To The Deaf, Osinbajo Is Silent, By Richard Ogundiya

On 20th of August 2019, Itunu Ajayi from Maryland USA revealed his standpoint on The Guardian about Vice President Osinbajo’s presumed silence on the incessant killings and security instability in many parts of the country.

For someone who is a 2014 Kurt Schork Fellow in International Journalism (yes, I looked him up), it was an uninformed, depressing take packed with personal bias and judgement that didn’t do justice to credit a man whose role is to deputise, support and advise the president.

This factless blasphemy by Itunu disguised in the suit of an opinion by one who prides to be a journalist is a valid reason why people’s faith in journalism is fast drifting.

Itunu’s evocative postulations give the impression of a hyper-deliberate attempt at slandering Yemi Osinbajo and undermining his achievements and contributions as arguably the most active, seen, heard and devoted Vice President Nigeria has ever encountered.

Itunu attempts to play a centrist. But too often, we confuse centrism with fairness, objectivity or common-sense truth. But centrism is none of those, it is a point of view, and it can be wrong, just as conservatism or liberalism can be; so opinions must be based on accurate information, sound logic, and expressed respectfully.

He wants us to believe, without any certitude, that Osinbajo is not deeply concerned about the current state of the country because of his own misinterpretation of events.

He consciously forgets to mention every instance the Vice President has spoken out on issues of insecurity in the country, every time he has condemned wrongdoing by enemies of our state, every time he has paid a solidarity visit to victims and reminded them that government cares, and would not forget them – passing the message of relieve and hope to the victims.

He consciously denies the truth to his readers when he pretends not to know that President Buhari has the ears of his number two man, and they, whether we know it or not, meet time without number to discuss issues of national interests.

In his essay, the writer consciously strips the Vice President off his constitutional capacity through deliberate ignorance of the roles and responsibilities that flow therefrom, but thereafter goes ahead to hold him liable for those functions that are not even his.

He then attempts to severe his office from the Buhari government, as if they are not one, and that the two elected leaders should act in discord. The story forces its readers to digest misconstrued analysis as facts and struggles to beg for empathy by connecting it to the general displeasure of nationwide killings.

What makes it absurd and ridiculous is that he thinks and believes that the President and his Vice are not troubled about the insecurity or working towards seeing the end of the menace. Nothing could be more far from the truth.

There is no political leader who prays for disability knowing it would injure his name, or who is in a place of power would do nothing to end such. And this in fact is the least expected.

Since he assumed office in 2015 as President Muhammadu Buhari’s deputy, VP Osinbajo has played an increasingly prominent role in Nigeria’s government and his accomplishments are incomparable to any other Vice President as they surpass by far.

Not too long ago, former President Obasanjo had disclosed that his deputy, Atiku Abubakar, complained about taking on too many responsibilities as the nation’s number 2 citizen in their days of power.

That is in contrast with the reality today; Vice President Osinbajo not only chairs the National Economic Council which works with several parastatals to identify problems, recommend and execute solutions regarding economic development, poverty alleviation and foreign exchange policies, he also oversees the National Social Investment Office which facilitates empowerment schemes aimed at students, traders, farmers, enterprises and bottom of the pyramid population.

The Social Investment Office boasts of the largest social investment ever attempted in Africa. And it is succeeding. It feeds almost 10 million pupils in public schools; it has provided entrepreneurship and skill based jobs to 500,000 previously unemployed graduates; it is giving cash to Nigeria’s poorest families in the hinterland communities to improve their welfare and livelihood.

But Itunu is in haste to lash out on the Vice President and his office that he forgets these, as well as the administration’s ongoing plans on establishing a sustainable herding system across the country through the National Livestock Transformation Plan – which Vice President Osinbajo oversees – that would put a sustainable end to clashes between herders and farmers and the consequent killings.

He also misses out on the fact that the Buhari – Osinbajo administration is re-engineering the country’s national security architecture to help combat attacks led by Islamic State of West Africa Province (ISWAP), farmer-herder clashes and other unfortunate bandits.

His failure to mention the times the Vice President has visited families of victims, visited areas of attack to assess the impact and report to his principal is evident of Itunu’s deliberate mischief and shortfall of honest intentions.

