Nigeria’s ambitious deputy governor dilemma
In the realm of Nigerian politics, the stage is often set for gripping drama that could rival any Netflix series. Recent events in Edo state have provided a fresh serving of political theatrics, featuring the remarkable showdown between Governor Godwin Obaseki and his deputy Philip Shaibu.
One could be forgiven for mistaking it for a comedy skit when a video surfaced of Deputy Governor Shaibu locked out of his office, expressing his grievances. It was as if a hidden camera would emerge, and someone would shout, “It’s just a prank!”
The following day, a humbled Shaibu found himself extending profuse apologies to Governor Obaseki, seeking forgiveness. But what really transpired between these two prominent figures? Let’s revisit the backstory: Philip Shaibu had previously defied his political godfather, Adams Oshiomhole, all in support of Obaseki. He even made some uncomplimentary remarks about Oshiomhole, leaving many shocked. One can only imagine the amusement Oshiomhole might be experiencing observing Shaibu’s current predicament. It raises the question: where does loyalty lead in Nigerian politics?
Reports suggest that the discord between Obaseki and Shaibu began when the deputy governor expressed his desire to contest for higher office. This begs the question: when does ambition become a crime? In Nigeria, it often seems easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a deputy to succeed their boss as governor. Since the dawn of democracy in 1999, there have been only a handful of deputy governors who successfully ascended to the governor’s seat.
However, history has shown that these deputy governors who do ascend often find themselves in turbulent waters with their predecessors just months into their administration.
In Nigeria, it has become almost routine for a governor to have a falling out with their political godfather shortly after assuming office. This seems to be deeply ingrained in our political DNA. One can easily recall numerous instances where governors’ relationships with their mentors have soured.
Yet, amidst this political turbulence, there are exceptions. Consider the case of the current vice president, Kashim Shettima, and Borno state governor, Babagana Zulum. Both men have managed to maintain a cordial and mutually respectful relationship. A key factor in this harmony may well be the vice-president’s practice of minding his own business rather than aspiring to overshadow or dictate to the governor.
The Obaseki-Shaibu feud is not an isolated incident. In Ondo state, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu is engaged in an ongoing battle with his deputy. Upon returning from a medical vacation abroad, Akeredolu wasted no time in sacking all of his deputy’s aides. Moreover, the state assembly has set its sights on impeaching the deputy.
The vice-presidents and deputy governors across Nigeria appear to be an endangered species, subjected to the whims of their superiors. Even the vice-president, the second-highest office in the land, is as powerful as the president wants them to be. Their role can range from wielding significant influence to being relegated to reading newspapers all day. Since 1999, only Goodluck Jonathan has succeeded his boss as president, and the circumstances surrounding that ascension are well-documented.
So, why pick a deputy when you know they are unlikely to succeed you? Often, deputy governors are chosen to balance the ethnic or religious scales in their respective states, and little more. Some deputy governors, unfortunately, end up as mere paperweight politicians.
Given the recurring discord between governors and their deputies, there have been calls to either scrap the office of the deputy governor or to assign specific responsibilities to the deputy that are not subject to the governor’s whims. In some states, governors attempt to empower their deputies by placing certain ministries under their purview.
Consequently, the political landscape in Nigeria continues to be a theatre of intrigue and power struggles, where deputy governors often find themselves in precarious positions. The case of Godwin Obaseki and Philip Shaibu in Edo state is just one example of the complexities and challenges faced by deputy governors who dare to have ambitions of their own. In a country where the transition from deputy governor to governor is akin to threading a needle with a camel, the dynamics of power and loyalty play a pivotal role.
Whether the office of the deputy governor undergoes reform or if future political alliances will follow a different course remains to be seen. However, what is certain is that the Nigerian political stage will continue to provide captivating drama for years to come, leaving observers both entertained and bewildered by the twists and turns of ambition and power.
•Written By Jonathan Nda-Isiah