17 January 2002

Nigeria: Deputy Governors: When the Issue is Beyond Ambitions


The Wall That Ensured That the Unity Party of Nigeria, Upn, Won the State Three Years Earlier. Omoboriowo Was No Longer in Good Terms With the Governor, the Late Adekunle Ajasin And He Already Had in His Camp Some Members of the State House of Assembly. By the Time the Crisis Between the Governor And His Deputy Boiled Over, Ondo State Was Up in Flames. Omoboriowo Who Had Declared for the Npn, Won Its Nomination And At the Election Proper On Saturday August 13, 1983, He Was Declared the Winner. the Results Were Released On the Early Hours of Monday August 15, 1983. Ondo State Was Not to Know Peace for the Four Weeks That Followed That Announcement Until Supreme Court Judgment, Presided Over By Chief Justice Sodeinde Sowemimo, Leading Other Six Judges, Turned the Table And Declared Ajasin the Winner. Six of the Seven Judges Had Given the Election to Ajasin With the Late Justice Ayo Irikefe Saying the Suit Should Be Dismissed. the Suit Itself Was Brought By Omoboriowo, Having Lost At the Akure High Court, the Benin Court of Appeal Before Heading for the Supreme Court

Many deputy governors have been blamed for causing their problems in the states because of their ambitions while some have been accused of lacking party discpline. Samuel Ajayi takes a deeper look at the deputy governorship question and writes that there must be a constitutional solution before there can be a political solution

Sometime in late 1982, a meeting was going on in a bungalow in a secluded area of Akure, the Ondo State capital. Presiding over the meeting was the then deputy governor of the state, Chief Akin Omoboriowo. Others at the meeting were Hon. Olu Adesina, the Deputy Speaker of the state House of Assembly, who alongside others in the Assembly were perfecting plans on how they would announce their decampment to the rival National Party of Nigeria, NPN. At the meeting, they were looking at how they would wrestle the nomination of the party from Ajasin or in the alternative go to a rival party. They chose the later with devastating consequences.

Eighteen years later, Omoboriowo still believed he won the election. He declared recently in a live television programme that his field staff gave him reports that he won the election. But eighteen years still, the problem that brought up the Omoboriowo saga in Ondo State and the Sunday Michael Afolabi scenario in Oyo State then is still around and with even more devastating realities. Today, in more than ten states in the federation, governors and their deputies are operating as if one is from Afganistan and the other from the United States of America, USA. In Lagos for instance, it is an open secret that the governor, Bola Tinubu, is only waiting for his first term to end before saying farewell to the strange bedfellow what his deputy has become to him. The deputy herself, Kofo Bucknor-Akerele, does not seem to have a diametrically different belief: Let 2003 come and I leave this hell of a job.

In Osun, there seems not to be patience for the electoral term to run its course. Akande and Omisore have been on each other's neck for quite some time and the culmination was the brutal assassination of Hon. Odunayo Olagbaju and later the Justice Minister, Bola Ige. Now that Osun has got to the national map as the most troubled state of the present dispensation, it is like the hen is coming home to roost. The problem in Osun however, has brought to the fore the deputy governor question. The state has come to show how fundamental the problem between governors and their deputies. While there has not been bloodshed in other states, Osun State has proved otherwise. Omisore and Akande belong to the same party but different orientation. And that is why it has been impossible for the two to work together. With the spate of assassinations, the stakes have been raised and it remains to be seen how the problem of deputy governors can be constitutional resolved.

In the middle of all this is the big question: what really is the problem with deputy governors? Many will quickly admit that it is over-ambition. Many still will adduce it to lack of party discipline. But even on the surface of it, the problem is more fundamental than that. Perhaps, it has more to do with the idiosyncrasy of the boss as well as the mentality of the deputy. For instance, there is a governor, in the present dispensation, who had called on his deputy to go and represent him in a function only to tell a commissioner to be on the standby in case the deputy governor had silently refused. The question here is why should this be so.

However, far from the individual problems of the deputy governors and their bosses is the issue of their emergence. More than a few of the deputy governors emerged as consolation prize winners after they had lost the nomination battle to whoever is running the show today. Lagos is a case study. The present deputy governor was arguably the last to declare her intention to run for the governorship of the state. And there are those who can swear by their grandmothers' grave that she was propped up to run with her eyes, not on the governorship, but the deputy. It was therefore not surprising when she emerged as the running mate of Tinubu. But little did Afenifere, the political kingmaker of the South-West know that they were looking for trouble which they have found in the two more than a handful.

From this standpoint, it was not surprising when the two decided, at the early stage of this dispensation, to start answering to different political surnames. While Tinubu elevated his own Justice Forum to an intimidating status, Bucknor-Akerele's Afenifere was struggling to have a say in government. But she soon found out that it takes, atimes, less than the death of both parents for a child to become an orphan because Afenifere knew better than opposing Tinubu openly. About two weeks ago, Afenifere told any deputy governor who could not work with his or her boss to search for the door.

