Recurring patterns of discord and power struggles give a loose description of Nigeria’s intricate political history since the return of democracy in 1999. One area where this is often apparent is in the relationship between state governors and their deputies, which can easily swing from cordial to frosty.

Recently, Philip Shaibu was removed from office as Deputy Governor of Edo State following accusations of perjury and disclosure of state secrets, even though he has denounced his impeachment as a “dictatorship”.

But Shaibu is not alone on this journey. At least 17 former deputy governors are confirmed to have been removed from office since the country’s return to democracy in 1999, having found themselves at the mercy of political tides, often characterized by disagreements with their principals or allegations of insubordination.

Chief Iyiola Omisore, who served as the deputy governor of Osun State alongside Governor Bisi Akande, holds the distinction of being the first deputy governor to face impeachment following the cessation of military rule in 1999. The Osun State House of Assembly adjudicated him culpable of violating his oath of office and engaging in a conflict of interest. The legislative body took issue with Omisore’s decision to initiate legal proceedings against the government concerning a $1.5 million contract. Furthermore, he was charged with the unauthorized disclosure of confidential government information.

Around the same period, Senator Koforowola Bucknor-Akerele, the Deputy Governor of Lagos State from 1999 to 2003, was removed from office. It is widely believed, however, that she stepped down following the presentation of an impeachment notice. She recounts that her conflict with the then-Governor Tinubu arose over a proposal to wrest control of the Alliance for Democracy (AD) party from its founding elders – a move she opposed.

On June 23, 2005, the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly removed Chris Ekpenyong from office as the Deputy Governor. However, within a week, he was permitted to resign. Ekpenyong’s removal is believed to have been a result of his decision to support incumbent President Olusegun Obasanjo during the PDP presidential primary in January 2003, contrary to Governor Victor Attah’s directive to back Obasanjo’s opponent, the late former Vice President Alex Ekwueme. It was also rumoured that Attah sought to remove his deputy to clear the succession path for his son-in-law, Udoma Ekarika, for the gubernatorial seat in 2007.

Up until his tenure ended in September 2005, Abiodun Aluko served as the Deputy Governor of Ekiti State. During his first term, Governor Ayo Fayose faced allegations of orchestrating the impeachment of his deputy. The Ekiti State House of Assembly conducted an impeachment process where they found Aluko culpable of 16 different charges. These charges, according to the legislators, constituted sufficient legal basis to warrant his removal from office.

Nearly one year later, in October 2006, the political conflict between President Obasanjo and Governor Fayose escalated, impacting Mrs. Biodun Olujimi, who had succeeded Aluko as the Deputy Governor of Ekiti State. Amidst the tensions, Governor Fayose fell out of favour with President Obasanjo, leading to significant pressure on the Ekiti State House of Assembly to initiate impeachment proceedings against both the governor and his deputy. Consequently, an overwhelming majority of the assembly members, 24 out of 26, voted in favour of finding the governor and Mrs. Olujimi guilty of various charges.

The impeachment of former Lagos State Deputy Governor, Femi Pedro, in 2007 was initially due to his rejection of Tinubu’s preferred gubernatorial candidate. After defecting to the Labour Party to run against Tinubu’s endorsed candidate, Babatunde Fashola, Pedro faced impeachment. However, in a turn of events, the Lagos State House of Assembly, during a plenary session in December 2015, overturned Pedro’s impeachment. This decision came after an eight-member Ad Hoc Committee, established on July 2, 2015, recommended revisiting the impeachment proceedings. The House expressed its confidence in Pedro, officially exonerating him and stating that the impeachment charges were not linked to any criminal activity.

August 2009 saw the ousting of Alhaji Garba Gadi as the Deputy Governor of Bauchi State following a rift with Governor Isa Yuguda. The discord stemmed from Gadi’s refusal to follow Yuguda’s lead after the latter switched allegiance from the ANPP, the party under which they were elected, to the PDP. In response, the state House of Assembly, acting on the governor’s directive, initiated impeachment proceedings against Gadi, which resulted in his removal from office. However, in a turn of events, the Bauchi High Court reinstated Gadi in June 2010, ruling that he should receive his due entitlements.

Peremobowei Ebebi, once a prominent figure in Bayelsa State’s political arena, experienced a dramatic shift in fortunes following a fallout with Governor Timipre Sylva circa 2010. Initially, Ebebi wielded significant influence as the Speaker of the Bayelsa State legislature, where he facilitated the impeachment of Governor Diepreye Alamieyeseigha. In a twist of political reward, Ebebi became the Deputy Governor under Alamieyeseigha’s successor, Goodluck Jonathan.

Upon completing the term alongside Jonathan, Ebebi continued in the same capacity under Governor Sylva. However, his increasing clout became a point of contention, leading Sylva to orchestrate Ebebi’s impeachment with the backing of two-thirds of the House of Assembly members. This political manoeuvre seemed decisive until an Appeal Court in Port Harcourt overturned the impeachment approximately eight months later, decreeing Ebebi’s reinstatement to his former position.

