Whichever way they turn, deputy governors appear to be damned. Damned if they do anything; and damned if they don’t. No story brings this dilemma to the surface as dramatically as the plights of Ondo State deputy governor, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, and Edo State deputy governor, Philip Shaibu. Both are currently perched dangerously on the horns of a dilemma, considering how quickly their governors have turned against them, and with the voluble and unpredictable Mr Shaibu groveling more farcically than the fairly tactless Mr Aiyedatiwa. But whether tactless or unpredictable, both deputy governors face an uncertain future and the prospect of impeachment. In Edo the governor, Godwin Obaseki, accuses his deputy of crass ambition packaged to undermine the state’s zoning succession formula thus endangering the chances of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in next year’s off-season governorship election. In Ondo State, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu returned from a three-month medical leave with a vengeance to cut his allegedly malfeasant deputy to size over charges of gross misconduct.
The situation in Ondo is comparable. For the reticent and undifferentiating Mr Aiyedatiwa, it is not clear whether he would have dared to bite the bullet had his boss not gone away for an extended and cryptically uncertain period. There were whispers among the governor’s pickthanks that the deputy/acting governor was too ambitious. Mr Aiyedatiwa’s opponents even psychoanalysed him by reporting to the hospitalised governor that his deputy did not wish him to return from medical leave, and that his disloyalty was so provocative and flagrant that it led him to try asserting himself upon an unwilling staff and cabinet. Secret and antagonistic reports flooded the governor’s hospital room, concentrating his bile, inflaming his rage, and turning him into an explosive device upon his return. Weeks after his return, Mr Akeredolu exploded a depth bomb on Mr Aiyedatiwa’s head without even waiting to investigate his deputy’s alleged perfidy. It was obviously enough that the already controversial deputy, whose home front is frazzled by domestic dissent, was tactlessly and openly assertive.
Edo’s Mr Shaibu has unglamourously tried to walk back his short-lived revolt against Mr Obaseki. He had talked tough one day, and moderated the next day; went to court another day, and withdrew his suit on yet another inglorious and ignominious day. Perhaps he felt the Obaseki administration was in any case near the end of its tenure, and the governor had become a lame duck. It was a gross miscalculation. Mr Obaseki is not a democrat, nor a politician incommoded by the niceties of the rule of law. He fights to the bitter end, and his opponents must have the commonsense to also fight him to the end, if they are not to be humiliated. The governor would be eager to bite off his opponent’s ears in a boxing ring if he felt threatened, as he in fact did to the previous House of Assembly whom he compelled to fly at half-mast virtually throughout their tenure. For a man whose politics and war tactics lack finesse, he is not the kind of politician with whom a shoddily prepared and half-hearted combatant would like to grapple. But Mr Shaibu entered the ring with tattered gloves, shoes without laces, and weight that was suicidally featherweight. Predictably, the governor made short work of him. Even at the onset of Mr Shaibu’s rebellion, it was unthinkable that he stood a chance of winning. Mid-way into the combat, the outcome was no longer in doubt, especially when Mr Obaseki turned up the screw a little by exiling the governor to a nondescript office outside the Government House. Mr Shaibu realised too late that a deputy governor is only as important as the governor makes him. Now, he is attempting to worm his way into the confidences of a clearly and enthusiastically vengeful governor. A few days ago, the deputy governor grovelled in an unspeakable way that can only elicit the governor’s contempt. Mr Obaseki will simply sneer at him.
Mr Aiyedatiwa does not stand any chance in Ondo. If Mr Obaseki was reluctant to go the route of impeachment, and will probably not do so, for his deputy is already spent and disgraced, the generally litigious Mr Akeredolu suffers no trepidation in the courts. The Ondo House of Assembly has begun impeachment moves, and the deputy governor is already put on notice for gross misconduct, an infraction whose interpretation the courts have ceded almost entirely to the legislature. Mr Aiyedatiwa does not stand a cat in hell’s chance of surviving the onslaught. The question is whether Ondo will beat other states’ impeachment records. Indeed, the deputy governor’s only chance of surviving the sally from his enemies is to rally the party’s national leadership, assuming those ones are minded to weigh in.
There are suggestions that some constitutional improvisations can be found to make deputy governors more relevant and less prone to rebellion. If lawmakers can’t resolve the local government autonomy conundrum, they cannot also resolve that of endangered deputy governors. Let every deputy governor get wise and find a way to survive, even if it means leaving behind in his home every impediment to his survivability, including his character and personality. The alternative is too grim to contemplate.
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