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X-raying frosty governor/deputy relationship in ‘deputising and governance in Nigeria’

By Eno-Abasi Sunday, (Deputy Editor)
11 September 2022   |   4:02 am
In 2016, after the deputy governorship candidate to the late Prince Abubakar Audu, James Faleke refused to accept the position of deputy governor to Governor Yahaya Bello, the lot fell on Elder Simon Achuba, shortly after Bello was sworn in as governor.

Abdullahi Ganduje

In 2016, after the deputy governorship candidate to the late Prince Abubakar Audu, James Faleke refused to accept the position of deputy governor to Governor Yahaya Bello, the lot fell on Elder Simon Achuba, shortly after Bello was sworn in as governor.

As a newly contracted “marriage,” the romance was robust and the trip, blissful. But it did not take long before the relationship between the duo started experiencing hiccups sometimes in 2017, following Achuba’s alleged disloyalty.

For more than one and a half year, Achuba kept away from public functions that were at the behest of either the state government, or the All Progressives Congress (APC). Many thought that he would resign, but he stayed put, and suffered humiliation from his principal and his allies.

As preparations for the 2019 general election began, Achuba was accused of secretly visiting former Senate President, Bukola Saraki, who then doubled as the Director General of Atiku Presidential Campaign Organisation, at his official residence, in Abuja.

Expectedly, tension between both camps became heightened even as their irreconcilable differences degenerated. It was, therefore not surprising that in August 2018, Governor Bello handed over to the Speaker, Kolawole Matthew when he travelled out of the country, instead of his deputy.

Within a short time, things went south for Achuba forcing him to again raise an alarm over alleged mobilisation of gunmen by his boss to attack him.

He, therefore, appealed to President Muhammadu Buhari, and then Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu to come to his rescue.

The embattled deputy governor, who threatened to drag his principal to court for allegedly denying him legitimate entitlements since 2017 was, however, impeached from office on October 18, 2019, by members of the Kogi State House of Assembly, following the submission of a report of the committee set up by the State Chief Judge, Justice Nasir Ajana, to investigate an allegation of gross misconduct against him.

Nigeria’s contemporary political history is replete with a cocktail of similar tales of incumbent/deputy faceoff, which have occurred at national, subnational as well as at local council levels.

Unfortunately, these episodic frosty and acrimonious relationships between two top leaders do not just leave behind lacerating scars behind, they have, on several occasions constituted a serious threat to the peace, stability, and development of geopolitical spaces, just as they have led to the loss of lives and valuable property.

They have also given birth to innumerable litigations, probes, commissions of inquiry, policy shifts and reversals, as well as policy abandonment.

There have been countless cases of friction between the outgoing and incoming leaders within a particular political space.

Both the Federal Government, as well as state governments have not been spared this malaise that has become cancerous and spreading slowly and steadily across all regions of the country.

At the national level, for instance, several years after former President Olusegun Obasanjo, and his then vice president, and the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, left office, Obasanjo still fires salvos the way of Atiku from time to time.

Since the country’s return to democracy in 1999, Godswill Obot Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State, and Bola Ahmed Tinubu of Lagos State, rank top as the governors that worked with the highest number of deputy governors (three each) during their eight years in office (two terms of four years each).

Within Akpabio’s time in office, he first had a faceoff with his deputy, Obong Chris Ekpenyong, who was in 2005 impeached and removed. He, however, returned to work in less than seven days after the state House of Assembly reversed the impeachment upon Obasanjo’s intervention. Ekpenyong, who was forced to resign afterwards was replaced by Obong Nsima Ekere. As the assembly perfected plans to impeach Ekere in 2012, after he ran into trouble with his principal (over his interest in the governorship race), he resigned from office. Four days after that, Lady Valerie Ebe was sworn in as Akpabio’s deputy.

In Lagos, after Mrs. Kofo Bucknor-Akerele, who also had issues with her boss, Tinubu, threw in the towel in 2002 as investigations were on for her impeachment. Femi Pedro, who replaced her was impeached and removed with only three weeks left for Tinubu to end his second term in office. The impeachment took place a day after he had tendered his resignation on May 9, 2007. Prince Abiodun Ogunleye replaced him as deputy governor.

Still at the subnational level, other governors that became either short-fused, intolerable, or instigated the removal of their deputies under diverse guises include Orji Uzor Kalu of Abia State; Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State; Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State; Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo State and Rochas Okorocha of Imo State among others.

But despite the rich repertoire of acrimonious relationship between governors and their deputies, literature chronicling these absurdic episodes are still scare within the country.

Noticing the lacuna, Governor Abdullahi Ganduje of Kano State, who has navigated the shark-infested waters expertly, decided to take a cursory look at the matter in his 355-paged book, Deputising and Governance In Nigeria.

In a sneak preview of the yet-to-be launched book, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who wrote the foreword agreed to the scarcity of books on the subject matter when he wrote: “There is not one single manual or guide for those who venture into public office and undertake the important work of leadership and governance. Whether at federal, state or at local levels, many public office holders grapple with what to do and how, the institutions they lead, and the myriad of issues they confront daily.

