Deputy governors are rising to power in ways that increasingly disprove their consideration in political parlance as spare tyres, write Vincent Obia and Jaiyeola Andrews
Friday's ghastly motor accident in which Kogi State Governor Idris Wada was seriously injured, with one of his aides reported dead, has raised both curiosity and debate about the growing incidents of deputy governors taking over power on account of the impairment of their principals.
The accident occurred on the Lokoja-Ajaokuta road while the governor was returning from an event at Ayingba. The governor's Aide-De-Camp, Idris Mohammed, an Assistant Superintendent of Police, died on the spot while the governor's orderly and driver sustained injuries.
Wada's fate, which it is feared may lead to his temporary inability to function in office, came exactly two weeks after the death of Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State in a helicopter crash in Bayelsa State. Earlier, Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba State had temporarily handed over to his deputy following injuries he sustained from the crash of an aircraft he was piloting. Cross River and Enugu states have also witnessed a long absence of their governors from duty owing to suspected health issues.
In all the above cases, and in line with the constitution, the deputy governors have taken over governance in acting capacity, except in Kaduna State, where the deputy governor assumed the position of governor.
Due to circumstances not of their own making, the presence of deputy governors is being increasingly felt in a country where they are largely seen as spare tyres in popular political phraseology. They have risen to positions of effective power in a number of states.
The former deputy governor of Kaduna State, Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, is now the governor of the state. The new governor assumed office following the helicopter crash that led to the death of his boss, Sir Patrick Yakowa. Yakowa had died in a Navy Augusta chopper that crashed in the creeks of Okoloba in Bayelsa State on Saturday December 15. He died in the crash along with former National Security Adviser General Andrew Owoye Azazi and four others. With the death of a governor, the deputy takes over constitutionally. But this transition in Kaduna is particularly remarkable. It changed the power configuration of the state decisively. Until his death, Yakowa was the first Christian governor of the state and the first to be elected from the Christian dominated Southern Kaduna area of the state, which had been largely marginalized in the power equation in the state. With his elevation as governor following the appointment of the former governor, Alhaji Namadi Sambo, as vice-president in May 2010 and his formal election to the exalted office in April 2011, Yakowa was widely expected to seek re-election in 2015. His death has put paid to all that calculation and expectation that Southern Kaduna might hold power till 2019. Meanwhile, Yero has appointed the Peoples Democratic Party Chairman in the state and former Nigeria's Ambassador to Poland, Ambassador Nuhu Bajoga from Southern Kaduna, as the new deputy governor.
The case of Taraba State is different from that of Kaduna. While the governor of Kaduna State died, that of Taraba, Dambaba Suntai is still recuperating in a German hospital following the serious injury he sustained when the aircraft he piloted crashed in Yola, Adamawa State capital on October 25. His deputy, Alhaji Garba Umar, has since assumed office in acting capacity. This was after the state House of Assembly had passed a resolution making Umar the acting governor.
Following the serious injury he sustained in the crash, Suntai was first rushed to the National Hospital, Abuja from where he was flown to a German hospital where he is at present receiving treatment. Those who have seen Suntai in hospital say he is still in a very bad state.
Enugu State Governor Sullivan Chime left the state over three months ago as he embarked on what government sources said was his accumulated leave. THISDAY checks revealed that Chime had been away from the state since September 19 after transmitting a letter to the House of Assembly informing them of his intention to begin his annual leave and accordingly informing them that his deputy, Sunday Onyebuchi, would function as Acting Governor in his absence.
But when the leave entered a suspicious dimension, government sources claimed that the governor embarked on accumulated leave and, therefore, refused to disclose either his whereabouts or when he would be expected back to the state. With the governor remaining seemingly "incommunicado" for about 100 days, citizens of the state have been made to continue guessing as to the actual reason why the governor has kept away.
To further heighten the tension, the Acting Governor had penultimate Friday presented the state appropriation bill for 2013. That would go down in the history of the state as the first time a governor failed to personally present the budget.
Early this month, Governor Liyel Imoke of Cross River State officially transferred power to his deputy, Mr. Efiok Cobham, to enable him attend to his health condition and rest too. He wrote to the House of Assembly, which approved his two months accumulated leave from December 6, 2012 to February 6, 2013.
