Friday, June 24, 2022 12:02 am
By Chris Anyokwu
On February 3, 2019 Premium Times in its report captioned “How we survived helicopter crash with Osinbajo”, quoted Babafemi Ojodu, a political adviser to President Muhammadu Buhari, as saying that the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and his aides and associates had their lives miraculously spared in an helicopter mishap that had occurred in Kabba, Kogi State. The near-tragic incident had occurred around 3.00pm and the Caverton Group, an air charter service which operated the Augusta A139 helicopter blamed “unusual weather conditions” for the ill-fated event. Professor Osinbajo, Nigeria’s current Vice-President, alongside about ten of his aides was on an electioneering campaign trail in the area as they flew from town to town, urging the people to vote the ruling APC back into power come 2019. Prior to this unfortunate incident, Professor Yemi Osinbajo had built for himself a reputation as a most loyal, fanatically committed deputy to his principal, the president himself. He was noted for routinely junketing not only around the length and breadth of the country but also crisscrossing the globe, almost always as PMB’s most reliable and dependable ally, the glorified courier of his messages. It is not as if this is in itself an overly odious practice, after all, all vice presidents the world over play the second fiddle to their Bosses, the nation’s Number One Citizen. However, Osinbajo’s case is analogous to an adult sending a child on an errand involving the bearing of salt and the sender unleashing a downpour of rain on the messenger. Whilst you would never catch PMB cavorting around on an accident-prone craft, whether he’s travelling within the country’s airspace or out of the country (which is the main feature of his presidency) PYO normally commuted from place to place in such risk-prone helicopters and airplanes.
To be sure, PYO had escaped death many a time due largely to the cavalier attitude of the powers-that-be towards his personal safety and security. This unsavoury state of affairs got a bit worrisome at a time to the extent that Nigerians resorted to their favourite pastime, to wit: spinning lurid yarns about sabotage or high-level shenanigans concerning PYO’s political career imbricating his current job as VP and his possible shot at the top-job in the near future. Arguably the most loyal, hands-on vice president in the history of Nigeria, the wonder is, why should one so formidably credentialed permit himself to be so “humiliated”? What does the Nigerian Constitution say about the office of the VP? What are his functions, his job descriptions? “Subject to the provisions of this Constitution, the executive powers of the Federation: (a) shall be vested in the president and may, subject as aforesaid and to the provisions of any law made by the National Assembly, be exercised by him either directly or through the vice president and Ministers of the Government of the Federation or officers in the public service of the Federation”. Furthermore, section 141 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provides for the position of the VP as well as his job description: (1) he is required to exercise the powers of the president in the capacity as Acting President; (2) exercise any other powers delegated to him by the President (emphasis added as the phrase here appears patently vague, amorphous and, crucially, infinitely elastic); (3) participate in all cabinet meetings and chair it in the absence of the president; (4) he is a member of the National Security Council; (5) he chairs the National Economic Council, an organ which plays an advisory role essentially vis-à-vis the office of the President. So who is eligible to run for the office of the vice-president? Chapter 6, Part 1, Section 142 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution lays out the terms of reference regarding the Nomination and Election of the Vice-President. It also states the age bracket of the prospective candidate to fall between 35 years and above; a Nigerian by nationality, nominated and elected alongside the president on the same political party platform.
The question, again, is: how did past presidents “use” or deploy their deputies? A few instances will suffice. Shortly after Nigeria’s Independence in 1960, those initial turbulent years, when Major-General Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi became Head of State, Babafemi Ogundipe equally became the first Vice-President of Nigeria. Whilst Joseph Edet Akinwale Wey was VP to Gowon during the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War of 1967 – 70, OBJ was second-in-command to the late Murtala Ramat Muhammad in the ’70s. In his first coming as military Head of State, Buhari had Tunde Idiagbon as his Vice. Legend has it that Idiagbon at the time was the main force behind Buhari’s stool as their reign proved dreadfully draconian in every material particular. A loyal “servant” to the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan as his VP would be elevated to the position of president upon the unfortunate transition of his Boss to realm eternal.