Recall that on 26th of June 2019, Osinbajo interacted with The Council on Foreign Relations in the USA and extensively talked about the current state of ISWAP, challenges rocking the administration and ongoing efforts to completely deal with the insecurity.

He has also led the consultations and meetings – especially in the south west – seeking an end and solutions to the kidnappings and killings. He is largely responsible for the peace we see in the South South today; the absence of a hitherto raging militancy is courtesy his back and forth in the region in 2016 where he met and dialogued with the leaders there and constantly assuring Nigerians of the Federal Government’s commitment to continue to give priority attention to the operational requirements and welfare of the Nigerian Armed Forces.

He seats as the Deputy Chairman of the Security Council which means he has a voice at the highest points whenever issues of security are brought up. Are these items of silence, or is Itunu just simply deaf?

It is without doubts that he has brought value and and function to his office, as manager of the economy and other assignments given to him. The Vice President’s pace of action has been commended by many Nigerians and international bodies prompting suggestions that he should continue playing the major roles in the government.

According to the writer, Professor Osinbajo’s call for alliances across faiths and ethnicities to wreck national threats hindering the country’s unity and coexistence is enough concrete reason to accuse him of lackadaisical attitude and noiselessness.

I am left to wonder if a birthday ceremony is the best place to give a detailed proposition on how the government plans to successfully tackle security challenges. It is no coincidence that even before now, the Vice President has always addressed cooked narratives by opposition that the presidency is protecting killer herdsmen and Boko Haram members as a desperate ploy to promote ethnic and religious suspicion.

Without doubt, Itunu’s phoney claims are inaccurate, abandon objectivity and suspend sense of fairness, declaring judgement in his own court of reasoning. This haste to demonize the Buhari administration is agenda-driven, not Information-driven.

Richard Ogundiya is a journalist and researcher based in Lagos

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Is Nigeria Is On Its Way To Becoming A Global Food Basket? By Richard Ogundiya

Nigeria is a nation with several endowments, but yet there is still the threat of hunger and extreme poverty which requires urgent attention. In terms of quality and quantity, Nigeria is known worldwide for the production of several agricultural goods such as Cashew nuts, Cassava, Cocoa Beans, Ground Nuts, Gum Arabic, Kola nut, Melon, Millet, Palm kernels, Palm Oil, Plantain, Rice, Rubber, Sorghum, Soybeans, amongst others. The list abounds.

Yet our farmlands perform below expectations due to factors ranging from low fertiliser usage to poor farm management, insufficient financial access and market access. A strong and efficient agricultural sector would enable Nigeria to feed its growing population, generate employment, earn foreign exchange and provide raw materials for industries.

The good news is this: the strategy of using Agro- based industries for accelerated economic growth is slowly beginning to take shape and the Nigerian government, through private sector partnerships and investments is working to enable a strong and efficient agricultural sector to feed its growing population, generate employment and provide raw materials for industries. 

The Agro-allied industry is a collection of companies engaged in a high-scale 
production, processing, and packaging of food with the use of modern equipment and methods aimed at achieving these goals. Just like any other industry, the agro-allied industry has a positive relationship to economic development in 
Nigeria. Several million metric tonnes of agricultural products are exported every year; after a bumper harvest, reasonable amounts of these products get bad each year. A shortage in supply of these agricultural products is created, and the remaining products are sold at low prices in the international market, we then import these products back in a processed format but at higher prices. This practice is not economical, thereby depriving Nigerians of creativity and innovation in adding value to our agricultural products. It has discouraged economic growth and development as well as generated high unemployment rate by empowering foreign based agro-industries.

Nigeria’s ambitions for accelerated and inclusive economic growth are contingent on achieving a vibrant Agriculture sector that can support extensive down-the-line enterprise development and employment. Alongside job creation, Agro-industrial enterprises often provide crucial inputs and services to the farm sector for those with no access to such inputs, inducing productivity and product quality improvements and stimulating market induced innovation through chains and networks, facilitating linkages and allowing domestic and export markets to become mutually supportive.

