The approaching 2024 Governorship elections in various states are fueling ambitions and tensions. The ongoing crises within the government houses of Ondo and Edo States can be linked to these upcoming elections.
Shortly after Governor Rotimi Akeredolu’s return to office in Ondo State, he terminated the employment of all media aides to his deputy, Lucky Aiyedatiwa, on Tuesday. This decision has once again raised questions about the relationship between the Governor and his Deputy.
Aiyedatiwa faced accusations of disloyalty towards Akeredolu during his role as Acting Governor in the absence of the Governor. The dismissed media aides were also accused of exacerbating the discord between the two leaders.
This rift between them is undeniably intertwined with the forthcoming 2024 governorship election in the state. Reports suggest that there is a clash of interests concerning Aiyedatiwa’s gubernatorial aspirations, which could threaten Akeredolu’s position. Some even allege that the Deputy Governor aims to complete the Governor’s term and may prefer that he didn’t return from his medical trip.
Friction and rocky relationships between Governors and their Deputies are not new. In Oyo, Adamawa, Osun, Abia, and many other states across the federation, there has been history of Governors who completed their tenures with other Deputy Governors due to the friction between them and those with whom they originally emerged in a joint tickets.
Akeredolu, the Governor of Ondo State, has a history of changing his Deputy. Aiyedatiwa would be his second Deputy, as the first, Mr. Agboola Ajayi, departed under less than favorable circumstances.
Mr. Ajayi, a legal practitioner and former House of Representatives member, was Akeredolu’s running mate in the 2016 gubernatorial election. They won by a significant margin of over 90,000 votes and enjoyed a harmonious relationship during the initial two years in office. However, their ambitions led to a falling-out. Initially, they concealed their differences and denied any discord until an unprecedented incident in June 2020.
Following the governor’s orders, the police commissioner of Ondo State and armed policemen prevented Mr. Ajayi from leaving his official residence in the Government House for over four hours one night in June 2020. This dramatic event stirred considerable attention in the state as everyone awaited Mr. Ajayi’s next move.
Hours after this incident, the Deputy Governor resigned from the APC, citing irreconcilable issues with his principal and describing the party as a “poisoned space.” He subsequently joined the PDP but switched to the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP) when he failed to secure the Governorship ticket in the PDP.
With the emergence of the Akeredolu and Aiyedatiwa situation, despite the APC camp in Ondo State denying any discord between them, it raises questions about the possibility of a potential Deputy Governor change. While Aiyedatiwa asserts his loyalty to his superior, this stance has left a perception of vulnerability among the State’s populace.
Similar to the tussle in Ondo State is another in Edo State. The Governor of Edo State, Godwin Obaseki and his Deputy, Philip Shaibu have been in the news for their disamonius relationship.
Obaseki had also accused his Deputy of anti-loyal activities, but Shaibu had said he remained loyal to the governor.
The situation appears concerning as Obaseki dismissed the media aides of the Deputy Governor’s office in August. On Monday, reports surfaced that Shaibu has moved his office away from the Government House.
The reason behind the disagreement between Shaibu and his superior is quite evident. Shaibu openly announced his intention to succeed Obaseki, a decision that didn’t sit well with Obaseki.
The treatment of these Deputies by their principals show how Deputy Governors are usually sidelined in office. Although is not exactly clear who is at fault in the rifts and accusations, what is glaring is the rash treatment of the Deputy Governors.
The way these Deputies are treated by their superiors highlights the common sidelining of Deputy Governors in office. While it’s not entirely clear who is to blame for the disputes and accusations, what’s evident is the abrupt treatment of Deputy Governors. This raises the question of why Deputy Governors can be treated abruptly, despite their offices being funded by taxpayers as well.
The most important answer boils down to the relevance the constitution places on the position of the Deputy Governor. The constitution does not assign much power to this position.
This means the Deputy Governor’s authority is very much subject to the powers and pleasures of the governor.
What does the Constitution say?
Chapter Six, Part Two Section 193 of the 1999 Constitution provides that;
“the governor of a state may, in his discretion, assign to the deputy governor or any commissioner of the government of the state responsibility for any business of the government of that state, including the administration of any department of government.”
“(2) The governor of a state shall hold regular meetings with deputy governor and all commissioners of the government of the state for the purpose of – (a) determining the general direction of the policies of the government of the state; (b) coordinating the activities of the governor, the deputy governor and the commissioners of the government of the state in the discharge of their executive responsibilities; and (c) advising the governor generally in the discharge of his executive functions, other than those functions with respect to which he is required by the constitution to seek advice or act on the recommendation of any other person or body.”
The constitution forces the Deputy Governor to a position where they can only perform functions as assigned to them by the Governor. It is almost a plan B position for a constitutional replacement when/if the Governor dies, is impeached, or resigns from office. Political critics have described the potion as a ‘spare tyre.’
This constitutional powerlessness subtly allows every treatment the Governor gives to their Deputies.
Although the constitution provides that a Governor would only be validly nominated if he has a running mate for an election, the reality in office is that the Governor does not exactly consider the Deputy as an equal mate but as a regular staff of their cabinet. It therefore takes a kind governor to treat the Deputy as almost equal and assign responsibilities to them. But when there is a disagreement, usually caused by succession ambitions, the battle for supremacy begins.
The constitution isn’t solely responsible either. It’s essential to scrutinize the role of the Deputy Governor’s office to enable governors to focus on their duties without concerns about potential sabotage or impeachment by their deputies. However, there must be a careful balance in the powers granted to the Deputy Governor to maintain the relevance of their office.