by Victoria Ohaeri
I saw Professor Yemi Osinbajo for the first time in 2004 when I was a legal intern attached to Justice Joseph Olubunmi Oyewole’s court at Ikeja High Court in Lagos State. He was then the Attorney General of Lagos State, and the lead counsel in the celebrated murder case involving Major Al Mustapha, Major Gen. Ishaya Bamaiyi, James Danbaba and Jibril Bala Yakubu who were then standing trial for the murder of late Kudirat Abiola, wife of late Bashorun MKO Abiola, winner of the June 12, 1993 annulled elections. It was one hell of a trial full of theatrical displays and dilatory tactics routinely employed by the team of lawyers representing the accused persons. Specifically significant was the overly dramatic spectacles of Olalekan Ojo Esq., the counsel representing Major Al Mustapha. At every opportunity, he would hurl tons of insults at the judge and pour invectives uninhibitedly at the Attorney General and his retinue of counsels. Olalekan Ojo esq. then had a habit of wheeling into the court room several boxes filled to brim with law reports. To argue any motion, he would cite tons of authorities, discuss the facts of each case and apply their respective holdings to the case at bar. Because most of his applications took several days of oral arguments, many of us (interns) eventually got weary of taking copious notes of the court proceedings as instructed by the judge.
As law students undergoing clerkships through supervised observation of court proceedings, everything we saw during that murder trial sharply contrasted with the rules of professional ethics we were taught at the Nigerian Law School. It was Professor Yemi Osinbajo’s exemplary conduct that provided inspiration to many of us who were deeply demotivated by the court room shenanigans. He always ignored the torrential flow of insults rained on him. He did not only restrain himself from rolling on the mud with the adverse party, he also restrained his entire team, and their observably higher standard of professional conduct shone so brightly. I remember a particular day when the opposing counsel, as usual, spent several hours arguing a motion, making provocative statements in the process, Professor Osinbajo quietly stepped out of the court room and took a walk! I was heavily pregnant then and had also stepped out at about the same time to ease myself, I saw him standing by his car reading a book while the courtroom drama lasted. His highly-disciplined conduct during those trial days left bold imprints on my memory.
I later met him again at the Lagos State Ministry of Justice during my brief stint there. From my observation, Professor Osinbajo is a man whose humility is so profound; his simplicity so infectious and gentleness so admirable. Between him and Sir Arthur Worrey, who was then the Solicitor General, it was difficult to tell who the boss was. He talked a lot less, speaking only when necessary and with wisdom, depth and tact. Beyond his professorial accomplishments, he also has very broad international experience in global and regional roles, and across multiple disciplines.
His arrival on the political scene not too long ago was the game changer for the All Progressives Congress (APC). I have been keenly following his campaign, especially his smart engagement with private citizens, professionals, interest groups and different stakeholders. In his usual gentle and amiable manner, he has demonstrated exceptional capabilities to connect effectively with every strata of the society –the rich, the poor, passengers in the bus, shoppers at the mall, market women and the like – in a way that is so refreshingly empowering.
The begging question is why a party loudly trumpeting change did not consider putting an imposing figure with towering moral and professional credentials like Osinbajo at the front seat? If the current election is not about pacifying interests and bitter agitations for political power, why would a man of Osinbajo’s pedigree be considered only fit to play second fiddle to a man far much less endowed? If changing the character and quality of Nigerian leadership is the real goal of the “change” movement, why the hesitation to put square pegs in square holes? That this question has not been answered is the reason pessimism and skepticism will continue to assail latter-day promises of political salvation.
No nation ever flourished by doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. When Nigerians pressed hard against the ills of the government under Goodluck Jonathan, that didn’t mean they desired sloppier alternatives. They wanted something better; so much better than Goodluck… Not the opposite!
Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” at Selma yesterday, President Barack Obama pondered on the ups and downs of American history, reviewing the racial progress that has been made over the years, and outlining past mistakes that must never be repeated. That is how nations grow. History provides a compass that guides into the future. Never has it ever been heard of that nations seeking to advance their democratic architecture looked back upon, and rebranded the mistakes of the past as renewed solutions to contemporary challenges. This absurdity is profound!
It doesn’t matter whether or not Professor Osinbajo wins the 2015 vice-presidential election; what counts is that a new breed of leadership has emerged and the hope for a better Nigeria beckons. He does not only inspire real change and hope to the future generation, but is also a reminder that there is still work to be done.
For those of us totally UNINSPIRED by the quality of the leading contenders and democratic fireworks underlying the 2015 elections, we remain hopeful that the fresh-mint candidature which Professor Osinbajo represents will provide the much-needed springboard to engender a new brand of Nigerian politics anchored on competence, track records, discipline and meritocracy. That future is not far away. We shall wait. Patiently too!
Victoria Ohaeri is the executive director of Spaces for Change (www.spacesforchange.org), a youth-development and policy advocacy organization based in Lagos, Nigeria. She is currently a post-graduate student at Harvard University in the United States of America. She can be reached on [email protected]