News The African Way

Yemi Osinbajo In Duel With History, By Fola Ojo

FOR seven years Professor Yemi Osinbajo has occupied the position of Vice President to the President and Commander in Chief of the Nigerian Armed Forces, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.). But on Monday, Osinbajo came out of the looming shadows of his principal, announcing to his supporters that he wants to succeed his boss whose term ends next year. The pastor-preacher now joins at least four other candidates in his All Progressives Congress ruling party who want exactly what he wants. I will be dissecting Osinbajo’s chances via this medium some other day. But in this week’s treatise, I am taking a dip into history.

Robert Heinlein was an American science fiction author, aeronautical engineer, and naval officer. Heinlein was known as the “dean of science fiction writers’’ and he once made this non-fiction statement about history: “A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.” I agree with Heinlein. We have to knock on the door of history to be able to open the floodgate into the future. Every path into the future burrows through the abounding bowels of history. History teaches us that in Nigeria, no vice president, through elections, has ever risen to succeed a living president. In other nations around the world, it’s also been a rare occurrence.

Assigned men who become deputies to others do so out of their own choosing. They see a path to service and they run with the challenges that come with governance. As they serve, they learn. As they run other people’s dreams, their personal dreams stay alive inside of them. In the trenches of service, their hopes blossom. They hope to see the day they too will be served as they have done for others with diligence. For men and women, who occupy positions of deputy, these hopes are more moiling and Augean.

The position of a deputy is a foretaste and foreshadow of the full power that may never come to the holder of the slot. The more proximate a man is to the seat of power, the more intense the desideratum for greater power. Deputies daily sniff the aroma of authority. They meet with kings and dine with queens. At the snap of a finger, people in their small world stand still at their beck and call. And they hope that one day, it will be their turn to command from the topmost position. Power is sweet in the mouth of him that tastes it. In obedience to the inexorable natural law of aspiration and ambition, vice presidents aspire to become presidents. It is also the most difficult political pedestal to ride to the presidency.

In over 300 years of American independence, only fourteen of the former vice presidents became presidents. More than half of them did after their presidents had died. Twice in American history have sitting vice presidents been elected to the presidency. In 1837, Vice President Martin Van Buren succeeded Andrew Jackson and in 1989, Vice President George Bush succeeded Ronald Reagan. Why is it so herculean for a man who has understudied a president for a number of years to ascend the presidential throne?

Let’s take a quick broach at Nigerian history. In the Second Republic that began October 1, 1979; Doctor Alex Ekwueme was deputy to Alhaji Shehu Shagari before military goons with guns truncated the democratic rule in 1983. Would Ekwueme have become president? We have no way of ascertaining where the tide of that time would have spun the humble man from Anambra State as he served his boss with diligence and candour. Ekwueme, who is now late, never became president even after a few attempts. May his soul rest in peace.

Abubakar Atiku was Olusegun Obasanjo’s deputy from 1999 to 2007. He served for eight years under a man who watched him up-close with suspicions. Atiku wielded a lot of influence and power. Without a doubt, he was the most powerful vice president in Nigeria’s history. Atiku is a politician with understandable ambition. The intrigues of power got him rubbing his boss the wrong way. Obasanjo was later set to leave the stage. He handed over to a dark-horse Umoru Musa Yar’adua who never had the aspiration to become Nigeria’s president but contested and won the election. Atiku’s struggle to become president continues in the battlefield of politics till today.

Goodluck Jonathan was governor of oil-rich Bayelsa before he was tapped to be vice presidential candidate to Yar’adua in 2007. Obnoxious experiences Jonathan had as VP came like an onrushing boisterous wind. This woke him up to the rude reality of the temerity that comes with being a deputy in a country like Nigeria. The difference between the offices of the president and vice president is a yawning gulf. It is like the 90 million miles distance between the sun and the earth. Jonathan was subjected to ridicules, insults, put-downs and drag-downs. I got wind of some slights he had to endure. There were places he reportedly couldn’t access, meetings he was never invited and people he couldn’t command. And he was vice president. The gap between the presidency and the deputy in Nigeria is monstrous. Every vice president serves at the pleasure of the president. A deputy who wields too much power and influence treads on a slippery slope. This kind may never become president.

In 2010, Jonathan became the first in Nigeria to ascend the presidency in a democracy due to the death of President Yar’adua. Even with the clarity of the language of the constitution, furtive moves to delay or totally scuttle his rise to the presidency were made by men who wanted to be relevant in the piazza of power. Many deputies will go to any length to cut down, slice up, mangle up and even snuff life out of their principals to realise their dreams. That was not the story of Jonathan. He hung on till the end as deputy until an act of God shot out of the blues and put him on the presidential seat. Acts of God do not have to come through the demise of humans. God has a way of miraculously spinning the wheels in whatever direction He pleases anytime there is a special assignment to be carried out in a nation. I believe every rising to the next level in all endeavours of life is an act of God. The headwinds we all fight to attain higher positions in life are boisterous. Is it possible that one day, a Nigerian sitting vice president will contest an election and succeed the man he has served loyally? Will it begin with Osinbajo even if history doesn’t back it up? If a vice president will succeed a living and breathing president who has run out his terms as spelt out by the constitution, it must be an act of God. Am I wrong? History lends some weight to my assertion.

I expressed at the beginning of this opinion that we have to knock on the door of history to be able to open the floodgate into the future. Every path into the future burrows through the abounding bowels of history. Oftentimes, however, happenings in the future may not lay supine in sync with history. It is not impossible that tomorrow may detour completely from the tracks of yesterday. If that happens to Osinbajo in 2023, that too will be history. Will Osinbajo become the first VP in Nigeria to rise to the presidency through an election? Time will tell. The fog will clear up in about 45 days. But I am always reminded by God’s word that no man can receive anything (including a nation’s presidency) except given him by God of Heaven (JOHN 3:27). In these words, I hang my resolute belief.

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