The stewardship of such VPS as Augustus Aikhomu, Mike Akhigbe, Oladipo Diya, Alex Ekwueme, and Namadi Sambo and Ebitu Ukiwe might be described as ranging between colourless and indifferent in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes too much loyalty could lead to erasure of individual identity and for personal contributions to the wellbeing of the fatherland. Perhaps this is the fate of the latter category, perhaps it’s this somewhat unenviable situation that made Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, the then VP to President Olusegun Obasanjo to always be at daggers-drawn with OBJ over sensitive policy matters. During their time in power, both OBJ and Atiku (as Nigerians love to call him) were wont to entertain Nigerians to many episodes of unpresidential verbal sallies and salvoes. It was a case of endless mutual recriminations and name-calling. In his poetry collection, Random Blues, Nobel-prize-winning prospect, Distinguished Professor, Niyi Osundare captures the OBJ-Atiku finger-pointing this way:
You Mar-thew me
I A-tickle you
Say, Mar-thew me
I A-tickle you
Muck for muck, mess for mess
We shred the nation through and through (p. 38)
What continues to baffle and beggar belief is the fact that, the given constitutional constraints on the office of the VP, many would still give an arm and a limb to gain that office. Isn’t it a waste of talent, time and other resources to abandon one’s former career for the position of VP? This is something of a toss-up: if, for instance, the President is liberal and self-effacing, you can shine as his Vice and the nation too will flourish. If he dies (God forbid!) you as VP will step into his big shoes and pilot the affairs of the nation seamlessly. But if he is a PMB, you as his Vice and the nation will know you’ve got your job cut out for you – both you and the nation’s economy will tank, vegetate and ultimately run to seed. So much for a competent and capable deputy! Thus, on the flipside of things, it’s not beyond the pale to imagine an ambitious Macbeth-like VP fancying a regicide and, at the very least, hoping something “happens”, through natural causes or through sabotage to the oga-at-the-top. He as VP then fills the resultant power-vacuum. This antsy situation of “frienemy” between President and Vice President usually has a knock-on effect imbricating policy formulation, implementation and review. It equally shapes the day-to-day grind of (national) governance and, ultimately, the fate or trajectory of the nation. Perhaps this tsetse-fly-on-scrotum scenario was on the mind of the framers of the Nigerian Constitution when they were writing Section 141 and 142 of that grundnorm.
At this juncture, I would crave the reader’s indulgence to compare the President-Vice-President relationship to the one between Bride and Chief Bridesmaid. Permit me to draw upon personal experience here. During the solemnization of our wedding in church, my bride had chosen a rather plain specimen of the second sex as her chief bridesmaid while a far more beautiful bevy of belles trailed us as her bridal train. Curious, I had discreetly enquired why my bride settled for a gargoyle as her chief bridesmaid when she had an abounding pool of beauties to choose from. She had fired back extempore: “Do you want my chief bridesmaid to outshine me on my own wedding day?” Therefore, by the same token, Presidents would rather die than see their deputies out-perform them. This was what befell Nigeria upon PMB’s return from his 3-month medical tourism to the UK. In his absence, Osinbajo had run the affairs of the nation spectacularly and that exemplary stint of his in the saddle seems, in hindsight, to have nailed his political coffin. The high drama at the Eagle Square during the APC Special Convention was the long-awaited denouement to his presidential overreach. Being atop the totem-pole can be a lonely affair at times, just as the ripest fruit is the saddest. Again, experience has shown that the most defining feature of postcolonial governance in Black Africa is the apotheosisation of personal ego, or autocratic one-upmanship and imperial self-deification as memorably iconized by Africa’s yesterday’s men of power including Emperor for Life (ex) Jean-Baptiste Bokassa of the Central African Republic; Life President Mobutu Sese Koko of Congo Kinshasha, Life president (ex) the Field-Marshal El-Haji Dr. Idi Amin of Uganda; President for Life Macias Nguema (late) of Equatorial Guinea and Paul Biya of Cameroon. Given the position of a damp squib to which a VP is reduced under this unenviable constitutional arrangement, you would wonder what the attractions for people still dying to hold the office were. Is it because of the klieg light of fame? The rattmattazz of office; the stupendous, ill-gotten wealth accruable to the position in our sleaze and graft-ridden society?
What exactly? Doesn’t this dubious boon of flimsy power explain the unspoken reason why some self-regarding Nigerian professionals turn down the offer to be VP ? At the time of writing this piece, only Atiku of the PDP has chosen his running mate in the person of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State. The ruling APC, whose presidential nominee is Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, has only “selected” a place-holder in the person of Ibrahim Masari from Katsina State. It’s understood that a bona fide running-mate to Tinubu would be chosen later to replace Masari. Such is the political calculus in the choice of a VP candidate that such constitutive variables as ethnicity, gender, name recognition, clout, or “structure” and, more crucially, religion are factored into the equation. A little misstep can spell disaster not only at the polls but in the overall fortunes of the polity. Some love to dismiss the role of the VP as the President’s glorified Errand-Boy; his “spare-tyre”. Does this denigratory role not ironically elevate the VP to the position and place of a self-immolating Christ-like figure? Is this ceremonial “strait-jacket” role sop enough to Cerberus? As 2023 beckons, the choice of the VP of the eventual winning party might prove seismic and tectonic in the extremely touch-and-go geo-politics of power in Nigeria.
Chris Anyokwu writes from University of Lagos