Governor Idris Wada was involved in a ghastly motor accident while returning to Lokoja, the state capital, from an official assignment in Ayingba on Friday. The crash occurred along Lokoja-Ajaokuta road. His Aide-De-Camp, Assistant Superintendent of Police Idris Mohammed, died in the crash. The governor was rushed to the state Specialist Hospital, Lokoja and he is said to be in a stable condition. Wada has been having a running battle in the state for sometime now as some PDP elders are said to be up in arms against him. His deputy is Architect Yomi Awoniyi, the son of the late Aro of Mopa, Chief Sunday Bolorunduro Awoniyi.
Jonathan's Rise to Power
President Goodluck Jonathan rose to the post of president through circumstances very similar to the above cases. He had been elected vice president in 2007 to the then President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua. But Yar'Adua took ill in 2009 and was flown to Saudi Arabia on November 23, 2009 to be treated for a heart condition. After more than two months on the medical trip, and given his failure to transmit a letter to Jonathan, who was then vice president, there was political tension and a brewing constitutional crisis.
But the National Assembly broke the logjam on February 9, 2010, when the two chambers passed a resolution called the 'Doctrine of Necessity' under which Jonathan was made Acting President. Jonathan was sworn in as substantive president on May 6, 2010 after the death of Yar'Adua the day before.
The Yar'Adua/Jonathan case had drawn attention to the lacuna in the constitution which placed no timeline on the transmission of the letter from the president to the National Assembly that would enable the vice president act as president. But that was corrected in the 1999 Constitution, First Alteration Act 2010.
Section 145 (1) of the amended constitution now reads, "Whenever the President is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives to that effect, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, the Vice President shall perform the functions of the President as Acting President."
Section 145 (i2) states, "In the event that the President is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in subsection (1) of this section within 21 days, the National Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of each House of the National Assembly, mandate the Vice President to perform the functions of the office of the President as Acting President until the President transmits a letter to the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives that he is now available to resume his functions as President."
For the state governors, the constitution provides in section 190 (1), "Whenever the governor is proceeding on vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office, he shall transmit a written declaration to the Speaker of the House of Assembly to that effect, and until he transmits to the Speaker of the House of Assembly a written declaration to the contrary, the Deputy Governor shall perform the functions of the Governor as Acting Governor."
Subsection (2) says, "In the event that the Governor is unable or fails to transmit the written declaration mentioned in subsection (1) of this section within 21 days, the House of Assembly shall, by a resolution made by a simple majority of the vote of the House, mandate the Deputy Governor to perform the functions of the office of the Governor as Acting Governor, until the Governor transmits a letter to the Speaker that he is now available to resume his functions as Governor." However, the problem at present is that provision does not specify how long a governor can be away from office and still keeps his seat so long as he transmits a letter to the House of Assembly on his absence.
Constitutional Role for Deputies
Under the Nigerian constitution, the vice president and the deputy governors have no constitutional roles, except those assigned them by the president or the governor, respectively. But the recent circumstances in the states, where deputy governors are rising to power due to the impairment of the governors, has fuelled suggestions for deputy governors to be made more effective constitutionally.
Kaduna-based lawyer, Mr. Festus Okoye, says, "The constitution has made it clear that the governor and deputy governor ought to complement each other because governance is a shared responsibility. The calls for constitutional role for deputy governors are caused by the fact that governors feel threatened by their deputies.
"With the recent events, it is now imperative for governors to take their deputies into confidence because no one knows tomorrow. If a governor takes his deputy into confidence, he would be with him in health and in sickness. But if the governor treats his deputy like an idiot, thing might boomerang in ways that would not favour him.
"Ordinarily, the governor and his deputy should work together and share responsibilities. But due to the current happenings, I believe that deputy governors should be assigned specific responsibilities in the constitution."
Some state governors are already trying to take care of the seemingly uncertain position of the deputy governors by assigning them specific roles as commissioners. But analysts say the final resolution of the issue would be in the assignment of constitutional responsibilities to deputy governor. But that does not seem to be one of the worries of the National Assembly in the ongoing constitution review exercise.