The book “Osinbajo strides” is a labour of love – Chimamanda Adichie

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*Photo: Osinbajo*

Book review by global renowned writer and critic, Chimamanda Adichie

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The essays in this book, they come from a diverse range of writers and they’re all very different in style, but they all have a kind of organic enthusiasm to them. You read them with the sense of reading pieces written by people who actually wanted to write them. And so it feels to me that this book is a labour of love and the fact that it is a labour of love says something about the subject, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.

It speaks to a humane and human quality that he has the ability to bring diverse people together. And it is also evident in his ability to bring diverse people together in the team that he has worked with as Vice President. I had the good fortune of meeting some of them, last year in Prof’s office. I want to specially acknowledge his wonderfully talented photographer, Tolani Alli, her photographs are beautiful and haunting and most of all, I think that they show us the humane and human qualities of Prof.

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I wished Prof a Happy Birthday personally and I would like to also do it publicly. Happy Birthday, Prof, I wish you joy, I would never forget the kindness you showed when I lost my mother in March of 2021.

Speaking of my mother, my mother was a remarkable woman who had very firm opinions about everything. I remember once we were watching television and Prof was speaking and my mother said in that very firm tone of hers, “Now, this one is a gentleman”. And there was of course an undercurrent to her words, and there was something rather loudly left unsaid, which was, the others are not gentlemen.

One of the writers in this book, Oreoluwa Ogunbiyi puts it rather beautifully where she said she was struck by Prof’s careful attentiveness.

Reading that I thought this would be a wonderful definition of a person who is a gentleman. The person who has the quality of careful attentiveness. This brings me to a recurring idea in this book, which is that Prof. Yemi Osinbajo is different, unlike the others, unexpected. It is an idea to which I too subscribe.

I remember watching Prof’s magnificent speech at the APC primaries, and I was particularly struck by these words from him, “You cannot wish this country well and vote for someone you do not believe in.” After listening to that speech, I was certain that Prof would win but it seemed to me, to use an American colloquialism, a no-brainer. But by some magically mysterious or perhaps mysteriously magical process, he did not win. So I remember sending Prof a message saying that I had hoped he would win, but also telling him how conflicted I would have been because he is the only other person I could have supported in this election.

And this support will have been based on his humane and human qualities, but also the fact that he has demonstrated leadership and particularly so I think when as Acting President, he took a principled action telling us Nigerians that one cannot desecrate the sanctity of the National Assembly.

I must say that I’m surprised that this book does not have someone who wrote of Prof as a teacher. I think it is in fact one of the fundamental traits that he has, is that he is a good teacher. I think the greatest gift a teacher can have is the eternal gratitude of his or her students and Prof. has that.

I remember once watching a very wide range of Prof’s students talking about him as a teacher, how patient he was, how he really wanted them to understand the concepts, and also how he wasn’t burdened by that quality of ego which sadly I think afflicts many academics in Nigeria.

I must say that hearing Prof’s students talk about him warmed my heart particularly because it reminded me of my own father who was a dedicated professor and taught for more than 40 years at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

And so today we celebrate a man who is different. A man who is Vice President, lawyer, and teacher. A man who has said that a New Nigeria is possible but is a New Nigeria possible?

Since the Nigerian presidential elections in February, I found myself on many days fighting off a cloud of despair because the elections were so brazenly and horrifyingly mismanaged and therefore destroyed the faith of so many Nigerians.

I do actually ward off that despair with some effort because I love this country and love is persistent and so I do believe that we can have a New Nigeria. I sometimes wonder whether we are a nation, we might be a country but I wonder whether we are a nation because a nation is an idea, a nation is an act of faith and to become a nation we have to believe in something that is bigger than ourselves.

I don’t mean religious faith which quite frankly I think has often been desecrated at the altar of politicians. It seems to me that we need politicians to talk less about God and act more like God would want them to.

The only way to create this New Nigeria, I think, is through leadership. I remember when this present administration first came into power, a friend of mine who lives in Abuja said to me, and I suppose he was only half-joking, he said, “People have stopped stealing and waiting to see if this anti-corruption thing is real”.

I think this anecdote is telling in its simplicity, it just shows us that a leader sets the tone. We cannot have a New Nigeria if we continue to have the kind of leadership similar to what we’ve had in the past.

We must reject the politics of patronage, and the politics of personal interest, and instead embrace the politics that is people-centered. Politics should not be lucrative. We cannot have a New Nigeria if politics is continued to be seen as a lucrative enterprise and transparency should be the default. Instead what we have now is a situation in which defection is the default.

