In the last five years, Professor Yemi Osinbajo has been the most castigated and perhaps traumatised senior member of the Buhari administration. The humiliation and disrespect he suffered under the former Chief of Staff to the President were legendary. No public official should be put through such dishonour by another member of the same government. Now, there seems to be a well-organised network of persons determined to denigrate and humiliate the VP with a constant barrage of malicious publications.
Femi Fani Kayode, often without a good cause and lacking in merit, demeans the Vice President for reasons that are not clear. Just two weeks ago, Jonathan Ude, another PDP member who publishes a blog known as Pointblank News from a base in the U.S., manufactured a grievous rumour that the suspended EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, had given Osinbajo N4 billion from the N39 billion he allegedly looted from the agency.
Last year, there was a sensational, but false publication which alleged that Osinbajo had collected some N90 billion from the FIRS to fund that year’s elections in Lagos. Just this week, as I was concluding this piece, a man who claims to be an assistant to the suspended chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, has come up with another bizarre story and fake news of how the VP had met with Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, some Igbo leaders and a judge to plot the imprisonment of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu so as to clear the way for Asiwaju to clinch the presidential ticket effortlessly. It has now come to air, no such assistant worked with Magu.
As if this was not strange enough, it was further revealed in another publication that Shehu Garba, one of the President’s spokespersons, was behind the tale of Magu giving billions to the VP. Garba has denied and the curiosity continues. In all the cases, the Vice President’s Media Team has strongly debunked his involvement in any sleaze, scheme, conspiracy theory or any wrongdoing at all. Since this story broke over the weekend, I have tried unsuccessfully to speak to Garba and hear his own side of the story. I am so worried that his name could be linked to something so evil. It is not long ago that the First Lady, Mrs Aisha Buhari, had accused him of spreading negative stories about her. May be Garba himself is a victim of another plot in a bigger plot! He should clear his name vigorously. But who are behind these flurries of fabrications against the Vice President and for what purpose? I ask because what is clear is that some people somewhere are set to turnaround what many regard as Osinbajo’s sterling reputation and rising profile.
According to an official statement from his Office released soon after the Jonathan Ude publication: ‘‘Such mindless, vicious and reckless publications have now become the preferred tool of unscrupulous and reprobate elements in our society who are procured with monetary inducement to peddle blatant falsehood, tarnish the image of upright public officials and mislead unsuspecting Nigerians.’’ I believe that the attacks against the VP are mostly politically motivated. Nigerians will recall that Jonathan Ude, the main purveyor of these acerbities, had worked in the Public Affairs unit of the Jonathan administration with Dr. Doyin Okupe. The two were the major attack dogs hired by that administration, and together with FFK, the campaign communication director, they sniped at President Goodluck Jonathan’s opponents in the build-up to the 2015 elections.
So it stands to reason that both FFK and Ude are still bitter at the crushing defeat of Jonathan, and are still nursing grudges against the VP who remains a major asset to the APC ticket and has become an important member of the Buhari team. There is also the view that the sponsors of these noxious publications are not comfortable with the warm relationship between the President and the Vice President. Their assumption is that the cordiality will give the professor a better competitive edge in the politics of 2023. The presidential interests of both Governors Femi Kayode of Ekiti State, Nasir el Rufai of Kaduna and Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu are not hidden. I do not imagine that they are not concerned with a potential challenge from a Vice President who enjoys both the trust of the President and a rising profile among Nigerians. Although the VP has, apparently overburdened and distracted by all the scheming and permutations, recently announced that he has no such ambition, at least for now, Nigerians continue to expect that he will give it a shot. There are very few Vice Presidents in a presidential democracy who don’t want to succeed their bosses. It is therefore reasonable to expect that other contenders will not take Osinbajo lightly.
I have personally spent a long enough time in politics and political communication to know that desperate aspirants will do everything possible to destroy a perceived strong opponent before the race begins. They employ smear campaigns in the media and spread damaging rumours and unsubstantiated claims. Those of them with strong media influence, especially the newspaper publishers, can also instigate hostile press coverage against their perceived opponents.
Another possible source of the persistent attacks on the VP is some disgruntled persons in the State House. ‘The Villa boys’, as these middle-level officials are called, have been known to play damaging roles in our politics. While some work with politicians to upstage or spread dirt on their opponents, others deceive desperate candidates to part with huge cash in the pretext of getting them party nominations, helping to tip court judgments in their favour or arranging meetings with the First Lady or the Chief of Staff. I know many candidates who have been duped by these ‘Villa Boys’. They are merciless and ruthless.
Osinbajo has never really been a favourite of some of the ‘Villa Boys’, especially those who operated within the orbit of the late CoS. The reader may wish to refer to my article titled ‘‘The Abba Kyari we did not know’’ published soon after his passing in which I detailed how they and their late boss dealt with the VP. The VP’s rave coverage in the media when he acted for his sick boss in 2017 stung some of them to the quick. They just could not stand the diminutive lawyer being presented as a better alternative to the ailing boss. Obviously, those grudges still persist three years after. The mention of Garba’s name in connection with one of these publications has therefore alarmed me a great deal. I am waiting anxiously to hear from him. Can Garba, a thorough media professional of over 35 years, be involved in a smear campaign against the nation’s number two citizen? Osinbajo’s credentials and reputation are never in doubt. The President himself regularly gushes over ‘‘his intellect and youth.’’ There is no doubt that the VP is loyal to his boss and is delivering on his assignments.
The recently published Economic Sustainability Plan designed by him and Committee attests to his depth and rigor. A humble gentleman who connects easily with the people, he does not even flaunt these qualities like an Atiku Abubakar would.
Remember how the former Vice President tried to upstage his boss midway into their tenure? As 2023 comes close, I have no doubt that those who see Osinbajo as their potential rival will not let up in their plan to make him look bad before Nigerians. It is up to him to push back vigorously in defense of his true character. The good thing is that Nigerians already know who the real Osinbajo is. Let’s hope truth prevails and good overcomes evil.
Etim wrote from Uyo.