Nigeria’s acting President Yemi Osinbajo visited the northeastern city of Maiduguri twenty-four hours after multiple Boko Haram attacks killed at least eighteen people there. Osinbajo’s visit was brave as well as politically astute, demonstrating that he is not intimidated by terrorism. Another reason for his visit was to open grain distribution centers, highlighting government efforts to respond to the widespread humanitarian disaster in the region, which hosts more than two million internally displaced persons. Mindful of northern Nigerian protocol, his first stop in Maiduguri was a visit to the Shehu of Bornu, the most senior Islamic official in the northeast, and its traditional ruler.
Osinbajo is receiving high marks from business leaders and many journalists, both at home and abroad, because of his economic policies–perceived as more flexible than those of President Buhari–and his general projection of engagement and competence. The Maiduguri visit will only add to this praise.
Inevitably, there is speculation that he could be a strong presidential candidate in 2019. Born in 1957, Osinbajo is married to the granddaughter of Obafemi Awolowo, a Yoruba politician and one of the founding fathers of Nigeria, and was a successful lawyer before being elected as vice president. With a net worth over $900 thousand, Osinbajo is much richer than President Muhammadu Buhari, who declared total assets of just under $100 thousand. However, his personal wealth does not approach that of many Nigerian oligarchs, nor are there whispers of corruption. He is a Pentecostal preacher in the Redeemed Christian Church of God and has said that he remains a preacher, and is only “on loan” as the vice president.
Nigerian politics is shaped by the understanding that the presidency and the vice presidency alternate every eight years between the north and the south, in effect, between Muslims and Christians. If the president is Muslim, the vice president is Christian. (Buhari is a Muslim). Under that arrangement, the Muslim north is still set to hold the presidency through the 2019 elections. However, power alternation is not mandated by law, and many Nigerians, especially in the south, will argue that this formula is no longer necessary nor desirable. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen what the north’s reaction would be to a southern Christian candidate in 2019, even if the candidate is as politically skilled as Yemi Osinbajo is proving to be.