No Nigerian was more influential on the state of affairs of the nation in 2017 than Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
From the evening of the 19th of January till the 10th of March, and between 8th May and 19th August, Osinbajo showed why he was the deal breaker that made the 2015 merger between the CPC and Bola Tinubu’s ACN workable. The former Lagos state governor is not many persons’ cup of tea but insisting on presenting Osinbajo again as his choice of a running mate to Buhari after the 2011 deal fell through ranks in the top quartet of his most meaningful contributions to Nigeria.
For the 154 days it lasted, Acting President Yemi Osinbajo was the President Nigerians had wanted Muhammadu Buhari to be for two years.
In control, and in touch.
Pressure from the Resume or Resign protests in Abuja and London ultimately brought the reign of calm to an abrupt end but just how well run was Nigeria in those weeks?
It was a reign of near certainty, of little or no gaffes, of the smooth flow of the business of government. Looking from the outside, it was not obvious the inconveniences and pressures he had to put up with in going about his duty with the serenity of a seasoned luminary and intellectual. He mounted every podium with the dignity of a presbyter, spoke with the eloquence of one sent to comfort a particularly tortured soul, leaving a fair share of confidence and belief to audiences from the South-South to the North East.
His defining moment was at the Biafra at 50 colloquium organized in Abuja in May. Being in his second stint as Acting President and with concerns in some quarters that he had outshined his boss (whatever that means) in the first quarter, it would not have been untoward if he carved out an excuse not to be present. The Indigenous People of Biafra (Ipob) had stoked the tension of the remembrance week by asking its members to observe a sit-at-home on the 30th of May, a Tuesday and a work day. It may have been easy and normal to ride on that as the excuse to not give much care to the remembrance.
— Amara Nwankpa (@Nwankpa_A) May 25, 2017
— Editi Effiòng (@EditiEffiong) May 25, 2017
But Professor Osinbajo, as Acting President of Nigeria, showed up with a personal touch to honour the memory of Biafra. His speech at the event was the best given by any public official this year, and his words on building national unity and fostering cohesion should be celebrated and taught in schools:
“Instead of trying to flee into the lazy comfort of homogeneity every time we’re faced with the frustrations of living together as countrymen and women, the more beneficial way for us individually and collectively is actually to apply the effort and the patience to understand one another and to progressively aspire to create one nation bound in freedom, in peace and unity”
On the subject of discontent by persons of some ethnic nationalities with their place in Nigeria, he observed:
“Nigerians should exercise to the fullest extent the right to discuss or debate the terms of our existence. Debate and disagreements are fundamental aspects of democracy. We recognize and acknowledge that necessity”.
But the quote of the year is undoubtedly this one:
“The journey to nationhood is not an event but a process, filled, as with life itself, with experiences some bitter, some sweet. The most remarkable attribute of that process is that a succeeding generation does not need to bear the prejudices and failures of the past”
It is easy to dismiss the value of a well articulated speech; after all, Ipob did not become any less heady because Osinbajo said some good words at an event which had Olusegun Obasanjo, Ohanaeze leader Nnia Nwodo, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, Osita Chidoka and others in attendance. There continued to be threats and tantrums from the Nnamdi-Kanu led group. There was the Kaduna declaration which set October 1 as the date of eviction of South Easterners from the North. Then, a number of groups from the Niger Delta said they had bought new locks and chains, threatening to shut down the nation’s oil facilities on or before the same deadline if persons of Northern origin did not vacate their communities. It could have gone horribly wrong.
But the Acting President did what had to be done, holding meetings with elders of different ethnic groups almost immediately. One has the feeling that it was impossible for those men to listen to PYO at those meetings and not be convinced to call their wards to order. President Buhari, in his August 21 address upon his return, nearly undid all that good work with the needless remarks about crossing national red lines.
For what may be called substantial administrative actions that affected the economy, Osinbajo had the privilege of doing as much as anyone did in 2017. The Executive orders that removed stumbling blocks for business registration and visa application for entrants into the country produced the effect of improving the ease of doing Business and it was his to visit states and launch SME clinics to boost small businesses around the country.
Prof Osinbajo turned 60 this year and celebrated a 28th Wedding anniversary with Second Lady, Dolapo, on November 25, the same day Banky W and Adesua Etomi sealed the big love story of the year with a Wedding Ceremony in South Africa. The Wellingtons arguably brought more palpable joy and sense of community to Nigerians than Osinbajo but the learned Prof, being adept with the sensitivities in different sectors of the nation, had been among the first to give a nod to the Wellingtons in that May speech in Abuja.
“For every young Nigerian who sees the Internet as an avenue for spewing ethnic hatred, there is another young Nigerian who is falling in love…”
Socially conscious and far from detached, his media team rarely gave him reason to have to explain himself, besides that one momentous over estimation about the money released for the second Niger Bridge. Had he been given permission, Babachir Lawal probably may have got his suspension sooner. The Senate did give him a scare though while he was away at an AU Summit at Addis Ababa, perhaps nudging him towards rendering an apology for seconding Femi Falana’s views on not submitting the EFCC Chairman’s name for vetting.
It was anticlimactic to have him running around pump stations in Lagos as part of a show put on to assuage frustrations caused by the end of year fuel scarcity. More profitable would have been visits to places like Numan and on-the-ground dialogue with victims of the menace of herdsmen attacks and traditional rulers. It would have also helped to hear him add his voice to the strong case to terminate the illegality of the extra-judicial actions of SARS.
But the Prof had a year that showed his qualities to Nigerians on a more visible scale. He will have a share in the many embarrassments of his principal this year but the Vice President cannot be denied the salute that goes with the good influence exerted nationally in the year gone by.