By Bola Bolawole
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Vice presidents are ineffective and ineffectual spare tyres that are hardly put to use. That has been our experience here. Otherwise, tell me, of what benefit has the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, a senior pastor at the Redeemed Christian of God, been to Christians and Christianity in their hours of need? VPs are near worthless even in the advanced democracies, such that when a presidential aspirant in the US lost his party nomination and was asked if he would consent to being the running mate to the winner, he quipped: “I hate all vices, including the vice presidency”! In the same US, they have a cliche, to wit, that the vice president is to be seen, and not to be heard.
In practice, especially in the presidential system that we operate, VPs balance nothing. Real and absolute power is vested in the president who can reduce the VP to a glorified errand boy as we have seen happen here in Nigeria. Desperate to worm their way into the heart of their principal so that crumbs and peanuts can be thrown their way, VPs have been known to reduce themselves to abject objects grovelling before the altar of presidents and adopting slavish dispositions unbefitting and ridiculing their exalted position of so-called Number Two citizen. In most, if not all, instances, VPs are anything but Number Two. There are ministers and other personal aides to the president that are more powerful than the VP and to whom the VP even kow-tows! We have also seen that happen here again and again – and it still happens! Don’t you know?
Of what value, influence and relevance is a VP in a presidential system of government? Where a liberal president deliberately decides to share or cede power to his VP, the VP can really be strong and influential. We saw that happen here during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s first term in office (1999–2003) when he literally ceded power to his VP, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. But O/Level Government students understand that he who delegates power or authority has the duty to supervise and ensure that the delegated powers are not abused or stretched beyond the acceptable or given latitude. Besides, the dictum is that he who delegates power or authority has the powers to withdraw or negate the same. We saw that happen between Obasanjo and Atiku. When Atiku took Obasanjo for a fool, the latter made the former eat his yam raw, as they say! We also saw how Buhari negated decisions taken in his absence by Osinbajo as acting president.
Where the president is weak or ill, a strong VP may step in and fill the void – if the institutions of government are strong enough and the democratic system well established as we have it in the United States of America. But where that is not the case as we have it in Nigeria, all manner of cabals and influencers can elbow the VP out of the way, render him inconsequential and fill the void. We saw that happen in the case of Umoru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan where the president’s wife, Turai, and Presidency cabals fed fat of Yar’Adua’s illness and incapacitation to the chagrin of Jonathan as VP. The same situation is repeating itself before our very eyes as it pertains to the relationship between Buhari, Osinbajo, and Presidency cabals.
Of what political value is a VP in a presidential system as ours, more so in the peculiar circumstances of Nigeria where we run centralism but disguise it as federalism? Where the VP has a very strong personality and solid political structure, he can hold the feet of the president to the fire, as Atiku did with Obasanjo. But where the president is an equally strong personality, like Obasanjo was, governance will suffer were the two to tango because, as they say, when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. When both the president and his VP are weak, as we witnessed in the case of Goodluck Jonathan and Namadi Sambo and now in the case of Buhari and Osinbajo, presidency cabals and all manner of influence-peddlers step in to fill the gap since nature abhors vacuum. There will be multiple conflicting and competing centres of authority each jostling for relevance and or ascendancy. Little wonder, then, that the Jonathan and Buhari administrations have been the worst we have had since the return to civilian rule in 1999.
Judging by Obasanjo’s nasty experience with Atiku, which the former president continues to rue till tomorrow, presidential candidates are careful about who they choose as running mate. No presidential candidate wants to choose a personality stronger than him as running mate. As they say, there can be no two captains in the same boat. This must be one of the reasons Atiku ran away from picking a strong personality like the River State governor, Nyesom Wike, who also has strong political structure all over the country, as running mate. Atiku must have acted from personal experience! As they say, the one who beheads others is wary to have anyone with a machete come close to him! This must also be one of the reasons Tinubu ran away from picking his running mate from the North-west. Would he have chosen an enfant terrible like the Kaduna State’s Gov. Nasir el-Rufai and set the whole place ablaze? Or would he have snubbed el-Rufai for someone else in the zone and risk the same conundrum that Atiki has found himself with the snubbing of Wike?
