The childish chicken fight currently turning the Edo State Government house into a huge theatre of the absurd has called to question the relevance of the post of the Deputy Governor in governance at the state level. In fact, the similar scenario playing out in Ondo State, where the ailing Governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, could hardly resume duty before sacking the media crew of his Deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, that stood in for him as he observed his medical leave abroad, and the impeachment sword hovering over his head, is telling Nigerians that the post of the deputy governor has never been useful and so should be dispensed with forthwith. In Edo State, just because the Deputy, Phillip Shaibu, has signified intention to succeed him, the Governor, Godwin Obaseki believes he has become a leprous finger that must be cut off outright. In Ondo State, where the deputy had been acting in his stead for three months, the Governor, from his sick bed thousands of miles away, noticed that his seat was at risk and endangered.
The Vice President’s position is not different from what happens at the State level when he falls out with the President.
Nigerians will not forget in a hurry the bitter fallout of the former President Olusegun Obasanjo/Vice President Atiku Abubakar toxic relationship when they were in the saddle as President and Vice President of Nigeria.
Clashes between governors and their deputies predate the current dispensation. In Abia State, Eyinnaya Abaribe, who was deputy to Orji Uzor Kalu, fell out with his boss quite early, though he was able to put up a strong fight. He was impeached thrice by the State’s House of Assembly and not allowed the luxury of remaining in office. He later resigned towards the end of his tenure in office and joined the All Nigeria Peoples Party and ran as governor, but lost to Kalu in 2003.
A similar scenario happened in Lagos to Kofo Bucknor-Akerele, who fell out with her boss, Bola Tinubu. After playing cat and mouse with him for a better part of their stay in office, she later resigned from office to stave off an impeachment plot against her and contested for the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party from the Alliance for Democracy that brought her to power, but lost to late Funso Williams. Femi Pedro who succeeded her did not fare better as he too fell off his chair when Tinubu did not take kindly to his ambition of occupying the governorship seat after him. He was impeached at the end of the day.
When Tinubu and Bucknor-Akerele could not eat from the same plate, so to say, it was explained away that the woman was imposed on the governor by the party leaders. But that argument fell flat when Tinubu and Pedro also could not see eye to eye. And this was Pedro, the debonair banker that Tinubu picked with his eyes open, as it is said in Nigerian parlance.
Magatakarda Aliyu Wamakko too had it rough with his boss, Attahiru Bafarawa, in Sokoto State, resigned his position as Deputy Governor and defected from the All Nigeria Peoples Party to the PDP.
Another case was that of Pauline Tallen who obtained a form to contest against her boss, Jonah Jang, in Plateau State and not only remained in office, but later defected to another party when it became obvious that fighting Jang in the same party would not be easy, but all the while maintaining her seat as Deputy Governor until the expiration of their tenure.
The then Governor of Zamfara State, Bello Matawalle, now the Minister of State, Defence, was allegedly exploiting every opportunity to deal with his deputy, Mahdi Ali. The rift started after Mahdi refused to follow Matawalle who had defected to the All Progressives Congress from the PDP. Matatwalle and Ali came into office by chance, analysts said, on the platform of the PDP, after the Supreme Court disqualified candidates, including the governorship candidate, Mukhtar Shehu Idris, of the APC, who had been declared winners in the 2019 elections in the state. The Supreme Court ruled that the APC did not conduct valid primaries in the buildup to the 2019 general election in the state. Idris’s loss then became Matatwalle’s gain. This political intrigue ended in February 2022 with Ali being impeached by the state House of Assembly.
The former Kano State Governor and now National Chairman of the APC, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, in his book: “Deputising and Governance in Nigeria,” has identified reasons state governors and their deputies are always at loggerheads. Ganduje, who served as Deputy Governor to Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso for two terms, recalled that he avoided the antics of sycophants to serve out his tenure without having issues with Kwankwaso.
Stating that the importance of deputy governors cannot be underestimated since they would always come handy anytime the governor is indisposed, he reminded serving deputy governors that they are more or less “spare tyres” since the constitution did not clearly spell out any defined roles for them. He described the deputy governor’s seat as controversial, adding that the desire to address the recurring conflict between governors and their deputies informed his decision to write the book.
He noted: “There is no doubt the position of the Deputy Governor is the most controversial position in governance. The position of the Deputy Governor as I always say is the most controversial position. That is why the Governor has no Deputy. Everybody is a servant. It is a no go area. But we as humans, the constitution has to provide for it as a spare tyre. And we all know the importance of a spare tyre. If you don’t need it when you are normal, then you will need it when you are in trouble.
“Deputy Governors will have to contend with one issue. The issue of sycophancy. As I always say, it is very easy to get it right as far as his boss is concerned. What I was trying to say was that our position was faced with difficulties. When you are walking with a governor, if you are walking so that you are going side by side, so that if he talks to you so that you can hear him, and you talk to him and he can hear you, sycophants will say you are rubbish and all that.
“If you are in the front and there is any accident, or dangerous elements, even snakes, and let it bite you first before biting your principal, sycophants will say you have overtaken him.
“If you respect your principal and you stay behind, let him go in front, sycophants will say you are developing a lukewarm attitude. Therefore you are retreating. Now, tell me which position will you take? It is difficult. That is why I decided to write a book. Even up till now, that problem is still on. In fact, if it persists, we are trying to organise a national Conference on the relationship between Governors and their Deputies.”
