By Emmanuel Aziken
Nigeria’s increasingly vibrant twitter community was last weekend enlivened by questions as to the whereabouts of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Though the controversy was apparently innocuously started by some social media activists, it was not surprising that naysayers and partisans of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP saw it as an opportunity to embarrass the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC.
The question as to the whereabouts of the vice-president arose from his seeming quietness in the face of the greatest threat to the lives of the citizenry in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
As one of the naysayers, Reno Omokiri interjected last Saturday, “Where are General @MBuhari and Pastor @ProfOsinbajo?,” “The more you look for them, the less you see of them.”
“It is as if Nigeria has a government in absentia. Leaders should be more visible in a crisis. In our own case, our leaders are the crisis we face!”
Remarkably, Osinbajo and Buhari were not the only high office holders that were called out. Others that were called out on social media included some senior ministers who facilitated the birth of the APC administration. Among them were Babatunde Fashola, Rotimi Amaechi, and Lai Mohammed.
However, Osinbajo was of more interest to the social media advocates, given the way the social media celebrated the puzzle with pictorial and other insignia in the search for the vice-president.
Focusing on Buhari was, of course, no use given what Nigerians have come to know of his style and standards.
But for the urbane and suave lawyer who became the chief marketer of the Buhari second-term agenda, his seeming quietness in the face of the greatest threat to the country’s population was for the social media advocates not amusing.
As the barrage continued all through last weekend, the vice-president’s equally ingenious social media allies responded with a sort of aplomb.
The Osinbajo camp bombarded twitter with pictures and stories of some activities recently carried out by the vice-president. They even went to the extent of creating a twitter hashtag, #OsinbajoIsActive, to demonstrate the effervescence of the vice-president.
But no one was really deceived. Not even by his spokesman, Laolu Akande who in a statement on Sunday said:
“If you have come around wild speculations about VP’s wellness & whereabout in the Social Media, IGNORE the fake news. It’s very easy to follow him on social media as we report his daily activities including meetings with Mr. President, ministers & many others. #OsinbajoIsActive”
The question as to the whereabouts of the vice-president was understandable, given how he has been diminished following the second term inauguration.
The question was especially striking given comparisons in other lands and within Nigeria in the relationship between some governors and their deputies.
Rarely has President Donald Trump addressed the media without his vice-president, Mike Pence being in attendance and sometimes being called upon to interject.
On some occasions, Mr. Trump has had to even call upon Mr. Pence to take over from him as he proceeded to some other duties.
In Nigeria, a similar synergy has also been seen in Lagos State, where Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu and his deputy, Femi Hamzat have been seen together either at press conferences or at functions.
But for Buhari and Osinbajo, the easy response of their handlers and apologists is to espouse social distancing as the reason. But we are not deceived.
The reasons are beginning to fall in place.
Osinbajo had, while serving as acting president in February 2017, set aside the dithering procrastination of the president who was abroad to nominate Justice Walter Onnoghen as Chief Justice of Nigeria.
If that was one slip, Osinbajo’s action in sacking Lawal Daura from his position as director-general of the Department of State Services and appointing Bayelsa born Matthew Seiyefa as his replacement has perhaps not be forgiven.
Since that time, Buhari has not invested his deputy with power again as acting president.
Though Osinbajo was empowered with money to distribute in the form of tradermoni, the recent yanking of that duty from his office may have shown that that assignment was to use the vice-president as a poster boy for the campaigns.
Humanitarian Affairs minister Saddiya Umar Farouk who has taken over the duty, is even displaying and sharing more money!
The question about Osinbajo’s whereabouts can indeed be contextualized within the love-hate and suspicious relationship between presidents and their vice presidents on one side and governors and their deputies on the other side.
It is a fact that in recent American history that only Vice President George Bush Snr. had the luck of climbing up to the presidency through an election in 1988.
Even here, among our governors, only one deputy governor in the person of Mahmud Shinkafi of Zamfara State has had the grace since the advent of the Fourth Republic to succeed his principal as governor.
The irony in the two cases for both President Bush and Governor Shinkafi is that both unlikely successors ended up serving only one term as they were defeated in the quest for re-election!