Nigerian media reports that Senior Special Assistant to the President Garba Shehu said President Muhammadu Buhari is retaining as his running mate Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Garba Shehu, personally close to Buhari, is a credible source.
Domestic and international observers generally see Osinbajo as highly competent and his tenure as vice president a success. The Lagos business community, highly critical of Buhari’s economic policies, will welcome the prospect that Osinbajo will continue as vice president. He has been generally lauded for his role as acting president during Buhari's absences, most recently for his handling of a blockade of the national assembly by certain members of the security services.
Osinbajo is sixty-one and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), the highest cohort of Nigerian attorneys. He is a senior partner in one of the largest and most prestigious Lagos commercial law firms and is also a senior Pentecostal pastor of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, a Nigerian indigenous Christian denomination that has established a presence all over the world. (It has three congregations in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC, alone.) Osinbajo says that he is merely “on loan” from his church to the vice-presidency, and that he retains his pastoral office. Osinbajo is a part of the Yoruba establishment. His wife is a granddaughter of Obafemi Awolowo, generally counted as one of the fathers of independent Nigeria and a Yoruba political patriarch.
Osinbajo’s name on the presidential ballot increases the likelihood of Buhari’s reelection in 2019. He will be highly influential with the Yoruba—one of Nigeria’s three largest ethnic groups—who are concentrated in Lagos and the southwest, balancing Buhari’s deep, personal popularity in the Muslim north.
President Buhari’s health is a serious concern; he is once again on a “medical vacation” in London. As is usual among African chiefs of state, there is no transparency about his health. Should Buhari win reelection in 2018 and pass away in office, Vice President Osinbajo would then assume the presidency and as incumbent and be well-placed to win the presidency in 2023. If President Buhari serves out a full second term, Osinbajo would still be in a strong position to win the presidency. Under Nigeria’s informal system of power rotation every eight years between the predominately Muslim north and the mostly Christian south, 2023 will be the south’s turn. Osinbajo is a southern, Yoruba Christian who is broadly popular. It is hard to identify another southern Christian politician with his political strengths.
For more on Nigeria, Matthew Page and John Campbell provide an overview of its politics, history, and culture, including the threat of Boko Haram and religious conflicts in their new book, Nigeria: What Everyone Needs to Know, which was published by Oxford University Press in July.