BY IWUALA EMPEROR
In the face of the lack of specific constitutional roles, deputy governors in the country remain an endangered species in the polity, writes Abiodun Awolaja, with suggestions on how to overcome the problem. TWO symbolic acts recently occurred in the life of SaniAbubakar, the immediate past deputy governor of Taraba State. He had his name deleted from the national honours list, where he was scheduled to be given the Officer of the Order of the Federal Republic (OFR) award.
Then the Taraba State House of Assembly later on sealed his fate by booting him out of office on allegations of fraud and abuse of office.
In a landmark impeachment move, 20 of the 24 members of the state Assembly voted to uphold the recommendations of a seven-member judicial commission of inquiry named by the state’s Acting Chief Judge, Josephine Tukur, to investigate allegations of gross misconduct against the former deputy governor. Abubakar’s sins: he allegedly used his office to divert Millennium Development Goals projects to Yagai Academy, a private school owned by him, used his office to influence the posting of an officer and interfered in the affairs of his Karim-Lamido local government area, and did not convene a meeting of the state Boundary Commission, thus demonstrating ‘incompetence.’
In impeaching the former deputy governor, both the Assembly and the commission ignored the case filed against the composition and membership of the commission of inquiry at a Taraba court. The sins were reportedly committed years back, but they were dug up when Abubakar’s relationship with Suntai worsened.
The lawmakers did not sound convincing, and they vigorously contested the allegations that they had each received N100 million for the great job. Enter Nsima Ekere, the immediate past deputy governor of Akwa Ibom State.
Ekere, late last year, resigned from office over some irreconcilable differences with Governor Godswill Akpabio. “Pursuant to Section 306 (5) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) I kindly notify you of my resignation from the office of the Deputy Governor of Akwa Ibom State forthwith on personal grounds,” Ekere told his boss.
It was widely speculated that Governor Akpabio had directed the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, Honourable Sam Ikon, to resign, a position which the Speaker contested. Ekere was said to have vigorously defended the speaker.
Contrary to the statement credited to Ekere that he threw in the towel for personal reasons, fresh indications emerged that the resignation was connected with his alleged act of disloyalty to the governor. Sources in the Presidency revealed that Ekere, who was reported to be eyeing the governorship slot in 2015 and had already been raising political structures to realise his ambition by allegedly planning to impeach the governor, was also making attempts to weaken the governor’s structure in Eket Senatorial District.
He was said to have met with a prominent figure in the Presidency to solicit her support to become the governor of the state in 2015, promising to be her ‘boy’ when he gets to government.
The current scenario indeed dates back to the Second Republic. Ahead of the 1983 election, Chief Bola Ige, as governor of old Oyo State, was at loggerheads with his then deputy, the late Chief Sunday Afolabi, who had also indicated interest in the governorship seat in the run up to the 1983 general election. Afolabi had to leave the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and align with the then National Party of Nigeria (NPN), to which the UPN was opposed both ideologically and politically.
In Ondo State, a similar scenario played out when Chief Akin Omoboriowo, author of the classic book, Awoism, teamed up with the NPN to prosecute his governorship ambition in the face of the overwhelming demand by the people of the state that his boss, the late Chief Adekunle Ajasin, should seek a second term of office. Omoboriowo was declared winner of the election but met a brick wall at the election petitions tribunal, which declared Ajasin the duly elected governor before the swearing-in date.
The governor-deputy crisis began very early in the life of the current republic: Abia State was, by December 1999, already a theatre of festering political war between the then Governor Orji Uzor Kalu and his deputy, Enyinnaya Abaribe. While Kalu accused Abaribe of disloyalty, the latter maintained his innocence, saying he was being treated like a nobody by the governor and alleging that the perquisites of office had been withheld from him by the governor. When Orji was to travel out of the country at a point in time, he handed over to the Secretary to the State Government.
The Abia State House of Assembly impeached the deputy governor twice in 2000 and a third time in 2003. In the face of certain impeachment, Abaribe threw in his letter of resignation on March 7, 2003, sending his resignation via a courier company, DHL, so as to have a written record of it. The House of Assembly was to formally boot him out of office several days later, in a move Abaribe called “medicine after death”. Abaribe ran for the governorship on the ANPP platform in 2003, but lost to Kalu.
