By Bola Bolawole
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Never forget, the press is the enemy. The establishment is the enemy. The professors are the enemy. Professors are the enemy. Write that on a blackboard 100 times and never forget it. – Richard Milhous Nixon, the 37th President of the United States of America.
An aspirant who made a strong showing in his party’s presidential race in the United States was asked if he would consider an offer of being the running mate, the belief being that his candidature would bring a lot of positives to the table. He quipped: I hate all vices, including the vice-president!” Are deputies really needed in organisations? Is the vice-president needed in a presidential system? Is the deputy Senate president/Deputy Speaker needed in the National Assembly? Is the Deputy Governor of a state or, indeed, the Deputy Chairman of a local government needed? In corporate organisations, do we need the deputy MD, deputy COO or CEO or whatever? Do we need a deputy editor, deputy MD/Deputy-Editor-in-Chief? Virtually every organisation makes provisions for a deputy or an assistant(s). The reasons are not far to fetch: It is assumed that the leader needs a helping hand. After God created man, He saw that it was not good for him to be alone and took the decision to make for him a help-mate. Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, taught him the principles of delegated authority. In virtually every facet of human existence, this principle holds sway – be it secular, spiritual, private or public. Circumstances and events beyond human comprehension also make deputies imperative. Deaths and incapacitation do occur that make the leader unable to continue in office. Rules and regulations are breached that lead to the leader taking himself out or he is kicked out. Organisations are, in that wise, like a car; it is wise to have not just a spare tyre but a very good one, in case of eventualities. We heard a governor here describe deputy governors as spare tyres which are sparingly used. True as that may be, woe betides the traveller without a spare tyre who suffers a puncture in the middle of nowhere in these days of roving armed bandits, ritualists, kidnappers, and Fulani herdsmen! The fact that second-in-commands are treated shabbily everywhere has not discouraged people from killing to get into it!
Our presidential system is said to mimic the United States. This would appear so more in appearance than in substance. Besides, no two polity or people are exactly the same. US differs significantly from Nigeria. This is why some have said our own presidential system is – or should be – home-grown, with its own peculiarities. How many can say who is the United States’ current vice-president? But everyone knows President Donald Trump; which is why, in America or using America as the standard, it is often said that the vice-president is to be seen and rarely to be heard. I dare to say that he is even rarely to be seen! As our people would say, when mother elephant trumpets, his baby must keep quiet. That works fine in America but cannot so work in Nigeria where the vice-presidential slot is used to balance at least two factors critical to the survival, not only of democracy but of the country itself, namely; religion and ethnicity. This is rarely the case in the US. A Nigerian vice-president, therefore, is expected both to be heard and to be seen by the people and tendencies he is seen to represent in the political equation. Where this is not so for whatever reasons (e.g. the weakness of the VP) or where the president alone monopolises power and the limelight, there is bound to be disquiet and disequilibrium in the polity.
Some say it is because of the educational incapacitation of President Muhammadu Buhari that his administration is retarded and is also increasingly becoming reactive, frustrated, desperate, and intolerant of dissenting views. May be; may be not! For one, the president is surrounded by a lot of knowledgeable and otherwise competent people. Besides, President Nixon, quoted above, had the best of education and was a high performer until, quoting scriptures, iniquity a la Watergate, was found in him. It is in the nature of dictators and leaders who feel insecure (siege mentality) to strike mortal blows at the truth. Everywhere, be it in Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich or Benito Mussolini’s Italy, truth is usually the first casualty of creeping fascism. The purveyors of truth such as the press, social media and activists; the establishment (National Assembly, the Judiciary, Civil Servants) and the philosophers and ideologues (the Professors/academics) have never anywhere been trusted, loved or allowed to be by intolerant leaders. They are used, then, they are dumped. Their bat mimics the bird (King Odewale in Prof. Ola Rotimi’s “The gods are not to blame”) but is soon roughly shoved aside and shown where it belongs.
Spiro Theodore Agnew (November 9, 1918 – September 17, 1996) was the 39th Vice –President of the United States (from 1969 – 1973 when he resigned). He was the second US VP to have so resigned, the first being John C. Calhoun in 1932. Agnew’s resignation was significant in many respects. It brought a lofty political and public service career to an ignoble end. As the 55th governor of Maryland (January 25, 1967 – January 7, 1969), he ran a government that made tax reforms its pivot and built up a Centrist reputation that recommended him for call-up to be presidential running-mate to Richard Nixon. Pundits said Agnew truly brought a lot of positives to the table and that his being on the ticket contributed immensely to their win in the presidential election. In power, Agnew, however, fell into the pit that many deputies fall into. To please his boss, he allowed himself to be used as attack dog against the enemies of the administration (“our administration” as Osinbajo has often put it!) He moved from his lofty Centrist position to the far Right to please the powers-that-be and became Nixon’s hatchet man performing dirty jobs.
In 1973, Agnew was investigated by the Attorney for the District of Maryland on suspicion of criminal conspiracy, bribery, extortion, and tax fraud. Very ironic for a man who had spear-headed far-reaching tax reforms in the same Maryland just like Osinbajo spearheaded TraderMoni! Agnew took kickbacks from contractors during his time as Baltimore County Executive and as governor of Maryland and the payments continued into his tenure as VP. After months of maintaining his innocence, Agnew pleaded “no contest” to a single charge of tax evasion and resigned from office (soft landing). Institutions in the US are so strong that there was little more anyone, even Nixon, could have done to save Agnew’s neck. Conversely, here in Nigeria institutions are so weak that there is no way a VP will get into the kind of trouble Osinbajo is rumoured to be submerged in except it is engineered right from the inside. Here, it is the big thief who steals cows that catches the petty thief who steals chickens! Such is the difference between Nigeria’s and the United States’ presidential systems.
Agnew’s resignation paved the way for Gerald Ford to become VP and when Watergate consumed Nixon himself, Ford moved up as President. History is canny; sometimes it repeats itself! Many will remember the trilogy I wrote last December titled “2019: Yoruba interests and Osinbajo’s vaulting ambition” Some fired back that there was nothing vaulting in Osinbajo’s ambition to become whatever; I agree! Nothing ventured, nothing gained! To quote Nixon one more time: If you take no risks, you’ll suffer no defeat. But if you take no risks, you win no victory” I wasn’t against risk-taking; I only cautioned against the route being taken. Don’t burn bridges because you will need them back and forth. Don’t destroy the ladder that took you to your dizzying height because you will need it on your way down. . Don’t destroy old landmarks, says the scripture. Don’t uproot the pumpkin in the old homestead, counsels Prof. Okot p’Bitek. Don’t be a bastard who uses the left finger to point to his father’s house. Learn from Spiro Agnew’s mistakes: After doing their hatchet job for them, they will dump you. Don’t sell your own people cheap; by so doing, you are also cheapening yourself. Never allow water to dry out behind your fish…
But they hardly listen to advice! They only get wiser after the act. Years back I counselled a top CAN leader to reduce his frequent visits to Jonathan’s Presidential Villa. Rather than take heed, he took advantage and reported me to the powers-that-be, knowing I was RCCG pastor. But not long afterwards, his plane reportedly got entangled in South Africa. Remember? The vibrancy and potency of a voice that sent shivers down the spine of enemies, as well as a sorely-needed masculine advocacy, dimmed. He is yet to recover. Elijah, who had called down fire from heaven, ran before Jezebel! Who knows what will become of Osinbajo after this time out?
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