By Dare Babarinsa
No one really worries too much about who the Vice-President is until there is trouble with Number One.
The Vice-President is often not the second most powerful person in the government of his principal. He gets his position because it is convenient, and politically expedient that he be given the job.
After the election and the winner settles into office, the Vice-President is often dispatched into distant lands to go and attend funerals and wave to crowds. When real decisions are to be made, only the President does that. But we have seen since Atiku Abubakar emerged as the Vice-President to Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, in 1999, that the position can be consequential.
In 1999, when Abubakar became Vice-President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was the elected Deputy-Governor of Bayelsa State. His principal was the flamboyant Diepreye Alamieyeseigha, the self-styled Governor-General of the Ijaw Nation. If Alamieyeseigha had spent his eight years in office without unnecessary drama and tragedy, possibly, people would be scratching their heads to remember now who his Deputy-Governor was. But one day, he fled from London, where he was standing trial for alleged currency smuggling and money laundering, disguised as a woman.
He surfaced in Yenagoa where his people staged a massive welcome rally for him at the Adaka Boro Stadium. But then, President Obasanjo said he had had enough. He kick-started the process and Alamieyeseigha lost his job on December 9, 2005, and ended in prison. His deputy, the hitherto quiet gentleman called Goodluck Ebele Jonathan moved up and became His Excellency, the Governor.
Some of the governors who belonged to the 1999 and 2003 sets did not fully accept Jonathan as their colleague and equal. They see him as that Deputy-Governor! They did not realise that he was now governor, and therefore, a full member of The Governors Club. Jonathan was ready to become a fully accepted member of the club and this would be so when he wins the governorship election of 2007. So he contested and won the nomination of his party, the Leviathan Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). His challenger for the ticket, Timipre Sylva, came a distant second. He was set for a landslide victory.
One day, Jonathan was summoned to Abuja to meet President Obasanjo at the Aso Rock Villa. He feared for the worse because Sylva had petitioned the PDP high command, claiming he was cheated at the governorship primary. Jonathan was taken to meet the President at a small study lined with books. With the President were the red-cap chiefs of the party including Colonel Ahmadu Alli, the National Chairman, Chief Anthony Anenih, the Leader and Governor Umar Musa Yar’Adua who had just become the presidential candidate of the party. Jonathan sat down with trepidation.
“Tell him yourself,” Obasanjo turned to Governor Yar’Adua.
“I want you to be my Vice-Presidential candidate,” Yar’Adua told Jonathan. “Congratulations!” They shook hands.
To Jonathan, it was as if he was in a trance in the enchanted atmosphere of the villa. It was a short meeting. Obasanjo said Jonathan should go and brief the press on the development. Jonathan said coyly that he was not properly dressed for he did not come with his bowler hat favoured by the bourgeois of the South-South. Obasanjo quickly asked for a bowler cap from his room and soon placed it on Jonathan’s head. In 2007, Jonathan became the Vice President of Nigeria.
Despite that spectacular feat, he was still that Deputy Governor to some of the Class of 1999 and 2003. Then on May 5, 2010, Yar’Adua died and Jonathan became the President of the Republic. The man has met his destiny.
The emergence of President Jonathan has shown that every presidential candidate has to take his running mate seriously. It is not surprising that Abubakar of the PDP has picked Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as his running mate. Okowa was trained as a physician at the University of Ibadan, where he graduated in 1981. He practised for some years before establishing his own hospital. During the military era, he moved into politics and by 1999, he was one of the people who propelled Governor James Ibori to power.
He served in Ibori’s government as a commissioner and when his attempt to become Governor in 2007 failed, he became the Secretary to the State Government under Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan. He was subsequently elected Senator to represent Delta South and it was from there he was elected Governor in 2015 by an overwhelming majority. Okowa is the first Ika Igbo to become Governor of Delta State. In 2023, his electoral victory appears would cut through the South-South to the core Igbo states of the South-East, where the PDP has been traditionally strong.
Peter Obi, the candidate of the Labour Party, is the most serious Igbo candidate in next year’s presidential election. His candidacy has given a brighter veneer to the staid image of the Labour Party. Among the youths, especially those of the South-East, his candidacy has been welcomed with increasing decibel of approval. His choice of Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, a well-educated businessman and moneybag from Kaduna State is a well-calculated gambit to appeal to the new generation, who may be frustrated with the revolving door opera of the traditional politicians and their handlers.
On Sunday, July 10, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the ruling APC, also announced his choice of Kashim Shettima Mustapha, a banker, economist and politician as his vice-presidential candidate. It would be the first time since 1999 that a major party would pick two persons of the same faith to occupy the two slots for President and Vice-President. Shettima, a senator, was Governor of Borno State and had been questioned by security agencies as one of the inspirers and financiers of the Boko Haram insurgency, a charge he had rigorously denied. Now he would have a lot of opportunities to explain himself on the campaign trail.
Tinubu’s choice is bound to generate public spirited debates since this kind of nomination has not happened in Nigeria since 1993, when Babagana Kingibe, also from Borno State, emerged as the running mate to Chief Moshood Abiola, the presidential candidate of the then Social Democratic Party (SDP).
In 2015, Buhari had mulled the idea of picking Tinubu as his running mate, but the idea was aborted by top members of the emergent APC and stakeholders like former President Obasanjo.
This was how Tinubu conceded the chance to Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo. Now Tinubu is out to prove that majority of Nigerians are not opposed to a Muslim-Muslim ticket. The choice, for now, may look tactically brilliant, but in the long run, it may be strategically stressful.
Since 1993, this would be the most consequential election for the vice-presidential candidates. That year, people paid a lot of attention to the two vice-presidential candidates. One night, the debate was joined on national television between Babagana Kingibe and Sylvester Ugoh, the running mate to Alhaji Bashir Tofa, a young businessman from Kano. Ugoh was the Governor of the Central Bank of the ill-fated Republic of Biafra. When questioned on why he would like to play the second fiddle to the younger and less experienced Tofa, Ugoh replied: “It is better to play a second fiddle than no fiddle at all!”
This time around, the second fiddle may be as consequential for the ticket as the presidential candidate. For the first time in Nigerian history, the vice-presidential candidate may determine the fate of their principals. The immediate future is pregnant with possibilities.