During a meeting with a delegation of Chinese investors and other officials from the African Development Bank (AfDB) on August 6 2019, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, SAN stated that ‘In line with its commitment to develop a thriving agro-industrial sector, the Federal Government will welcome partnerships and initiatives that would make Nigeria actualize its potential of being the food basket of the world’. Through the African Development Bank, the Chinese investors hope to commence the processes of investing in Nigeria’s agricultural sector under an initiative known as the Agro-Industrial initiative with focus on crop production, forestry, fishery, and livestock production.  

Prof. Oyebanji Oyelaran-Oyeyinka of the AfFB said the framework of the initiative is to develop a programme that leverages Nigeria’s comparative advantage in key areas of agricultural production. According to him, ‘the overall investment, under the initiative, amounts to between $16 billion to $25 billion over a period of four years with a strong government support and private sector leadership.’

The challenge of feeding Nigeria’s growing population, which is expected to reach 402 million people in 2050, requires new strategies and new multicultural and multisectorial rethinking, capable of generating new forms of dialogue, at different specialist levels, towards a more sustainable use of the available natural and human resources, to ensure food and nutrition security. Agro-industrial development can contribute to improved health and food security for the poor by increasing the overall availability, variety and nutritional value of food products, and enabling food to be stored as a reserve against times of shortage, ensuring that sufficient food is available and that essential nutrients are consumed throughout the year. This new development if implemented well will have a direct impact on the livelihoods of the poor both through increased employment in agro-industrial activities, and through increased demand for primary agricultural produce.

Vice-President Osinbajo believes that the proposed partnership, especially the agro-allied aspect of it will help deliver the kind of growth needed in Nigeria’s agricultural ecosystem. According to him, the FG and AfDB will ensure that the investors have no troubles in setting up and operating their businesses efficiently.

Agro opportunities abound in Nigeria. We have the 9th largest arable land in the world and most of that is still largely untouched. Nigeria’s potentials in this sector are limitless, thus becoming the food basket of the world may sound like a tall order, but it is not surmountable. That lofty goal will depend on how we are able to get high quality inputs, seedling and others, and how we are able to use technology especially the benefits of industrial agriculture to our advantage. Moves seen in the Buhari administration – from its revolutionary Anchor Borrower’s Programme, to other massive unprecedented investments from the likes of Olam to Friesland Campina WAMCO among others – show that Nigeria has left the realm of potential as it makes it way to reality, that indeed we have the capacity to be a global food basket. Consistency of policy and determination is however key to this ambition, else, all would be mere bark, no bite.

Richard Ogundiya is a journalist and researcher resident in Lagos.

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Why Nigeria Needs To Implement The National Livestock Transformation Plan, By Richard Ogundiya

Not too long ago, news about the Ministry of Agriculture’s proposed ‘RUGA Settlements’ broke, evoking outrage sparked by tribal and religious sentiments that fueled misconceptions, debates and misunderstanding of what the program was set to achieve.

The nomenclature seemed to be part of the problem: Ruga is a Hausa word that means “a Fulani settlement”. With a raging sentiment founded on ignorance and ethnic division, an internal form of xenophobia, against the Fulani ethnic group, more or less because President Buhari is one, the term Ruga it seemed would not fly in many parts of the country. Yet the concept, though inchoate, if well thought-out, planned and deployed was aimed at placating clashes between herders and farmers. Herders and their cattle are accused – and most times rightly so – of illegal grazing activities on farmers’ farmlands. This has been scientifically blamed on environmental and demographic forces, especially desertification caused by climate change and population explosion. The proliferation of small and light weapons in the intense competition for land and resources have further aided criminals and marginalized groups to capitalize on the conflicts; thus there has been the consequent rise in cattle rustling, kidnapping, armed robbery, insurgency, rural banditry and ethnic militia. Given that host communities (including farmers) have access to sophisticated weapons, minor disagreements or provocation often degenerate into violent clashes causing widespread destruction of property and human casualties.

According to the Global Terrorism Index (GTI, 2018), nearly 1,700 violent deaths have been attributed to clashes between herdsmen and farmers between January and September 2018, six times more people than those killed by the terrorist group Boko Haram in that same year.

