By Dele Momodu
Fellow Nigerians, I had the rare honour of sitting and chatting with our Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, last Sunday, July 2, 2017, and it was such an amazing encounter. As you would probably have noticed on this page in the last few weeks, I’ve been visibly worried about the soaking tension in Nigeria. I’ve never been so agitated in a long time. Though we’ve had our fair share of challenges and tribulations as a people and country, we’ve always found a way to manage our differences and live in peace. Why then the sudden clamour for separation and violence I wondered.
I was a humble, ardent and proud supporter of President Muhammadu Buhari in the last Presidential election out of the prevailing frustration and general anger against the PDP misrule under the seemingly irredeemable leadership of President Goodluck Jonathan. I must confess that the APC government that took over did not take full advantage of the massive goodwill it garnered from every part of Nigeria. Not since 1993, when Chief Moshood Abiola won a most decisive and convincing election have we witnessed the kind of clean and clear electoral mandate delivered in 2015. As a matter of fact, not only was an incumbent sitting African President defeated spectacularly, the man who lost actually called to congratulate the victor. That was a new tradition in the volatile Nigerian electoral system. It is my hope and expectation that the future leaders of our country will continue to imbibe all the positive lessons learnt from the 2015 elections and its aftermath.
However, the APC government took off at snail speed, crawling like a millipede. The Buhari/Osinbajo administration behaved like it had all the time in the world. Big fans and volunteer supporters like me got alarmed very early. I panicked so much at the direction things were going that I hurriedly wrote a desperate memo to President Muhammadu Buhari pleading with him not to fritter away the uncommon goodwill that he then enjoyed. That mail actually got the attention of Mr President and earned me a special invitation to the Aso Rock Presidential villa where I sat in total privacy with our dear leader and was able to offer a few tips and ideas. That was also a new development and I was elated that his would be a listening and responsive government.
As days rolled by and months climbed months, things went from bad to worse and then worst. The APC government was busy fighting a war of attrition with itself from the outset. It was also waging wars against perceived enemies of the Party and the State. These wars were being fought on all fronts and it was going to distract from the primary task of nation-building. It was frighteningly similar to the incendiary and eventually fatal approach that ultimately led to the demise of President Jonathan’s PDP administration. I felt a sense of déjà vu! Only a few people could see the palpable danger ahead. It is not easy to fight corruption in Nigeria. Like everything Nigerian, even corruption enjoys Federal character. The main reason most Nigerians fight tooth and nail for government appointment is to be able to partake in slicing off a chunky part of the national cake and savouring it with cronies and families, not for service. There was no way you are going to probe only the Jonathan government and not invite the fierce and fiendish wrath of some sympathetic militants who would argue that he was being persecuted because he comes from a particular section and minority tribe. Meanwhile, all those who had looted and emptied Nigeria fifty to even ten years earlier are virtually walking free without any fear of prosecution not to mention punishment or even prison sentences.
Once the Buhari government chose to make the war against corruption its main cardinal priority, it was going to be like touching the tiger by the tail. Corruption was going to fight back with all the ferocity and velocity at its command and disposal. It is arguable that, perhaps, the President should have tarried a while, to secure and stabilise the economic structures of Nigeria before embarking on these wars. Sooner than expected, the militants began to strike with mathematical accuracy and scientific precision. And they struck at the very jugular of Nigeria without blinking. Our oil resources were attacked just as internationally oil prices dipped. Almost immediately, Nigeria began haemorrhaging dangerously. The hullaballoo made our case far worse than it ever was. We couldn’t lift or supply enough oil, our cash cow. As if by some unseen conspiracy, the price of crude oil fell calamitously on the international market as the attacks mounted and became sustained. Thus the income that could not sustain us even on regular, incident free days became drastically drained and insufficient. States could not pay salaries of workers and our citizens lost jobs in droves.
If this was not already bad enough, our President suffered health challenges and could not operate full blast. President Buhari has now spent more time abroad than at home on medical leave this year. It would seem the enemies of Nigeria never slept at night as they waged endless wars against our country. And to crown it up, the agitation for secession filled the air as the carefully orchestrated call for the creation of an Igbo nation seemingly became deafening. Some Arewa youths from Northern Nigeria complicated the already terrible situation by pouring petrol into fire when they satirically gave Igbos resident in the North the quit notice to head back home by October 1, 2017, the anniversary of our independence as a Nation and Republic. How can one country suffer from all these debilitating afflictions in one fell swoop, without almost becoming comatose?
