Sunday, 10th December 2023

Deputy governors: Endangered species

By Ray Ekpu
26 September 2023   |   4:40 am
Currently there are two states in which the relationship between the governors and their deputies are as fragile as porcelain. There may be unhappy murmurings in some other states but in Edo and Ondo states there is an obvious...

Philip Shaibu

Currently there are two states in which the relationship between the governors and their deputies are as fragile as porcelain. There may be unhappy murmurings in some other states but in Edo and Ondo states there is an obvious, public evidence that the governors and their deputies have become firm foes. They have only been able to manage their relationship with underwhelming success.

In Ondo State, the Deputy Governor, Mr Lucky Aiyedatiwa, is now undergoing impeachment proceedings for what the State House of Assembly calls “gross misconduct.” The State Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, was away to Germany on medical leave from June 13 to September 9, 2023. During his absence the Deputy Governor stood in as the Acting Governor. According to stories making the rounds, a lot of water had passed under the bridge in the governor’s absence. The State Executive Council was split down the middle because of Aiyedatiwa’s ambition to succeed Akeredolu.

The media aides of the Acting Governor were said to have engaged in acts of insubordination and disloyalty against Governor Akeredolu. Some of them were said to have planted unfavourable stories in several media against Akeredolu. These stories were, of course, forwarded to him in Germany by his loyalists. On his return to the country, he fired all the media aides of the Deputy Governor in addition to the ongoing impeachment proceedings.

Even before he left for Germany, there was no love lost between him and his deputy. What happened within the last three months was therefore the last straw that broke the camel’s back. It is pertinent to remark that Akeredolu’s first deputy, Mr Agboola Ajayi, also had an uneasy relationship with Akeredolu and was ousted. For Mr Lucky Aiyedatiwa to survive the current impeachment proceedings, he will have to be extremely lucky. At present, the air in Ondo is thick with tension and anxiety.

In Edo State, the Governor, Mr Godwin Obaseki and his Deputy, Mr Philip Shaibu, have crossed into the bitter territory and their relationship has been progressing on the wrong foot. Shaibu went to court, in a pre-emptive attempt to stop the forces in Edo State from impeaching him. Later, he withdrew the suit.

Recently, Shaibu was locked out of his office in Government House. Now a new office has been provided for him in the GRA, outside Government House. It is clear now that Obaseki has decided to hang him out to dry so that he will know who is the boss. But their relationship had not always been that way. Many fair-minded people think that Obaseki gave Shaibu too much latitude and that the latter took undue advantage of Obaseki’s generous disposition towards him.

When Obaseki stormed out of APC after his fight with Mr Adams Oshiomhole, which resulted in his being denied the APC ticket for a second term, he went to PDP looking for a hug. PDP embraced him but they wanted him to drop Shaibu so that they could pick one of their own from the Legacy PDP in the 2020 election. Obaseki refused because he felt that his deputy was an embodiment of loyalty. It did appear to a lot of people that he was indeed loyal. To others, he seemed to be the equivalent of a coil lying fallow and waiting for the appropriate time to spring to action. In politics, friendship seems to be effervescent; when there is loyalty, politics looks like the unwrapping of a gift; when loyalty fades away, politics looks like an internecine war.

Obaseki made Shaibu a very powerful deputy despite the powerlessness of the position provided by the Constitution. Whenever he travelled abroad, he made him an Acting Governor irrespective of the duration. He made him in charge of the powerful Ministry of Local Government, revenue generating agencies as well as the sports portfolio.

During the last National Sports Festival held in Edo State, Shaibu was towering head and shoulders above Obaseki. Many people may have blamed Obaseki for offering Shaibu such high visibility. Many people also thought he gave him an opportunity to make money and become a very powerful deputy.

In Nigeria’s governance, a deputy is not expected to be almost as powerful as the boss, otherwise there will be competition between them. That is why many Deputy Governors are just allowed to be simply something like errand boys, who only have to attend weddings, funerals, chieftaincy ceremonies, receive some visitors and drink tea.

But Obaseki made Shaibu into a Leviathan. It is said that he often turned up late for state events after the governor had settled into his seat. This is, of course, a breach of protocol and an insult to the office of governor. Apparently, the governor didn’t appear to bother too much about this breach until recently when Shaibu started showing his desperation to succeed Obaseki. Desperation can blindside people, especially in the game of politics.

