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Nigerian politics and the scourge of godfatherism: The unintended consequences

Nigerian politics and the scourge of godfatherism: The unintended consequences
October 06
15:02 2018
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The journey to the political demise of the governor of Lagos state Akinwunmi Ambode has been titivating and salacious, bitter and sweet. The former because, if it’s a plot or storyline in a Nollywood movie, it would be a blockbuster. And the latter, because it’s a devastating real life event capable of emotionally ruining the victim just as it is quite exhilarating for the benefactor.

Today, Gov Ambode of Lagos state is the victim and Jide Sanwo-Olu is the beneficiary. But who knows who would be the next to politically kiss the dust in the unfolding fluid and weird political comedy in Nigeria .

Before proceeding further, it is apropos that we first define the  concept of a political Godfather in its most base and banal form  practiced in our country.

A godfather is a juggernaut that offers his structure for the emergence and sustenance of a political featherweight in pursuit of a political office. Notably, as a state governor.

In other spheres of life, particularly in the business world, such a process which is tantamount to offering a protege a ladder to climb to the top of a business empire could pass off as help rendered by a mentor to a mentee.

This is underscored by the fact that the ascension of a prepared protege to the top echelon in the corporate world could be part of a well executed succession plan. Such is the stuff that business sustenance strategists recommend to forward thinking ventures and if well executed,would be applauded by stakeholders of the firm who would deem such an effort as a veritable way of protecting the equity of the firm to guarantee its prosperity.

But in the political firmament, the initiative of planting in office of a surrogate with no political weight, as president or governor, is simply an egregious way of perpetuating self in office by a political gadfly after the constitutionally allowed  tenure is over.

On rare occasions, a wealthy individual or individuals could hijack the political machinery in a state by plying the operators with money in order to achieve his/their objective of planting a puppet that would do his/their bidding.

Such political skulduggery happens even in advanced democracies like the USA where a nefarious crime organization like the MAFIA was believed to have propped up into office John Fitzgerald Kennedy to become, the 35th president of the United States of America , USA, from 1961-63.

It is alleged that the assassination of the charismatic JF Kennedy was a fallout of his involvement with the MAFIA who would stop at nothing in ensuring that agreements made with them are kept with fidelity as the consequences of violation is death by assassination.

The belief may be dismissed by some as being in the realm of conspiracy theory.

But in the equally dark world of politics which is more often than not only a shade or two less seedy than the underworld, anything can happen, so the hypothesis may have some merits .

In Nigeria, we can draw a parallel in the case of Chris Ngige who became the governor of Anambra state at the behest of Chris Ubah, a money bag  from 2003-6.

It is alleged that when Ngige failed to fulfill his obligations in terms of allocating slots for political appointments and release of funds to his godfather to enable him recoup his financial investments that facilitated the emergence of his godson as governor, Ubah allegedly took some drastic measures to enforce the ‘contract’.

As the story goes, Ngige was dealt with in a MAFIA style , perhaps not to eliminate him as was allegedly the case with JF Kennedy in the USA, but to serve as warning that a worse calamity could befall the godson if he breaches the ‘contract’ in the future.

The Anambra state political fiasco  is the first time in the annals of Nigerian politics that a seating governor, would more or less be kidnapped and locked up in a toilet in govt house by his godfather.

The Ngige godfather mess is followed closely by the case of the strongman of lbadan politics, Lamidi Adedibu, whose grandson, Adebayo Adedibu.

The late Adedibu’s showdown with  his political godson, Rashidi Ladoja whom he, singlehanded, installed as  the Gov of Oyo State in 2003 and got him impeached in 2006 is a classical case that grabbed national attention like the current imbroglio between Bola Tinubu and Akinwunmi Ambode.

The instant case which is a typical example of Godfatherism gone sour,  validates the philosophical truism, history always repeats itself.

Legends have it that the Godfather, Adedibu popularly known as the strong man of lbadan politics had demanded 15% of the Security Votes of the gov be paid to him and a sizable number of proposed cabinet members and other appointees into lucrative political offices be also allotted to him, which his godson, Adedoja  spurned.

Consequently, Gov Ladoja was impeached by Oyo State legislators at the prompting of the political henchman and godfather, Adedibu.

In the course of the face-off, it may be recalled that then PDP chairman, Ahmadu Alli had instructed the embattled Gov Ladoja to comply with the instructions from his godfather, Lamidi.

By and large, failure by the Godson to comply with the instructions of his godfather nailed his political coffin.

As the saying goes, nothing new happens under the sun, so the cold treatment meted to Ambode in Lagos has happened in the past in Ibadan and Enugu.