Land scarcity, the over use of resources, and climate change have dried up fertile land in many parts of Northern Nigeria which the Fulani have historically used for grazing, driving many of these pastoralists into other states inhabited by farmers; crop yields of Nigeria’s middle belt and southern-based farmers are threatened due to the increased presence of cattle roaming on farmlands. The Fulani herders are mostly ascribed the Muslim identity, while the farmers are predominantly ascribed the Christian identity, seamlessly adding a religious dimension to the conflict over resources. These farmers, especially those in the southern parts of the country perceive the influx of “Muslim” herders as an Islamization drive. Hate speech has also become an accelerator of violent conflicts alongside the phenomenon of fake news worsening its negative impact. As such, the insecurity and unavailability of land in both Nigeria’s northern and southern states has the long-term potential to disrupt the country’s agricultural and livestock economy.

But it has always been a looming crisis. Back in 1965, the Northern Region Government created a ‘Grazing Reserve System’ with over 417 grazing areas across the north. Under this structure, the government provided space, water and vaccinations for the livestock while the herdsmen paid taxes in return. However, the discovery of oil and subsequent exploration made Nigeria an oil rich economy, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s spawning an abandonment of the project. As a fallback, herdsmen began to resort back to their traditional and seasonal grazing routes which had been interrupted by industrialization, urbanization and other natural factors marking the beginning of a decades-long conflict between farmers and host communities. Till date, these clashes have been on the increase and now constitute one of the major threats to Nigeria’s national security.

As part of measures to end the persistent friction that has claimed lives and properties, states like Benue and Taraba began enacting legislations prohibiting open grazing within their borders. This, they hoped would reduce the risk of herdsmen destruction of farm lands and the associated attacks causing displacement and loss of many lives. But little or no progress has been made; while the clashes seem to rear its head every now and then.

The contest has thus created 2 key gaps in Nigeria’s agricultural practice – first, an inability to meet domestic food requirements and second, an inability to export at quality levels required for market success. One of the Federal Government’s approaches to curb this dilemma and protect lives as well as the nation’s food security is the development of the National Livestock Transformation Plan, which many still confuse as RUGA. [ Recall that the Ruga Model Settlement was suspended by the President, as it was said not to have been in accordance with the already approved plan by the National Economic Council, the National Food Security Council and the Federal Executive Council’s National Livestock Transformation Plan (NLTP). It was also a unilateral implementation by the Ministry of Agriculture.]

The NLTP commissioned by the National Economic Council which Vice President Yemi Osinbajo chairs is a blueprint that will support and strengthen the development of market-driven ranches in the livestock ecosystem for improved productivity through breed improvement, pasture production, efficient land and water capacity enhancements. The scheme seeks to provide a similarly conducive habitation for nomadic herders and those who rear livestock using a private public partnership model for its set up. It is designed to create a basis for leading agribusiness companies to emerge along the lines of Brazil’s JBS, The USA’s Perdue or the Sino – American Smithfield. Most importantly, the scheme will, to a great extent, stop the spread of violence and insurgency in the affected regions, by simply keeping herders away from the farms of farmers. It potentially would aid significant boost in Nigeria’s agricultural productivity, a sector that currently employs about 38% of the total working population and accounts for a large share of our Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It is killing two birds with a stone; restore peace in the region and create more wealth for the those in the line of farming and livestock business.

Contrary to speculations, NLTP benefits all involved, from the farmers to those in animal husbandry and not just cattle herders; with no intent of enforcing the project on any states, as states are not just at liberty to adopt, they are expected to develop their own home grown plans for implementation. The FG’s Plan is to settle them in an organized place with basic amenities like schools, hospitals and veterinary clinics, thereby adding value to meat, diary and other animal products. The project is voluntary for all 36 States, with options of presenting their unique delivery mechanisms according to their respective challenges. To be clear, while a number of states in the conflict zones will receive high levels of attention, the purpose of NLTP is to catalyze a transformation in livestock production systems across Nigeria in a defined and effective manner. However, the process will continue to require an expansion of the role of private capital and investors, accelerating the rate of formation of small and medium sized enterprises and improvements in overall condition of doing agribusiness.