Currently the chairman, Senate Committee on Media and Publicity, Abaribe, a two-term senator, was luckier than most of his colleagues who are in virtual political extinction. However, Governor T. A. Orji of the same state got his former Deputy Comrade Chris Akomas impeached because Akomas had the ambition to contest for governorship. In Anambra, Governor Peter Obi dropped his former deputy Dame Virgy Etiaba during his second term bid because of the governor’s allegation against Etiaba over Etiaba’s roles when Obi was impeached and also for Etiaba’s son’s ambition to contest governorship.
During the second term bid of Ex-Governor Ikedi Ohakim In Imo State, it is being alleged that the Ex-Governor had to sacrifice his deputy Ada Okwuonu by picking a woman from Roman Catholic denomination as running mate so as to ‘appease’ the Catholic church on the controversial detention of a Catholic priest in Imo State. The Tinubu-Bucknor Akerele palaver was indeed very interesting, as the deputy governor accused her boss of smoking in Governor’s Office like a chimney, while Tinubu, who insisted that Bucknor-Akerele was foisted on him by the Afenifere elders, described Akerele as a disloyal deputy and successfully executed her impeachment.
But Tinubu later fell apart with his own hand-picked deputies, namely Prince Abiodun Ogunleye and Femi Pedro, opting for his Chief of Staff, Babatunde Fashola, to protect his interests.
In Bayelsa State, former Governor Timipre Sylva sacked his erstwhile deputy, Peremobowei Ebebi, a former Speaker of the state House of Assembly, on charges of excessive ambition, while in Plateau State, Paullen Tallen, came under Governor Jonah Jang’s sledge hammer when she decided to contest the governorship seat against her boss in the 2011 general election.
Tallen joined the Labour Party(LP) along with her supporters and has since been in virtual limbo, except for her appearance in Governor Olusegun Mimiko’s campaign rally in Akure last month. In Bauchi State, the journey of Alhaji Mohammed Gadi, former deputy governor of the state, into political oblivion began when his boss, Governor Isa Yuguda, who was elected on the platform of the ANPP, defected to the PDP. Gadi refused to follow suit, saying he owed the ANPP loyalty.
The state House of Assembly found a ready excuse in ‘gross misconduct and financial misappropriation’. Twenty-five out of the 31 lawmakers in the House sacked him after a seven-man panel found him guilty of allegedly approving various contracts above his approval limits. In the face of the bitter war between the governors and their own hand-picked cronies, the argument of imposition explodes in their face. Indeed, the recent case of the Akwa Ibom State deputy governor, Ekere, demonstrates the truism that no governor will ever allow his deputy to undermine his authority.
Ekere, Akpabio’s original choice in 2003, was forced to wait in the sidelines while Akpabio completed his first term with his former deputy, who was imposed by the elders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).So why has Ekere not been able to get along with his boss? Interestingly, Governor Rochas Okorocha seems to be getting on well with his deputy Jude Agbaso. Investigations reveal that against people’s speculations, Jude Agbaso presently, seems to be one of the close confidants of Governor Okorocha.
This is evident as the deputy governor presently mans the state Ministry of Works and other sensitive agencies like the Niger Delta Commission, Imo State Oil producing Area Development Commission (ISOPADEC) etc.
Interestingly, some of the defects of the 1999 Constitution have been rectified and it is now clear that a deputy governor would act as governor where the governor is unable to discharge the functions of his office. Speaking on the lacuna in Taraba, where the state deputy governor has been unable to act as governor in spite of the ‘incapacitation’ of the governor arising from a recent plane crash, Lagos lawyer, Festus Keyamo, recently told a national daily: “My take is that the deputy governor should act in the stead of the governor as the Acting Governor pursuant to section 190 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended).
The 1999 Constitution (as amended) does not envisage any vacuum in governance that is why it clearly mandates the governor to transmit a written declaration to the Speaker of the House of the Assembly whenever he, the governor, is proceeding on a vacation or is otherwise unable to discharge the functions of his office. Evidently, then, even though constitutional amendment is a good way to address the spare tyre syndrome, a number of analysts say that political enlightenment is needed to achieve lasting change. Iwuala writes from Owerri.