Deputy Governors: Spare or Worthless Tyres?


“..Succession contemplations invoke paralyzing and phobic reactions from most Nigerian officeholders for self-conceit, fear of the unknown, dictatorial tendencies, greed and institutionalizing a personal fiefdom”

By Dave Baro-Thomas

The innuendos, machinations, and underbellies among the political class most often cross the bars of sanity and reasonability. It confounds the uninitiated and unearths treacherousness, backstabbing, and sometimes the inexplicable destruction of lives and properties that characterize the insatiable appetites of some politicians to wrestle, seize, sustain power or ruthlessly dislodge their perceived enemies at the slightest provocation, whether within the party or opposition.

Trending, is the macabre dance and Bollywood blockbuster playing out in Edo State between His Excellency, Governor Godwin Obaseki and his one-time best buddy, Deputy Governor Philip Shaibu. On top of this is the returnee governor of Ondo State, His Excellency Arakunrin Rotimi Akeredolu, whose moves are rattling his deputy and causing him to run from pillar to post, as rumour is rife that the deputy lives in suspense and unaware when the axe will fall.

Not left out, the present Imo State governor showed his deputy the exit door long ago in preparation for his second stab at governance. In the same vein, the former deputy governor of Oyo State got brutally kicked out of office. And likewise, his counterparts in Zamfara in early 2022. The list is endless and cutting across the six geopolitical zones.
Unequivocally, succession contemplations invoke paralyzing and phobic reactions from most Nigerian officeholders for self-conceit purposes, fear of the unknown, dictatorial tendencies, greed, institutionalizing a personal fiefdom, loyalty issues or just sheer wickedness.

So, from the first republic to date, the war of calumny between the principals/leaders and their deputies is copious and well-documented, and over time, Nigerians were treated to the ugly, bad, and worst-case scenarios as far as the subject matter is concerned.
So, speaking to facts, among the hundreds of Deputy Governors produced since the fourth republic, only a few deputies have succeeded their bosses as anointed heirs, i.e. having the blessing of their governors. Rephrasing, after 24 years of this democratic experimentation, not more than five deputy governors made it to the exalted position as governors in their states. The obvious question here, is being a deputy governor tantamount to political suicide or sentence to the political grave? In some cases, these deputies are not even allowed to vie for the National Assembly, and of course, they have outgrown the State Houses of Assembly.

It is politically dangerous to be a deputy governor in Nigeria, and little wonder, where the governors have the latitude to pick their deputies, they shop for very senior citizens trudging the departure lounge who are grateful to become a deputy, or they lure candidates with very low political energies to fill up the space, especially in cases where the party hierarchy did not impose any one on them.

The latter scenario is another kettle of fish where a strong character is drafted by the party as a deputy to balance the political zoning, religious or ethnic equations because as soon as most governors assume office, they seize the party structures and resources, transform overnight into the lords of the manor, and ruthlessly call the shots without recourse to no other. Interestingly, with the benefit of hindsight, the plight of these endangered political species called deputies is a constitutional framing/creation or failure, making a review or reform inevitable to correct these anomalies.

Chapter Six, Part Two, Section 193 of the 1999 Constitution, spelt out unambiguously the roles of the deputy governors and are intrinsically tied to the discretion, whims and caprices of the governors, which is a bad deal for an African leader whose proclivity for absolute power is not farfetched.

The position of the law abhors vacancy or truncation of governance occasioned by ill health, sudden death, removal, or impeachment of the chief executive, and where such unforeseen circumstance occurs, the deputy steps in to save the situation. It stated how powers would be transmitted to the deputies when the principals were on vacation or could not function. However, that constitutional conjecture does not sit well with the average Nigerian politician who produces horrendous drama.

So, this is the graphic interpretation of the contemplation of section 193 – the deputies drafted into the joint ticket, and after victory, at the polls, they assume office for four years without any clear roles but are waiting for that phone call –“please rush down to the State House fast, Mr Governor just had a stroke or a heart attack, and he is dead”. The deputy sheds a few tears and resumes his destiny immediately as governor, or for some strange and impossible reasons, the State House of Assembly impeaches the governor. But on the other side of the fence, Mr Governor looks at his deputy daily and wonders why a man will take up a job that entails waiting for the other to drop dead – a simplistic nonsense, right? These are not musing for the faint-hearted.

The rise and fall of the deputies are at the discretion and behest of their principals, courtesy of the law, except for a few strong characters like Senator Eyinnaya Abaribe, who took their destinies into their hands and rewrote the history of this sad tales of deputy governors, fought their governors to a standstill but not without a bloody nose.

This national dilemma also affects the office of the vice president. The former Vice President, the erudite and famed constitutional lawyer, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, one of Nigeria’s finest, stepped in at the height of his principal’s ill health and provided some sense of direction and leadership within that short period but was like eating the fruit in the garden of Eden and almost embarrassed after. Dr. Goodluck Jonathan almost ran out of luck when the cabals practically shot him out in the dying moments of his principal. How else can we describe the law but fittingly say the law is an ass.

If the governors work honestly and conscientiously with their deputies throughout the joint ticket, who better qualifies to continue the good work and legacy than the deputies who understood the blueprint, policies and programmes of the administration but suspicion, fear and indescribably devious thoughts overpowering the governors who transmute into vampires and seek to destroy these deputies, who most often worked tirelessly and honestly with them, like the case of Prince Eze Madumere and His Excellency Governor Rochas Okorocha, former governor of Imo State, who preferred his daughter’s husband.
Indeed, most of these governors, at the twilight of their tenures, shop for their nephews, cousins, political sons, and stooges in the lower rung of the ladder – but their yeomen or man-Friday turned the fangs and ended some of their political careers.

The case of Comrade Adams Oshiomhole and his political son, presently distraught and persecuted by a similar disloyal governor to the same Osho Baba, is a Classic for keen observers and political historians.
How are deputies fit for the joint ticket but worthless to make any impact? You hear such submission that the deputies must be loyal to earn the trust – the governors are so powerful and overbearing that they can almost demand loyalty from God immediately they take power.

So, the only solution to this unnecessary problem is a constitutional amendment, and can that ever happen? Sadly, the answer is negative because the legal intricacies involved are cumbersome.

And trust me, the process can be bought by the governors. In practical terms, the roles and responsibilities of a deputy governor or Vice President should be deliberate, clearly affirmed and backed by law, or whoever takes the ticket of a deputy had just signed his political obituary.

In conclusion, Chief (Dr.) Chukwuemeka Ezeife, a former Governor of Anambra State and Special Assistant on Political Affairs to erstwhile president Olusegun Obasanjo at a seminar, invented and branded deputy governors as spare tyres!

While it appeared vicious and denigrating, given section 193 of the 1999 Constitution, are these deputies spare or worthless tyres?

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