The vicissitudes of life have a way of transforming even weak booster stations to major stations. There lies the importance of the office [of Vice President].
Kingsley Ozuomba Mbadiwe (KO), the late colourful nationalist and politician, had a style in word use and life that remains inimitable. Beyond the bombast, Mbadiwe also had a natural flare for coining words and expressions that were apt and pungent at instances. Asked once about his take on the office of Vice President, the man from Arondizuogu virtually dismissed the office, saying it was no more than “a booster station of a major station”. KO’s definition may not actually be contemptuous of the office of Vice President, considering that he had sought to be Vice President at some point prior to giving his classic definition. He must have aspired to be a booster station when it became obvious that becoming the major station was not feasible.
Even as the office of Vice President is only a breath away from the presidency, many in various countries and settings have at various times cast the Number Two position in less than colourful hues. Unfortunately, many Number Ones, their spouses and their inner circle of power wielders have not helped matter by wittingly or unwittingly holding their respective Number Two in low esteem. In fact, in the United States of America, Mr. Lyndon Johnson, who was President John Kennedy’s Vice President, was a virtual outsider in the government and was held in deep contempt by the President’s wife, his influential younger brother and Attorney-General, Robert Kennedy, and the power caucus in the Kennedy presidency. When President Kennedy was assassinated, his entire inner circle seemed at once grief-stricken as they were baffled that Lyndon Johnson was now their President.
It was not quite different from what transpired under President Umaru Yar’Adua with Vice President Goodluck Jonathan. Jonathan was forlorn for as long as the Yar’Adua presidency ran. He too found himself down the road, becoming President, to the consternation of those who just could not believe their eyes. For vice presidents and many on the sidelines, the lesson is clear: you don’t write off a Vice President. The vicissitudes of life have a way of transforming even weak booster stations to major stations. There, in these lessons of life and in the womb of fate, beside whatever supporting role the Constitution assigns to the office of Vice President, lies the importance of the office. It could literally be transformed overnight to something else. For society at large, the assignment is for it to pay attention to the substance of a candidate for Vice President. You just can never say.
Spiro Agnew, the highly maligned and suspected Vice President to US President Richard Nixon, may have been driven by frustration to express the self-deprecating view that the office is designed substantially for such assignments as representing the President at funerals. It certainly cannot be that morbid. Some vice presidents have been known to be luckier and more involved. Circumstances or different dispositions of their principals have been known to offer reasonable leeway to some vice presidents. That was the case with
Atiku Abubakar in the first term of the Olusegun Obasanjo presidency. He was not only in the thick of things, he substantially ran the show. Let’s forget the second term for now. Vice President Yemi Osinbajo cannot also complain, at least going by what the public sees. Osinbajo has even functioned as a major station at some point in time, with a reasonable power-generating capacity.
Last Friday’s vice presidential debate organized by the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) once more offered reasons both for such debates before elections and for good choices for that office. The place of the Vice President on a presidential election ticket can be crucial, if not at the elections, somewhere down the line. You just never know.
The vice presidential debate last Friday featured five candidates. The criteria used by the Elections Debate Group to select the number for the outing is not known here. Suffice it to say that the pruning was necessary and reasonable. Expectedly, the candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), incumbent Vice President Osinbajo, and the main opposition party’s candidate, former Governor Peter Obi of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) were the main deal for the night. They justified their rating by their knowledge of the issues and delivery. Their differences and disputation over policies were expected. Osinbajo, who is a fluent speaker, found a match in Obi, who is a statistics wonk and a forceful debater no less. They surely would have clashed more if the moderator had not reined them in effectively.
Of great interest in the squaring off of the vice presidential candidates at the debate was the performance of Young People Party’s candidate, Umma Getso. The young lady simply inserted herself in the equation and succeeded by her carriage, manifest intelligence and delivery in calling attention to herself and her party. She was impressive. Let’s hope she does not exit the political scene after this time-out. As for the other two candidates from Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) and Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN) let it be said for records that they were also there.
Whatever the percentage of Nigerians who watched the vice presidential debate, so much about the exercise makes further case for such debates before elections. Whether majority of voters follow the debates or not, the truth is that the need for those who aspire to occupy prime offices in government to validate their credentials before an appropriate panel remains necessary. The argument that such debates do not win elections and are, in the main, elite games organised to entertain themselves may also not be valid. Make no mistake about it, governance remains an elite undertaken in all societies. With all due respect to the ideologues who once espoused (or still espouse) opposite views, the fact remains that government of the proletariat or the masses remains, to all practical purposes, an expression of idealism that has not meaningfully materialised or thrived anywhere, not in Nigeria, anyway.
There is no doubt that parties whose candidates performed so pathetically in such debates before the world will strive next time to do better and select persons with better pedigree and potential. As for the contention that a good debater does not a good performer make, let it be said that there is yet no evidence anywhere that poor ability to debate or communicate good policies translates into strong capacity to perform on the seat. What is poor is poor and what is good cannot be poor.
Such insight and entertainment as the vice presidential debate offered last Friday help democracy not only to grow deeper root in the society but also to acquire some finesse and flair necessary for a 21st century democracy to thrive. Who needs a Vice President who does not know what foreign policy is all about?