Changing faces of godfathers in Nigerian politics
For two hours on May 29, 2003, the crowd of people that gathered at the Alex Ekwueme Square in Awka, Anambra State, for the inauguration of their newly elected governor, waited for the arrival of the man of the moment. The ceremony, which was scheduled to commence at noon, did not take off until 2 pm when many of the elder statesmen and important political figures were already visibly getting impatient.
Unknown to the waiting crowd, the elected governor, Chris Ngige of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who barely two months earlier had defeated his main rival, Peter Obi of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), was in the forests of Okija, putting finishing touches to the deal that allowed his emergence “before the gods.”
The new governor got the support and finances of his godfather, Chris Uba, a PDP chieftain and financier, in being picked as the candidate of the party to replace the lame duck Chiwoke Mbadinuju whose one-term administration caved in under heavy criticism amid allegations of undue influence from certain quarters.
Barely two months after his inauguration, Ngige, apparently having failed to honour the agreements reached in the “irrevocable standing payments order” with his godfather to hand over 60 per cent of all financial allocations for the state, was abducted and forced to sign a letter of resignation that ceded power to his deputy.
The letter was presented to the House of Assembly which, acting under the influence of the godfather who also bankrolled the election of majority of the members, quickly accepted the resignation.
Like two gangs of thieves fighting over a stolen item, the peace of the state was completely shattered and Nigerians got insights into how the godfathers manipulate the electoral system to deprive the electorate the power of choosing their preferred candidates.
Ngige however fought to reclaim the office through the courts, which declared the resignation documents null and void but the battle between the godfather and the godson continued to reverberate in the state with the invasion of the Government House and destruction of properties, several attacks and assassination attempts on the governor and his eventual sack by the judiciary, which restored the stolen mandate to Obi.
Even with Ngige out of the way, Obi also suffered the consequences of the earlier actions as he too was impeached in controversial circumstances that had all the imprints of a bigger godfather from the seat of power in Abuja who looked the other way when the Uba took illegal control of the machinery of government.
The late strongman of Ibadan politics, Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu was not referred to as the Garrison Commander for nothing. He had a standing army of armed hoodlums made up of largely members of the notorious commercial drivers’ unions who, like criminal gangs, live big on extorted money and by doing dirty jobs for politicians at election times.
Adedibu, who had been around the scene since the First Republic as an enforcer reputed to have broken the doors of the Western Region parliament during the Akintola/Awolowo face off, was a grassroots politician that knew the importance of stomach infrastructure by providing endless meals of Amala and Gbegiri soup, the delicacy of the Ibadan people, after which his brand of politics is also named, for the impoverished population, long before the term became fixed with Ayodele Fayose, the Ekiti State governor.
During the Second and aborted Third Republic, Adedibu became the link between aspirants seeking votes and the electorate and from there grew to become a powerful godfather that determined who got what in the politics of Oyo State. Of course, there were always prices to be paid for getting into office through him, which sometimes could be through dubious and violent means.
With the return of democracy in 1999, when the famished political class got another opportunity to take control of governments, the tribe of godfathers increased particularly when Nigeria’s political system laid emphasis on rewards for office holders. The terrain became flooded with unscrupulous personalities whose main aim in seeking political offices was putting their hands in the till and the godfathers were there to offer assistance and protection that must be paid for from the peoples’ commonwealth.
But sometimes when the godfather demanded more than necessary or the ward wanted an out, like it occurred during the Ngige saga, the electorate gets to know the extent of the dubious arrangement that were clearly contracted to rob the people and the electoral system of their rights to vote and have dividends of democracy.
Another of such was recorded on January 12, 2006 when Adedibu, after providing a platform of support for the emergence of Rashidi Ladoja as the governor of Oyo State, arranged for the governor to be impeached by less than the number of legislators needed to carry out the act. His reason was that Ladoja reneged on an earlier pledge to submit a substantial part of the “security vote” to service the union.
The impeachment, which was upturned by the courts which reinstated the governor almost a year after, was said to have been carried out by hoodlums, allegedly with the support of the presidency of Olusegun Obasanjo, which gave them cover and immediately recognized the illegal action.
However as Nigeria’s democracy continues to evolve, a new tribe of godfathers, different from pure political contractors like Uba and Adedibu, has emerged from former office holders whose interest lies mainly in covering their tracks and maintaining their relevance in the scheme of things.
These set of godfathers, mainly former executives who helped their successors into office, may not be as daring as the contractors who are not hiding under any guise to demand for return on investments, but they have almost the same effect on the polity.