The other side of the coin, however, is that as inconsequential as they may be made to look, VPs are, ironically, just a step away from the throne! We saw that happen in the case of Yar’Adua/Jonathan. Some VPs are overly ambitious and may be in a hurry to supplant their principal, relying on Nicollo Machiavelli’s advice to the prince that “the end justifies the means” We saw Atiku almost doing that to Obasanjo. A presidential candidate, thus, puts a knife to his own throat if he chooses the wrong running mate; especially if he falls for an overly ambitious one, like Obasanjo believes he did. Other considerations such as electoral value may come into play but the most important, which cannot be wished away, is the safety of the man making the choice.
From the foregoing, can we say that Tinubu got his choice of running mate right? Maybe, yes! Maybe, no! Had he chosen a Fulani, after Buhari’s eight years in office and the opprobrium his policies and actions have attracted (especially his scantily-concealed Fulanization agenda), it would have been a terrible choice. Had he chosen another Islamic fundamentalist with perceived jihadist antecedents like el-Rufai, it would also have been a nasty choice. Going North-east, he escaped those two pitfalls – except that, now, his choice is being linked with Boko Haram. Is this politics or is Hashim Shettima guilty as charged? It is interesting to note, however, that those who said a self-confessed and confirmed jihadist like the Minister of Communications, Isa Pantami, can retain his sensitive position in the Buhari administration are the same people in the fore-front of those calling for Tinubu’s head over his choice of Shettima as running mate!
People should try and be consistent! I suspect that Tinubu’s choice may also have been informed by a desire to share votes in the North-east zone with Atiku who, well, comes from there. Doing so, Tinubu may have killed another bird in the Middle Belt. For the long-suffering Middle Belt zone, buffeted on all sides by Fulani herdsmen, Fulani bandits, Islamic terrorists and jihadists, another Fulani as president after eight years of Buhari must be a terrible option; more so with the ongoing pogrom against the Middle Belt with Buhari’s duplicity and complicity as serially alleged by the Benue State Gov. Samual Ortom. Ortom was in the US recently meeting important Government officials to press home the same charge. Another Islamic fundamentalist: one who could not condemn the bestial and horrendous killing of Deborah Samuel; who went a step further to renounce his campaign organization’s initial condemnation of the dastardly act; such a candidate cannot but be a horrendous option.
Yes, many would have wished that Tinubu chose a Christian as running mate. I counselled him in my earlier piece titled “Tinubu: Are you the expected messiah or…” I reasoned that it would be audacious for him so to do, exactly as MKO Abiola some 30 years ago with his Muslim-Muslim ticket – and MKO won handsomely. But in his manifest wisdom, Tinubu has chosen to be audacious in the opposite direction. Maybe it will work for him; maybe not! But faced with this fait accompli, Christians now have to sit down and painstakingly calculate the options available to them: Is it Tinubu (a liberal Muslim) with his Muslim-Muslim ticket or Atiku (a strong Fulani/strong Islamic fundamentalist) with a perceptibly weak Christian running mate? Who out of the two will better protect the interest of Christians? After eight years of the presidency being in the North (and in the hands of the Fulani; and we have seen the use to which they have put it), should power continue to reside in the same region and in the hands of the same ethnic group or should the presidency, like the former Ekiti state governor, Ayodele Fayose, posits, return by all means to the South in the spirit of justice, fairness and equity? (TO BE CONTINUED).
*Former Editor of PUNCH newspapers, Chairman of the Editorial Board and Deputy Editor-in-Chief, BOLAWOLE was also Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Westerner newsmagazine. He writes the ON THE LORD’S DAY column in the Sunday Tribune and the TREASURES column in the New Telegraph newspaper. He is also a public affairs analyst on radio and television.
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