Building Up A Strong And Stable Nation

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The two highest political offices in any country must indeed be very important. Not only are the President and the Vice President looked upon as the political leaders of the nation, their families are regarded as the First and Second Families, and are looked upon as role models in the entire nation and even beyond.

President Buhari and his Vice, Professor Osinbajo

I am not sure if it is the case with many other countries, but in Nigeria today, a certain “club aura” seems to envelope the persons of all those citizens who have at one time been the President and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria Armed Forces. In a way, these Presidents and ex-Presidents see themselves as the sacred owners of the nation. It is like belonging to a high class club where the name of the game is fame and fortune.

Non-members are never allowed in. They are not meant to know what goes on within the confines of the club. And as I said before, I am not quite sure but I suppose it is the same way Presidents in other countries see themselves within their circle of one-time Presidents. Not even the Vice Presidents or one time Vice Presidents can access the goings-on in the club of Presidents. The club is as exclusive as that.

But be that as it may, it is an open secret that the office of the Vice President is also important in many ways. The executive functions of the Nigerian Vice President include participation in all cabinet meetings. By law, he is a member of the National Security Council, the National Defence Council and the Federal Executive Council. He is, in addition, the Chairman of the National Economic Council.

Although the Vice President can take an active part in establishing policy in the executive arm of government by serving on such committees and councils, the relative power of the office of the Nigerian Vice President depends on the duties Mr President details for him. Yet, it goes without saying that the office of the Vice President is vital to the very survival of the Presidency itself. In other words, the Vice President should be the most trusted friend and adviser of the President. But sometimes that has not been the case.

In this article therefore, I will need to ex-ray how each Nigerian Head of State has paired with his Vice in terms of nativity and in terms of professional exposure. Hopefully, that will give an insight into how the men who have occupied the highest political posts in the country have battled and are still battling with the problem of leadership in Nigeria.

Army Brigadier Babafemi Ogundipe was the Vice President under Major General Johnson Aguiyi Ironsi from 16 January to 29 July 1966. Ironsi, an Igbo, hailed from Umuahia, the current capital of Abia State. Ogundipe, a Yoruba hailed from Ago-Iwoye in Ogun State of Western Nigeria. In their dispensation, the Head of State and his Vice were both infantry army officers and while the East occupied the number one position, the West occupied the number two. It was an experiment that possibly didn’t go down well with the North who had been largely touted as believing that leadership of Nigeria is their birth right.

Soon, the military struck and they struck hard. It was necessary to change the format. So, in the next dispensation, from 29 July 1966 to 29 July 1975, Navy Admiral J. Eket Akinwale Wey became Vice President under General Yakubu Gowon. Gowon hails fromLur, a small village in the present Kanke Local Government Area of Plateau State. Admiral Wey was born in Calabar to a Yoruba father and an Ibibio/Efik mother. He grew up in his maternal home before joining the Nigerian Navy in Lagos. This dispensation became a combination of the Navy and the Army, with the North occupying the number one position and the West occupying the number two.

After that came a combination of two infantry officers, again one from the North and the other from the West. From 29 July 1975 to 13 February 1976, Colonel Olusegun Obasanjo from Abeokuta in Ogun State was Vice President under Major General Murtala Muhammed, a Fulani from Kano State. When General Muhammed was assassinated on 13 February 1976, Obasanjo became Head of State. He took on a Northerner, Alhaji Shehu Musa Yar ‘Adua from Katsina as the Vice President. Yar ‘Adua was born into an aristocratic Fulani family in Katsina . His father was a Minister for Lagos in the First Republic. This meant that the equation had changed in the new dispensation, with the West taking on the number one position and the North taking the number two.

About this time, Nigerians began to agitate. They had tolerated military rule long enough. Nothing seemed to be working any more. Where were all the university graduates in the country? What were they doing? Why are they not the ones ruling the country? Where was the road to democracy? Nigerians wanted a change to democracy, not permanent military rule.

The needs and aspirations they articulated led General Obasanjo to lay the foundation for democratic governance. On 1 October 1979, Alhaji Shehu Shagari was elected President and Commander-in-Chief of Nigeria Armed Forces. Shagari was a teacher and a titled Northerner of Fulani extraction in the Sokoto Caliphate. The Vice President was Dr Alex Ekwueme a distinguished architect of Igbo extraction who hails from Oko in Anambra State. The strategy had taken a turn again, with a teacher from the North in the number one position and an architect from the East in the second.

When the democratically elected government of Alhaji Shagari was sacked in a military coup by General Muhammadu Buhari on 31 December 1983, Buhari became Head of State. The Vice President was Major General Tunde Idiagbon. Both the Head of State and the Vice President were infantry soldiers. Buhari hails from Daura in Katsina State. The Vice President, Idiagbon hailed from Ilorin in Kwara State. The experiment continued. The two highest political offices became occupied by the North in the first position and the Middle Belt in the second.

On 27 August 1985, General Ibrahim Babangida staged a coup that toppled Buhari and became the new Head of State. Babangida is from Minna, in Niger State and of Gwari extraction. At first he chose Ebitu Ukiwe, an Igbo and son of Chief Ebitu Ukiwe of Abiriba in Abia State as the Vice President. Ukiwe’s father was a traditional ruler and Head of the Old Bende Division Local Government Appeal Court in Abia State. Again, the equation changed in this dispensation, with the North keeping the number one position and the East hanging on to the number two. It was combination of the infantry and the navy. But for whatever reason, the combination may not have gone down well with Babangida, especially since it had become widely touted within government circles that Ukiwe was always carrying himself with the pride of his royalty. A few Nigerians actually said he had a flair for arrogance. That made it difficult for Babangida to “shine”. So, in October 1986, Babangida changed the Vice President and opted for Augustus Aikhomu, an Admiral in the Navy. Aikhomu hailed from Idumebo-Irrua in Edo State. Again the equation changed. The North had the number one position and the Mid-West the number two.

