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VP : An endangered specie?

In a society where high premium is placed on power and authority and the effects to which it could be put, the Office of the Vice President  is just a titular title, an insignificance which is made manifest by the 1999 Constitution.  This report posits that vice presidents in the Nigerian context are no more than an  endangered specie.

By Jide Ajani

It was the first meeting of the Federal Executive Council, FEC, in the Second Republic.  Alhaji Usman Aliyu Shehu Shagari was the chairman in his capacity as President and Commander-in-Chief, while the Vice President, Dr. Alex Ifeanyichukwu Ekwueme, deputized.  Sunday Vanguard came upon an astonishing record of that meeting.  At Shagari’s first council meeting, memos were brought up for discussion and some of the memos came for signature where some ministers had to sign, some for the President.

After the session and because the ministers had just been appointed, almost all the memos came under the signature of President Shagari. At that meeting, Ekwueme said nothing, and according to him, “not because I had nothing to say but I just chose to say nothing”.

In Ekwueme’s words, “when we finished, the President came to me and asked why I didn’t make contributions to the discussions and the signing and I told him that first, it would be very embarrassing for him and for the government if he brought a memo to council and I demolished it and that I am sure that if I did that and, based on logic and sound reasoning, the council would agree with me but that would appear as if the presidency was not working together and I told him that I would rather we discuss the memos before hand and by the time we get to council, it would be easier to handle.

“He said that since the memos came from various places, if we had  to go through all the memos at council, it would take time but that he would appreciate it if I took a very good look at the memos the way they came and make my input the way I saw it good or bad and that he wouldn’t consider it embarrassing if I demolished any memo brought to council.  And so we agreed and began to work on that basis”.

That was the relationship between Shagari and Ekwueme.  But to the outside world in those heady days of the Second Republic, Ekwueme was just a paper vice president.

Fast track to 1999.  Between Olusegun Obasanjo and Atiku Abubakar, there appeared to be a seamless relationship which outsiders could not understand.  But just in their first tenure, there appeared to be cracks, such that Vice President Atiku Abubakar was virtually accused of attempting to cause the National Assembly to impeach his boss.  It was so bad that in 2002, the plot came alive in both chambers of the National Assembly, with the House of Representatives, almost going the whole distance.

Between Obasanjo and Atiku, there was no need to force issues.
Sunday Vanguard gathered  that throughout the eight-year tenure of Obasanjo, there was no time he transmitted any letter to the leadership of the National Assembly as he never went on vacation all through those years.

Secondly, most of the ministers in that administration had had something to do with the Vice President before or at that time, therefore, there was no need for any vacuum to  be felt.

Sunday Vanguard was told by one of the former vice president’s close allies  that in those days, “once Obasanjo took off, Atiku naturally acted and he acted well.  Most of the ministers were Atiku inspired”, Sunday Vanguard was told. But because the 1999 Constitution created the office of the vice president without responsibilities, save the chairmanship of the National Economic Council, NEC, there is no constitutional role for the Vice President unless as directed by his boss.

It is this lacuna in the constitution that has led to the present situation whereby President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua has been out of the country for all of 60 something days and his deputy is not seen to be in charge.

Emergence: Shopping For  Number Two
Perhaps, the nature of the emergence of the vice presidential candidate of most political parties creates its own problems.  In a trade-off scenario whereby certain offices are traded in order to pick a candidate for an elective office, synergy, collaborative spirit and a heart which intends to thrive on goodwill are all sacrificed on the altar of expediency.  Whereas Sections 141 and 142 of the 1999 Constitution expressly state that  “there shall be for the federation a vice president; and that a presidential candidate is not deemed to have been dully nominated to stand for the election to the said office excepts he nominates a vice presidential candidate, respectively.

Therefore, a vice presidential candidate is a sine-qua -non for whoever is aspiring to the office of the president.  But that is as far as the importance of the office of the vice president goes.