None of the two warring deputy governors is looking for the searchlight to the door yet and the same thing is happening in the east of the Niger. Eyinnaya Abaribe, Abia deputy governor, having survived the initial scare from his boss when the latter felt he (Abaribe) was getting too big for his trousers, has taken the battle to Orji Kalu, the governor. Initially, he was accused of defrauding the state through illegal revenue. He survived it and the battle is still raging. And from the look of things, it will be a wild goose chase to start looking for who will bite the dust first. Abaribe has been capitalising on the problems Kalu is having with the heavyweights in the state and the Presidency to deal with his boss. He could not have wished for a better opportunity.

But that again brings up what caused the problem between the two. Unlike other states, Abaribe was not forced on Kalu. He picked himself. After he had won the nomination of the PDP in the state he went ashopping and he found Abaribe. Their meeting, according to a story, was accidental. They had met on their way to the east after the gubernatorial primaries and they had stricken a friendship that culminated in Abaribe being picked as the running mate to the governor.

There is, however, a school that believes that Kalu did not just pick Abaribe for the sake of pleasing a new friend. Unconfirmed reports said that he settled for him on the belief that he would be easy to handle as he was not that deep in politics before the 1999 ascension. Kalu was wrong. For one, Abaribe, a former university don, according to insiders often sees himself, as being intellectually superior to his boss. From using the state House of Assembly to the executive council, Kalu has tried to whip his deputy to submission without much success. Emeka Obasi, the state information commissioner, had gone on air late November to announce that Abaribe had been suspended from the state executive council as if there was any constitutional backing for that. Obasi admitted this but stated that Abaribe had been "showing hostility to the government in which he is number two."

Politically, Abaribe was not forced on Kalu to pacify any political high blood; yet the two have not been able to work together. This indicates that beyond the constitution which is dangerously silent on the role of the deputy governor and the different tendencies that made hurried political marriages expedient in 1999, governors and their deputies have been having problems that could not be traced to any ideological or administrative or political point of departure but merely on personality clash.

And that is why the case of Shehu Kwatalo, the former deputy governor of Jigsaw State stands out. Unlike deputy governors who have been reduced to mere figures but being serviced with state funds, Kwatalo felt he could no longer justify the funds being spent on him from the coffers of the state. "I lost the moral right to continue as the deputy governor of the state. The people of Jigawa want me to serve them and since this is not possible, there is no need for me to continue," Kwatalo said while announcing his resignation. He resigned some few weeks back.

In the case of Kwatalo, it was not clear whether he had any axe to grind with his former boss except that he was not being carried along in the scheme of things by a governor who preferred the cozy confines of London hotels to the arid terrain of Dutse, the state capital. In fact, when the deputy governor resigned, the governor was not in the country. He had to be summoned home by the state House of Assembly or he himself was forced to pack out of the Governor's Lodge.

But there are deputy governors that really feel that that post should be scrapped. This was even before the Presidential Adviser on Political Matters and a former governor of Anambra State, Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, had described deputy governors as "spare tyres." Alhaji Ahmed Jimkashi, the deputy governor of Katsina State had called for the abolition of the office as he sees it as an unnecessary drain pipe on the purse of the state. He said so far all executive powers have been vested in the governor, it does not make sense running the office of the deputy governor with all the perks that go with it.

But not all deputy governors would share the view of Jimkashi. For instance, in Ekiti State, there is no problem between the governor and his deputy, Paul Olatunde Alabi, a retired federal civil servant. Despite the fact that the deputy governor is much more older than the governor, the two have been able to find a meeting point and the wheel of governance is moving on without any hitch.

The same thing is not applicable in Cross River where the deputy governor, John Okpa, is said to be eyeing his boss' job come next year; a development Donald Duke, the governor views as being unacceptable.

In the midst of all this is the way out. Not a few political watchers are of the opinion that the problem can only be politically solved. But above that is the issue of personality. Many a governor now are wary of their deputy governors and that is why they prefer leaving the state without a head when traveling rather than handing over to any deputy governor. And not that alone. Come 2003, many governorship candidates will have to be extra-careful before they pick a running mate. That is the problem the present dispensation has thrown up.

But in the middle of this is the political question: if the constitution is silent on the role of a deputy governor, why can't the operators of the constitution be willing to amend it? That reinforces a political analyst's position that either the problem arises from lack of party discipline, ambition of deputy governors or personality clash, the point remains that when there is a definite constitutional role of a deputy governor, other problems can be politically handled.

And with that, deputy governors will not be holding norctional meetings against their bosses. The type Omoboriowo held which led to bloodshed in the old Ondo State in 1983.

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