Obaseki does not want Shaibu to succeed him because doing so will upset the rotation process in the State. The former Governor Adams Oshiomhole is from Edo North Senatorial District. He did eight years as Governor. Shaibu is from the same Edo North. He is going to do eight years as Deputy Governor. The reigning view which Obaseki embraces is that the governorship slot ought to shift to Edo Central next year. That is where there is a mortal war of wills between Obaseki and Shaibu.

Hitherto, the two men had seemed as if they were cut from the same cloth. Now their positions are different. Anger has therefore gathered between them like the steam from a pressure cooker. Each of them is unspooling his anger at the other. Shaibu is trying to open the door when fortune has not knocked and Obaseki has shut the door firmly.

Part of the reason why there are conflicts in several states between governors and their deputies arises from how deputy governors are chosen. Often, a deputy governorship candidate is chosen to provide a balance in terms of either (a) geographical area (Senatorial district) or (b) tribe or (c) gender or (d) religion or (e) popularity.

Deputy governorship candidates are chosen because they fit into one or more of the five listed categories to complement the ticket of the governorship candidate. These considerations are based on the theory of winnability, that is how to choose two candidates who have the qualities, which if put together can win the election for the party. They are not based on the important virtue of compatibility between the two candidates. That is the equivalent of a marriage between a tall, handsome man and a tall, pretty girl without seeking to ascertain whether their temper and character are such that will permit the marriage to last long or whether they will fight within a few days of living together and disturb the peace of the neighbourhood.
Deputy governors have been described derogatorily as “spare tyres.” This may seem an appropriate metaphor because spare tyres are only used when any of the tyres in the vehicle picks a nail or is worn out. In like manner, deputy governors become mainly active when the governor is away and gives them the chance to act as governors.

The 1999 Constitution has not provided any specific assignment to deputy governors the way it has provided for vice presidents. So, what a deputy governor is able to do depends on what the governor assigns him to do. That, too, depends on the nature of their relationship. If the governor is a deceitful man and believes that his deputy can make a useful contribution to the progress of the state, he may assign some specific functions to him.

In some states, this has happened and both of them have co-existed peacefully. In other states, such arrangements have led to disagreements and quarrels between them. Often the causes of quarrel between governors and deputies are linked to either non assignment of acting roles to the deputy when the governor is away or because the deputy would like to succeed his boss whether the rotation arrangement suits him or not. In most cases, the latter is often the source of dissent between them. The situation in Ondo and Edo earlier referred to is traceable to the ambition of the two deputy governors to succeed their bosses whether that suits the political setting in their states or not.

People who have tasted a little bit of power and found it to be sweet often want more. That is the situation in which deputy governors find themselves. They are a spit away from the post of a governor. They are close enough to see how much power he wields, how much money he superintends over, how many people he can employ, how many big contracts he can award, how much favour he can dispense, how many projects he can site wherever he wants, how much donation he can make to people and communities, how many trips he can make abroad and how room there is for “chopping.”

The list is limitless. That is what tempts a deputy governor who at the beginning meekly accepts to be an obedient subordinate officer but who later begins to roar like a lion and wants to also take his turn as a governor. The office of a deputy governor tempts the occupant to want to take the next step when he can and walk into the exalted office of the governor. But that is not easy because there may be many hurdles on the way mounted by either the governor or the party or other aspirants or the people or a combination of these four sets of people.

There have been several impeachment or resignations of deputy governors since 1999. When Governor Bola Tinubu was the Governor of Lagos State, two of his deputies were forced out of office. When Governor Umaru Yar’Adua was the Governor of Katsina he also lost two of his deputies. In Zamfara State, Mr Mahdi Gusau, Deputy Governor of Zamfara State also lost his job because he refused to follow the decision of the State Governor, Bello Matawalle, to defect to another party. In Imo State, Governor Rochas Okorocha lost two of his deputies, Mr Eze Madumere and Mr Jude Agbaso.

There have been many more forced exits of deputy governors in various states over the years. Some analysts have suggested that the solution is for there to be a specific assignment of tasks to deputy governors in the Constitution. That may solve the problem only to a limited extent. What of the vaulting ambition of deputy governors who want to be governors whether or not the political circumstance in their states permits that?

Nothing can be done to stop people who have a legitimate aspiration to that high office from dreaming about it and working towards it. For them it is either the full Monty or nothing. That is why they are in the opposite sides of the ocean with their bosses in Edo and Ondo today. That is why they have become endangered species.