First; it was the contest over the choice of Presidential Candidates. That is now over and done with. Attention has suddenly moved to the choice of running mates for the major contenders, Their Excellences, Atiku, Obi and Tinubu.
The raging external controversies and internal dissensions based on religious, ethnic, regional and even gender considerations, appear to me, an unnecessary distraction, and an exercise in futility.
The Presidential candidates have peacefully emerged through the prescribed process of Presidential primaries. The selection of the Running Mates or Associates of the main candidates is merely to guard against the vacuum which could be created by reason of death, incapacity or impeachment of the presidential candidate if elected into office. If neither of these undesirable eventualities occurs, then the running mate, if he ultimately becomes the Vice-President, can only exercise powers delegated to him by the President. The 1999 constitution is very clear on this.
Section 142(1) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) makes it abundantly and expressly clear that the choice of the Presidential Running Mate is the exclusive preserve or prerogative of the candidate. It is the political party that nominates the presidential candidate, while the candidate, in turn, nominates another candidate as his associate from the same political party to run with him and to occupy the office of Vice-President if the main candidate wins the election. It is therefore surprising to find so many Nigerians who normally would prefer to sit on the fence and abstain from partisan politics, to suddenly make a U-turn and become engrossed with controversial issues surrounding the choice of running mate in the three major political parties of PDP, APC, and LP. Nigerians must break down mental and religious barriers and inhibitions which tend to work against their participation in partisan politics, largely based on the false notion that politics is dirty and demonic or satanic.
We cannot pretend to be apolitical, only to suddenly wake up one day from our deep slumber, when the stakes are already running against our interests. Otherwise, we may wake up one day, only to realize that it has become too late for our opinion to count. That is exactly what has happened to many, resulting in the backlash of anger, desperation and frustrations which have attended public discourse soon after the emergence of the presidential candidates and their choice or likely choice of running mates. Any Nigerian who desires that his vote must count, ought to take that first step to register with a political party of choice and be actively involved in partisan Politics. To sit back as an arm-chair critic or, non-partisan observer, and expect your opinion to count in the long run can only lead to an exercise in futility.
In practical terms, with the emergence of Presidential candidates and their running mates, attention should swiftly shift to the main election, now that we have time long enough (between now and January/February, 2023), to vote in the general elections. The choice of who becomes the next Nigerian President, come 2023, is very very critical. No Nigerian should be deceived, distracted, or confused. The choice is not about who becomes the Vice-President. It is about the President. The running mate or associate of the presidential candidate is inconsequential, taking into consideration the constitutional provisions under which the two offices of President and Vice-President are created or established. The president wields enormous constitutional powers, while the Vice has no power except what may be donated to him by the president
130(1) There shall be for the Federation a President.
(2) The President shall be the Head of State, the Chief Executive of the Federation and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federation.
Section 130(1) and (2) of the 1999 constitutionals (amended) makes the Nigerian President the sole repository of the federal executive power. It provides:
It is apparent from the above provision that no mention is made of the Vice-President and his role in the executive branch of Government. That means all executive powers and authority of the federation are vested in just one man, with no provision or requirement to share that power with the Vice-President or any other person or authority. This explains why some schools of thought have opined that the Nigerian President is a constitutional dictator, by reason of the enormous powers he enjoys and exudes. That is not the case with the office of Vice-President under the Constitution.
Under the Nigerian Constitution 1990 (as amended), the office of the Vice-President enjoys no constitutional powers or authority, except as may be delegated to it by the president, in the same or equal measure as the Ministers of government departments.
Section 141 of the Constitution which creates that office, merely established the office of the Vice-President in the following terse words:-
“There shall be for the Federation a Vice-President”, and nothing more.
“The President may; in his discretion, assign to the Vice-President or any Minister of the Government of the Federation responsibility for any business of the Government of the Federation, including the administration of any department of Government.”
This clearly demonstrates the weak and vulnerable position of the Vice-President, in sharp contrast with the enormous powers reserved for the President as the Chief Executive. As if this provision were not sufficient to place the Vice-President at the very low rung of executive powers and authority, section 148(1) of the Constitution has gone further to demystify any occupant of the office of Vice-President of Nigeria, by placing him at the same level with Ministers of the Government. It reads:
It is therefore beyond every iota of doubts that the Vice-President can only exercise powers or authority assigned to him by the President. The Nigerian constitution has assigned no role whatsoever to that office, the same way the constitution is silent with respect to the role of the Ministers. They operate at the discretion or mercy of the president. I dare say, the Vice-President, by the provisions of section 141(1) of the constitution, is a glorified Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria whose appellation as Vice-President becomes relevant only when the President is dead, incapacitated, impeached or on leave. For all other purposes, the Vice-President enjoys no special or specific powers.
Why then is there so much anxiety and agitation over the choice of who becomes the Vice-President, come 2023?
The answer is simple. We have been so mentally enslaved and socially depraved to believe that the container is as good as the content. The name or tittle unfortunately assumes greater significance than the corresponding powers or duties of the office. We have been severally deceived, and manipulated to believe that any issue thrown up for public discourse is worth our hair- splitting arguments and attention. A case in point is the current raging debate over Muslim/Muslim, Muslim/Christian, Christian/Muslim, Christian/Christian ticket. This dispute or controversy has raged on dangerously to the point of assuming a real issue of national cohesion or disintegration; when there is actually no basis for this. There is no such thing in law, and in fact as a joint ticket. It is a mirage, as far as our constitution is concerned. What we have is a single presidential ticket which can only result in a single Presidential mandate for one man, and one man alone.
Every other appendage of the presidential mandate can only exercise a delegated authority which may or may not be donated by the President, in accordance with his whims and caprices. The full executive power resides in the President. It is not shared by the constitution, and therefore can only be delegated by the President to the Vice-President or any Minister. It is the President’s prerogative which can even be exercised in such a manner as to empower a Minister(s) far above the Vice-President through strategic allocation of tangible and sensitive responsibilities (what many may call juicy portfolios), to any well-favored Minister.
This brings to the fore the serious and huge citizen-responsibility and the sacred choice we need to make as Nigerians, in voting for a President who will fairly and equitably assign government responsibilities and roles on the basis of competence and in a manner as to reflect the needs and sensibilities of the heterogeneous nature of the Nigerian State. Above all, the President we desire, must be that candidate who is incorruptible but corrigible and amenable to wise counsel, and is fair and knowledgeable enough to share and distribute his enormous powers to competent and capable Nigerians whose loyalty will first and foremost be to the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
It is therefore needless and fruitless to engage all our energies and mental resources in disputes, controversies, contentions and dissensions over the choice of a running mate, thereby undermining the real deal- the choice of the next President of Nigeria whose constitutional powers completely overshadows the office of the Vice-President.
Okon Nkanu Efut, Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), 24th June 2022.