At 65 years, Osinbajo does not owe anyone any apology for his political decisions, writes David T. Ejenobo
Prior to and soon after the declaration of interest to contest for the Presidential seat come 2023, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has come under severe attack by the supporters of Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu as being disloyal to his political godfather. This is hinged on the fact that in 1999 after becoming the Governor of Lagos State, Tinubu appointed Osinbajo as the Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice of Lagos State. It is argued that this was the appointment that brought Osinbajo to political limelight. I will like to throw up four issues to be interrogated in this piece.
One, was the appointment as Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice in Lagos the first political appointment held by Osinbajo? The obvious answer to this question is NO. Between 1988 and 1992 he was Special Adviser to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Thus his foray into the political waters was in 1988 and not in 1999 as his critics would like us to believe. In other words as at the time Tinubu met Osinbajo in 1999, Osinbajo was not a political neophyte by any stretch of the imagination. It is pertinent to put on record that as at 1999 Tinubu didn’t know the intellectual and professional credentials of Osinbajo. It took the intervention of Senator Babafemi Ojudu to bring the two of them together. Ojudu was a friend to both men. Tinubu confided in Ojudu that he was looking for a sound legal mind to appoint as Attorney General. Ojudu, who knew the capabilities of Osinbajo brought him to Tinubu. From this narrative it becomes crystal clear that if Osinbajo didn’t have a track record of achievement as a political office holder he would not have been picked by Tinubu.
Two, did Osinbajo deliver on his mandate as Attorney General of Lagos State? This question becomes pertinent in the face of insinuations that it was through the appointment that Tinubu gave to Osinbajo that he made his political name. The truth is that it was the sterling qualities and achievements of Osinbajo as Attorney General of Lagos State that sold him to the world. It is one thing for a man to be given an opportunity to excel and it is another for the person to excel. The Lagos State legislature was radically transformed to become the best in Nigeria during the eight-year stint of Osinbajo as Attorney General. The legal battle of Lagos State with the federal government on the withheld local government funds is a good example. Osinbajo won a decisive legal battle for Lagos State which helped in no small measure to bolster the political achievements of Tinubu as Governor of Lagos State. There is no gainsaying the fact that the achievements of Osinbajo as Attorney General of Lagos which contributed immensely to the rise in the political profile of Tinubu was enough compensation to Tinubu for appointing Osinbajo as his Attorney General.
Three, did Tinubu project Osinbajo for another political appointment after 2007? The claim that Osinbajo is the political son of Tinubu will hold water if Tinubu nurtured the political career of Osinbajo with many political appointments. The fact is that apart from that singular appointment as Attorney General of Lagos State it is not on record that Tinubu ever recommended Osinbajo for any other political office after his stint as Attorney General of Lagos State. Rather, it is on record that former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo wanted to appoint Osinbajo as the Attorney General of the Federation in 2007, but Osinbajo refused because he insisted on the refund of the withheld Local Government Council funds belonging to Lagos State as per the Supreme Court judgment. Thus between 2007 and 2015, Osinbajo went back to his practice as a Lawyer. It is now a matter in the public domain that Tinubu was against the candidature of Osinbajo as Vice to Buhari in 2015 because he wanted the position for himself. Buhari appointed Osinbajo as his Vice against the wish of Tinubu. These are historical facts. So if Tinubu offered Osinbajo an opportunity to be a state political appointee and was prepared to deny him of a federal political appointment, how does that qualify Tinubu to be referred to as Osinbajo’s political godfather?
Four, is there a difference between Political Loyalty and Political Slavery? The supporters of Tinubu aver that by Osinbajo declaring his intention to run for the office of the President of Nigeria, a position that Tinubu also is aiming for, Osinbajo is being disloyal to Tinubu. Loyalty has been defined as a strong feeling of support or allegiance. In other words, to be loyal to a person is to give support to that person. The key word here is support. If you support a person just because you don’t want to disagree with him, then you are his slave not a loyal person. Support of a person within the context of Loyalty must be situated in the overall good of the person being supported. When Loyalty becomes blind support, then one has crossed over to the realm of slavery.
By virtue of his professional training, Osinbajo cannot be slavish in his support for anyone. It is on record that in 2015 when the issue of the Vice to Buhari was under consideration, Osinbajo maintained the position that a Muslim/Muslim ticket was not a good idea for the governance of Nigeria. Tinubu, a Muslim, wanted to be Vice to Buhari, a Muslim. Tinubu was annoyed with Osinbajo and walked him out of the meeting where the issue was being discussed. Seven years down the line, the same issue (in reversed order) is on ground: a Muslim President handing over to another Muslim President. Again, Osinbajo is saying no to such an arrangement. By his professional training, Osinbajo sees the larger picture of any argument. That is why he is an advocate. When he stands before a judge to plead his case, he always enjoins His Lordship to consider the larger picture of the case before passing His judgment. If he then considers the larger interests of Nigerians over and above the personal interests of an individual that should not make him to be disloyal.
According to the Bible in John Chapter 9, a man born blind from birth was healed by Jesus. The Pharisees didn’t believe that the man was born blind. So they called his parents to ask if it was true that the man was born blind. The parents answered: he is an adult. Ask him if he was born blind. It is my contention that in all discussions concerning Loyalty of Osinbajo to Tinubu we must factor in the fact that Osinbajo is an adult who has a right to his decisions. At 65 years, he does not owe anyone any apology for his political decisions. Please let us allow the man the right to plot his own political graph.
Prof Ejenobo writes from Delta State University, Abraka