Yemi Osinbajo: Suddenly, it’s calm

Fola Ojo

From all corners have sprouted fiery fireworks. Verbal shots have always rung out. Acerbic utterances flowed freely. Hate has been unmasked. And the radar showed no discernible brotherly love in Nigeria. President Muhammadu Buhari and his ruling All Progressives Congress have been at the receiving end of relentless, cruel assaults streaming in daily in a rascally ricochet via media satellites. Men who hate our President aren’t pulling punches. And those who love him are fighting back in defence of their man. This has been the story since power changed hands about two years ago.

Fair and uncouth swipes at political opponents come with the territory. After all, those under attack today were once feisty attackers of men now attacking them. Thousands have marched in protest of Nigeria’s stagnating economy; grueling governance style; and clueless and crippling mathematics with regard to general peace and tranquility in the land. Nigeria was about to implode, many people thought. Security reports we received here in the US made me put my travel bid on hold. And then suddenly, from the blues, calm descended on Nigeria. A transient calm, for sure; but necessary to douse a possible cascading conflagration. The political atmosphere is still tense; the economy is still a mess, but a respite is here for now because of the wisdom of one man.

President Buhari and Acting President Yemi Osinbajo are from different schools of thoughts, different backgrounds, different experiences of life, and different personality endowments. The President is a retired army General and a soldier schooled to fight and kill. Soldiers are not wont to negotiating; they are to wringing necks and bulldozing their ways through adversarial roadblocks. Soldiers don’t have to listen to wise counsel. They are drilled to dare the bullet and allow the chips to fall where they may. But in a democracy where the lowly also must have a voice, where all fingers must be equally manicured, these traits and mannerisms cannot draw committed and loyal friends.

Osinbajo, on the other hand, is a virtuous teacher of law. An erudite listening ear who sprang from a humble background in Lagos. For eight years, he walked the terrain of government before as Commissioner for Justice and Attorney General in Lagos State. Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was his mentor; and I was told that when you are in this type of classroom, you will know politics and politicians’ inside-and-out like the palms of your hands. While Buhari is strictly from the old school, Osinbajo is between the old and the new. Buhari was nurtured to command men to obey his voice; but Osinbajo was groomed to convince men by words of mouth. Stark differences between the two are clear and unambiguous.

 I have heard the Acting President say a few times he is not a politician; but I bet he can play the game probably smoother and with greater impact than many in the lousy league. He is not a man of crazy ambition or thirsts for power; but now as Acting Presdient, he must exercise the authority of the office. And he is.

On January 19, President Buhari took time off to the UK because of some health challenges.  Nigerians are still not clear what ails the General. But we continue to tarry on prayer mats and in sanctuaries for speedy recovery for the ailing septuagenarian. After the President’s 10 days’ medical vacation, he requested an extension in accordance with the law. Now we are told that he will be resting indefinitely. Has he broken any law? Maybe not. But I am not sure if he still enjoys the confidence and trust of the over 15 million Nigerians who voted for him in March 2015. May you be made whole, Mr. President.

Since Buhari’s leave of absence, the Pastor-Professor acting as President has stepped up the game. When men are angry and hungry as Nigerians are today; lofty reassuring words that hope is not lost is appropriate. Osinbajo stormed the stronghold of Niger Delta militancy and spoke to tribal heads and militants. He refrained from condescending trash talks; and abstained from aggressive tantrums that ride on the plume of threat. He gave assurances emphasising that working together will work for all Nigerians not just for a privileged few who have pummelled the nation. Militants laid down their weapons and muted their harsh rhetoric.

The initially sceptical audience embraced him and his touted vision for the region. They promised to work with him. President Buhari was twice scheduled to visit the same area and people but had to cancel on the two occasions. The optic was not positive. What Buhari couldn’t do by himself, Osinbajo has done on behalf of his principal; and it’s working. Belligerent protesters who besieged the Villa in Abuja last month were welcomed by the Acting President who reminded them of his understanding of their constitutional right to protest. “I hear you loud and clear”, is a line that the angered men may not forget quickly. Frowning faces later gave way to laughter that came from within. Angry protesters began taking pictures with the ambassador of the source of their anger. That is the effect of the superpower of the spoken word.

As names have power, so do words. Words can ignite fires in the hearts and souls of men. They are capable of unleashing both pain and joy in human bones and marrow. Words of wisdom win the weird and convert the wicked. Good and Godly words have their parts to play in today’s Nigeria. Credible words from leaders inspire men to work their bones off for a united front. The country needs an inspirational leadership for such a time as this. Dianne Setterfield, British author of No 1 bestseller “Thirteenth Tale”, accurately submitted: “There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner. Wind themselves around your limbs like spider silk, and when you are so enthralled you cannot move, they pierce your skin, enter your blood, numb your thoughts. Inside you they work their magic.” Nigeria is not out of the woods yet; far from it. But words spoken by the Acting President have inched us closer to where we ought to be as a nation.

Nigerians know how to wait for a promise. They have waited since Independence and through every government promises, assaults and insults. I am not sure how long they’ll wait this time round; but I know they are still prepared to wait some more. They know that farmers must wait 58 to 100 days to harvest what has been planted. They know that the Olive tree takes five to eight years to grow and spread. Nigerians aren’t too hard to please. Not everybody is in the craze for cruising in a jeep and flying in a private jet. Three square or round meals-a-day, and a guaranteed future for their children’s future, are enough to win the hearts of Nigerians.

President Buhari also has tremendous strengths other than soldiering. When he returns, a blend of both men’s attributes can perfectly oil the machine of government to work for all. Is leadership all about words? No! Words are great, but actions are greater. Words maintain, but actions sustain. No matter how sweet sounding the menu is, it cannot take the place of the meal. The menu is not the meal; Acting President, please remember. Words are only the menu; actions are the meal. Actions must follow these soothing words. That is what Nigerians need today.

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