governors in the structure of the party.
He sought the governors’ support and assured them that if given the ticket and he went on to win the election next year, he would ensure that they would be there when the government would be formed and when critical actions would be taken.
Osinbajo, who had been holding separate meetings with the governors for weeks, said he wanted the governors of the party to stand by him all the way.
Responding on behalf of the governors, Abubakar Bagudu, governor of Kebbi State and chairman of the Progressive Governors Forum, thanked the vice-president for reposing confidence on the governors and for sharing with them his ideas for moving Nigeria forward.
He praised Osinbajo for bringing the governors closer over the years by his tact in handling matters at the regular meetings of the National Economic Council (NEC), which Osinbajo chairs.
Bagudu expressed the profound respect of his colleagues for the vice-president who he said had transformed the NEC meetings from a mere monologue into healthy dialogues where governors are treated as parties with a stake in the future of Nigeria.
He assured their host that the governors would do everything in their power to ensure that APC presented the best candidate and that it went on to win the 2023 presidential election.
In what some have described as a counter move, Tinubu also held his own meeting on Monday with 12 APC governors at Kebbi State Governor’s Lodge, Asokoro, in Abuja. The meeting was attended by governors from Kebbi, Yobe, Lagos, Nasarawa, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kwara, Imo, Plateau, Osun, Ogun and Kano states.
It was learnt that some state governors had rejected the idea of the gathering holding at Lagos House in the capital.
BusinessDay also learnt that Tinubu had made himself unreachable to associates of the vice-president who had tried unsuccessfully to get him to speak to Osinbajo before he went into Sunday night’s meeting with the APC governors.
The vice-president’s campaign team said there had never been a question of the number-two man not running just on account of Tinubu’s expressed desire to contest the same position.
What has emerged is that both contestants are fighting for the heart of the party by relying on the powers of the governors to succeed in their efforts to get the presidential ticket.
Some in APC say Osinbajo is better placed to preserve the Buhari legacy. Others who worry about a protracted lame duck presidency for Buhari believe any candidate apart from Osinbajo will lead to massive loss of influence on the part of Aso Rock.
They point to what happened in the days following Buhari’s election when senior government officials including the Inspector General of Police deserted President Jonathan as they rushed to Daura to pay homage to Buhari.
Pundits say that the absence of Governor Kayode Fayemi of Ekiti State in both meetings was instructive.
“Governor Fayemi deliberately shunned the meetings. He will soon declare his presidential ambition. Nigerians must not be fooled any longer. There is no difference between Buhari, Tinubu and Osinbajo. Nigerians must hold three of them accountable for the destruction of the economy. None of them is good enough for the country anymore,” a source who spoke with BusinessDay on condition of anonymity said.
Reno Omokri, a former aide of former President Goodluck Jonathan, described the declaration speech of Osinbajo as empty and devoid of any tangible achievements that could spur Nigerians to prefer him as president in 2023.
Omokri, through his verified Twitter handle @reomokri, on Monday, challenged the vice-president to name the promises they made to the people in 2015 that had been fulfilled in seven years in power.
“Osinbajo fooled us with his empty promises in 2015. Don’t forget how he was doing Trader Moni during the last elections. Did he not abandon it after they rigged themselves to win? For years, Osinbajo posed as an intellectual. So, at the very least, we expected his declaration speech to be filled with his achievements. Instead, all we got are promises because he and Buhari have no achievements to show for their wasted 7 years,” he said.
Some other analysts, who spoke with BusinessDay, advised Nigerians not to lose sleep over the impending “fight” between Tinubu and Osinbajo, as according to them, “They are birds of a feather.”
“Was it not the same Osinbajo that helped Tinubu in Lagos in some of the Alpha Beta deals that trended some time ago? Osinbajo has been in the Buhari administration since 2015 and the economy is nothing to write home about. Where is Nigeria today? Do we still have a country? What legacy is Buhari leaving behind?
For me, the President is leaving behind a destroyed nation; should we exonerate Osinbajo? Should Nigerians reward him for destroying their lives by handing the country over to him? That would be the worst decision Nigerians can make in 2023,” an analyst said, craving anonymity.
Christian Okeke, a lecturer with Nnamdi Azikiwe University Awka, said: “It is heart-breaking to listen to the VP say in his speech that he indeed stood where ordinary people in the country stood and sat where they sat, and that he knows their hopes, aspirations and fears. This sounds to me either as insensitivity or mockery.
“Curiously, the vice-president never cried out before now as a strategy for self-preservation. In light of these, the fact that the government he served left the country and her people in this unfortunate condition is going to limit him. He shares in the responsibility of failure.”