There is a paradox at the heart Nigeria’s perverse constitution. While it concentrates power at the centre and leaves states with little autonomy to develop, it confers huge personal authority on state governors. The constitution gives governors untrammelled executive powers that enable them to act like potentates and run their states as personal fiefdoms.
By comparison, based on the resources they control and the impacts they make, Nigerian state governors are mere equivalents of city mayors in the UK and the US. For instance, of Nigeria’s 36 states, only two – Lagos and Ogun – and the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, have internally generated revenues, IGRs, that surpass their allocations from the Federation Account. The rest would be technically bankrupt without federal handouts. Furthermore, virtually all the states are ravaged by high levels of unemployment, poverty and insecurity. So, Nigerian state governors are unable to generate economic prosperity and engender social welfare.
Yet, as John Campbell and Matthew Page put it in their book Nigeria: What everyone needs to know, “Nigerian state governors are more powerful than their American counterparts.” Think about it: despite their weak governance capacity and abysmal impacts on people’s lives, Nigerian state governors are more powerful than American state governors. Why? What kind of power do they have? Well, it’s unfettered political power. Nigerian state governors have absolute power to commandeer the resources of their states, including the opaque “security votes”, to enrich themselves and spread patronage among their cronies. They also have enormous peremptory power over politics in their states, pocketing state assemblies and neutering local governments, which are moribund appendages of state governments. Indeed, most governors run a one-party state.
In America, a party may control a state but only a handful of its local governments. But in Nigeria, the party that controls a state will almost certainly control all its local governments, thanks to sham elections. Indeed, some governors would delay local government elections and simply appoint their cronies as “interim” chairmen of “caretaker” local governments. Recently, the respected elder statesman and legal luminary Chief Afe Babalola cried out that governors were crippling local governments by hijacking their federal allocations. He called for payment of the federal allocations directly to local governments rather than into the so-called State Joint Local Government Account, where governors enjoy free rein over them. But, self-interestedly, state governors continue to oppose local government autonomy.
The foregoing, which is intended to show the excesses of Nigerian state governors and their outsized presence in Nigerian politics, merely prefaces the real focus of this piece, namely, state governors’ abusive treatment of their deputies. There are two triggers for this intervention. The first is a viral video showing Philip Shaibu, deputy governor of Edo State, standing flummoxed in front of a padlocked gate to his office. Why? The governor, Godwin Obaseki, banished his deputy from the Government House. Which civilised governor behaves in such a barbaric manner? The second is Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State who, after returning from a three-month overseas medical leave, decided that one of his immediate priorities was to orchestrate the impeachment of his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, who acted as governor in his absence.
The current constitutional lacuna that allows a governor to humiliate and render his deputy redundant is bad for governance
These two cases are symptomatic of the grandiose narcissism and power-drunkenness of Nigerian state governors. Think about it. Only three years ago, in 2020, Obaseki and Shaibu were like Sesame twins as they ran together for a second term under the PDP, after their old party, APC, denied them a return ticket. But now, Obaseki treats Shaibu as disposable. As for Akeredolu, he got rid of his deputy in his first term and now wants to get rid of another deputy in his second term. If he succeeds, he will have had three deputies in his two terms of office. Here’s a man who made his name as President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), during which he fought for principles of justice, fairness, and good governance. However, as governor, Akeredolu abandoned those principles and has governed Ondo State with utter arrogance, behaving like a feudal lord.
But let’s be clear. The 1999 Constitution creates the Office of Deputy-Governor. Section 186 says: “There shall be for each State of the Federation a Deputy Governor.” Section 187(1) adds that no one can be a valid governorship candidate without a running mate. If both succeed at the election, they are deemed to be elected together. Thus, the Supreme Court ruled that a Governor or a President cannot remove his deputy as both were elected on a joint ticket.
However, most governors have their state assemblies in their pockets, and some simply get them to do the dirty job and impeach their deputies. Thus, since the return to civil rule in 1999, many deputy governors have been impeached. Bola Tinubu, Nigeria’s current president, was one of the earliest defenestrators of deputy governors. He had three deputies during his eight years as Lagos State governor, from 1999 and 2007, having forced the resignation of one and the impeachment of another.
Of course, where a deputy governor is not, or cannot be, impeached, a governor can simply strip him of all responsibilities, rendering him redundant. Section 176 of the Constitution says a state governor “shall be the Chief Executive of that State”, and section 193 says the governor “may, in his discretion”, assign responsibilities to his deputy. Put simply, a governor “may, in his discretion”, refuse to assign any responsibility to his deputy, as some have done.
But that’s perverse. According to the Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC), a state governor earns N7,782,986 annually, while a deputy governor earns N7,392,753. Firstly, considering that, at least officially, a deputy governor earns nearly as much as a governor, it can’t be the intention of the Constitution, despite the provisions of sections 176 and 193, that a deputy governor should be reduced to a mere “spare tyre” and left to be twiddling his thumbs, doing nothing. Secondly, no company would have a deputy CEO who collects huge salaries but does nothing just because the CEO doesn’t like him. Why should it be different for a state?
As I argued last week, Nigeria needs a new Constitution. And a new Constitution must define the roles of deputy governors and assign them specific state responsibilities. The current constitutional lacuna that allows a governor to humiliate and render his deputy redundant is bad for governance. Furthermore, the courts should be tougher in interpreting the offence of “gross misconduct”, which state assemblies, in cahoots with governors, frivolously invoke to impeach deputy governors. Nigerian state governors tend to be tin-pot dictators. The constitution shouldn’t enable them!
Obasanjo was right, yet wrong!
From governors and their deputies, let’s turn, briefly, to governors and traditional rulers. Recently, former President Olusegun Obasanjo caused a stir when he ordered some Oyo State Obas: “E-dide” (Stand up), “E-joko” (Sit down). To be clear, Obasanjo was not asking the Obas to stand up for him, but for the governor, Seyi Makinde. And he was right!
Read also: CBN assigns roles to deputy governors
Nigeria is a constitutional democracy, not a constitutional monarchy. In Britain, the king is the head of state; he appoints the prime-minister. In Nigeria, a governor appoints a monarch, and can even veto the kingmakers’ choice. Furthermore, a governor can remove a monarch, and several prominent monarchs have been dethroned by governors. Above all, a governor is a state’s democratically elected leader. So, no traditional ruler should refuse to stand up for a governor at any public/state function.
That said, Obasanjo should simply have made his point, without ordering the Obas to “stand up/sit down”! He acted impulsively but was right on the substantive issue!