Any patriotic Nigerian should be seriously concerned. I truly pitied and prayed for whosoever has the fortune or misfortune of leading Nigeria at this unfortunate period and that man is the Acting President Yemi Osinbajo. As I sat down to write my last column, which obviously went viral, my mind kept flashing to the Acting President. I was then in Johannesburg. As soon as I finished writing Friday night, I decided to send him a text message: “Your Excellency, good evening Sir. I’m sending you good tidings from South Africa. I will be in Nigeria tomorrow by God’s grace and wish to pay you a visit on Sunday afternoon or evening…”
I went to sleep thereafter but got a pleasant surprise as soon as I woke up from the Acting President: “Thanks very much Dele. Sunday afternoon is good, my assistant will call to schedule… God bless you.” What a wonderful leader, I soliloquised. I wish more of our leaders could be this simple and down to earth. I’ve known Professor Osinbajo for more than two decades as a man who has never been desperate for anything in life. He handles every job or assignment, whether domestic or international, with unusual decorum, meticulousness, adeptness and dexterity. This is what distinguished and endeared him to Lagosians when he served as Attorney General. As promised in his response, his assistant contacted me and we made plans for my meeting with him.
I landed in Lagos Saturday evening and headed to Abuja on Sunday afternoon. Acting President Osinbajo’s aides were as professional and polite as their boss. Everything was planned to the minutest detail. My trip to the Akinola Aguda House was very smooth. I never encountered any over-bloated and unnecessary protocol or security. It reminded me immediately of the kind of protocol and security I have seen surrounding serious minded African and other foreign leaders determined only to work and not just grandstand. As soon as I completed a short and simple security screening, I was asked to sit in a waiting room. At the appointed time and without any grandiloquent arrival, the Acting President walked in alone, I mean alone, and I stood up to greet him and we exchanged pleasantries. Then he told me, “Dele, je a wo yaara kan lo…” (Dele, let’s enter one room together). He was that modest. We entered a small room and someone brought us some snacks with an option of coffee or tea. I chose tea while the Acting President chose coffee. Let me note that neither of us touched any food or drink once we started discussing Nigeria.
The challenges of Nigeria are so heavy but Professor Osinbajo did not appear like a man intimidated or overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems. He believes problems are meant to be solved by man. His worries are not about the complexities of politics and politicians. He is troubled and traumatised about the future of Nigerian youths. Every now and then, during our interaction, he would make calls to check on how things were going in various departments of State. I saw a man who is very hands-on. He actually carries out his own investigations with subtlety and tact. He refuses to operate from a gilded cage. Many leaders fail because they simply abdicate responsibilities to others without making personal effort to supervise, understand and tackle the issues at stake. I love the way he has demystified and simplified power.
Professor Osinbajo said to me repeatedly that Nigerians are not asking for too much. As he reiterated several times, what he and his boss, President Muhammadu Buhari, need to do is to work very hard to produce and provide the basic necessities of life first before thinking of extravagance or luxury. His unflinching loyalty to his boss is undeniable and unassailable. He sees President Buhari as a role model for all Nigerians to emulate. In his view, if we can accept to imbue the spirit of selflessness that President Buhari possesses, many of our problems would disappear. He sees light at the end of the tunnel. He’s been on the road and he is inspired and encouraged by the love and warm reception accorded him in every part of Nigeria. He invites every Nigerian to work closely with the Buhari government in order to overcome the menace of corruption, retrogression and decay.
As I stood up to leave, the Acting President actually walked out with me and we continued our conversation. Nigeria is blessed to have a Vice President who does not suffer from a big ego or inordinate ambition. He is concerned with the here and now. He believes that if the institutions of government are strengthened, and the cancer of corruption is contained, then our country will go places and reach the desired destination very soon. He just wants to handle the huge assignment given to him by his boss with every sense of responsibility and loyalty and to succeed in delivering to the people on the joint mandate given to his boss and himself by the Nigerian people.
There is no doubt that Professor Yemi Osinbajo has done just that so far. It is clear that his approach is working and that the nation has woken from its slumber and is gradually returning to the glory days. His determination to succeed his buoyed by the unflinching support that he has received from President Buhari with regard to the steps that he is taking. For me, this is a combination made in heaven.
Prof Osinbajo’s style is to leave politics and politicking to the politicians for the main part whilst he engages himself and focuses on the more productive task of dealing with the needs, aspirations and expectations of Nigerian in the area of security, jobs, youth restiveness, poverty alleviation, power and the economy. From our recent interaction and my personal knowledge of him, I have an unshaken belief in his ability to continue to fulfil and discharge the unenviable duties and responsibility bestowed upon him by his boss and the grund norm of our land, the 1999 Constitution.