Proposed constitutional roles for deputy governors
Proposal by former President Goodluck Jonathan suggesting constitutional roles for deputy governors of states is not ill-informed by any standard coming from a man who has seen it all, first as a deputy governor and later as a vice president. Nigeria’s democracy of the past 23 years has thrown up a lot of frictions between the first and second citizens of many states in a way that has stalled development in the polity and largely denied the people of the dividends of democracy. Jonathan is obviously worried about this trend and indeed it should be worrying to well-meaning Nigerians. There is need for cordial working relationship between the two main pilots of states no doubt. But it is doubtful if an amendment of the constitution will provide lasting solution to the problem without a display of maturity and good human relationship mutually by the actors.
Speaking recently at the launch of a book titled, “Deputising and Governance in Nigeria” written by Kano State Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, Jonathan proposed specific constitutional roles for deputy governors. He regretted that deputy-governors were shortchanged and consigned to the backwaters in the scheme of things in the various states of the federation. “Everything a deputy governor does depends on the instructions from the governor. In some cases, it is so bad that if the governor is out of the state or country and there are pressing issues to be attended to, the deputy still has to get permission from the governor who is somewhere enjoying himself before the issues are addressed,” said the former President.
Deputy-governors should not be regarded or treated as mere errand boys of their principals. They are the co-pilots of the governors in the discharge of the latter’s executive functions. It is regrettable that many deputy governors are functioning at the mercy of state governors. There have been many instances in which governors have capitalised on their strained relationship with their deputies to instigate the State House of Assembly to impeach their deputies. According to the Deputy Governor of Benue State, Benson Abounu, state governors are constantly hunting down their deputies to the extent of instigating their impeachment because they do not trust them. For example, former Oyo State Deputy Governor Rauf Olaniyan was impeached in July 2022 by Oyo State House of Assembly at the instigation of the Oyo State Governor. Cases are rife in which state governors proceeded on leave or travelled abroad for medical treatment without handing over power to their deputies to function in their stead during the period of their absence in office. Not infrequently, state governors arrogantly scold their deputies in public or hurl insults or public opprobrium at them just to make the cheap point that they (state governors) lord it over their deputies. It is a notorious fact that some state governors oppress their deputies or exercise overbearing negative influence on them. For example, the recent removal of the Zamfara State Deputy Governor, Mahadi Aliyu Gusau, by the State House of Assembly has further exposed the overbearing influence of state governors on their deputies.
Specifying the functions of deputy governors in the constitution, as proposed by Jonathan may indeed help to avoid flippant maltreatment, marginalisation, humiliation and removal of deputy governors by state governors. A lot will however still depend on the cordiality of their relationship. Although Section 193 (2) of the 1999 Constitution has clearly stipulates that the governor of a state shall hold regular meetings with his deputy governor for the purpose of determining the general direction of the policies of the government of the state and for coordinating the activities of the governor and his deputy in the discharge of executive responsibilities of the state, many state governors do not hold meetings with their deputies let alone consult them or seek their views in the discharge of executive responsibilities. They do not even give their deputies any assignment. This wrong attitude of the state governors should be condemned.
The relationship between state governors and their deputies should be considered as a matter of national importance, because a strained relationship is detrimental to democracy, peace, concord, stability and development. Recently, the Deputy-Governor of Benue State, Benson Abounu was reported to say that in the last seven years, there had not been any rift between him and the Governor, Samuel Ortom because the governor has been giving him a free hand to thrive in the governance of the state. This is praiseworthy if indeed true. When state governors clash with their deputies, it is the state and the people that suffer. In other words, the destructive relationship between state governors and their deputies engenders destructive state policies. Therefore, state governors should stop seeing their deputies as competitors or rivals but as partners in progress. Conversely, deputy governors should not provoke a power tussle between them and their governors.
Ultimately, there is no alternative to good human relationship between governors and their deputies, if the state and people of the state are to make good progress. It is important for both officers to constantly bear in mind that their ticket is joint; they both swore to oaths to serve the state and responsibility, praises and blames arising from the performance of the joint ticket will be shared jointly as well as severally. State governors and their deputies should play complementary roles in governing the states. Respect between governors and their deputies should be mutual. While governors should respect the person and office of their deputies, their deputies should reciprocate the gesture by respecting governors and their offices. Instead of allowing disloyalty, envy, betrayal and mistrust to mar their relationship, state governors and their deputies should work peacefully toward achieving set goals in their respective states and by extension toward development of the country.