By Eric Teniola
This is the continuation from last week which reiterated the limited responsibilities of the vice-president as outlined in specific provisions of the 1979 and 1999 Constitutions .
SECTION 141 states that there shall be for the federation a vice-president. The Constitution never crowned the vice president as deputy head of state or deputy chief executive of the Federation or deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation. The Constitution is indifferent to the office of the vice-president yet it coronated the president a king and a god.
However cordial they appear to the outside world, there cannot but be conflict between the office of the President and that of the Vice-President. It is true that Decree Number 25 of 1978 which is referred to as the 1979 Constitution was produced by Justice Egbert Udo Udoma (1917-1998) from Ikot Abasi in Akwa Ibom State.
It is also true that the Decree 24 of 1999 which we refer to as 1999 Constitution was produced by Justice Nikki Tobi (1940-2016). The 1979 Constitution was in fact signed into law by General Olusegun Obasanjo on September 21, 1978 as the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (enactment decree) of 1978. As for Decree Number 24 which we refer to now as the 1999 Constitution, it was promulgated and signed into law on May 4, 1999 by General Abdusalam Alhaji Abubakar.
One could see that the two constitutions were engineered and approved by the military. In the structure of the military command, there is no provision for a deputy. In a military context, the chain of command is the line of authority and responsibility along which orders are passed within a military unit and between different units. In more simple terms, the chain of command is the succession of leaders through which command is exercised and executed.
And that is why the military transferred all the powers in this country to the office of the President of Nigeria, who was also named as the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces. The two constitutions – 1979 and 1999- were not approved by referendum or a plebiscite, unlike in most countries of the world.
The fate of the vice-presidents is equally similar to the fate of deputy governors. Of all the 36 deputy governors elected in 1999, only four of them became governors eventually. They are Dr. Goodluck Jonathan from Bayelsa State who became governor and later president; Alhaji Aliyu Mahmud Shinkafi from Zamfara State; Alhaji Umar Abdullahi Ganduje (72) from Kano State and Alhaji Aliyu Mugatakarda Wamako (68) from Sokoto State, who is at present a senator.
There are others who later became senators, including Otunba Iyiola Ajani Omisore (64) from Osun State, Chief Chris Stephen Obong Ekpenyong (65) from Akwa Ibom, Chief Enyinnaya Abaribe (65) from Abia State, Mr. Seleh Usman Dambayi (1955-2015) from Taraba and Alhaji Sefiu Adegbenga Kaka (69) from Ogun State.
The rest are today not around politically while some of them have died. They include Bello Tukur (Adamawa), Prince Chinedu Emeka (Anambra), Alhaji A. Mahmoud (Bauchi), O. Ajene (Benue), Alhaji A. A. Jato (Borno), Chief John O. Akpa (Cross River), E. Oko-Isu (Ebonyi), Chief Paul O. Alabi (Ekiti), O. Itanyi (Enugu), Joshua M. Lidani (Gombe), Engr. Udeagu (Imo), Ibrahim S. Kwatalo (Jigawa), Engr. Stephen R. Shekari (Kaduna), Alhaji T.A. Jikamsi (Katsina), Alhaji A.A. Argungu (Kebbi), Patrick Adaba (Kogi), Deacon (Chief), S.A. Sayami (Kwara), Senator K. Bucknor (Lagos), Onje Gye-Wado (Nassarawa), Barr. Afolabi Iyantan (Ondo), Barr. Iyiola Oladokun (Oyo), Chief Michael Bot-Mbang (Plateau), Sir G.G. Toby (Rivers) and Alhaji A.S. Bagare (Yobe).
The one elected in Edo State, Mike Aiyegbemi Oghiadomhe (66), later became Chief of Staff to his friend, President Goodluck Jonathan. How many of them do we hear of these days? Look at most of them where they are now.
No vice-president can survive the systematic demoralisation inflicted by the office without serious injury to themselves. The vice-presidency is a man eater. The office destroys individuals however competent you could be. The job is a silent killer. Most often vice-presidents get to know about activities of government not through briefings, memos and files.