Recent estimates puts Nigeria’s livestock population at 19.8 Million cattle, 43.4 Million sheep, 76 Million goats and 213 Million poultry, all under traditional pastoral management – the reason our productivity is amongst the lowest globally. Thus the need for commercial ranching models for a country with 250 million people by 2030. Nearly 60 percent of the ruminant livestock population is found in the country’s semi-arid zone and mostly managed by pastoralists. Domestic production of livestock products is far below the national demand, resulting in large imports of livestock and its products. The annual expenditure on food exportation amounts to USD 3-5 Billion annually putting pressure on the National foreign exchange with milk importation alone amounting to USD 1.3 Billion per annum. Except for eggs, the domestic production of animal products is less than half the demand for beef mutton and goat meat, while for milk and pork products it is less than quarter the demand.

The livestock industry development is constrained by low productive breeds, inadequate access to feeds and grazing lands, lack of processing facilities, low value addition and technical inputs in the management of the animals, diseases and conflicts.

The NLTP’s agenda is to to create new opportunities for farmers and provide more affordable and healthier diets for future generations. Managing this growth also requires a complex institutional response that can stimulate income and employment opportunities in the rural areas, protect the livelihoods of small farmers, improve resource-use efficiency at all levels of the value chain, minimize negative environmental and health consequences, and ensure adequate access by the poorer sections of society to the food they need to live healthy lives.

NLTP plays an integral role in revolutionizing how livestock farming is practiced and its effect on the nation’s economy, social well-being of its citizens and huge export capacity. Its implementation strategy identifies five main pillars as priority areas: Conflict Resolution, Justice and Peace, Humanitarian relief, Human Capital Development and issues on Gender, Youth, Research Information and Strategic Communication.

As the decades old conflicts between farmers and pastoralists surface and resurface every now and then, a sustainable solution must be designed, one that equally looks at the big picture that caters for the economic opportunities that come with pastoralism and husbandry, while also developing the needed human capital for the long term. This is what the National Livestock Transformation Plan ultimately seeks.

The needless sentiments that followed the RUGA scheme must be put aside as the Federal Government looks into the implementation of this programme alongside willing states. Ethnic, tribal and bigotry-defined points of view must be set aside to accommodate the NLTP’s long-term solution. Needed stakeholder consultations have been made through the National Economic Council, with input from traditional rulers and relevant stakeholders of cattle breeders and farmers associations. It is expected that Governors and these stakeholders carry the message of peace, reconciliation and development that the NLTP brings to their states and their local communities to ensure there is understanding and buy-in of it before acceptance. This is where Ruga failed. Nigeria needs the NLTP as much as it seeks peace, stability and development.

Richard Ogundiya is a journalist and researcher, and writes from Lagos.

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Osinbajo’s Rise And Climb: Through The Hearts Of Nigerians, And Through Our Rough Political Waters, By Richard Ogundiya

For most of the country’s democratic sovereignty, there’s been enough disparagement about the weakness of the nation’s second office. However, one gripping fact from the 2019 general elections is the rising power of the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and the public’s increased interest for his job more than in other election cycles.

Six years ago I sat in a room filled with young professionals and graduates who claimed to be interested in national politics, only 3 people knew who the Vice President of Nigeria was at the time, Namadi Sambo. It wasn’t so strange, the same goes for Atiku Abubakar, President Buhari’s strongest contender in the 2019 general elections; not a lot of people can point out to his deeds and accomplishments as the Vice President of Nigeria between 1999 to 2007, save allegations that haunt him to this day. By his own conduct, Professor-turned-Politician, Yemi Osinbajo, a central across-the-board figure, exercising his shrewdness and mild suaveness in his service as Buhari’s deputy provoked this sudden outburst for credo. While many argue that the VP office is like the human appendix, a vestigial organ on the body politic – unnecessary, Prof as he is fondly called has broken the jinx; he is arguably Nigeria’s most industrious VP on record. Since assuming office in 2015, he has worked with relevant departments and agencies to identify problems and recommend solutions regarding economic development, healthcare, foreign exchange policies, poverty alleviation and food security.

With vast experience in international law practice and academia, the VP has served in several positions of authority and contributes to the national discourse even before his foray into active politics. As Attorney General of Lagos State, he is credited with undertaking far-reaching significant judicial reforms, addressing critical areas as judges’ recruitment, remuneration, training and discipline as well as access to justice for the poor by establishing appropriate institutions in the Office of the Public Defender (OPD) and the Citizens Mediation Centre (CMC). He solitarily founded the Orderly Society Trust (OST), an excel literacy programme that aims to provide children in public primary schools with the same level of training in English as is available to their counterparts in private schools. His drive for getting the average Nigerian child quality education doesn’t stop at that, he organized the Liberty Schools Project that still provides free primary school education with free school lunches to poor children. The Project currently has three sites, one very close to where I live in Lagos.