In October 2012, the Taraba State House of Assembly impeached Sani Abubakar, leading to Alhaji Garba Umar assuming the role of deputy governor. The political landscape shifted when Governor Danbaba Suntai was incapacitated due to an air accident, prompting Umar to step in as the Acting Governor. This arrangement persisted until November 2014, when a Supreme Court ruling terminated Umar’s tenure and reinstated Abubakar to his former position.

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Jude Agbaso served as the Deputy Governor of Imo State until his tenure ended in March 2013. He made headlines when he contested Governor Rochas Okorocha’s eligibility for a second term, referencing a pre-existing accord that limited Okorocha’s governance to a single four-year term. This bold move led to a dramatic impeachment process in which 25 out of the 26 state legislators voted in favour of his removal. However, subsequent legal proceedings overturned this decision, ruling that Agbaso’s dismissal was unlawful and should be considered null and void.

In August 2014, the political landscape of Enugu State witnessed a dramatic turn when the House of Assembly, under the influence of Governor Sullivan Chime, impeached Deputy Governor Sunday Onyebuchi. The impeachment followed the redundancy of Onyebuchi’s office, leading him to undertake poultry farming within the Government House premises.

The ousting of Onyebuchi was laden with irony. Approximately a year prior, during Governor Chime’s absence due to health reasons, there were purported attempts by Enugu’s political elite to invoke the doctrine of necessity to depose Chime in favour of Onyebuchi as governor. Onyebuchi, however, is said to have declined these advances. Upon his recuperation and return to governance, Chime orchestrated the removal of his deputy, a move seen by many as a public humiliation.

In April 2015, Alhaji Ali Olanusi’s tenure as the Deputy Governor of Ondo State came to an abrupt end. The political landscape was charged just days before the 2015 presidential election when Olanusi switched allegiance to the All Progressives Congress (APC), much to the chagrin of Governor Olusegun Mimiko. Mimiko, who had previously transitioned from the Labour Party (LP) to the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), had anticipated that Olanusi would mirror his political movements.

The fallout from this defection was swift. The Ondo State House of Assembly, disregarding an active court injunction that ordered a halt to such proceedings, proceeded to impeach Olanusi. The legal battle that ensued culminated in March 2017, when a court ruled the impeachment as unlawful and reinstated Olanusi’s position. However, the ruling was a hollow victory for Olanusi, as his official term alongside Mimiko had by then concluded.

In 2018, Professor Hafiz Abubakar stepped down from his role as Deputy Governor of Kano State amid accusations of allegiance to Senator Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso, who was in conflict with the sitting governor, Abdullahi Ganduje, at the time. Citing ‘irreconcilable differences’ in governance and administrative practices, Professor Abubakar tendered his resignation on August 5, 2018, signalling an end to his tenure in office.

In another notable incident of political discord leading to dismissal, Simon Achuba, the former Deputy Governor of Kogi State, was ousted following a fallout with Governor Yahaya Bello at the time. The Kogi State House of Assembly proceeded to depose Achuba on October 18, 2019, despite the absence of substantial justification for his removal. This action was later overturned by the High Court in Lokoja on February 27, 2020, which ruled the impeachment as unlawful, invalid, and without any legal standing.

The year 2022 saw the Oyo State House of Assembly remove Rauf Olaniyan from his position as the deputy governor. The political alliance between Olaniyan and Governor Seyi Makinde, which began in 2019 following their joint election under the PDP banner, gradually eroded. The rift widened considerably after Olaniyan switched allegiance to the APC in 2022. Subsequently, he faced accusations of gross misconduct, culminating in his dismissal from the deputy governorship.

Mahdi Aliyu Gusau, the erstwhile Deputy Governor of Zamfara State, faced removal from his position following his decision to uphold a political stance divergent from Governor Bello Matawalle. Initially ascending to the governorship amid the APC’s internal turmoil in Zamfara, Matawalle notably became the state’s first governor elected under the PDP banner. Subsequently, Matawalle switched allegiance to the APC, persuading the majority of the PDP’s apparatus to follow suit. Contrarily, Gusau elected to remain with the PDP. This act of political defiance prompted the House of Assembly to initiate a swift trial, culminating in his ousting within a mere week.

A healthy majority of the instances highlighted above may seem to be connected by one single factor: loyalty, or the perceived lack thereof. But whether the impeached deputy governors listed above are guilty as charged or not, the reality is that the entire process often tends to destabilize the polity and raises certain questions, such as to what extent deputies can or should express independence within their roles.

Political analysts opine that in a system where the deputy is expected to be the governor’s staunchest ally, any deviation from this unwritten rule can be politically fatal. They argue that the political culture in Nigeria, which places a high premium on loyalty, often sees deputy governors walking a tightrope between supporting their governors and maintaining their own political identities and aspirations. They add that the situation may call for a more thorough exploration of the roles and protections of deputy governors across the 36 states of the federation.

As Nigeria continues to evolve its democratic institutions, pundits say the balance between loyalty and the rule of law remains a critical area for constitutional and political reform.