Curiously, the Godfather syndrome in politics is more predominant and better sustained in the south than in the northern political environment.

From Zamfara to Kano and to Sokoto, each time outgoing governors installed their surrogates, their godsons have been known to have picked up the gauntlets against their Godfathers  , in some cases, as soon as they mount the throne of power.

Take the case of Governor Aminu Tambuwal versus Aliyu Wammako in Sokoto state. Both the Godfather and son are currently embroiled in a duel  and although the spat would have some consequences on Tambuwal’s presidential ambition, it has not restrained him from trying to liberate himself from what can be described as political slavery also known as godfatherism.

Also consider the internecine war between ex Kano state Gov Musa Kwankwaso and his successor, Abdullahi Ganduje.

The feud is so fierce that Kwankwaso was at a time barred from stepping his foot into Kano which is the capital of a state that he governed twice.

That is in spite of the fact that Kwankwaso personally picked and installed the incumbent Gov. Ganduje as a successor.

The gesture of facilitating the emergence of Ganduje as governor is simply owed to the fact that he  had been a long term associate of Kwankwaso whom he had earlier served as chief of staff when he was the minister of defense and as his deputy when he was Gov of Kano state twice.

Despite the long political association, Kwankwaso and his godson, Ganduje are now engaged in a war of attrition.

A comparable political blowout between a godfather and godson in the south east is the case of Willy Obiano, the current Gov of Anambra state and Peter Obi, the immediate past Gov of same state. Basically , the narrative is that Obiano, a former executive director in a bank where Obi has  substantial interest was virtually imposed on Anambra people as Governor by Obi.

However, no sooner than Obiano clinched the ticket  in the governorship contest, did he part ways with his benefactor. Whether the rift was premeditated or a spontaneous fallout of divergence in leadership philosophy by both the incumbent and predecessor remains shrouded. But what is known is that Obi the Godfather challenged his godson Obiano in a governorship election contest by backing Osekoka Obazee and he was given a bloody nose by Obiano, the political Lilliputian of yore, who had quickly acquired enough political muscle to disgrace his erstwhile boss.

Had Obiano not taken the unusual path of repudiating the ‘contract’ of servitude to his Godfather immediately he assumed office , perhaps the Chris Ngige and Chris Ubah experience could have been re-enacted.

Going by the success of the Obiano formula, my advise is that politicians aspiring to office and hoping to accomplish the objective by riding on the platforms of godfathers should drink from the fountain of political wisdom in Obiano’s school of political triumphalism.

In the same breath , potential and existing Godfathers should endeavor to learn a lesson or two from the sordid experiences of the likes of Peter Obi, Musa Kwankwaso and a host of other ex governors who have been betrayed or alienated by their successors that  have turned out to be their worst traducers.

As earlier highlighted when Godfatherism is put in the context of the corporate world , it’s closest approximation would be mentorship or surrogacy which is not intrinsically or inherently negative.

It’s only absurd when the mentor has the hidden agenda of extorting from the mentee selfishly and in exploitative manner.

That throws up the issue of the types of godfathers.

Generally, there are two types of godfathers:(1) tyrannical and (2) benevolent.

Tyrannical Godfathers,  as the name implies, are more or less like leaches.

They do nothing else but suck the blood of their godsons (and by extension the states resources)like vampires. They want to have their kleptomaniac hands in the treasury tile as well as have a vice grip on the political structure.

In most cases they exhibit the traits of blackmailers who are insatiable and are often resisted by their godsons, if the insidious behavior persists.

Sometimes if they rebel early enough, the outcome could be positive as has been the case with Obiano and disastrous, if they tarry in rebelling by waiting until the 11th hour as reflected by the sad experience of Ladoja in Oyo and Ambode in Lagos, they remain shackled and could be disgraced out of office.

On the flip side are the benevolent Godfathers.

The current Gov of Borno state, Kashim Shettima who has exhibited the rare characteristics of a denying himself the pleasure of selecting a successor for selfish interests, would be an exemplar of a benevolent godfather.

The narrative is that Shettima rose above sentiments in arriving at who would be his successor as the governor of the religious insurgency ravaged north eastern state.

The outgoing Gov’s decision to push the candidacy of Babagana Zulum, his Commissioner Incharge of infrastructure and rehabilitation of insurgency ravaged compatriots over and above his relatives and friends in govt to clinch the governorship ticket is basically, selfless and noble .

Before Kashim who is now a prospective godfather, there was

James lbori of Delta, Bola Tinubu of Lagos, Bukola Saraki of Kwara, and Adams Oshiomhole of Edo states who are still enjoying the patronage of their hand picked successors.

