By Felix Oboagwina
Chief Tayo Soyode’s name may ring only a minimal bell in national politics outside the Progressives and South-West circles. However, this Marine Engineer-trained Lagosian is father and grandfather to seeds whose veins flow with the blood of two political giants. As son-in-law to Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Soyode has his children carrying the blueblood of the great man. He also has grandchildren springing from the marriage between his lawyer daughter and Nigeria’s Number Two Man, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Dolapo, nee Soyode, is Nigeria’s Second Lady.
Mrs. Dolapo Osinbajo, 54, is the granddaughter of Nigeria’s most legendary politician of all time. Her Mum, the late Madam Ayodele Soyode, was the biological daughter of the great man and his wife, Yeye Hannah Idowu Dideolu Awolowo (“HID” for short). It is on record that Dolapo grew up in her grandpa’s sprawling home at Ikenne in Ogun State, along with others like her cousin, Segun Awolowo junior, whose premarital birth happened posthumously after the death of his father, Awo’s late first son, after whom the baby boy was named.
The year following her call to the Nigerian Bar, Dolapo married Yemi Osinbajo, a distant cousin, on 25th November 1989. I attended the wedding reception at Apapa, Lagos, as a guest of the bride’s father. Somewhere in their magnificent and voluptuous photo album of Nigeria’s Who-Is-Who that graced the nuptials, the Osinbajos, Awolowos and Soyodes will surely find my face tucked somewhere among other guests. I had made the genial grassroots politician’s acquaintance when I covered him and his associate, General Musa Yar’Adua’s political group, People’s Front of Nigeria (PFN) for The Guardian. Soyode donated the one-story building at Herbert Macaulay Street, Yaba, Lagos, which PFN initially used as headquarters. I became a regular visitor there. Although a lawyer, Dolapo ran a small cake-making business in one corner of that building.
HELL BROKE LOOSE
Nevertheless, Soyode is not the focus here. This is about his upwardly mobile son-in-law. VP Osinbajo declared his intention to contest the country’s presidency and all hell broke loose. None of the plethora of aspirants indicating interest in the topmost job has divided public discourse like the 2-i-c to President Muhammadu Buhari.
However, how many see the irony in Osinbajo’s ambition when laid against that of his late grandfather-in-law? Awolowo spent his entire political life and two republics aspiring to govern Nigeria, in the First Republic under the Action Group (AG) and in the Second Republic through the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). He died with that dream stillborn. Nigeria was the biggest loser thereby. This was a man whose tenure as Premier of the South-Western Region bred a plethora of record-setting firsts, and whom a British politician testified could have superbly administered France and Scotland. Awo’s feats provoked the Biafran agitator, Ikemba Odumegwu Ojukwu, to write him the most befitting epitaph of “The Best President Nigeria Never Had.”
WHERE AWO FAILED
Ironically, Osinbajo today deputises Buhari, who spent his short term as Military Head of State peppering Awolowo’s UPN chieftains. Some of these ended up before the General’s tribunals and bagged jail terms of one century and more. That military incursion undoubtedly nailed the coffin on Awo’s ambition.
Today, the husband of Awolowo’s granddaughter aims to walk where the old man failed. Judging by the voices already clamouring for and against him, Osinbajo’s ambition will not be a walk through the park. His declaration attracted equal decibels of cheers and jeers. Can any good thing really come from the Nazarene who has dined and wined with notorious Nazarenes? He has his albatross in the two men he served. Some begrudge him for being the Lagos State Attorney-General who helped then Governor Tinubu evade impeachment when a scandal broke out over whether or not he attended Chicago University. Additionally, it just became public knowledge that he had rejected an offer to reach the zenith of his profession as Attorney-General and Minister of Justice under President Olusegun Obasanjo. This was an act of loyalty to Tinubu, a sworn political enemy of the then President. Similarly, some cannot divorce the Professor from Buhari, who wears the reputation of leaving Nigerians worse off than when this regime took power in 2015. Today, Nigeria rates as the Poverty Capital of the World after dropping to rock bottom in the international prosperity index. She has chalked up a record-breaking debt profile, while faring worse on the corruption scale. These negatives opponents latch on, insisting that Buhari has eaten sour grapes and Osinbajo must feel the pang in his teeth.
MOSQUITOES ON A SCROTAL SAC
On the other hand, supporters insist Osinbajo is like a man with mosquitoes perched on his scrotal sac. It creates a dilemma that demands delicate handling. While marketing himself, the VP must consider his two political mentors, Tinubu and Buhari, none of whom he must antagonise. To look good, should Osinbajo distance himself from Buhari’s failure? Should he frontally trample over Tinubu’s ambition? While some observers understand the need for diplomacy, not a few feel the former Law Professor should throw both his former and current principals under the bus and run his own race.
Why Osinbajo must step forward gingerly is not difficult to see. The Aso Rock cabal, which stopped a serially absentee Buhari from turning over power to Osinbajo during international trips, waits for the Ikenne man to slip up, so they could send his ambition to hell. The same goes for Tinubu’s attack dogs, balefully watching for any blunder to justify ripping apart his former Attorney-General. Any gaffe would catapult him onto the guillotine.
One unsettling fact, however, remains. For all his virtues, Osinbajo, unlike his legendary grandfather-in-law, remains a political brand without a political structure. He did not have one before becoming Number Two. He lacks one now. That singular defect becomes his Achilles’ Heel.
However, no one doubts his personal credentials. Reputedly detribalised, the Pentecostal Pastor, some say, serves as the redeeming beacon in the current administration. Osinbajo showed much spark the couple of times Buhari undertook prolonged medical trips abroad and left him to run the ship as Acting President. On one such occasion, the VP summarily dismissed the spy chief, Lawal Daura, whose agency unilaterally shut down the National Assembly in August 2018. By booting out the infidel, Osinbajo prevented a constitutional crisis, safeguarded the separation of powers and entrenched the Legislature’s independence. A shocked Buhari thereafter refused to cede to Osinbajo another chance as Acting President.
He has never shied away from offering a shoulder to his friends or the friends of his friends. Hear this one. Even when not a single invited Governor graced the occasion, Osinbajo shuttled between assignments in Abuja to land in Lagos for the launching of a compendium by Guardian alumni staff last year. He did it, some say, for his spokesperson, Laolu Akande, former Guardian correspondent in New York. Similarly, he graced the funerals of OPC Founder, Dr. Frederick Fasehun, as well as that of General Sani Abacha’s former Attorney-General, Dr. Olu Onagoruwa. Several social engagements paint him humane, much unlike his staid boss. Osinbajo takes credit for such initiatives as “Tradermoney,” where petty traders got a grant of N10,000 from the government. He has visited disaster sites and IDPs, places from which his principal shied away.
Such strokes underscore his quality as a humanist and a man with the human touch. To boot, the man is an orator. This Professor is so cerebral that his supporters are spoiling to see him debate fellow contestants eyeing the seat and swear that he would dust them all.
However, if truth be told, Osinbajo’s records fall far below the bar set by his grandfather-in-law, Awolowo, acknowledged by friends and foes alike as a demigod in politics and public service. Despite his sterling credentials, though, Awo failed to earn the national crown. Today, the question is: Will Osinbajo succeed where Awolowo failed?
If Chief Tayo Soyode could not become son-in-law to a Nigerian President, is fate handing him the good fortune to become father-in-law to one through Professor Osinbajo? Time will tell.
(OBOAGWINA IS AN AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST, AND MAY BE REACHED VIA: firstname.lastname@example.org)