Politics of defection has often created a gulf between govenors and their deputies across dispensations. In some states, the parting of ways were managed with maturity and tolerance. In others governors simply turned the heat on their deputies to either whip into line or force their exit through removals by the legislature.
In Sokoto State, crisis may be brewing in the Government House. The politics of defection has created a gulf between Governor Aminu Tambuwal and his deputy, Ahmed Aliyu. The governor has defected from the All Progressives Congress (APC) to the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), but the deputy governor has reiterated his loyalty to the APC, the vehicle on which the duo rode into office on May 29, 2015.
The implication of the political abnormality, as an observer put it sarcastically, is that Sokoto may still be described as both APC and PDP state. Reason: The governorship is a joint ticket between the governor and deputy.
Politically, it is a delicate balance. The governor is a senior partner within the framework of a joint ticket. His deputy has no specific power under the constitution, except the functions delegated to him by his principal. But, despite his limitations, the number two position has potentials. The deputy is the direct inheritor of the throne, if his boss dies or is incapacitated. Thus, when there is a divided political interest, there will be mutual suspicion.
In the ‘Born to Rule’ State, while the governor has been presiding over PDP meetings, his deputy has been an active participant in the APC’s agenda to checkmate him. As Tambuwal is planning to get a second term, Aliyu is working with the leaders of his party to install a successor to the governor on the platform of the APC.
In the history of defections, the Northwest state stands out. Since 2007, Sokoto has established a pattern of discord between governors and their deputies over the change of camps and allegiance. Defection is not totally a rosy affair. Not every politician is falling for the bug. Curiously, in previous dispensations, former governors did not make a fuse over the unwillingness of their deputies to follow their footsteps as they jumped ship.
Towards the tail end of former Governor Attahiru Bafarawa’s tenure in 2007, a crisis of confidence over succession broke out between him and his deputy, Aliyu Wamakko. The deputy governor wanted to succeed his boss. But, the governor had a different agenda. To pull the rug off the feet of the then ruling All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), the PDP strategically made an overture to Wamakko. The former Minister of Water Resources, Alhaji Mukthar Shagari, who had earlier been tipped for governor, was asked to surrender the ticket to Wamakko. He accepted to become Wamakko’s running mate. Both were elected governor and deputy governor.
In 2014, Wamakko defected to the APC, following the crisis that hit the party under former President Goodluck Jonathan. However, his deputy, Shagari, maintained his loyalty to the PDP. Although he lost out during the governorship nomination, the former minister consistently maintained an abiding interest in the PDP. Despite the friction, there was no threat of impeachment against the deputy governor. But, Shagari had to slow down his participation in official functions.
Tambuwal’s defection is consistent with the trend in Sokoto. A source said he has the backing of prominent monarchs to call it quits with the APC. Reminiscent of earlier dispensations, Aliyu has refused to defect along with him. Although the governor has dissolved his cabinet, Aliyu is not affected by the dissolution, which was meant to do away with the anti-defection members and make it a wholly PDP cabinet.
The deputy governor, a loyalist of Wamakko, is on the side of his the senator, who is perceived as the Sokoto APC leader. Instructively, the Sokoto APC chairman and 12 members of the House of Assembly have also refused to desert the APC on principle.
While a governor is at liberty to hire and fire his commissioners and advisers, some of whom may not be a member of his party, he cannot fire his deputy. The deputy governor can only be removed by the legislature, if he commits impeachable offences. What constitutes an impeachable offence can only be determined by the parliament or the court of law. But, the refusal of a deputy governor to jump ship may not be a convincing reason for his removal.
What fate awaits Aliyu? Will he defect later? Will he resist the persuasion to cross over? If he does not defect, will the House wake up to the possibility of dangling the impeachment hammer? Will he resign?
In Kano State, Prof. Hafiz Abubakar, the deputy governor, resigned after defecting from the APC to the PDP. If he had waited for a week to take the decisive decision, the House of Assembly, motivated by Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, would have issued the red flag. The signs of defection were ominous. He and his boss had been in a cat and mouse relationship.
In the Northcentral, defection is taking its toll on the governor/deputy relations in Benue where Governor Samuel Ortom had called it quits with the APC, but his deputy, Benson Abounu seems to be adamant. Abounu, an engineer and loyalist of Senator George Akume, appears to be sitting on the fence as he is silent on whether he will go and join his boss in the PDP or remain in the APC to join forces against his principal’s comeback bid under the PDP platform.
Sources said the camp of the governor is mounting pressure on his deputy to emulate his Kwara State counterpart, Elder Peter Kishira, who defected along with his boss, Dr. Abdulfatah Ahmed, to the PDP.
In contrast, there was no open hostility between former Niger State Governor Babangida Aliyu and his deputy, Alhaji Musa Ibeto, when the later moved to the APC, leaving his boss behind in the PDP. Ibeto did not resign. Aliyu was aloof to his defection. There was no pressure on him to vacate his office. However, Ibeto, until recently the Nigerian Ambassador to South Africa, has retraced his steps to his former party.
Feeling remorseful, Ibeto apologised to the PDP for jumping ship in the run-up to the 2015 general elections.
Perhaps, other states may have to learn from the Sokoto and Niger example of temporary tolerance, especially when the administration is winding up. The crisis of confidence imposed by the parting of ways between governors and their deputies, have been managed without permitting the escalation of tension.
The scenario contrasted with the Ondo experience. When former Governor Olusegun Mimiko defected from the Labour Party (LP) to the PDP, his deputy, Alhaji Ali Olanusi, declined to defect. He complained that the governor did not carry him along. Besides, he said there was no moral reason to return to a party, from which he defected to the LP, based on complaints against victimisation and injustice. Olanusi was impeached for not jumping ship, although the court later ruled that he was shoved aside in error. The old man later joined the APC. Ironically, Mimiko is back in the LP.
What was the pattern in the Second Republic? Deputy governors who defected from the party of their governors honourably resigned their positions to avoid conflicts. In those days, there was much devotion to ideology. The corridor of power was not avenue for private accumulation. Politics was vocation, and not occupation.
In the Old Ondo State, the former deputy governor, Chief Akin Omoboriowo (now late), even resigned, following his declaration of intention to rule the state, at a time his boss, the late Chief Michael Ajasin under the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), wanted a second term. He later joined the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN. His colleague in the Old Oyo State, the late Chief Sunday Afolabi, also resigned before he defected to the NPN.
In 2007, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, who defected from the PDP to the defunct Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), stayed in office till the end of the administration. When former President Olusegun Obasanjo moved against him, he ran to the court for justice. He survived the onslaught.
The odds against deputies
Why are deputy governors reluctant to defect with their governors? In many states, the deputies are not the preferred choice of the governors. They were either imposed on them by the party or selected as running mates for ethnic or religious balancing. They do not always belong to the same caucus within the party. They may not be united by similarity of vision, ideas and goals.
What is the position of the 1999 Constitution on the import of a joint ticket? Can the joint ticket be separated by broken allegiance and differential loyalties to political parties? The constitution has provisions for the position of the deputy governor as a spare tyre of sorts. While the governor highlights the conditions for electing and removing deputy governors, it is silent on what should happen to the deputy governor, if he defects from the party that brought him to power or he refuses to defect when the governor defects from the party.
This obvious gap or omission may be a subject of constitution review in the future.