Joining the most exclusive club
THERE is a department in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation in Abuja. It is called the Affairs of the Former Heads of State.
The present head of the department is Iliazu Agaga, while Dr. M.T. Minna headed the department for a long time. Eminent civil servants who had served in the department include Mr. C.N. Okechukwu, Mr. Gbadebo Ojokobirikale, Mr. Idris Ibrahim, Abdullahi Usman, Isiaku Ibrahim and Miss Memunatu. The department was established by General Sani Abacha (1993-1998), by accident.
A few weeks after seizing power from Chief Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan (79) on November 17 1993, Abacha summoned Alhaji Usman Aliyu Shehu Shagari through the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Aminu Saleh (CFR) to Abuja.
After a few days of futile search, Saleh reported back to Abacha that he could not locate Shagari, who by then, did not have a house of his own in Sokoto but in his village, Yabo. Unfortunately, there was no communication centre to locate him in the village.
General Abacha was shocked that former President Shagari, whom he deposed through a radio announcement on December 31 1983 on allegations of massive corruption, did not even have a house afterall in his state capital of Sokoto. He then instructed Saleh to create a department in his office that must take ‘good care’ of former heads of state. Taking ‘good care’ includes catering for their families as well.
Since then, that department, made up of competent and seasoned civil servants one could find around, had been taking care of the most exclusive club in the country – former heads of state – in terms of medical, transportation and whatever they may require.
They are General Yakubu Dan Yumma Gowon (80), President Usman Aliyu Shehu Shagari (90), President Aremu Olusegun Matthew Okikiola Obasanjo (78), Major General Muhammadu Buhari (72), General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (73), Chief Ernest Adegunle Oladeinde Shonekan (79) and General Abdusalam Abubakar (72).
The department made sure they lack nothing till date. It is befitting recognition of the services of our past leaders. The same gesture will be extended to the outgoing President Goodluck Jonathan.
With the department, the needs of our former heads of state are better served. Unlike the rest of us they do not need to be bothered or be depressed about their future or what to eat, payment of school fees for their children, fuel scarcity or where to go to or how to get there. So why the loot while in office? That is what I still don’t understand.
But the take-off of the department created problems for General Abacha and his then deputy, Retired Lt. General Donalson Oladipo Diya (71) who too wanted the department to extend its services to deputies or Number 2 as well. Diya approached his boss with the request, but was turned down. That was one of the many feuds between both men that were never resolved till Abacha answered the final call in the early hours of June 8, 1998.
In the present circumstance, the request is hereby represented for the consideration and approval of Major General Muhammadu Buhari, the President-elect of Nigeria.
Considering that there are only five of them still around – Dr. Alexander Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme (83), Rear Admiral Ebitu Okoh Ukiwe (74), Alhaji Atiku Abubakar (69), General Diya (71) and the outgoing Vice President, Alhaji Namadi Sambo – the Nigerian central government could accommodate the request on reasonable terms.
The office of the Vice-President or Number 2 is the most lonely in the country. The constitution has been very unfair to that office. The Vice President has no defined constitutional schedule. The 1979 Constitution never gave the Vice President any defined schedule or the Decree No 24 of May 1999, which we now know as the 1999 Constitution.
The only responsibility the Vice President has is in the Third Schedule of the Constitution, which makes him the chairman of the National Economic Council. In that capacity, the Council, itself, is to “advise the President”. In all other bodies, the Constitution bestowed on him ordinary membership or in some cases Vice Chairman. He is not a member of the Nigeria Police Council, while he is the Vice Chairman of the Council of State, National Defence Council and National Security Council.
Section 130 of the Constitution states that there shall be for the federation, a President who shall be the head of state, chief executive of the federation and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the federation.
Section 141 states that there shall be for the federation a Vice President. The Constitution never crowned the vice president as deputy head of state or deputy chief executive of the federation or deputy Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the federation. The Constitution is ill to the office of the vice president, yet it coronates the President a king and a god.
However, cordial they appear to the outside world, there cannot be but conflict between office of the President and that of the Vice President. That is the way it has been and I guess that is the way it is now. Wherever there is politics, there must be conflict and politics is the management of conflict and intrigue.
Trust, reliance, steadfastness, loyalty, devotion, and fidelity are the key words in their wedlock and I doubt if the two can pass the acid test. There is always scepticism and dubiety in their marriage, constant doubt. Their aides too, out of ravening and selfish interest, do not help matters.
To me, the office is incurable frustration. No President and Vice President have fully trusted each other. Antagonism, envy, suspicion, jealousy are inherent in their relationship.
If the Vice President tries too much, people will say he is too ambitious. If he does nothing, waiting for orders, they will say he lacks initiatives. He is never trusted by his boss or the hangers-on around his boss.
The more gifted and ambitious the Vice President, the more acute his frustration and the less his boss is inclined to do to alleviate it. Let’s save the frustration. Anyone who becomes Number 2 could be Number 1 through the accident of history.
Let us assure the Vice President of a better future out of office by enrolling him as a member of the most exclusive club in Nigeria.
“The ideal of fairness always endures. Circumstances may change, but the work of compassion must continue”, says Senator Teddy Kennedy, on August 12 1980, at the Democratic convention in New York City.
•Teniola, a former director at the presidency, stays in Lagos.
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