The reactions to Kperogi’s article accusing VP Osinbajo of anti-Muslim bigotry have been pretty predictable. His defenders (mostly Christians) see it as a conspiracy to torpedo Osinbajo’s presidential ambition. To his accusers (mostly Muslims), he stands accused, charged and convicted. In between, there’s a third group of sensible Nigerians across both divides willing to assess each claim on it’s own merits and demerits, and to subject Kperogi’s claims and Osinbajo’s response (if any) to the methods of critical assessment.
I am writing to this third group of Nigerians.
Given that this is all about the 2023 elections, I will start with a little clarification. I honestly believe, in the spirit of unity and fairness, that the next president of Nigeria should come from the South. Even though the practice of zoning has not translated into any benefits to any region or group (Jonathan vs Niger Delta and Buhari vs Arewa), I still believe our politics has not matured to a level we can do without it.
Now back to Kperogi and Osinbajo. In his now viral article, Kperogi accused the VP of religious bigotry, of being a toxic Christian fundamentalist who would set the country on a sectarian conflagration if allowed to succeed President Buhari. Ironically, Buhari also suffered similar claims of being a Muslim fundamentalist his entire political life.
I have read Kperogi’s article three times, and his major charges on religious bigotry against the VP rest on 6 claims: his advocacy for a Christian governor of Lagos, visiting mosque with his shoes on, the recent RCCG letter requesting its branches to open political units, Osinbajo’s conduct during Mimiko-mother’s burial, his antagonism towards Muslim hires at his law firm, and his reported endorsement of prayers calling for Buhari’s death in order to succeed him.
Now, let’s examine all the 6 claims.
It’s true that Osinbajo campaigned for a Christian governor of Lagos, and at the same time refused to make case for Muslim governors (or political inclusion) in other south-western states (Ekiti and Ondo) with Christian political dominance. I see this behavior as typical of religious clerics (both Muslim and Christian) where they only see justice and fairness through their narrow sectarian prisms.
Under Jonathan, Muslim leaders complained about lopsidedness in government appointments while Christian leaders kept mute. The table now has turned, with Muslim leaders now keeping mute on an even worse case of lopsidedness under Buhari while Christian leaders (who were mute under Jonathan) are now protesting for balance and fairness. To the average Nigerian Muslim and Christian, justice and fairness are religion- and ethnicity-dependent.
The second charge of Osinbajo entering mosque with his shoes on or uttering the Salaam as a ‘stoop-to-conquer’ tactics is an exercise in strawmanning. I don’t think Osinbajo or any Christian politician will deliberately enter a mosque with his shoes on just to offend Muslim sensibilities. The VP shoes-in-mosque blunder is merely a protocol failing that even Muslim politicians are not exempted from.
The third charge on the RCCG letter is no doubt worrying. The letter charges RCCG units to open political departments to ‘help coordinate activities for our people who are involved in politics as well as provide support when required.’ By ‘our people,’ that means Christians of RCCG stock. Even though the letter didn’t mention the VP, he stands directly to benefit from it as the most prominent RCCG ‘our people’ politician in Nigeria today. No doubt, both Muslim and Christian groups are guilty of sectarian political mobilization, but the move by RCCG to institutionalize this sectarian political activism has only one major beneficiary in mind.
The fourth charge of Osinbajo openly celebrating Mimiko’s mum alleged conversion to Christianity despite the Mimiko family’s mixed composition might be correct but understandable in light of the circumstances surrounding the VP. Osinbajo was made VP on the strength of his Christian credentials, as counterpoint to the charges of religious intolerance against Buhari. I see that faux pas as the danger of having religious clergies in politics. Even in government, they find it hard to separate governance, politics and religious evangelism.
The fifth charge of not hiring Muslims in his law firm has been repeated many times, but we have seen time and again how Kperogi’s ‘sources’ appear to be nothing more than street gossips. Osinbajo is also accused of filling his appointees with not just southerners, but members of his RCCG group. Even his few northern aides attest to his RCCG bias. But if we accuse Osinbajo of being a Christian fundamentalist for filling his appointees with RCCG members, can we say the same of Buhari who filled his own appointees with family and friends who happened to be mostly northerners and Muslims?
What I see here is nepotism, and the failure to outgrow primordial affiliations when ruling a complex country like Nigeria. That’s why even though I may not agree with Kperogi’s charge of bigotry on this ground, but the implicit fear of RCCG capture of the Nigerian state (already a topic of academic research and exposition) under an Osinbajo presidency is real. Buhari’s failures are largely due to his inability to manage Nigeria’s diversity because his government was captured by a small clique of family and friends of northern extraction.
The last charge of Osinbajo’s tacit endorsement of a prayer for Buhari’s death so he could succeed him was also in the public domain for long (Kperogi even cited Adedayo’s writings and Osinbajo’s denial). What I know is that during the period of the president’s long hospitalization in London, Osinbajo has succumbed to the temptation of the president not surviving his ailment, and of the politics of presidential ascension. But many northern (Muslim) governors are also guilty of that. They spent sleepless nights and sponsored marabouts just to be appointed as vice presidents to Osinbajo if Buhari didn’t make it. Interestingly, the president knew about all these intrigues.
In summary, what Kperogi has done was to mix publicly available facts with half truths and conjectures and distortions here and there to arrive at some salacious conclusions. This is an effective propaganda model because his claims contain charges that Osinbajo is obviously guilty of. He knew that his readers only need to verify one or two claims to convict Osinbajo. And that’s the problem with Kperogi, when he marks you as enemy, he’s incapable of being fair or considerate.
Is Kperogi sponsored or doing someone’s hatchet job? I don’t think so. Kperogi is only motivated by his individual narcissism and penchant for dominating the headlines. If Osinbajo fails to make it to 2023, Kperogi would lay a claim to being the sole individual responsible for torpedoing the Osinbajo project. As we have seen in his previous revelations, some true and some patently inaccurate, Kperogi is an equal opportunity table-shaker who wallows in his perverted illusion of outsized political influence and exaggerated sense of media fame.
Are those charges enough to convict Osinbajo for religious bigotry and paint him as a dangerous presidential specimen? That depends on the bar we set for our politicians. If we go by Kperogi’s assertion, many politicians (both Muslims and Christians) would be guilty of those charges based on their utterances or histories of sectarian political mobilization. The truth is, the Nigerian state is too big to be monopolized by one single ethnic, religious or even political group despite real threats.
The battle to defend Osinbajo is now rest with his Muslim supporters. Of course there is no better voice to counter charges of anti-Muslim bigotry than a Muslim voice in denial. But the bulk of Osinbajo Christian supporters (both closet and overt) are allowing emotions to get in their way of thinking, even accusing Kperogi of doing a hatchet job and projecting a reactionary narrative of imaginary historical Christian victimhood.
This is not only counterproductive, but also risk sectionalizing the ongoing debate and alienating Osinbajo’s Muslim supporters who are already doing a hard job selling his candidacy. Instead, they should accept the fact that the VP’s political evolution – and the task of building bridges that comes along with it – is a long and arduous process that will require more actions than rhetoric, more substance than mere appearances.
Will Kperogi’s exposé and the subsequent debate it is generating sound the death knell of Osinbajo’s presidential ambition? As strategist, all I can say is that Osinbanjo’s work is clearly cut out for him. But as we usually say, twenty-four hours is a long time in politics.