At the national level, Obasanjo was such a key factor in the election of the joint ticket of late Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan that a presidential jet conveying Yar’Adua’s wife, Binta and his aged mother, was dispatched to Lagos to specially convey the appreciation of the Yar’aduas to the former president, a development that is similar to the first official duty of Christopher Alao-Akala, which was to prostrate before Adedibu at the inauguration venue, minutes after being sworn-in as the governor of Oyo State in 2007.
There is also the tendency for this tribe of godfathers to seek territorial expansion outside their political enclaves to not only to further strengthen their base but to also assume more relevance in national politics.
An example of this in former Abia State governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, who under the Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA) platform, was instrumental to the emergence of Ikedi Ohakim as the governor of Imo State in 2007 even though he had also played the same role in the election of Theodore Orji, his former Chief of Staff (COS), who was the poll while in prison, as the governor of his home state.
In the same vein, former Lagos State governor and National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Bola Ahmed Tinubu, had that same year, also chose his COS, Babatunde Fashola above more politically exposed persons and influenced his emergence as the governor.
But unlike Kalu, who could not go beyond Imo, Tinubu has succeeded in spreading his political tentacles to all the six states of the Southwest geo-political zone and even farther as he played a very prominent role in the election of President Muhammadu Buhari whom he also gave another godson in the person of the Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, his former Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice.
In Kano State, former governor, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso handed over power to his Deputy-Governor for two terms, Umar Ganduje as the governor while in Anambra, Obi was all over the campaign grounds soliciting supports for incumbent Willie Obiano as the governor.
It is the same story in Akwa Ibom State where former governor, Senator Godswill Akpabio was key in the election of incumbent Udom Emmanuel while the same scenario also played out in Edo where Adams Oshiomhole was the chief campaign manager to his successor and incumbent governor, Godwin Obaseki.
In Kwara State, incumbent Senate President and former governor, Bukola Saraki was instrumental to the choice and election of Abdufatah Ahmed in a contest where he took on his biological father and political godfather, Oloye Olusola Saraki who preferred to have his (Bukola’s) sister, Gbemisola, also a former Senator, as the governor.
In all these and many others across Nigeria’s political landscape, the bond of between godfathers and their wards, which in Sarakis’ case is even stronger than family ties, is mainly linked to loyalty and ability to continue “the good works” of their predecessors, which to political observers is only a ploy to have some level of control after leaving office.
Such is the allure of ensuring a loyal successor in Nigeria’s politics today that determining and ensuring transfer of power to the person, has become a measure of political success and assurance of post-tenure peace and protection among elected executives.
The altercation between former governors and incumbents in states like Ekiti, Ondo, Rivers and to some extent, Lagos, is seen as a fallout of the failure of the predecessor to install the successor.
Incidentally and as evidence of the dynamism of Nigerian politics, many predecessors who installed successors lose the control they sought as the incumbents refuse, for reasons that may border on creating one’s own space, to do the bidding of their godfathers. Instead they too seek to create new empires of godsons who, in the fullness of cycle, may turn out to disown them.
Before the 2015 presidential elections, the enmity between Obasanjo and Jonathan, whose emergence he ensured as president, was at such lows that the duo engaged in ‘unpresidential’ open correspondence that almost brought the high office to ridicule.
In Rivers State, former governor, Rotimi Amaechi was an aide to erstwhile governor Peter Odilli under whom he served as the Speaker of the House of Assembly for two terms. When the two parted ways in the preparations for the 2007 elections, Amaechi found a new loyalist and ally in Nyesom Wike who he nominated as a Minister and whose emergence as governor in the last election, he unsuccessfully opposed. In the ensuing bitter politics, the politics of the state, in the last two years, has been reduced to the crisis between a godfather and an estranged godson.
Like Rivers, Kano Stare has almost been turned into a political battlefield between Kwankwaso and his former “loyal and consistent deputy,” Ganduje and the crisis, which almost consumed the Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, may change the course of the state’s politics in the next elections.
In the Southwest politics, the alleged attempts to whittle down the powers and influence of Tinubu in national politics are said to be as a result of his estrangement with his godsons who have now found new godfathers at the presidency.
In many instances across the country, incumbent godsons are all out to disgrace their benefactors but a solution seems to have been found to the problem; leave the incumbent to perform with minimal interference.
Oshiomhole seems to have imbibed this when he said of Obaseki, “I am not the state; I am only one out of about four million Edo people. So his obligation and his loyalty should be to the people of Edo State. The oath of office he is going to subscribe to, says that he will defend the constitution of Nigeria, he will do everything to uplift the quality of life of Edo people. Nothing in his oath of office will include ‘I shall not betray my predecessor’ because I have no interest to be betrayed.”
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