GUEST COLUMNIST BY Arukaino Umukoro
A few weeks before Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, was sworn in as Vice President on May 29, 2015, my then editors assigned me and another colleague an important task: to do a special report on the man fondly known as the Prof. Our assignment took us to different places in Lagos: Victoria Garden City – where the VP lived; Obanikoro – where the VP’s mum lived; and Ikoyi, where the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) branch he pastored was located.
It was a revealing portrait of the person and character of Prof. Osinbajo. For the special report, we spoke to people and close friends and associates who had known the VP for between one to over 30 years. They shared similar views about his character, competence, values and integrity. It was almost akin to being as constant as the Northern star.
But I didn’t get to meet the Vice President in person until in October 2016, at the African Union’s (AU) Extraordinary Summit on Maritime Security, Safety and Development in Africa in Lome, Togo.
As a Nigerian journalist covering the African summit, I ensured I was early to the venue before the arrival of the AU Heads of State and Government. Vice President Osinbajo led the Nigerian delegation.
While awaiting the arrival of the Heads of State and Presidents at the venue, I walked around the auditorium. On locating the “Nigeria” seat, I made a mental note to look out for the arrival of the Vice President, while I scanned for other reportage materials and sound bites.
Prof. Osinbajo was among the first African leaders to arrive at the auditorium, alongside the Nigerian delegation. When the Vice President sat down at his seat (Nigeria), I quickly walked up to him and greeted him. “Good morning, Your Excellency,” I said as I introduced myself. He replied courteously, and was quite friendly, and down to earth. Then he obliged to my request for an interview at the sidelines of the summit. No fuss, no airs.
At the end of the Summit, the VP kept true to his words. Despite the impatient throng of several reporters and cameramen, jostling for spaces to interview and record him. As I finally squeezed in some space to get my digital recorder closer to him, he recognized me and beckoned on me to ask my question. Long story short, the report of my brief interview with him in Lome made front page of the national paper I was working with at the time.
When I got to meet Prof. Osinbajo again, for the second time, this time in his office in 2017, I was introduced to him by his equally excellent spokesperson and the Senior Special Assistant to the President, in the Office of the Vice President, Mr. Laolu Akande. On introduction, the Vice President had this pleasant, curious look on his face, and he told me that I looked familiar. I concurred and quickly replied that I had first met him at the Lomé Summit, where he obliged me to an interview. He laughed.
Whether you are a critic, supporter or neutral, one thing you can’t take away from the Vice President is his unwavering values, character, competence and integrity. Many of his long-time friends and close associates attest to this. That tells a lot about the greatness of the man, especially in an age where people’s character and personality, especially that of politicians, flutter like leaves in the wind every other year or so. It goes without saying that Vice President Osinbajo is renowned for his excellence, leadership qualities, integrity, steadfastness, loyalty and dedication to service for the country.
No wonder he has been described by many as a dependable ally to President Muhammadu Buhari, who has also acknowledged on several occasions the exemplary leadership values of the VP. In 2021, President Buhari said Prof. Osinbajo is “a reliable and dedicated deputy who is not only admirably competent but also exudes confidence and passion in the performance of his job. The Vice President is a cool-headed gentleman who puts the interest of Nigeria above other narrow considerations.”
In the President’s birthday message to the VP on Wednesday, March 8th, the Special Adviser to the President, Femi Adesina, noted that “President Buhari lauds the sterling service the celebrant has provided to the country, as an academic, Attorney-General of Lagos State (1997-2007), and Vice President (2015 till date).
“He applauds the deft way Osinbajo, a pastor with the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), has combined scholarship with governance, and pastoral work, commending such dedication to the younger generation whom the Number 2 man serves as a torchbearer to.”
Prof. Osinbajo is indeed an excellent leader with a big heart and compassion for people. He also practises what he preaches. As former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos State, Prof. Osinbajo established several people-friendly initiatives and reforms, including the judicial reform in Lagos State to address critical areas such as judges’ recruitment, remuneration, training and discipline. He also ensured the poor and vulnerable were able to access justice, by establishing appropriate institutions in the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) and the Citizens Mediation Centre (CMC). Prior to his foray into politics and public life, Prof. Osinbajo initiated several charitable causes as senior pastor in the RCCG.
As Vice President, Prof. Osinbajo spearheaded several government programmes and initiatives for the betterment of the citizenry. Between 2016 and 2019, Prof. Osinbajo supervised the globally recognized Social Investment Programmes of the Buhari administration. Over 35 million Nigerians are direct and indirect beneficiaries of the SIPs, widely renowned as the biggest social welfare programme in sub-Saharan Africa.
Similarly, in response to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, President Buhari had in June 2020, mandated the Vice president as chair of the Economic Sustainability Committee (ESC) to coordinate the implementation of the Economic Sustainability Plan (ESP) aimed at cushioning the economic effects of the global pandemic. Over 2 million jobs were retained or created through the implementation of programmes under the Osinbajo-led Economic Sustainability Plan.