On 17 November 1993 General Sani Abacha toppled General Babangida. Abachawas a Kanuri from Borno State but he was born and brought up in Kano. He chose Lt. General Oladipo Diya from Odogbolu in Ogun State as Vice President. In that dispensation, both the Head of State and the Vice President were infantry army officers. The experimental balance sheet came back to the North holding the number one position and the West the number two.

By this time, the civilian population had begun to agitate again against continued military interference in the democratic evolution of the country. They wanted civilian rule back. An interim government was formed to plan for the handover to a civilian government after the dictatorial rule and death of General Sani Abacha. General Abdulsalami Abubakar was appointed as the new transitional Head of State. General Abubakar is of the Hausa extraction and like Babangida hails from Minna in Niger State. For the post of Vice President, he chose Vice Admiral Michael Akhigbe. Akhigbe was born in Fugar in Etsako Central Local Government Area of Edo State. The equation had the North holding the number one position and Mid-West the number two.

Nigeria returned to democratic rule with the election on 29 May 1999 of former military Head of State, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo as President. Obasanjo tried another combination. For the position of Vice President, he chose a retired paramilitary officer, Atiku Abubakar. Born in Jada village in what is Adamawa today but former Gongola State, Abubakar worked in the Nigeria Customs Service for twenty years, rising to become the Deputy Director, next to the highest office in the Customs Service. The dispensation became a combination of the military and the para-military. Again, the equation changed, the West holding down the number one position and the North the number two.

Meanwhile, insurgency in the Delta Region had become a very big problem to the federal government by this time. The many militant groups which had dramatically metamorphosed in the area involved themselves in wanton destructions. They burnt gas installations and refineries. They stole oil from pipelines that passed through their lands and secretly refined it in makeshift refineries in the creeks, far away from the scrutiny of the government. They took to kidnapping both indigenous and foreign oil workers for ransom and in some cases killed their victims. On another level, there was need this time to try out leadership by a pair of academics. Where the military failed the nation, perhaps they may succeed: who knows?

Obasanjo knew that he had to salvage the nation from an impending danger. The country had just come out of a fratricidal conflict. And if the leadership roles in the administration of the country and its resources were not properly articulated, there might be trouble. Nigeria could not afford another war so soon. Obasanjo had to do something.

So, he sponsored two dons. First, he had not forgotten his one-time Vice President under him, Shehu Musa Yar ‘Adua, who was incarcerated in prison with him when General Abacha struck. Yar ‘Adua died in prison but Obasanjo survived to become the next civilian President in the Fourth Republic in 1999. Obasanjo wanted to secure justice for the Yar ‘Adua Family. He also wanted justice secured for the people of the Delta Region from whose land the oil which had become the mainstay of country’s economy was explored. He sponsored the younger Yar ‘Adua as the Presidential candidate for the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party and Dr Jonathan as the Vice President. Both Yar ‘Adua and Jonathan were university dons. And while Yar ‘Adua came from the wealthy Yar ‘Adua Family of Katsina, Jonathan came from a family of canoe builders in Otuoke in Bayelsa State. So, in this dispensation there were two academics. And while the North got the number one position, the Deep South of the East held down the number two. Unfortunately, President Yar ‘Adua died in office. Jonathan became President on 19 May 2010 and chose Mohammed Namadi Sambo as the Vice President. Sambo is an architect and hails from Zaria in Kaduna State. In this dispensation, there was again a combination of two academics but this time while the Deep South of the East held down the number one position, the North kept the number two.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party, PDP, ruled Nigeria for 16 years. It was a difficult time in many ways, but so is the task of nation building. The 2015 elections saw General Muhammadu Buhari, a former military Head of State, as President and for the office of the Vice President, he chose Professor Yemi Osinbajo, a legal luminary who was born in Lagos. So, this time the North came up again with the number one position and the West with the number two.

As anyone can easily decipher, it has been an exceptionally difficult journey for Nigerian military and academic leaders to evolve a system of leadership that will more easily deliver to the people the dividends of the democracy they so much cherish. But, there are indications that the buck of that experiment may end with this Buhari-Osinbajo combination.

In a long while, I have personally been disgusted with the presence of the military in the democratic evolution of Nigeria. But a very close and recent study makes me now believe that their presence is indeed an absolute necessity. In many ways, the Nigerian society is very stubborn and the people will always need a certain level of discipline forcefully imposed on them before they can do things the right way. On the other hand, the march towards true democracy and nation building continues, and that is where the academics come in.

They will be there to advise the military leaders if they hold the second position as in this dispensation or get the military to implement their visions and articulations if the academicians are the ones holding down the number one job. The Presidency can rotate between the South and the North in such a way that when one is President, the other is Vice President. I think that in such a way, if each succeeding government continues from where its predecessor stopped, Nigerians would be in a better position to continue with their building up a strong and stable nation.

  • Chief Asinugo is a London-based journalist and MD/CEO of Imo State Business Link Magazine

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Articles by Emeka Asinugo