In 2016, when the nation’s economy hit a nosedive, the VP alongside the National Economic Council which he chairs presented ‘59 strategies for implementing the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP). The efforts of the NEC were instrumental in defining Nigeria’s policy direction and prudence that saw Nigeria ushered out of a recession quicker than economists predicted. Policies such as the unpopular ban of FOREX provisions to 41 items made significant impact in managing our scarce Dollars at that time.

On the President’s directive, he plays a significant role in the ‘Niger Delta New Vision’ plan – a set of promises, solutions and initiatives the President Buhari administration has set in place for the restoration of peace and ensuring the region benefits maximally from the nation’s oil wealth. The programme has fostered security in the creeks and enabled an increase in production and hitch-free flow of crude to the international market. Along with 12 Federal Ministries and state governments, Professor Osinbajo launched the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Clinic (MSME), a scheme addressing the plethora of challenges affecting the growth and productivity of growing businesses to bring about significant and sustainable GDP growth, employment generation and increase in local productivity.

Osinbajo’s claim to fame can be traced back to May 2017 when he was conferred the Acting President of the Federation during President Buhari’s medical leave. Unlike his predecessors, President Buhari vested all legal powers to him in accordance with the constitution. As Acting President, Osinbajo exhibited fearlessness and charisma, taking decisive and perhaps dramatic actions. He ordered the overhaul of SARS – the Police’s notorious anti-robbery squad and demanded quick investigation of numerous allegations of assaults by the unit. He sacked Daura, the DSS Chief, describing his actions as ‘unacceptable and a gross violation of constitutional order, rule of law and all accepted notions of law and order’. Indeed, he knows his stuff. In that interlude, when he wasn’t leading FEC meetings, he was engaging the 36 states with a keen interest in grassroots politics, women affairs, agriculture and young people. He has shown a mastery of communication and responsibility; like President Buhari, he is still actively engaged in the fight for the return of kidnapped girls and the welfare of their families; during the campaigns, he held numerous town hall meetings across the country and participated in youth-led initiatives clamouring for change. In less than 5 years on the national scene, he has gained good popularity among the Nigerian people for his achievements and dexterity in handling national issues.

In the cyberspace, the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has gathered the most likes, comments and engagements, grossing over 500,000 likes on Facebook, 2 million followers on Twitter and 500,000 Instagram subscribers and social strength of 16 million, he is the second most-followed Nigerian politician after his boss President Muhammadu Buhari. For the first time in a long time we are witnessing a proactive and dynamic 62-year-old man – petite, eloquent, tech-savvy, and an unassuming leader.

While a vice presidential pick has never been solely credited with swinging an election, it can leave an indelible impression about the judgment of a would-be president or help address something that is lacking at the top of the ticket; whether it be a regional appeal, ideological purity, religious sentiments or a gap in their resume. Sometimes, it’s all of the above.

His role in the country’s technological ecosystem cannot be easily undermined. From being part of a tech tour around hubs and start-ups across Nigeria to facilitating the 2016 Aso Villa Demo day, a platform meant to promote innovation and provide opportunities for entrepreneurs and start-ups solving local problems. Interestingly, Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg made his first trip to Africa and was also part of the pitch competition to which the VP played host. At the Google For Nigeria 2018 event, Osinbajo assured that Nigeria will partner with Google to boost internet connectivity nationwide. You’ll also catch the VP at creative events and spaces where Nigeria’s new age is being celebrated. Whether it’s at the Ake Book Festival, Art Summits or Fashion Week, he appeals as a desirable model of what a progressive leader should be.

Many also love him for his religious ties, prior to his role as VP, Professor Osinbajo served as a top pastor in the Redeemed Christian church of God, Nigeria’s largest Pentecostal Church body, but beyond this, his sheer honesty, intellectual acuity and genuine delight has caused him to be loved by all and sundry. His rise to the heart of the Nigerian people has been an easy climb.

Richard Ogundiya is a Journalist covering technology, politics, development and culture in Africa.

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