By Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa, SAN
According to the learned authors of Merriam-Webster online dictionary, a deputy is ‘a person appointed as a substitute with power to act’ or ‘a second in command or assistant who usually takes charge when his or her superior is absent’. Collins dictionary captures it in a broader sense when it defines the deputy as ‘the second most important person in an organization such as a business or government department. In the business world, there is not so much controversy or confusion on the role of deputies as this is most often defined and guarded in order to preserve the succession line. It becomes easy for the deputy to transform himself into the substantive office as he must have had enough time to understudy his predecessor-in-office. This is not the case with politics however. Section 141 of the Constitution creates the office of the Vice-President while section 142 creates a joint ticket for the President and the Vice-President. The same thing applies to Governors and Deputy Governors. However, the Constitution creates absolute powers in the President and the Governor to the extent that many have referred to the offices of the Vice-President and the Deputy Governor as spare tyres, only needed when the substantive office is vacant. The experience in Nigeria is that generally speaking, most substantive political office holders find it very difficult to work with their deputies. Many reasons can be adduced for this totalitarian mentality.
There is an entitlement mentality by the holder of the office, who in most cases was a lone ranger when he was bidding for the ticket. This is why you hardly have any candidate for the offices of President or Governor who will announce his running mate prior to the primary election of his political party. There is a need for the political parties to fill this gap and insert a provision similar to section 142 of the Constitution which prescribes that a candidate for the office of President must nominate a running mate from the same political party. Once you leave the candidate alone for the primary election without a substantive running mate, he becomes like the hunter who went gaming and is unwilling to share the spoil. If it is after the candidate has won the primary election that he has to pick his running mate, then there is no collaboration because the running mate is more like an appendage.
The other issue is corruption and abuse of power. Where the President or the Governor has been running riot, wielding absolute powers while in office, it becomes difficult to let go, even when his tenure expires. This is so in Nigeria for the fear of losing relevance and also to cover the tracks to avoid embarrassing discoveries that may prove dangerous to the office holder. The holders of the office do also personalize it, especially the President and the Governors, making it difficult to apply the law for any form of control or oversight, to the extent that family members and relatives are appointed into sensitive positions as a way of fencing off others, such that from the very beginning of their joint tenure, everything is done to checkmate the deputy. In such a scenario, those family members would rather prefer one of their own to succeed the incumbent.
There has been a repetitive pattern in Nigeria whereby deputies are rendered powerless and worthless and any indication of an ambition is viewed as an act of rebellion that must be crushed decisively and mercilessly. This submission mentality is not limited to the executive but rather extends to the legislature, as we saw it play out between the immediate past Speaker of the House of Representatives and his deputy.
The judiciary is equally not spared, given the revelations of Honourable Justice Musa Datijo Muhammad who lamented that he was sidelined as the Deputy Chief Justice of Nigeria. The statistics can be very scary. President Olusegun Obasanjo had a running battle with his Vice, Alhaji Abubakar Atiku, that eventually ended in the Court. Till date, they have not been able to settle the issues, which spill over to every political campaign. Then we have the case of the current President, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, as governor of Lagos State. It started with his first deputy, Senator Kofoworola Bucknor-Akerele. It was a tug of war between the duo, which eventually led to her resignation. Then came in Mr. Femi Pedro, who was brought in from the financial sector with lots of experience but it was not long before the crisis started, leading to impeachment moves till he too had to resign.
In Abia State, there was hell fire between Senator Orji Kalu and his deputy, Senator Eyinaya Abaribe, leading to the celebrated Supreme Court decision. In his book, ‘Made in Aba’, Abaribe wrote as stated thus:
‘I was not in the league of ‘Egusi’ peelers that thronged his mother’s abode for whatever reason. His minions had not succeeded in binding me to some ethereal commitment on any false loyalty scale. I lasted exactly three years and nine months in office, before I threw in the towel. The one tenure was characterised by three attempts at impeachment. The one thread that runs through them all is that the government can make no error. Once the idea is stuck in the head of the chief executive, persons around him would leave no stone unturned to actualize the desired end.’