Former President Goodluck Jonathan has also revealed that some governors and their deputies fight even before they assume office. He suggested that the pairing of governors and running mates should be evaluated to avoid issues before and after selection. Jonathan said: “When we were elected in 1999, in some states, the relationship between the Governor-elect and Deputy Governor-elect became frosty even before the inauguration. To me, I am thinking that the National Assembly should look at it.”
Jonathan urged the National Assembly to look into the rampant impeachment of deputy governors who do not agree with governors. To address the issue, he suggested that presidential and governorship candidates should contest the party’s ticket at primary with their deputies. “For you to qualify to run for the primaries as a governorship candidate, you should run with your deputy, same thing at the federal level,” he said.
The former Bayelsa State Governor said if those that would be on the same ticket contested at the primary, there would be less issues afterward. He further stressed that a good working relationship was critical to a functional democracy and good governance.
However, a political analyst, Hassan Jibia, identified a mismatched combination, Emilokan, constitutional flaw and cabal as some of the factors responsible for the rift between state governors and their deputies. He said that most of the rifts between state governors and their deputies were caused by a forced marriage legalised by political godfathers. Jibia said: “The rift is caused by mismatch or a forced political marriage, since the deputy is mostly nominated by actors other than the would-be governor. These actors are political godfathers that come together to form a merger to win an election. They sit and nominate a candidate that they want to carry the ticket. When the election is won, the deputy is seen as a kind of a stooge or an informant to those political godfathers who nominated him. This creates a lack of trust and makes it difficult for them to work together. The case of El-Rufai’s deputy, Hadiza Sabuwa Balarabe, is a clear example. The same is what happened in Zamfara State between Matawalle and Mahdi.”
Jibia said the Nigerian constitution vested too much power in the governor and rendered the deputy almost redundant. He added: “The constitutional order we are following has given too much power to the head of the executives and almost no power to the deputy governor. The deputy governor can only perform functions assigned to him/her by the governor. The governor controls almost all the institutions in the state.”
The analyst argued that in some cases, the Chief of Staff and governor’s Personal Assistants were more powerful than the deputy governor. He said that any move by the deputy governor might be viewed as an attempt to solidify his stance in the party or hijack the government. He said: “Kitchen cabinet is always working to instigate the governor against his deputy. This is the reason the deputy governor can’t object to anything the governor’s team proposes. In most cases, some members of the cabinet have more access to the governor.”
Jibia stated that some of the political agreements were that the governor would be succeeded by his deputy, adding: “But along the way, the governor develops some interests and sees the deputy as a kind of threat. As the rift widens, the governor hides things from his deputy because of lack of trust. Then the governor nominates one of his loyalists to succeed him. It was by luck that Kwankwaso nominated Ganduje to succeed him. In Edo, the governor came out to say that the Emilokun factor would not happen in the state because Godwin Obaseki sees Philips Shuaibu as a threat, who may expose some of his misdoings if given a chance.”
In all of this, a discerning mind would then ask: What then is the place of the public interest, which is the basic need of governance? Rather than serving the interest of the public, the row between the two actors of state causes distraction. Rather than attending to what and where to fix what should be done for who, the governor is preoccupied with plotting how his deputy would not have access to his desk so that he would not have to stretch his hand for any “poisonous” handshake. Or as the case of Shaibu on Monday where he drove with all the retinue of aides to a supposed office and he met the gate under lock and key.
As if he was not aware that the gate had long since been locked against him, he made a drama of it by making sure that the press feasted on it. Would he deny the knowledge of a hurriedly rehabilitated dingy office being prepared for him very far away from the Government House even with a very big and visible signpost that is not only known in Benin but throughout the world, courtesy of the internet.
So, with the man playing out his drama on Monday, does it mean that for more than one month now, the deputy governor has not been doing anything at all in service to the people of his state? And this is someone drawing salaries, allowances. Not only that, his retinue of staff, security and others, all of them draw salaries and allowances for doing nothing!
There is no doubt that this kind of meaningless squabbles breeds a criminal brand of politics that is very toxic to the psyche of the young ones. One even wonders what the governor and the estranged deputy tell their children as reason for acting the way they are going about their dog fight now after a romantic chummy relationship, especially when the duo were up in arms with their once upon a time political godfather, Adams Oshiomhole. The usual accusation is that one is after their life either through poisoning or elimination/assassination. It is befuddling that two adults in such positions find it very difficult to even exchange handshakes (fear of poisoning?) or sitting down in the same vicinity to serve their people who voted them in. Because of the frosty relationship between two erstwhile friends, the governor had to uproot his deputy and consigned him to a far away office downtown.
To appease his boss, Shaibu first withdrew from the courts all legal issues against the governor and then became a crying baby lamenting how much he had “missed” his governor. But the emperor was not impressed. Now he has named his price: Shaibu would remain in his good book only when he has purged himself of all thought of eyeing the governorship seat of Edo State.
We don’t need all this. The post of deputy governor is not needed. It is about time it was phased out. Anytime the governor is not well disposed, the Speaker of the House of Assembly should stand in for him. Then no governor will see his seat being threatened by any ambitious deputy.
By scrapping the office of the deputy governor, a lot of resources are saved to enhance the development of the state. Apart from that, the usual open display of bloody politicking between two “adult children”, which causes distraction, will become a thing of the past. And there will be peace.