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Time to review position of deputy governors

The recent impeachment of Mr Philip Shaibu, a former deputy governor of Edo State, may have brought relief to his traducers, yet it has just…

The recent impeachment of Mr Philip Shaibu, a former deputy governor of Edo State, may have brought relief to his traducers, yet it has just elongated the list of deputy governors who have been removed from office in controversial circumstances. At the last count, about 17 of them have been impeached since Nigeria’s return to civil rule in 1999. Many – or most – of those impeachments were based on unfounded allegations, mostly traceable to their bosses.

Our position on this frequent impeachment of deputy governors is that it shows how low we as a people regard the position of the deputy governor. And the time has come for the nation to take a definite position on this.

Mr Shaibu’s impeachment followed the same form as previous ones. The impeachment of deputy governors almost always has to do with disagreements between them and their principals, the governors.

Indeed certain allegations were leveled against the former deputy governor of Edo State, but his problem actually started when he indicated interest in taking over from his principal.  Such ambition by deputy governors, whether real or imagined, always leads to a soured relationship between the two and in most cases ends up in the impeachment of the deputy.

This ugly development has festered because, on their part, the states’ Houses of Assembly are not independent, as they are always seen to be doing the governors’ biddings. But this should not continue. Nigeria needs truly independent State Houses of Assembly, whose members should be able to stand up to the machinations of the governors. The impeachment baton they are wielding so easily at the state level cannot be exercised at the federal level because of the makeup of the federal legislature. The membership of the National Assembly is much more varied and certainly less easily compromised on such a scale as to instigate frivolous impeachments.

It is also unfortunate that the judiciary at the state level is in most cases compromised in such situations. We equally need a judiciary that is truly independent and able to resist every pressure from the executive arm of government to arm-twist it.

Even the provision in the constitution about the position of the deputy governors does not help matters. The deputies’ trouble stems from Section 187(1) which declares in part that “That candidate shall be deemed to have been duly elected to the office of Deputy Governor if the candidate who nominated him is duly elected as Governor in accordance with the said provisions”. 

So, from the beginning, the deputy governor is presented as an appendage to the governor. Therefore, without a definite constitutional declaration on the status of deputy governors, they will continue to be at the mercy of the members of the House of Assembly and the governors, who only see them as “spare tyres”.

Some of the reasons for which deputy governors have been impeached are ridiculous. For instance, once in Enugu State, a deputy governor was impeached because he was rearing chickens close to the State House.

There is, therefore, an urgent need for a review of the constitution on the position of the deputy governor in our political system. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should state categorically the duties of deputy governors and their relationship with the governors. Leaving them at the mercy of the governors is the reason why there is this constant friction between them.

If the deputy governors are assigned specific roles, then we will have criteria on which to assess them. But the current arrangement is such that the deputies are made redundant and whatever steps they take are often misconstrued as an affront to the governors.  Therefore, they must be given roles that are constitutionally recognized and guaranteed.

We also ask the state Houses of Assembly to sit up to their responsibilities. If a governor brings allegations against his deputy, the matter must be impartially investigated to establish the facts. This is the constitutional provision (Sect. 188 (5). But we have a situation where a governor hands a list of allegations against his deputy, and that becomes the verdict. There is neither a real investigation nor impartial prosecution, including giving the accused person a fair hearing.

Sometimes the panel constituted by the state chief judge to investigate the allegations is just a smokescreen. The impeachment processes of some deputy governors were commenced and completed in one day. And that should not be the case.

Following the above facts, we ask: do we need the post of deputy governor in our political structure? This question must be thoroughly considered and answered by Nigerians through their representatives. If the overwhelming answer is ‘No’, so be it. In that case, we scrap that position from the relevant part of the Nigerian Constitution.

But, if we believe there is a place for deputy governors in our system, then it must be restructured. Their roles and tenure must not be left to the whims and caprices of the governor. The time to do this is now, to prevent the reoccurrence of these impeachment dramas that only insult the sensibilities of Nigerians.

 

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