I have always been fascinated in the way that one is fascinated by something that is perverse, by how adept at deception so many in Nigeria’s political landscape are; yes, of course, we sometimes lie as human beings, and nobody is perfect, hopefully, we do not lie too much. But with the Nigeria political class, it is a kind of endless churning of barefaced lies to a population that knows that it is, in fact, being lied to and you know we have examples of melodramatic lies like snakes swallowing money and politicians suddenly having bubbles but also the consequential lies, lies that have a real impact on the lives of Nigerians and this is the way that cynicism sets in.

Many Nigerians are cynical. Cynical of politics, cynical of the government, and one cannot blame them. And so if we are going to have a New Nigeria we need to make truth the priority. We need to say things are the way they are and we need to stop pretending. Maybe we could also take a leaf from the book and the spirit of late President Musa Yar’Adua.

Now here is a man who had the moral conviction to acknowledge that the system that brought him to power was flawed. The late President Yar’Adua actually set up a Commission to investigate the system that had brought him to power. I think that speaks of a kind of moral courage that I wish we would see more of but of course, it is also important to state that the panel that he set up had quite a few recommendations and none of them have been passed.

A New Nigeria is possible only if we begin to refuse certain things. We must refuse to be desensitized, we must always keep our senses of outrage alive and as an example, I want to remind us that we should continue, we should never stop being outraged by the fact that the Nigerian government turned guns on its own citizens who were merely asking for a better life, and of course, I am talking about the EndSARS protest.

One of the problems I think that we have is the failure of imagination and I think we see this in all facets of Nigerian life. I go to get my hair done and I am telling the hairdresser, I want to do it this way and she says no, Aunty this is how we do it, no imagination. Teachers, for example, are often unwilling to see the imagination of their students, no, you follow one pattern that’s how it is done. We need to make sure that we set alight the imaginations of Nigerians.

We need to say to people that they can dare imagine being different. Things that exist today, the structures, the institutions, haven’t always existed, somebody made them exist and so we can, in fact, make things differently, and I think that Prof’s life illustrates this with such examples as when he was an Attorney General of Lagos State and I know by the way because someone spoke with such gratitude and enthusiasm about how Prof. had made real practical changes to the judicial system in the State, one of which was particularly people-centered because it was in creating centers of arbitration where people could sort out their problems without having to go to court.

That to me is an example of a people-centered policy. A New Nigeria is possible because we actually see it today, I say that because I believe that the Nigerian political landscape has been changed forever and this was done by one man, one man was the catalyst but actually, it was done by the Nigerian people. We see examples of this in the way that in different States in Nigeria, old-school politicians were just completely swept away to their own astonishment because I think in some ways they had felt entitled to their positions although these examples are small, I think it shows what is possible, that we can in fact have a voice, we can in fact be a change.

I am also personally very pleased about Mrs. Ireti Kingibe who is now senator-elect from Abuja, who is another politician I hope and believe will do well because she also believes in telling the truth.

A New Nigeria is possible if we keep focus on the idea that there is gross inequality in the country. One of the things that I think the COVID lockdown showed the Nigerian elites was how precarious their positions are, so it makes both a moral and practical sense and reason to try and fight inequality. To try and make sure of that, yes we always know that there are class differences but it is too wide in Nigeria.

I want to say that there is a kind of exquisite irony in the fact that Prof. Yemi Osinbajo who clearly believes in the idea of unity and diversity happens to belong to a party that I believe is responsible for an assault on this idea of unity and diversity and in thinking about this I couldn’t help but think about a part of the book where Prof. Osinbajo is quoted as talking about having had an experience with God in which he hears God saying to him, “You are salt” and if you’re going to make a difference you have to go into the soup to change part of the soup, you cannot change by being outside.

This idea of being salt or having to go into a system in order to make changes in that system in some ways, I think kind of captures Prof. Osinbajo and also brings me to his own words where he said, “It took public office for me to be able to get this scale of change that is required to make a difference.

I want to end by thanking Professor Yemi Osinbajo and I want to thank him for speaking out and for speaking the truth. I am going to quote his words were he recently said, “Ethnic profiling took place in polling booths”. That needed to be said, Professor Osinbajo said it and I thank him for it.

This is a book I hope many people read and I also hope that someday somebody will write a proper biography on Prof. sometime in the future and say that Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President, teacher, lawyer, and a good man.

Thank you.

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