Incidentally, Kalu and Abaribe are both Senators in the present National Assembly.
In Oyo State, Seyi Makinde has had to yank off his deputy, Hon Rauf Olaniyan. In Kano State, Governor Rabiu Kwakwanso could not stomach his deputy, ditto Governor Godwin Obaseki in Edo State who even after a public apology from his deputy, is still playing God and issuing conditions. Impeachment of deputies by governors is like some kind of child’s play, with cases of impeachment process lasting less than two days.
The most intriguing case is that of Taraba State, as reported in the case of Danladi v. Dangari as reported in (2015) 2 NWLR (Pt.1442) 1. The facts of the case are as follows. At all relevant times, Alhaji Sani Abubakar Danladi was the Deputy Governor of Taraba State from May 2007 to May 2011. He was re-elected and took another oath of office on 29th May, 2011. On 3rdSeptember 2012, certain members of the Taraba State House of Assembly initiated the process of impeachment against him by signing a Notice of Allegation of Gross Misconduct. Upon being served with the notice the appellant filed a reply dated 12th September 2012.
On 18th September 2012, the House sat and passed a motion pursuant to section 188 (4) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) that the allegations should be investigated. The Speaker requested the Acting Chief Judge of the State to constitute a seven-man panel to investigate the allegations. The panel was duly constituted and its members sworn in on 24th September 2012. On the same day, the appellant filed an originating summons before the High Court of Taraba State against the chairman and members of the panel seeking two reliefs. He also filed a motion for an injunction to restrain the defendants from conducting any investigation into the allegations against him. It was the appellant’s contention that notwithstanding the pending suit and motion, the members of the panel proceeded to conduct their investigation.
The appellant appeared before the panel under protest through his counsel. At the hearing five witnesses were called to prove the allegations against him. The appellant was absent. However one witness was called in his defence after which his counsel sought an adjournment of four days to enable him testify and call his remaining witnesses on ground of ill health. The request was refused. The panel closed the case for the defence, rendered its decision the same day and forwarded its report to the House of Assembly. Based on the report, the appellant was removed from office the following day, 4th October 2012. As a result of these developments, the appellant sought and was granted leave to amend his originating summons in order to raise some more questions and seek additional reliefs. The 6th defendant in the case entered a conditional appearance and filed a preliminary objection to the appellant’s suit. The trial court ordered that the objection should be taken along with the amended originating summons. Consequently, the remaining defendants/respondents aligned themselves with the 6th defendant’s submissions in support of the objection.
The trial court upheld the preliminary objection challenging its jurisdiction to entertain the suit on two grounds: that the suit was improperly instituted by way of originating summons rather than by writ of summons having regard to what it considered to be the contentious nature of the claims and reliefs sought; and that proper parties, namely the Acting Chief Judge and the State House of Assembly were not joined in the suit. Consequently, the trial court struck out reliefs 1, 2, 4 and 5 of the amended originating summons for being incompetent.
Being dissatisfied with the decision of the trial court, the appellant appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal, in a considered judgment, resolved Issues 1 and 3 against the appellant and Issue 2 against the respondents and still proceeded to dismiss the appellant’s appeal. The appellant was aggrieved and he appealed to the Supreme Court.
Relying on section 36 of the 1999 Constitution on the issue of denial of the appellant’s right to fair hearing, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal and gave an order that the appellant resume his office forthwith and that all his salaries and allowances be paid. More importantly, the Supreme Court held further as follows:
Per GALADIMA, J.S.C. at page 107, paras. G-H:
“This appeal has once again brought to the fore the frequent impeachment of elected politicians, we have witnessed in recent times. As serious as the matter is, the legislators have found a veritable weapon to exit the faces of those they don’t like. It should not be so. The process of impeachment must be strictly and duly observed so as not to thwart the will of the electorate freely expressed at the polls.” (Emphasis Supplied).
Per OKORO, J.S.C. at page 200, paras. D-F:
“Impeachment is a serious business and seeks to take away the mandate freely given to a person by the electorate. Such a delicate assignment must be handled with care.”
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