Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Deputy Governors and their ‘Oga at the top’

My intervention this week is on the importance, role, and intrigues surrounding the office of the deputy governor. Before launching into it, I wish to offer my condolences to the government and good people of Ekiti State on the death of their deputy governor, Mrs. Olufunmilayo Adunni Olayinka, which sad event took place on Saturday, April 6, 2013. May the good Lord comfort the family of the departed.
Alhaji B.B Faruk of Kano State; Abdullahi Argungu of Kebbi State; John Okpa of Cross River; Mrs. Kofoworola Bucknor Akerele and Mr. Femi Pedro both of Lagos State; Alhaji Sani Abubakar Danladi of Taraba State; Alhaji Garba Gadi of Bauchi State; Iyiola Omisore of Osun State; Mr. Enyinnaya Abaribe (now a senator) of Abia State; Obong Chris Ekpenyong of Akwa Ibom State; Peremobowei Ebebi of Bayelsa; Alhaji Ibrahim Hassan Hadejia of Jigawa; and now, Sir Jude Agbaso of Imo State, all have something in common: They were all former deputy governors who got removed. Since the impeachment and removal of the deputy governor of Imo State on Thursday, March 28, I have read a lot of reactions to the charade which the revered Dr. Tonnie Iredia, former Director-General of the Nigerian Television Authority, referred to as a fake impeachment in his column in Sunday Vanguard of April 7.
There is another category of deputy governors who though were not removed but were given a soft-landing of being allowed to “voluntarily resign”. Three ready examples that come to mind in this regard are those of Chief Akin Omoboriowo of Ondo State during the Second Republic; Alhaji Aliyu Wammako of Sokoto State; and the purported resignation of the immediate past deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Nsima Ekere on October 31, 2012. Yet, there is another category of deputy governors who though were not impeached but were embroiled in a bitter feud with their “Oga at the top”. Among them were Dame Virgy Etiaba of Anambra State; Micheal Botmang and Mrs. Pauline Tallen of Plateau State during this Fourth Republic.
A lot of commentators have queried the rationale behind the ordeal of Agbaso. They opine that there is more to the impeachment saga than the bribery issue on which the state House of Assembly based its action. This may be true or may be a mere hearsay. Impeachments are by their very nature a political rather than moral or legal action. That is why more often than not, court rulings are ignored when impeachment proceedings are initiated. A critical examination of all the previous impeachment exercises will reveal that they were largely politically motivated. The ostensible reasons mostly given for carrying out impeachment range from gross incompetence, corruption to abuse of office among others, as if they were calling the shots in the absence of their bosses. However, the real reasons always border on distrust, over-ambition, particularly for those who may want to succeed the governor, and disloyalty to the governor among others. Though the same procedures were stipulated for the removal of governor and the deputy, it is however easier to remove the deputies because they do not have political favours to dispense. They do not directly control the budget of the state like the governors nor do they have appointive powers and thus have little or no influence.
It was a former governor of Anambra State, Chukwuemeka Ezeife, who was said to have referred to deputy governors as spare tyres. It is indeed very much so as the position of the Secretary to the State Government is weightier and more recognisable than that of the Deputy Governor. This is spot on as Section 193 of the constitution equates the office with those of the commissioners. It says in subsection 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.” Thus, it is not surprising that while some lucky few among the rank of the deputy governors are assigned a ministry to superintend as a commissioner in addition to their role as deputy governor; the not-so-favoured ones are impeached or rendered redundant in office.
It should be noted that a similar scenario as playing out in some states also did happen during the President Olusegun Obasanjo and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar presidency. It will be recalled that former President Obasanjo was said to have done everything to frustrate his Vice-President particularly during their second tenure. But for the judiciary which ruled in favour of Atiku Abubakar, his office was practically declared vacant when an impeachment move against him could not sail through.
The frosty relationship between governors and their deputies is borne out of the fact that the two are often strange political bedfellows. Deputies are most times foisted on the governors by their political parties or godfathers. Thus, they operate under a climate of distrust. Any wonder constitutional provisions are jettisoned on the altar of political expediency particularly in terms of transmission of executive power to deputy governors when the governors are unavailable to govern? In the entire history of the Fourth Republic, it was only a former Zamfara State governor, now Senator Sani Yerima, who courageously endorsed his former deputy, Mahmuda Aliyu Shinkafi, to succeed him in 2007. Irreconcilable differences with his former boss however led Shinkafi to defect to the Peoples Democratic Party from the All Nigeria Peoples Party. This angered Yerima so much that he pulled all the strings to ensure that Shinkafi did not succeed in his second term ambition.
The position of the deputy governor is too shallow and only holds value to the extent that its holders enjoy immunity like the governor and have the prospect of becoming Acting Governors or substantive chief state executives depending on what happens to the elected governor. Section 186 of the 1999 Constitution as amended which establishes the position merely says, “There shall be for each state a deputy governor.” Section 187 that follows makes nomination of a deputy governor by the governor a mere ritual to fulfil all righteousness. Again, the constitutional provision in Section 188 (2) (b) which makes gross misconduct in the performance of office an impeachable offence is uncharitable and open to abuse. Even though subsection 11 states thus, “Gross misconduct” means a grave violation or breach of the provisions of this Constitution or a misconduct of such nature as amounts in the opinion in the House of Assembly to gross misconduct.”
This explanation gives too much discretionary powers to the members of the state legislature. It would be most helpful if what constitutes gross misconduct can be specifically mentioned in the constitution. Also, if the deputy governor stands election independent of the governor in which case they are not mere nominee of the governor, perhaps they will cease to be treated as filthy rags or appendages of the governors. Yet, even if the legal provisions remain as they are and we have men of character and integrity in place, all these “black market” impeachments and fractious relationship within and among the three arms of government will cease. I say this because the provisions for removing a governor or deputy governor as stipulated in Section 188 are very thorough and rigorous involving both the legislative and the judicial arms of government. Unfortunately, we hardly follow due process especially in political matters.