In an interview with Senator Benjamin Obi on the seeming impasse which has been created on account of President Yar’Adua’s absence, he said “let me tell you what I think is happening here, in my own considered view, it is because of the illegitimate nature in which this administration came about.”  Obi compared the tenure of Obasanjo and Atiku and declared  that there is nothing to what is playing out.

But if the emergence of a number two man is anything to go by, then Nigerians should always expect crises in the presidency.

Obasanjo, against all entreaties, decided to pick Atiku.  They succeeded in quarelling to the point of  irrelevance so much so that their statements no longer carried the desired punch.

In the case of Jonathan, he was a just  governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in Bayelsa State before he was singlehandedly picked by Obasanjo to be Yar’Adua’s running mate.
Yar’Adua, has simply been going about his presidency as if Jonathan never exists.

For instance, the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President has ceased to exist  since General Abdullahi Mohammed whom Obasanjo left behind to teach the Yar’Adua presidency the basics, left.  Had the Chief of Staff been in place, he would have been giving the vice president briefing on goings-on.  In this instance, there is no one like that. But the Yar’Adua presidency improvised its own technique whereby the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, takes up that additional responsibility.

The question is:  How has he been relating with Jonathan?
There are those who  believe that the way and manner a vice president emerges also adds to his clout or diminishes his stature.

There is a general impression in Nigeria today that a clique runs the show with Yar’Adua at best of times and now, the clique still calls the shots.

Jonathan’s speech last Thursday was to avoid the daylight that was beginning to creep into the affairs of the Yar’Adua presidency.  Jonathan’s speech to the nation had its security undertone and to avoid the continuing agitation that Jonathan should act, the speech served to signal that the Vice President was, indeed, in charge as acting Commander-in-Chief.

Vice Presidential Code
Perhaps, the 1999 Constitutional provisions of Sections 141 and 142, appears to have reduced the office of the vice president to nothing. Even the 1979 Constitution did not fare better.  There are those who believe and insist that a state governor with full executive powers wields more authourity than a vice president. But the story of Atiku between 1999 and 2001 speaks volume about how a vice president should conduct himself and the code he should live by.

In fact, at a point, it was all about a joint presidency between Obasanjo and Atiku.
However, the bubble burst at the point of adventure for both men.  Obasanjo, being a strong character and Atiku, being a smart politician could not but go their separate ways.
But the constitution is clear on what the vice president is expected to do, chair the National Economic Council, NEC, meeting, and there are those who believe that Atiku’s chairmanship of that body opened his eyes to the immense opportunities available. The simple code for a vice president is to take directives from his boss, Mr. President.

Between The Military and Politicians
The redundancy which attends the office of the number two man is not only restricted to the politicians.  In recent times, even the military have demonstrated how not to interfere with the order of authourity.

The best example was when General Ibrahim Babangida took up the strange title of President and appointed Admiral Ebitu Ukiwe  as Chief of General Staff (but with General Domkat Yah Bali as Minister of Defence / Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff)  Ukiwe was unceremoniously dumped even before he resigned.

Then came Abacha and Diya, who was roped into a coup plot – the latter was heading for the gallows before God intervened.

NIGERIA: Between Number One and Number Two
· Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa/Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe
·General Murtala Muhammed and General Olusegun Obasanjo as Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters
·Olusegun Obasanjo and General Shehu Musa Yar’Adua as Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters
·Shehu Shagari and Dr. Alex Ekwueme as vice president
· General Muhammadu Buhari and Major-General Babatunde Idiagbon as Chief of Staff Supreme Headquarters
·General Ibrahim Babangida/ and Admiral Ebitu Ukiwe  as Chief of General Staff (but with General Domkat Yah Bali as Minister of defence, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff – whatever it meant)
·General Ibrahim Babangida and Augustus Aikhomu as Chief of General Staff
Head of Interim National Government, Ernest Adegunle Shonekan and General Sani Abacha as the most senior minister in that government.
·General Sani Abacha and General Oladipo Diya as Chief of General Staff
General Abdulsalami Abubakar and Admiral Okhai Mike Akhigbe as Chief of General Staff
·Olusegun Obasanjo/ and Atiku Abubakar as Vice President
President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan as Vice President


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