Perhaps, one of the critical takeaways in the recent indisposition of President Muhammadu Buhari is the importance of the Vice Presidential and deputy governorship seats in the conducts of states’ and nations’ affairs. It is certain that the law givers that made provisions for Vice president or deputy governors have more than a spare tyre intent in mind when they fangled the office of deputies for Presidents and governors. That the offices have been treated with contempt and disregard in the Nigerian setting is an abnormality that rebukes the essential roles deputies play in any democratic setting. There had been a deliberate effort to fill the position with weak, challenged, malleable lackeys that lack the guts to stand up to their bosses and assert themselves. This has reduced the position of Vice Presidents and Deputy Governors to mere ceremonial positions and to drive this ineffectuality home, some governors have been known to deride their deputies as mere spare tyres.
In Nigeria, deputies have been seen as unquestioning, willing subordinates that should be seen but not heard. Often their bosses have taken deliberate steps to castrate them and even bypass them in order of protocols. Many deputies have suffered in humiliating silence and the fad of governors bypassing them and handing over to heads of legislatures has been rife in the present dispensation. They dare not complain or raise a whimper as their bosses have several ways to remove them or totally whittle down their offices should their voices get louder than the subservient roles penciled for them. Of course, we hear often that our constitution made no specific role provisions for Vice President and Deputy Governors, which is unfortunate. In the sequel, there had been deliberate efforts to whittle them down to mere newspaper readers who exist in office for the pleasure of their bosses.
We have seen situations where some ministers get more powerful than Vice Presidents and situations where some commissioners and political appointees wield more power than deputy governors. If such deputies dare complain openly, their bosses quickly form an alliance with the legislature to remove them. So the positions of Vice President and Deputy Governors have often been filled with pliable and very often less cerebral candidates who lack the courage to rise to the level of their bosses or question them. In this dictated state, many deputy governors and Vice Presidents have been forced to play by the dictated whims of their bosses in order to keep their jobs.
The Obasanjo/Atiku combo was perhaps the exception to this unwritten code but then, the quarrel between the duo centered on ambition and was grounded on the political background that hewed their coming together. Fact was that Obasanjo was practically drafted into the race by the departing military. He lacked any political constituency while Atiku was coming from a solid political background, with a solid constituency in tow. So their coming together was informed by the winning calculation of the departing military to meld the duo into a winnable team that combines Obasanjo’s military background with Atiku’s political background. The cracks appeared when Atiku decided to use his massive political base to upstage Obasanjo’s second term ambition and reignite his ambition for the presidency. The ensuing war naturally worked to Obasanjo’s favour because the system hardly favours deputies in such slugfest. Other Vice Presidential choices since that time have followed an unwritten code to get the most malleable, politically groundless, less ambitious and often less competent choices to avoid situations where such deputies challenge or question their bosses. The country had been short-served by that deliberate effort to reduce the office and statecraft has bled from situations where vice presidents and deputy governors hardly compliment their bosses.
But in the choice of then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, President Buhari had not only raised the bar for the office of Vice President but made a vital masterstroke that will remain one of his greatest achievements as a leader. Perhaps, many presidents and governors never knew how the choice of a competent deputy boosts their ratings as good leaders; it is trite to state that the choice of a deputy, as that of a successor, shows the competence of a leader. Of course, the fear of being overridden by a competent and ambitious deputy remains one of the hallmarks of incompetence. But President Buhari, in going for a competent, well-educated, cerebral, yet loyal deputy, exhibited one of the greatest attributes of leadership. The choice of Prof. Osinbajo and how well he had complimented his boss should prick at such leaders who operate under the perpetual fear of having a competent deputy. President Buhari, both as a military and civilian leader, has shown the enlightened trait of a leader that allows his deputies to exercise their competence and make impacts in governance, unlike most of what we had seen in Nigerian governance history.
That President Buhari was indisposed is an unfortunate but unpreventable work of nature which human beings have no power over. It is neither unheard of nor is it an impossibility. But that he has a competent and trusted deputy to preside in his absence serves very crucial lessons leaders in Nigeria need to learn. Have we pondered a situation where the President has an incompetent deputy and is indisposed at this very turn of Nigeria’s history? It is expected that potential leaders will, with the benefit of the Buhari/Osinbajo tag team, pay more than a passing interest in the competence of those they pick as their deputies. It is an important lesson that the present situation has reified the need to fill public offices with competent men and women who will always rise to the occasion when duty calls.
That Vice President Osinbajo did very well when his boss ws indisposed shows the careful scrutiny that was brought to his choice. Those challenged governors and presidents may not have factored the situation where the president was not disposed to work at full capacity but the constitution envisioned it because it is natural. This is a useful lesson future occupiers of state offices must imbibe. To make deliberate bad choices as deputies will not only rob the office of a good complimentary hand, it will also inflict incalculable harm on an entity at a time when the main boss is not in good state of health to lead. The Nigeria Buhari inherited is a good example of what awaits a nation where the choice of deputy leader is deliberately scaled down due to primordial fear.
So, as President Buhari resumes after his long medical vacation, it is trite that we should not wish away the most critical take home from his absence, which is the need for governors and presidents to rise above their fears and have deputies that stand to add value to their tenure and allow them the open operational ground that made Vice President Osinbajo to excel, to the admiration of every Nigerian. The most important lesson from this experience is that leaders must search for most competent hands to deputize them and grant them the freedom and space to prove themselves. It is not enough to hide under the excuse that the Nigerian constitution makes no specific roles for deputies. Their bosses can make fitting roles for them. That is why they are their deputies. Even when President Buhari had not been afflicted with his health challenges, he had created and given wide rooms for VicePresident Osinbajo to work. This was also the case when he ruled as military leader, with the late Brigadier Tunde Idiagbon as his deputy. It is therefore not surprising that he went for a competent Osinbajo because he does not face the kind of morbid fear that had made leaders in Nigeria to choose deputies that may not match their competence or rise above their predetermined roles as rookies who wait upon their bosses’ pleasure.
Vice President Osinbajo is a priced asset that has proven roundly that contrary to the impression some people hold, Nigeria has an abundance of competent and well-honed leaders that can steer its ship from perdition. His stellar showing in the period he managed the affairs of the country is a credible and resounding testimonial that the offices of Vice President and Deputy Governors are critical and should not be filled with pawns that merely acquiesce to whatever the boss wants. Prof. Osinbajo has proved that the office of a deputy is as important as the main office and Nigerians must tap the critical lesson from his worthy performance in that office and make good use of the office instead of merely tolerating it, as is mostly the case today.
Peter Claver Oparah