In his birthday message, former Lagos State governor and president-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, equally noted that the Vice President “has been a remarkable intellectual in public service.”
“As the Vice President of our country, Prof. Osinbajo has partnered very well with our leader, President Muhammadu Buhari, to deliver on the progressive programmes of our party to make life better for Nigerians especially in areas of massive infrastructural development and life-changing Social Investment Programmes,” Tinubu said.
As a statesman, Osinbajo has elevated the level of strategic engagements towards development, peace and stability, particularly in conflict areas, which could be used as a template on the African continent. One notable example of the VP’s statesmanship was his tour of the once-volatile Niger Delta in January 2017, where he engaged with elders, traditional rulers, stakeholders and people across the States in the region.
The Vice President’s successful engagements, on behalf of President Buhari, birthed the New Vision for the Niger Delta, an initiative of the administration to develop the region.
The New Vision initiative, driven by the Vice President, helped to resolve insecurity and youth restiveness in the region, and restore near maximum productivity of crude oil, the country’s major foreign exchange earner.
The VP’s deft handling of burning issues did not just improve the country’s oil revenue that was decimated by a series of pipeline explosions in the region at the time, it helped Nigeria speedily exit the recession of 2016.
Osinbajo’s leadership acumen also helped to rebuild the trust of many who had been skeptical of the Federal Government’s plan for the region, as a result of the neglect and broken trust from past administrations. But with his strategic engagements with stakeholders and people in the region, among others, he laid a foundation that ended attacks on oil installations and decades of militancy. Simply put, the Vice President’s efforts have since brought about the sustained peace and stability in the region.
Also, the Vice President’s spokesperson, Laolu Akande, succinctly captured the VP’s qualities in his piece to mark his 66th birthday.
Akande wrote: “What I have come to know about the VP is that he is an inspirer, and watching him do things is in itself an inspiration. People like that exist to inspire individuals, groups and nations to attain goals and objectives that advance their causes and lead irrevocably to greatness. He provokes something in people that conduces towards excellence, endurance and empathy, attributes that he himself exemplifies.
“Excellence; so that people can reach into themselves to discover hidden capacities. Endurance which enables people to sustain the pursuit of vision by imbuing patience and humility that creates perseverance. And finally, empathy that reinforces a common bond of humanity by which individuals become an example of selflessness, rendering service and value on private and public levels.”
“It is the empathy that took him to Maiduguri in the early months of this administration where he led a charitable effort that produced the Learning Centre where orphans coming out of the insurgency have in the last 6 years now been receiving some of the best education available anywhere in the world.
“It is the endurance that kept him in place when all kinds of malevolent forces were bent on diminishing the effective delivery of public goods directly to the people of this nation on an unprecedented scale, such as the Social Investment Programme of the Buhari Administration when some entrusted with leadership responsibilities wanted to privatise the process by sharing slots among the elites in a scheme meant to secure some social safety nets in a country fiercely battling poverty.
“Finally, it is the excellence for instance that makes him interrogate his aides and people pushing laudable ideas in and out of government by demanding for scaling up the numbers. After all, he would wonder, ‘what’s the use of a government programme that reaches only a few thousand in a population of over 200 million?’
“For him, Excellence says, ‘think, not just out of the box, but think big. Do the hard part, apply yourself, be relentless, work tirelessly at goals.’ So today as the Vice President turns 66, I wish him a happy birthday and many happy returns of the day. My dear boss, and Nigeria’s number 2 citizen, we pray that as your days so shall your strength, wisdom and favour be with God and man!”
Interestingly, the VP’s birthday usually falls on the International Women’s Day. As is well known, Prof. Osinbajo is a passionate advocate of many social causes, as well as girl education and women in leadership positions. For instance, a significant percentage of staff in the Office of the Vice President are women – smart, brilliant, innovative, hardworking and excellent leaders in their own rights, but these incredible women are a sort of embodiment of the VP’s exemplary personality with strong work ethics and values.
Speaking in a pre-recorded message in September 2022 as the Special Guest of Honour at the Women Directors’ Conference, Prof. Osinbajo advocated for more female representation in leadership positions in government and across different sectors, “as an economic imperative and not a moral duty of men or mere concession by men.”
Renowned for his famous Awo cap, Prof. Osinbajo wears different hats: dotting father and grandfather, a senior pastor, mentor, legal luminary, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, professor, an academic of repute, a public servant, and Nigeria’s most hardworking Vice President. But in all, millions would agree that, indeed, he is a true patriot and fine gentleman, a selfless, inspirational and excellent leader.
Happy 66th birthday, again, Your Excellency. You’re a rare find and a rare kind.
Arukaino Umukoro is the Special Assistant to the President, Communications/Niger Delta, Office of the Vice President.