Between the president and vice-president, trust, reliance, steadfastness, loyalty, devotion and fidelity are the key words in their wedlock and I doubt if the two can pass the acid tests. There is always skepticism and dubiety in their marriage. Constant doubt. Their aides too do not help matters.
In 1979, Dr. Kingsley Ozumba Mbadiwe (1915-1990), who wanted to be vice- president, described the post of vice- president as a “repeater station of a major network”, while others described it as “the spare tyre on the automobile of government”. No president in the nature of things, is going to yield power to a vice- president. Although they were both elected, but the vice-president is just a part of a package. A sort of an appendage to the presidency. The only reason for keeping the office of vice-president is that it provides an automatic solution to the problem of succession.
Former U.S President Roosevelt concluded that the Vice, president was “an utterly anomalous office, one which I think ought to be abolished”. To me the office is incurable frustration. It is not only in this country that it applies to. No president and Vice president have fully trusted each other. Antagonism, envy, suspicion, jealousy, are inherent in their relationship. “The only business of the vice president” wrote Thomas Marshall who served for eight years under U.S President Woodrow. Wilson “is to ring the WHITE HOUSE bell every morning and ask what is the state of Health of the President”. Lyndon B Johnson who served as vice president under John
Kennedy before he became president eventually, said the office of the Vice President “is like a raven, hovering around the head of the President, reminding him of his mortality”.
In the United States, Bobby Baker, the wheeler-dealer who fell from grace later, remembers Johnson telling him one night: “Bobby, you never had a heart attack. Every night I go to bed, and I never know if I’m going to wake up alive the next morning. I’m just not physically capable of running the Presidency.” Former US Vice President Hubert Humphrey said “there is an old story about the mother who had two sons. One went to sea, and the other became Vice President, and neither was ever heard of again.”
France has abolished the post of Vice President completely and yet the French democracy is one of the strongest in Europe.
On April 2, 1974 French president Georges Pampidou died in office. On May 5, the French had their election followed by a run off on May 19 and the inauguration of Valery Giscard D’estaing on May 27. In short in less than 60 days, France had a new president, freely chosen by the people and equipped by them with a fresh mandate. The results, as told, surely favour France on essential tests of legitimacy and democracy.
Egypt, has no Vice president. Other countries, in fact too numerous to mention, have no vice presidents. In America, where we borrowed most of our constitutional provisions, the constitution of America does say that the Vice President “shall be President of the senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.”
When there was objection to this provision in America’s constitutional convention, Roger Sherman observed that if the U.S Vice President did not preside over the senate “he would be without employment”. The Vice President is always in a no-win situation. If he talks, he will be accused of being garrulous and loquacious. If he refuses to talk, he will be labeled dumb and laconic.’ If he works hard, he will be charged of being too’ eager to be president, if he refuses to work, he will be ridiculed for being, indolent, lazy, lacking initiative and lethargic.
In the book- THE IMPERIAL PRESIDENCY by Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., Tom Marshall was quoted as saying “the vice President is like a man in cataleptic state: he cannot speak, he cannot move; he suffers no pain and yet he is perfectly conscious of everything on about him”. Also in the book Hubert Humphrey who was Vice President to Lyndon Johnson described the Vice Presidency in bad terms, “it’s like being naked in the middle of a blizzard with no one to even offer you a match to keep you warm. You are trapped, vulnerable, alone and it does not matter who happens to be President”. To non-politicians, the Presidential election in 2023 is too far but to politicians, it is tomorrow. The scheming for that election is on already. So what do we make of our own Vice President?
The first thing to do is to reform the way Vice-Presidents are chosen. Since 1999, Vice Presidents in Nigeria have been imposed on politics or by hasty compromise of exhausted factional leaders. The selection process must be more open. The party structure must be more involved so that the Vice President nominee could be more screened by the party leaders. Vice Presidents must be given scheduled responsibilities by the constitution same as deputy governors.
The way we choose our Vice Presidents has become so absurd.
In the absence of a constitutional amendment, the best hope for improvement of the Vice President’s job seems to rest in improving the selection process. The presence of top-flight persons as Vice President would at least put some additional pressure on the President to involve the Vice President in important governmental decision making and thus upgrade the existing role of the office.
There is still hope, for the Vice President.