Ibori, Tinubu and Saraki’s influence over their successors and ability to retain and maintain their political families (since 2007, in the case of lbori and Tinubu as well as 2011, with respect to Saraki) may be dependent on their motives. If they are not overbearing on their protégées, the outcome maybe different. However,if it is for selfish reasons rather than altruistic, there is bound to be crisis.

For lbori, his interest is not for pecuniary purpose. Rather, it is in fulfillment of his personal pledge to Deltans that power would rotate around all the three senatorial zones of the state. For Tinubu, it may be for the purpose of maintaining the hegemony modeled after the order of the sage, Obafemi Awolowo of blessed memories.

For Saraki, it is an inheritance from his father, the late Olusola Saraki, nicknamed Oloye, who was once the senate leader and strongman of Kwara politics.

In Oshiomhole’s case, it is probably too soon to jump into conclusion that his influence in Edo can be sustained as the relationship is still at infancy, compared to the Ibori effect in delta and Lagos which have been sustained for nearly 12 years and still waxing strong, as well as the Bukola Saraki factor in Kwara which is about to hit the eight years mark on top of his late father, Olusola Saraki’s dynasty.

And given the present schism between Godswill Akpabio, the Godfather of Gov Emmanuel Udom in Akwa lbom state, it is clear to all that it is the nature of politics to unexpectedly stir up some gyrations and twists that often contort malleable stuff into evil shapes or brew concoctions like sour grapes that leave bad taste in the mouth.

In conclusion, the take away from the phenomenon of Godfatherism in Nigerian politics is:

(1) The outgoing Governors should wean themselves of the notion that planting a surrogate can guarantee a cover up of their corruption laden  tracks after their exit from power. The false hope that their successors would be covering up for them is a fallacy that has been proven over and over.

Even if the child of outgoing Govs are recruited as political successors, the end may turn out to be unsavory.

Cousins have been installed as governors , and they betrayed the trust.

The only family member that Govs have  so far not used as surrogate is  their wives.

In my considered opinion, even if President Muhammadu Buhari decides to install his wife, Aisha as Nigeria’s first female president at the end of his tenure, l can wager a bet that such outlandish decision would not have the anticipated cherry outcome.

That’s simply because it’s only a matter of time before the wife would rebel.

Some of us might have witnessed subtle revolt in one way or the other by our wives in our homes.

And we can also easily recall the first family’s exceptions to the poor condition in State House Clinic in Aso Rock villa.

First Lady Aisha’s open protest against the composition of members of Buhari‘ inner caucus is another pointer to how independent minded women can be.

Take the case of Melania, the First Lady of USA who against her husband Donald Trump’s negative comments about Africa and Africans is currently on a four nations tour of the African continent.

It may be recalled that she had  also not conformed with her husband’s policy of separating the children of immigrants from their parents which she took an umbrage against.

Following her condemnation of the inhumane practice of ill treating immigrant children and buoyed by strong public outrage, the policy was reversed.

The simple truth is that as human beings the tendency to quickly transit  from boys to men and from slaves to slave masters is high.

Life is replete with such histrionics as they are part of the immutable principles for survival.

For me, the ideal successor model should be Shettima’s noble example.

That entails making a decision to pick a successor in a process that is devoid of selfish , nepotistic or filial sentiments, but strictly based on proven competence of the candidate and in the best interest of the society.

And such a noble principle or ideology can only be sustained by governors who elect to do their utmost best to serve their people without blemish, so that by the time they leave office, they can sleep with both eyes closed as opposed to having one eye open to dodge anti graft agencies like the EFCC.  The fear of the EFCC is currently the worst nightmare of most, if not all the Gov’s from the class of 1999, when multi party democracy returned to Nigeria , till date.

Takeaway no (2) is that it is the politicization of the anti corruption initiative in Nigeria and indeed Africa that’s driving and sustaining the hideous practice of Godfatherism.

Why should a sitting president seek to nail his political opponents by hook or crook and as such try to hasten the process of law which is traditionally slow?

In my view, those president’s who use the law enforcement agencies like the EFCC, DSS and the Nigerian Police Force, NPF, to intimidate or coerce their opponents, do more harm than good to society by trying to play God.

If the existent laws are allowed to take their course without a sleight of hand, the proverbial long arm of the law would eventually catch up with its contraveners. This is evidenced by the case of Joshua Dariye, the governor of plateau state , 1999-2007 and Jolly Nyame, Governor of Taraba state from 1999-2007 who were recently jailed for corrupt enrichment while in office.

Although, their crimes were committed about fifteen years ago, they were only convicted and jailed in the past one year.

