Vice-President/Deputy Governor: Burden of an imperfect constitution

STEPHEN GBADAMOSI looks at the problems caused by the phenomenon of deputy governor and vice president offices alongside the huge budgetary allocations to them and lack of clear-cut responsibilities.

FROSTY relationships between governors and their deputies are a recurring decimal since the advent of the Fourth Republic. The trend was also evident in the Second Republic such that it almost tore apart the leading political parties of that era. Backed by the central government, the opposition in the western part of the country infiltrated the ruling party in Yoruba land by recruiting ambitious deputies to unseat their bosses in highly controversial circumstances.

However, the phenomenon of mutual suspicion between such elected political offices holder then was not so pervasive than it has gained momentum since 1999 when the country restored civil rule. Many of the 36 states across the land have had the history of threats and outright impeachment of deputy governors, due to the rivalry with their principals.

Abia, Adamawa, Bayelsa, Ebonyi, Edo, Plateau, Akwa Ibom, Nauchi, Taraba, Oyo, Osun, Enugu, Imo, Lagos, Kano, just name them, each has had its fair share of the trend. In each of those cases, the deputy governors ended up with a bloodied nose, which is not surviving the battle to retain their seats. Therefore, in states like Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Ogun, Platuae, Soko and Zamfara, the governors completed their tenures with two or more deputy governors due to the ‘scourge’ of disharmony between their vice with whom they originally emerged in a joint tickets.  The reasons for the uncanny relationship border on such grounds of sidelining of deputy governors shortly after jointly winning an election and being sworn into office are disdain for the office deputy governor, undermining of the office by surrogates of governors, succession plot, starving of the office of funds, among other issues.

Some of these factors equally created disquiet between the office of President and Vice-President, at least twice at the federal level, with pro-establishment forces stoking the fire under the Obasanjo/Atiku presidency as well as the Yar’Adua/Jonathan period. Broadly speaking, Section 176 and 186 of the 1999 Constitution provides for governors and deputy governors, while the constitutional provision relating to the President and the vice are spelt out in 130 and 141.

According to some observers, a deputy governor is like an appendage to the governor under the current, as the former is at the mercy of his boss to be politically relevant and effective. It takes a governor with a heart of benevolence to use his discretion to delegate a few functions of to his deputy, even though the constitution provides that the “governor will be deemed to have been nominated if he has a candidate as his associate for his running as governor.” In other words, a governor would only be validly nominated if he has a running mate for an election. But the euphoria of victory and aroma of power usually throw spanner in the works between governors and their vice.

 

Macabre dance in Ondo

The sour relationship usually leads to all manner of intrigues and even subterfuge in a few instances. An immediate case study is the raging political imbroglio in Ondo State, which to many observers, is deeper than the question of a governor against his deputy. Agreed, there has always been the problem of deputies angling to succeed their principals, even when such principals have different ideas with regard to succession plan.

Indeed, in the 1999 dispensation, when the then President Olusegun Obasanjo completed his statutory eight years in office in 2007, it was believed that he did all within his power to prevent Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, his deputy for that period, from succeeding him. Some pundits, however, believed that Atiku was too desperate to succeed his boss resulting in an intense survival and supremacy battle.

Similar theatrics has been playing out in Ondo State in the past few weeks between Governor Rotimi Akeredolu and his deputy, Mr Agboola Ajayi. The whole drama is perceived by political watchers as part of the lacuna in the nation’s constitution on the role and position of a vice-president or deputy governor. Whereas, a deputy governor earns much more than a commissioner, he does not have like the latter specifically spelt out functions in the government. Besides, the pecks of office of a deputy governor are a far cry from the privileges at the disposal of a commissioner. So, commissioners wield power in that they have specified areas they are appointed to oversee, while the deputy governor remains at the mercy of the governor to be active or otherwise.

For instance, while a commissioner, acting, though on the authority of the governor, can handle a multi-million naira project, a deputy governor cannot append his signature to any voucher that is above N500,000. A similar situation exists at the federal level in relation to the powers and relevance of the president and his vice.  Experts say the trend is due to the fact that the 1999 Constitution did not envisage any statutory duty for the deputy other that what the principal has assigned for him. It is a major issue among many Nigerians, who wonder why the office of deputy appears to be of little or no consequence or relevance, but which is being funded with a humongous taxpayers’ money. Was the office of the deputy governor or vice president created merely in case the governor or president dies in office or is afflicted with a fate that invalidates his or her mental or physical capacity?

Chapter Six, Part Two of Section 193 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) states the “Executive Responsibilities of Deputy Governor and Commissioners.” It provides that “(1) the governor of a state may, in his discretion, assign to the deputy governor or any commissioner of the government of the state responsibility for any business of the government of that state, including the administration of any department of government.

“(2) The governor of a state shall hold regular meetings with deputy governor and all commissioners of the government of the state for the purpose of – (a) determining the general direction of the policies of the government of the state; (b) coordinating the activities of the governor, the deputy governor and the commissioners of the government of the state in the discharge of their executive responsibilities; and (c) advising the governor generally in the discharge of his executive functions, other than those functions with respect to which he is required by the constitution to seek advice or act on the recommendation of any other person or body.”

