DIRISU YAKUBU examines the culture of governors doing everything possible to produce their successors, the implications of such practice and the way forward
They reign in the mode of kings and exhibit limitless powers at the sub-national level. Perhaps, they have the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to thank for the enormous power they wield. No class of leaders in Nigeria today merits such a description than governors.
Beyond exercising the powers vested in them as the head of the executive arm of government, they have mostly pocketed their respective Houses of Assembly; the watchdog with the statutory mandate to exercise oversight functions over the executive.
In Nigeria, governors live and act like monarchs, determining what happens, when, where, to whom and how. Part of the power they have assigned to themselves is determining their successors. It does not stop at influencing the outcome of the primary election, in which case their preferred candidate must win, they do all that is possible to ensure their candidate wins the main election, even if it involves rigging or vote-buying.
Sometimes, their political parties do not even have any say, regardless of how intelligent or competent the choice of party members is. Oftentimes, the governors harass every other person into submission.
The examples abound. Perhaps Lagos, the nation’s commercial capital, is a good place to start. Boasting an array of indigenous talents in virtually every field of human endeavour, the state is home to some of the finest politicians, entrepreneurs, artists and businessmen in the land.
In 1999, following the return of democracy, Senator Bola Tinubu won the governorship seat on the platform of the Action for Democracy, (now defunct). Experienced and well-connected, he survived former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s attempt at ‘mainstreaming’ the South-West geo-political zone into the fold of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Of the six states of Lagos, Ekiti, Ondo, Ogun, Oyo and Osun that make up the South-West, only Lagos, courtesy of Tinubu, survived Obasanjo’s onslaught. After the 2003 general elections, Lagos was the only state governed by the AD.
In 2007 at the expiration of his second term in office, he handpicked Babatunde Fashola who had served as his Chief of Staff. Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, would go on to serve two terms in office in a stewardship lauded for its infrastructural development, capacity building and a reduction in crime rate.
After his second tenure in 2015, Fashola also made efforts to anoint his successor but met a brick wall as Tinubu’s choice for the party’s ticket, Akinwunmi Ambode, defeated Fashola’s choice, Olasupo Sasore, a former Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in the state. While Fashola had the support of some party members, Ambode won the ticket and the main election. He succeeded Fashola.
The intrigues, scheming and bad blood elicited by that development almost cost Fashola a place in the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) ministerial list following his victory in 2015. Although both men (Tinubu and Fashola) denied having a frosty relationship, the latter later prayed for politicians not to have their loyalty tested, when he appeared on the floor of the Senate for screening as a ministerial nominee in 2015.
Following the silent rift between Ambode and his benefactor, he failed to secure a return ticket. Then, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who was the Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the Lagos State Development and Property Corporation, became Tinubu’s preferred candidate.
This implies that since he left office in 2007, Tinubu has continued to play a dominant role in who becomes the governor of the Centre of Excellence.
In Abia State, until they went their separate ways, Orji Uzor Kalu and his successor, Theodore Orji, formed a political tag team that was the envy of some other politicians.
Kalu served as the governor on the platform of the PDP. When he dumped the PDP in 2006, he formed the Progressive Peoples Alliance. Perhaps, the biggest indication of the enormous powers at the disposal of governors was exemplified in Theodore, handpicked by Kalu to succeed him.
By 2016, it already became a norm for governors to produce their successors. Thus, many people following the politics in Edo State wanted to know if the then governor, Adams Oshiomhole, would also anoint his deputy, Pius Odubu, as his successor.
Banking on the closeness they shared, Odubu had consulted widely, paid for choice buildings in the state to launch his campaign. To his chagrin, the governor picked Godwin Obaseki, an investment banker who was said to have played a huge role in Oshiomhole’s administration and his infrastructural achievements.
Odubu, not ready to chicken out, continued his campaigns. On May 1, 2016, he took his campaign for the APC governorship ticket to Auchi but almost lost his life. His convoy was attacked by daredevil gunmen who rained bullets on several vehicles in the convoy. He later quit the race and reconciled with his boss, perhaps having seen the futility of his efforts without the blessing of his boss.
In the current epoch, many state governors concluding their second term have already anointed their successors and are working hard to make sure they win the main election on March 11, 2023.