That’s how slow the legal system works,  but politicians detest it and as such tweak the system to hasten the process of justice and such perfidy has consequences .

It’s no longer a secret that Politicians , particularly in the presidency that control crime prevention and law enforcement agencies stop at nothing in ensuring that their opponents are incarcerated, so that they could gloat over their conquest and the misery of their victims which is vendetta, pure and simple.

By manipulating the laws to hasten the indictment of opponents as was allegedly the case with ex president Olusegun Obasanjo, OBJ who used the EFCC very capriciously to punish Gov’s opposed to his militaristic style of leadership and president Muhammadu Buhari, PMB who allegedly in gestapo style, arrested and arraigned high ranking members of the bench and bar, overtly in furtherance of the anti corruption war under his watch, but covertly a way of brow beating the judiciary to do its bidding, feeds the monster of Godfatherism.

Obviously, it is in trying to be some sort of demi-gods hell bent on punishing offending political opponents , that OBJ and PMB inadvertently inspire Govs to plan on how to plant surrogates to cover up their mess after their exit from office .

Such actions and reactions remind of the African fable about Eneke the bird , who said that as hunters have learnt to shoot without missing its target, it has learnt to fly without perching.

The truth is that the notion by governors that they will be shielded by surrogates when they exit is illusionary. That’s  because once there is a paper trail of financial activities, especially in these days of BVN, it will always be there for crime prevention and law enforcement agencies to scour in the future for infractions.

So the bottom line is that good governance, (not only as reflected by public officers not enriching themselves by dipping hands into public treasury) but also by being equitable, unbiased and just in discharging governance responsibilities is the real panacea to security agencies headaches after office .

In the current disposition, governor Shettima of Borno state epitomizes the worldview of a godfather without the intention of continuously exploiting the state like somebody who puts a straw in a container of smoothie solely to keep sucking it perpetually.

In some states where tyrannical Godfather syndrome persists, the governors are mere puppets being played by the puppet masters with respect to how the state’s finances are managed or mismanaged, as well as to whom political favors like contracts are dispensed .

In such instances, the governors are shackled by Godfathers who wield overwhelming influence.

Concerned citizens can figure out by themselves which states fall into what category .

In the states where the Godfathers are benevolent, the governors are largely independent and suffer no let or hindrance in executing their mandate such as appointments of competent people into office or deployment of funds to contractors based on merit.

That’s opposed to governing by proxy which is the hallmark of states where Godfathers are responsible for appointments into public offices and no contracts are awarded without the consent of the Godfather.

The home truth is that Godfatherism hobbles governance  because when the funds or resources that are supposed to be used for development of services and provision of infrastructures for the good of all are diverted to the Godfathers as political patronage, the society suffers.

In conclusion, democracy in Nigeria has been undergoing evolution not revolution.

Change aficionados will attest to the fact that change via evolution is better than the type obtained via revolution.

After the return of multiparty democracy in 1999, the craze in politics was the threat of impeachment, ballot papers/boxes snatching , connivance with electoral bodies at both national state levels,to the use of dangerous weapons like guns to achieve victory by hook or crook .

There were also the challenges of internal democracy as reflected by imposition of candidates by nefarious party officials.

Some of these abnormalities have been reduced over the years through internal mechanisms like direct primaries instead of automatic tickets for candidates and the introduction of technology like card readers into the process of voting.

Some people are already advocating for electronic voting and  link up of Permanent Voters Cards, PVC  to BVN to maximize the integrity of votes.

Other aberrations like the bias of electoral bodies and law enforcement agencies in favor of the govt in power have risen to higher levels and thus constitute  potent stumbling blocks to further growth and development of democracy in Nigeria.

So today , it is the challenge of Godfatherism, vote buying and govt agencies conspiring to steal the mandate of the the masses that are mainly besetting our democracy.

Just like all the other ills , the evil of Godfatherism and vote buying as well as electoral and law enforcement agencies compromising the system will also pass away soon and in evolutionary ways .

Despite the warts, the twists and turns in our democracy, all Nigerians need to do as we approach the 2019 election season in the next few months, is to resolve to remain faithful in the practice of multiparty democracy which will soon attain a historic 20 years milestone of consistent and uninterrupted practice in Nigeria .

Onyibe, a development strategist, alumnus of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, Massachusetts, USA and former commissioner in Delta state, sent this piece from Abuja.

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1 Comment

  1. Imachukwu
    Imachukwu October 10, 13:05

    Kudos And Bravo #Magnus Onyibe,
    For This Piece Of Build Up, I Concur.

    Reply to this comment

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