The question on the relevance of the deputy governor in the scheme of things is as old as time itself. In August 2001, during the first term of former President Obasanjo, it was the bone of contention at a seminar organised by the Shehu Shagari World Institute in Abuja, where the then Special Adviser to the President on Political Affairs, Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, said the role of deputy governors was that of “spare tyres,” which existed at the pleasure of the governors as the state chief executives.

He expressed the belief that the constitution consigns the deputy governor to a sinecure position which could only make him to perform the functions which the governor assigns to him except when the governor is dead, impeached or he resigns from office.

Till today, the governor/deputy dichotomy has remained a sore point of the Nigerian political system. Yet, by virtue of the provisions of the same constitution and the 2010 Electoral Act, a governor cannot be elected without a deputy. The question among observers is: why the importance but yet inconsequential of an office that the nation spends a lot of money to maintain?

As it stands, Ajayi, having dumped the All Progressives Congress (APC) on whose ticket he got into office with Governor Akeredolu, is giving bookmakers a headache. Is it legally and morally right for him to remain the Ondo deputy governor at this time? It is believed that with the reckoning of the 1999 Constitution, it is the party, and not the individual, that the electorate, gave the mandate to be in a political office. The politician only holds the position in trust.

The foregoing discourse lends credence to the belief in some quarters that the constitution has created a problem, rather than proffer a solution to the question of good governance in the nation. This is because as election period approaches, deputy governors that have ambitions of succeeding their principals, especially when the latter has had the statutory two terms, get into politicking rather than governance. Ditto for the outgoing governor that has a different idea of succession plan. Ajayi is facing impeachment by the state House of Assembly now, though some members of the House are averse to his removal as deputy governor.

Speaking with Sunday Tribune over the debacle, a public affairs analysts and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO), Rights Monitoring Group (RMG) and Centre for Convention on Democratic Integrity (CCDI), Mr Olufemi Aduwo, blamed the constitution for the redundancy associated with the office of deputy governor. He, however, said there is one function that is given to a deputy but which the politicians observe in the breach. “In other climes that I have knowledge of, I don’t know the provisions of their constitutions in respect to the duties of the deputy governor or vice-president.  But as regards the Nigerian Constitution, I know that the deputy governor is supposed to be the chairman of an economic team called the National Economic Council. However, today, all over the country, I don’t think there is a state that has that Economic Council in place.

“In some of the states in the North, what they do is that they add the commissioner portfolio to the office of the deputy governor. That is when they want them to be useful in a way. Sometimes, you go to deputy governors office and you feel for the occupants. They are almost always idle. The constitution does not stipulate further work for them.

“In the case of Ondo State, for them to remove that deputy governor, they need two-thirds of the members of the state House of Assembly. We have 26 members in the Assembly. And I can tell you that currently, nine of those 26 members have come out to say that they are not ready to be part of any impeachment exercise. So, the remaining members cannot constitute the two-thirds needed for impeachment of the deputy governor.

“Besides, what constitutes an impeachable offence against Ajayi is not known to anybody. Governor Godwin Obaseki in Edo State resigned from the APC and he remains governor in the state and nothing happened.”

 

‘Why we need to vote money for deputy’s office, despite redundancy’

Speaking with Sunday Tribune’s reporter on telephone, Lagos-based legal practitioner and former Third Vice President of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Mr Monday Ubani, however, said there was justification for the presence of the offices of vice president and deputy governor, despite their seeming needlessness. He agreed that occupiers of those offices are ‘spare tyres’ that many Nigerians have come to understand them to be, but added that “the constitution makes them spare tyres. And as such, they must exhibit 101 per cent loyalty to their bosses. It is only the governor that can make a deputy governor.”

Maintaining that the same scenario is applicable to the office of the vice president, the legal practitioner said it would be difficult to find a governor or president that would allow his deputy to take whatever ambitious step that he (the principal) has not sanctioned.

“It is only Jesus that can be magnanimous enough to allow his deputy to flex muscles where he has not sanctioned it. The same thing is applicable to the national level. But then, the vice president is useful, going by the constitution, unless the president wants him to be redundant. Yet, there is a good reason the offices are there and money are spent on them. They vote money for those offices in case anything happens to the principal; that is when they become useful. They automatically step in and that saves the nation or the state some confusion. But without that, nobody would want his deputy, his spare, to try to outshine him,” he said.

Section 191 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) simply says: “The governor shall assign to the deputy governor specific responsibility for any business of the government of the state; … the Governor shall hold regular meetings with the deputy governor and all the Commissioners of the government of the state for the purpose of: (a) determining the general direction of the policies of the Government of the State; (b) Coordinating the activities of the Governor, the Deputy Governor and the Commissioners of the Government of the State in the discharge of their executive responsibilities; and (c) advising the Governor generally in the discharge of his executive functions other than those functions with respect to which he is required by this Constitution to seek the advice or act on the recommendation of any other person or body.”

Most analysts are of the consensus that the high turnover of deputy governors is a function of the extent the legislature is able to exert its constitutional power and role. In their opinion, pliable legislatures have become the whipping tools in the hands of the executive arm of government in virtually all the states in the country. Manipulation rather than process based on procedural rules and regulations often determine the fate of deputy governors in the event of sour relationships with their boss. Relevant sections of the constitution such as Section 186 that states: “There shall be for each State of the Federation a Deputy Governor.”

 

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