Among such states are Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Enugu, Abia, Ortom, Kano, Katsina, Kaduna and many others. A recent case is that of Ekiti State, where the erstwhile governor Kayode Fayemi dared other aspirants on the APC platform to anoint Biodun Oyebanji, his Secretary to the State Government. The other aspirants lamented several irregularities in the primary, but their lamentations didn’t change anything. The governor had made his choice. Today, Oyebanji is the governor of the Land of Honour.
In Akwa Ibom State, earlier in the year, Governor Udom Emmanuel was seen in a photograph placing his right hand on the shoulder of a man who knelt before him, while a woman sitting on a sofa watched them.
The image was easily interpreted as the governor praying for the man, who happened to be his Commissioner for Lands and Water Resources, Pastor Umo Eno. Prior to Eno’s emergence as the preferred candidate, Akwa Ibom youths had been mobilising for Mr Onofiok Luke, a member of the House of Representatives and Chairman, House Committee on Judiciary. They made their voices heard but Udom had made up his mind on Eno.
Gradually, the practice is fast morphing into a culture in the nation’s democracy.
Edo North Senatorial District candidate on the platform of the Labour Party, Anslem Eragbe, argues that governors’ insistence on producing their successors is due to their intent to cover their tracks when out of office.
He added, “Most of the time, the reason outgoing governors impose their successors is because of the harm they caused the system. They impose their stooges to continue to perpetrate underhand deals of corruption in the form of inflated contracts, phoney supply of items, outright stealing of government funds, administrative malfeasance and budgetary padding, among others.”
In the words of Jackson Ojo, a political pundit, outgoing governors want to remain relevant even while they are out of office, hence their desire to impose their preferences on parties at the expiration of their tenures.
He said, “These governors, having tasted power, hardly want to leave it. If not for the constitutional limit of two terms, some of them would like to stay put until death comes calling. They don’t just pick anybody; they pick those who are absolutely loyal, who will not look at them in the eyes. Although, in the last few years, we have seen a few successors fall out with their godfathers on principles.
“Sometimes, you see incoming governors marrying the daughters of their predecessors. Not that this is illegal but it tells you the extent of the moral decadence in our land. In the event of any wrongdoing uncovered, do you expect such a leader to prosecute his father-in-law?”
In the same vein, the Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, Auwal Rafsanjani, expressed worry over the development even as he called for some level of moderation in the exercise of powers by governors in this part of the world.
He stated, “In Nigeria, since 1999, governors have become so powerful to the extent that they have virtually taken control of all tiers of government. Nothing happens at the local government level without governors’ approval. They decide when to do an election there and who would be elected.
“At the national level, they nominate ministers, ambassadors, directors-general and even members of the National Assembly. They have taken the centre stage in terms of governance. They do this because of the excessive resources they have at their disposal. It is only in Nigeria you see this kind of power and this is really undermining democracy and credible elections because they dictate who succeeds them, who becomes a senator, who becomes House or Representatives member and who becomes Speaker in their State House of Assembly.”
He said there was a need for some moderation in the way they wield their powers.
He added, “There is a need to bring in some form of moderation in terms of the powers that have, because this is not good for our democracy. It is undermining public participation, democratic choice of the people and even checks and balances as the states’ Houses of Assembly are not able to check the excesses of governors.
“The public is sometimes bullied, attacked and disrespected if they intend to make input in the selection process. In essence, governors are the determinants of what happens in our society and this is truly dangerous.”
However, a member of the youth wing of the All Progressives Congress, Haruna Abdullahi, is of the opinion that governors bent on identifying their successors mean well for the society at large.
He stated, “The key to governance sustainability is to put in place a template that ensures continuity in policy, ideas and programmes. When governors do this, it is not because they want to perpetuate themselves in office, but because they want to sustain their legacies. Leadership abhors vacuum, as such, leaders strive to groom and mentor those who will continue from where they stop.”
Speaking further, Abdullahi, a public relations consultant, argued, “States like Kano are what they are today because of the perfect model of succession plan implemented when Governor Abdullahi Ganduje succeeded his boss Rabiu Kwankwaso as governor. It was that successive template that fetched the state the huge infrastructural revolution it prides itself of today.”