The problem of godfatherism in Nigeria’s political space is a chronic one and has consequently slowed down the country’s democratic progression. The idea of democracy is hinged on the free will of the people in electing their political leaders, and where such “free will” is manipulated through the influence of political juggernauts, the country is further pulled away from the attainment of best democratic practice.
Sadly, most politicians see political godfathers as the most convenient means of winning elections. However, experience has shown that the patronage of political godfathers has grave consequences, not only for the politician, but also for the public and the stability of the country itself.
For over a week, Nigerians were inundated with news of fracas between former governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike and the incumbent governor, Sim Fubara over political superiority in the state.
Yes, Fubara, who was the accountant general of the state during Wike’s tenure as governor was not an active player in Rivers politics. He won the People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) primary election and eventually became the governor of the state through Wike’s political sagacity and influence.
Given previous occurrences, many knew that the ‘father and son’ relationship between the duo wouldn’t last. However, what was surprising was the suddenness of the rancor between them; barely six months of Fubara’s assumption of office as governor.
The crisis between Wike and Fubara became public when the Rivers State House of Assembly attempted to commence impeachment proceedings against the governor. Majority of the state lawmakers, said to be loyal to Wike, all played key roles in the emergence of Fubara as governor. The state lawmakers, as part of their moves against Fubara, had suspended the House Leader, Edison Ehie, and other three lawmakers – Victor Okoh (Bonny Constituency), Goodboy Sokari (Ahoada West Constituency) and Adulphus Timothy (Opobo/Nkoro Constituency), said to be the governor’s loyalists.
Speaking to his supporters when the crisis was at its peak, the governor assured the people of the state of delivering the dividends of democracy to them.
“Let them come out and tell Rivers people the offence I have committed to warrant any impeachment.
“Let me assure the people of Rivers that I will continue to ensure that you get the dividends of democracy. At the appropriate time I will address the press,” he said.
Wike, who is now the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), after a meeting with some PDP governors in Abuja, accused Fubara of hobnobbing with his political adversaries.
“You cannot work, and people will begin to bring enemies; those who fought you when you were struggling for the person to be in office. Nobody does that,” he said.
The former governor, who denied that he was seeking financial gratification from his successor, suggested that Fubara was trying to take control of the PDP structure in Rivers.
“I am not a political ingrate but don’t touch the political structure of the state. I will not shut my eyes,” Wike said.
Also, while receiving South-South leaders at his office, Wike emphasised the importance of holding his base to maintain his political relevance.
He maintained that once he loses his base as a politician, he has lost his relevance politically, further explaining that no amount of campaign of calumny against him would make him lose sleep as the right thing must be done.
“All of us want to be politically relevant; all of us want to maintain our political structure,” the minister said.
“Is it not your political structure? Will you allow anybody to just cut you out immediately? Everybody has a base. If you take my base, am I not politically irrelevant?”
The mêlée between Wike and Fubara was not the first in the history of political godfatherism in Nigeria. A similar fight between Peter Obi and Willie Obiano in Anambra State also occurred. The then outgoing governor Obi sought out his friend, Obiano, a banker as himself, from the same bank, to take over from him. They were said to be the best of friends and Obi apparently believed that he would follow in his footsteps as governor. He campaigned vigorously for him and he won. But as soon as the euphoria of Obiano/APGA victory died down and the new governor settled down at Government House, Awka, cracks began to appear in their relationship. They began to trade accusations and counter accusations. And as the crisis deepened, Obi opted out of APGA and decamped to the PDP.
In Osun State, former Minister of Interior, Rauf Aregbesola, was visibly elated at the swearing-in of his successor, Gboyega Oyetola, who was his Chief of Staff during his time as governor. He also played a significant role when the battle shifted to the law courts, up to the Supreme Court. However, no sooner had Oyetola settled down in office than the relationship turned sour.
A similar scenario played out in Oyo State as the late “strongman of Ibadan politics”, Adedibu took on his godson, Governor Rashid Ladoja, over allocation of money and political appointments, just as the late major power broker in Kwara State, Dr. Olusola Saraki, squared up against his godson, the late Governor Lawal Mohammed.
In Enugu State, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, rode on the political horseback of Chief Jim Nwobodo, who was the governor of the old Anambra State in the Second Republic from 1979 to 1983, to become governor in 1999. Unfortunately, the godfather-godson relationship did not last for a long time. No sooner had the governor been sworn in than they fell out.
In Benue State, the rift between George Akume and Samuel Ortom began when the latter reshuffled his cabinet and removed members of Akume’s camp. The governor retained four commissioners and seven advisers who were not affiliated with his predecessor.
After 48 hours of sacking the commissioners loyal to Akume, he fired the Executive Chairman of Benue Internal Revenue Service (BIRS), Mrs. Mimi Adzape-Orubibi, and his Urban Development Board counterpart, Richard Agwa, who were close associates of Akume. The crack in their relationship widened when the Speaker of the Benue State House of Assembly, Terkimbi Ikyange, said to be loyal to Akume, was impeached.
In Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole, now a senator, literally made life hellish for the then Deputy Governor of the state, Pius Odubu for daring to eye the governorship seat. His stamp of authority paved the way for Godwin Obaseki to emerge as governor. But Obaseki and Oshiomhole soon turned to political enemies, resulting in the former’s exit from the All Progressives Congress (APC). To date, Obaseki and Oshiomhole have yet to bury the hatchet.
Also, Theodore Orji, whom former Abia State governor, Orji Kalu, catapulted to the governorship of the state while in prison, had cause to fall out with the latter. They are yet to reconcile and occasionally shade each other in media spaces.
Ahead of the 2023 general election, the feud between former Kano State governor, Rabiu Kwankwaso and his then long-time political ally, Abdullahi Ganduje, whom he picked as his choice of successor and ensured his victory at the polls in 2015, had degenerated to such an abysmal level such that Ganduje stamped his feet on a poster bearing the image of his political benefactor.
In Lagos, former governor of the state and now the President of the country, Bola Tinubu, remains the de facto godfather of Lagos politics, having stamped his authority on who occupies the Oval House since he left office in 2007.
Cross Rivers State equally recorded a semblance of the patron-clientele relationship that took a nosedive on the altar of political gerrymandering. Both Donald Duke, and his successor, Liyel Imoke, went their separate ways after the change of baton at the Government House.
Speaking with The Guardian on the persisting culture of godfatherism in Nigerian politics, Associate Professor of Political Science, Lead City University, Ibadan, Dr. Tunde Oseni, said godfatherism could be both positive and negative, stressing that in the Nigerian context, it is more negative because it is being used as a tool for political patronage.
He explained: “If godfather A puts godson B into power, and they have some agreements on what they will be doing for each other when the godson gets into power; the moment the godson realises that what the godfather has demanded is something that is either not realistic and that he might not be able to perform in office if he keeps to the agreements, he may want to go the other way different from that of the godfather. That is where issues usually start.”
He stated that with the way political godfatherism is played in Nigeria, democracy is endangered, noting that when fracas between godfathers and their godsons take place, which of course happens almost immediately the godson takes oath of office, service to the people is usually hampered.
Oseni added: “There will be political instability as we are seeing in Rivers State and as we saw in Oyo State when Chief Lamidi Adedibu was the godfather to governor Adewolu Ladoja. The fracas between the godfather and godson usually result in some kind of political instability, and instability itself is not good for democracy even though democracy cannot be 100 per cent stable all the time; but there is a difference between political stability and democratic disagreement.
“If the godfather and the godson agree, there will be poor service delivery because it is about patronage and what should go to the people goes to the godfather. But if they don’t agree, it’s ironically possible that there will be instability because the godfather will explore all means to unseat the godson or to make the godson uncomfortable.
“You remember in 1999 when governor Ngige was abducted by his godfather, Ubah; and you also remember the impeachment of Governor Ladoja in Oyo State by forces loyal to godfather Lamidi Adedibu. So, once you have these negative tendencies of godfatherism, democracy will suffer.
“At the positive level, it should be about mentoring; it should be about counselling; it should be about exposing the godsons to the rudiments of democracy or politicking. But in most cases, it goes beyond that. Therefore, the line between positive and negative godfatherism is so thin that we don’t always see the positive side of it and the negative side of godfatherism are always negative for democracy.”
National Publicity Secretary of the Youth Party (YP), Ayodele Adio, stated that the clandestine leadership recruitment process of godfatherism couldn’t be described as democratic.
“To that extent, it is destructive to encourage blatant godfatherism in any constitutional democracy. Sadly, several governors have made such attempts to transform themselves into godfathers, and in many cases have failed. The reason is simple: power is only exercised on behalf of the state and such powers reside in the office and not necessarily the individuals, hence the maxim when you leave power, power leaves you.
“And so when the so-called godsons get into office, they quickly realise that the state and the office they occupy confers them with executive powers without a second level approval. This reality liberates them from their godfathers and soon makes them protagonists.
“The implication, however, is that extrajudicial means are typically employed to fight these battles, which desecrates and vulgarises our democratic institutions. In many cases, violence is deployed and citizens are put at risk. The danger is that democracy dies when non-state actors can employ extrajudicial means to remove a democratically elected leader in a bid to settle a personal score or to pursue a self-serving interest,” Adio said.
On his part, president of Yoruba Council Worldwide, Are Oladotun Hassan, stated that the system of political godfather and godson would continue to impede development and lead to breakdown of law and order.
He described as undemocratic the manner in which sitting governors position their cronies or loyalists to take over from them, saying such attitude is a means of bastardising democracy
“Most times, these are consolidation of extension of tenure, because the godfather seems to take advantage.
“It is very important to clarify that the constitution does not allow or place recognition between political godfathers’ handing of batons to their political godsons under the guise of continuity or consolidation or anointed political boys,” he noted.