Shall we tell the Vice President?
I am yet to see a copy of Prof. John Paden authorised biography of President Muhammadu Buhari. I am familiar with his book on Ahmadu Bello, a ponderous tome with sizeable anthropological inputs but also pork marked with disputatious assertions. Though some have dismissed the veracity of some of his claims, but there is no doubt that Paden’s book on Bello is a great addition to our corpus of knowledge about our past.
Ahmadu Bello is a book that benefitted from good research and good writing. I am sure Paden sympathetic handling of Bello may have recommended him to Buhari, a man of delicate temper during his years in power as a military ruler. Now he is an elected President, yet he has reached out of our shore to hire an official biographer. The President may have wanted a scholar whose stature and political neutrality would not be in doubt. I have no doubt however that there are many Nigerian scholars who could have done equally well if not better than Professor Paden.
Nigerian leaders, apart from those of the First Republic, have often shied away from writing their own story. For 31 years that Buhari was out of power and then returned, he has so far not published an autobiography. Few Nigerian scholars too have focused on our leaders as their subject. All our leaders have enjoyed biographical treatment, but only one of them, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, has so far published his biography. Abubakar Tafawa-Belewa, our First Prime Minister, did not write his autobiography before he was killed during the coup of January 15, 1966. His successor, Major-General J.T.U Aguiyi-Ironsi, did not also.
In other climes, there would have been many books by now on Buhari, especially to examine his epic struggle to become our elected leader. What could have been propelling a man like Buhari to want to go back to a job he lost three decades ago? Buhari is a study in resilience and stamina. Since Paden’s is an authorised biography, we need to pay attention to some of the nuances in the book and the message meant for us.
Those who have read the book are saying that Paden narrated how the President came about his Vice-President. Before he was appointed Vice-President, Yemi Osinbajo, a distinguished professor of law, had spent many years in the public realm, including serving for eight years as a commissioner in the cabinet of Governor Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Lagos State. When the party was considering the issue of Vice-President, speculation was rife that the mantle may fall on Otunba Niyi Adebayo, the first elected Governor of Ekiti State. Then the mantle fell on Osinbajo, well known in Lagos as a protégé of Asiwaju Tinubu.
Whatever else may be the circumstances, there was no way Osinbajo would have emerged as the Vice-President without the influence of Tinubu. The former governor remains dominant in the coalition that formed the All Progressives Congress, APC, and he is regarded as the national leader of the party. Some of the party leaders, especially outside the Yoruba heartland of the West, have preferred to call Tinubu a national leader and not the national leader of the party. However, no one can wish away history. Without the singular role of Tinubu, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to end the long reign of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP.
I am sure Paden may not have revealed the whole truth about the emergence of Osinbajo. However, his revelation should persuade us to pay more attention to the Vice-Presidency and the power potential of that office. Dr. Alex Ekwueme was the first elected Vice-President of Nigeria. When he came into office in 1979, following 13 years of military rule, few of those who supported his emergence realised the power potential of the office. Then one day President Shehu Shagari was abroad and there was a plane crash in Enugu with many dead. The Vice-President insisted that the tragedy was such that he needed to make a national broadcast especially because most of the victims were from his home base in Igbo land. It took a lot of struggle before the hawks in the State House Ribadu Road (as the civilians called Doddan Barracks) to gave way. From that day on until the regime was topple on December 31, 1983, Ekwueme acquired a new sprint.
During the First Republic, the Prime Minister had no official deputy. After Balewa the Minister of Defence was regarded as the number two person. Therefore, when Balewa was kidnapped and fear killed on January 15, 1966, the ministers gathered at the home of the Minister of Defence in Doddan Barracks. The British and the American governments have reached them, saying they would offer help if only an acting prime-minister was appointed. The President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, who should have made the appointment, was abroad on vacation.
The acting President, Dr. Nwafor Orizu, refused to pronounce the Minister of Defence as the acting Prime-Minister. The head of the military, General Ironsi, who had helped quelled the coup, was invited to meet the ministers. He said he needed full powers to contain the situation. Since there was no official acting Prime-Minister, the frightened ministers agreed to transfer power. Alhaji Abdulrazaq from Ilorin, one the ministers, tore a sheet from a primary school notebook and wrote the instruction on behalf of the ministers. It was this instrument written on an ordinary sheet of paper in hardly legible handwriting that became the legal backing of the transfer of power to Ironsi.
During the long reign of the military, the position of Number two was not clear in the early days. Though Admiral Akinwale Wey was regarded as Number two in the government of General Yakubu Gowon, he was not officially designated so. General Ironsi never had an official Number two, though Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe was second in the hierarchy. The situation became clearer when General Murtala Muhammed became the Head of State and he designated General Olusegun Obasanjo, the Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters, as the Number two man. In subsequent military regimes Nigerians would always knew who Number two was.
In a democratic regime, electoral permutation plays a greater role in who emerge as the Vice President. I am sure it was the dynamics of the coalition that gave birth to the APC that informed the emergence of Osinbajo in this important office. If Paden should give him attention, then we better do. He is the fourth person to hold the office since 1999. Of his three predecessors, one, Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, eventually became the President. The other two, Atiku Abubakar and Namadi Sambo, had the experience, but not the ultimate power. Sambo seems to have gone on retirement, but Atiku electoral machine is still dynamic and on high alert. We not have heard the last about Atiku in the contest for power.
Paden has called our attention to the Vice President and we should not ignore that. If our leaders are too busy to write their own story, then they should not shy away in engaging Nigerian scholars and researchers to write about them and our past leaders. It is not something we should be proud of that up till today, there are very few biographical works on the three titans who led Nigeria to independence. Though Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo and Bello, wrote their own stories, it is time we have scholarly works done on them to enrich our knowledge and instruct future generations.
If an old man like Paden could be persuaded to do a biography on President Buhari, I am sure there are many Nigerian scholars who are capable of doing similar projects with proper prodding. As the scholars are putting the searchlight on the President, they should not forget to write about our Vice President and the remarkable men who have held that office in the past.