“In presenting the sketches, nuances, and vagaries of governance in Nigeria, this book provides current and aspiring political office holders, principals and deputies alike, a guide to fulfilling their responsibilities and offers recommendations about how they can best prepare for a successful tenure. It is an experienced dive into the often-uncharted waters of political
hierarchy, decision-making, delegated authority, loyalty and counterweights to power. A veteran public servant himself, Dr. Abdullahi Umar Ganduje who has traversed the role of both principal and deputy, offers an insightful account of the theoretical and operational frameworks for political governance that serves the Nigerian political context,” Osinbajo wrote.

Ganduje who pointed out that deputies have become almost a necessity when it comes to leading change in nation-states, as well as large organisations due to the increasing complexity of leadership, however, noted that “as far as the concept of a second-in-command is concerned, it has been a bumpy ride for most of this period of civilian rule, which is gradually becoming a democracy…

“Since the beginning of the Fourth Republic, some of the states did not enjoy a good working relationship between governors and their deputies. One of the governors had three consecutive deputies during a tenure of four years…”

In enumerating factors that affect governor /deputy governor relationship, the former deputy governor listed constitutional ambiguity, the effects of godfatherism, marriage of convenience, effects of sycophants and fear of prosecution/vendetta.

On constitutional ambiguity, he wrote: “Some political analysts believe that the lack of a defined role for deputy governors by the constitution is the most important factor that affects the relationship between governors and their deputies. Some practising politicians believe that creating defined responsibilities for the deputy governor by the constitution will create more problems than perceived solutions. They further postulate that the responsibilities to be assigned by the constitution will make the relationship better if the governor out of his own volition assigns such responsibilities. In this respect, they conclude that the working relationship between a governor and his deputy is a matter of maturity between the two rather than a constitutional issue.

On the effects of godfatherism, he described political godfathers as people of high standing within the framework of the political atmosphere who can “use their entire arsenal to garner support for their candidates to ensure electoral success, especially at critical periods. However, after the electoral victory, they like to dictate who gets what, when and how even at the expense of public interest or the desire and convenience of the victorious politician.

“The unbecoming activities of the political godfather would certainly cause disagreements among party stakeholders, hence, in the network of intrigues and counter intrigues among party stakeholders, the deputy may be the victim.”

On fear of prosecution/vendetta, Ganduje said it could be the underlying factor that feeds a case of governor /deputy governor disharmony. He explained: “Where a governor has been cruel, disrespectful, and overbearing to his deputy, the issue of succession may gain his undue attention due to the fear that the abused deputy may want to take his pound of flesh by way of probing the governor’s administration, cancelling his programmes, giving him bad publicity, or just doing anything to obliterate his legacy and even go as far as to prosecute him. This fear may not be misplaced as it has a basis in reality: it may cause a governor to make his deputy irrelevant politically and, especially, financially, to enable him to have unlimited allowance in anointing a more favorable successor.”

Shedding light on the benefits of harmonious relationship between incoming and outgoing governors, the second term governor of Kano State who said that “breakdown of the relationship between incoming and outgoing governors has done inestimable damage to our collective national aspirations, and should be discontinued through concerted efforts of all stakeholders, in the political process” stressed that most of the more progressive states are the ones with better understanding among the major political stakeholders. Some of these include Lagos, Cross River, Anambra, Kwara, Yobe, and
Sokoto states, and all boast of a certain level of political tranquility between their former leaders and the incumbent, and this has in no small way contributed to their stability and better socio-economic progress. It should be stressed here that Lagos State under Mr. Babatunde Fashola was the best. The cordial relationship, which existed between him and Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu was so great during the eight years he governed…”

Summarising his experience, as a deputy, the former commissioner for works, housing and transport said, “I was twice a deputy governor. It was a very challenging, interesting, and rewarding adventure, for which I am very grateful to the Almighty Allah. My experiences as deputy governor inspired this book, and all the earlier chapters provide a rich background to what governance means with its opportunities and challenges as well as pitfalls, which those in leadership should look out for. Key among the issues discussed are issues of deputising and succession, on which I have first-hand experience.

As a Deputy Governor, I enjoyed working with my principal, then Governor of Kano State, His Excellency, Distinguished Senator (Engr) Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, because of the harmonious way and manner in which we worked together in peace and mutual respect as governor and deputy governor during our two tenures of 1999-2003 and 2011-2015 respectively. Our working relationship has since become a reference point in the political history of Nigeria in terms of what should be an ideal working relationship between a principal and his deputy. I was highly honoured when during an official event in Kano, the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Professor (Pastor) Yemi Osinbajo SAN, GCON, numbly referred to me as his “consultant in deputising.” For me, such kind remarks from the number one deputy in the country have become some of my most fulfilling moments in politics. It shows how much Nigerians and possibly the world have come to appreciate the rare harmony that existed between me and my principal…”