The Vice-Presidency is incurable frustration – Part 4
The one elected in Edo state, Mike Aiyegbemi Oghiadomhe (66) later became Chief of Staff to his friend, President Goodluck Jonathan.
How many of them do we hear of these days? Look at most of them where they are now.
No vice president can survive the systematic demoralization inflicted by the office without serious injury to themselves. The vice presidency is a man eater. The office destroys individuals however competent you could be. The job is a silent killer. Most often vice presidents get to know about activities of government not through briefings, memos and files.
Between the President and vice president, trust, reliance, steadfastness, loyalty, devotion, and fidelity are the key words in their wedlock and I doubt if the two can pass the acid tests. There is always skepticism and dubiety in their marriage. Constant doubt. Their aides too do not help matters.
In 1979, Dr Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe (1915-1990), who wanted to be vice president, described the post of Vice President as a “repeater station of a major network”, while others described it as “the spare tyre on the automobile of government”. No president in the nature of things, is going to yield power to a Vice President. Although they were both elected, but the Vice president is just a part of a package. A sort of an appendage to the presidency. The only reason for keeping the office of Vice President is that it provides an automatic solution to the problem of succession.
Former U.S President Roosevelt concluded that the Vice, president was “an utterly anomalous office, one which I think ought to be abolished”. To me the office is incurable frustration. It is not only in this country that it applies to. No president and Vice president have fully trusted each other. Antagonism, envy, suspicion, jealousy, are inherent in their relationship. “The only business of the vice president” wrote Thomas Marshall who served for eight years under U.S President Woodrow. Wilson “is to ring the WHITE HOUSE bell every morning and ask what is the state of Health of the President”. Lyndon B Johnson who served as vice president under John Kennedy before he became president eventually, said the office of the Vice President “is like a raven, hovering around the head of the President, reminding him of his mortality”.
In the United States, Bobby Baker, the wheeler-dealer who fell from grace later, remembers Johnson telling him one night: “Bobby, you never had a heart attack. Every night I go to bed, and I never know if I’m going to wake up alive the next morning. I’m just not physically capable of running the Presidency.” Former US Vice President Hubert Humphrey said “there is an old story about the mother who had two sons. One went to sea, and the other became Vice President, and neither was ever heard of again.”
France has abolished the post of Vice President completely and yet the French democracy is one of the strongest in Europe.
On April 2, 1974 French president Georges Pampidou died in office. On May 5, the French had their election followed by a run off on May 19 and the inauguration of Valery Giscard D’estaing on May 27. In short in less than 60 days, France had a new president, freely chosen by the people and equipped by them with a fresh mandate. The results, as told, surely favour France on essential tests of legitimacy and democracy.
Egypt, has no Vice president. Other countries, in fact too numerous to mention, have no vice presidents. In America, where we borrowed most of our constitutional provisions, the constitution of America does say that the Vice President “shall be President of the senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.”
When there was objection to this provision in America’s constitutional convention, Roger Sherman observed that if the U.S Vice President did not preside over the senate “he would be without employment”. The Vice President is always in a no-win situation. If he talks, he will be accused of being garrulous and loquacious. If he refuses to talk, he will be labeled dumb and laconic.’ If he works hard, he will be charged of being too’ eager to be president, if he refuses to work, he will be ridiculed for being, indolent, lazy, lacking initiative and lethargic.
In the book- The Imperial Presidency by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Tom Marshall was quoted as saying “the vice President is like a man in cataleptic state: he cannot speak, he cannot move; he suffers no pain and yet he is perfectly conscious of everything on about him”. Also in the book Hubert Humphrey who was Vice President to Lyndon Johnson described the Vice Presidency in bad terms, “it’s like being naked in the middle of a blizzard with no one to even offer you a match to keep you warm. You are trapped, vulnerable, alone and it does not matter who happens to be President”. To non-politicians, the Presidential election in 2023 is too far but to politicians, it is tomorrow. The scheming for that election is on already. So what do we make of our own Vice President?
The first thing to do is to reform the way Vice-Presidents are chosen. Since 1999, Vice Presidents in Nigeria have been imposed on politics or by hasty compromise of exhausted factional leaders. The selection process must be more open. The party structure must be more involved so that the Vice President nominee could be more screened by the party leaders. Vice Presidents must be given scheduled responsibilities by the constitution same as deputy governors.
The way we choose our Vice Presidents has become so absurd.
In the absence of a constitutional amendment, the best hope for improvement of the Vice President’s job seems to rest in improving the selection process. The presence of top-flight persons as Vice President would at least put some additional pressure on the President to involve the Vice President in important governmental decision making and thus upgrade the existing role of the office.
There is still hope, for the Vice President.
Teniola is a veteran journalist and former Director in the Presidency.