Multiple ex-govs turn godfathers, unsettle governance in states
The toxic politics of godfatherism is taking roots in several states nationwide. Despite institutionalising hefty pension cuts for their lifelong hubris, the ex-governors-turned-kingmakers are not letting go of levers of control cum power, and a reason sitting governors are steadily looking over their shoulders. While the godfathers are feeding fat or fighting for the same under the guise of ‘loyalty’, often caught in the ‘you-chop-I-chop’ democracy are the people that expect so much of good governance but are grossly underserved, SEYE OLUMIDE reports.
Nigerians have watched in awe how the political class fight dirty in the game of thrones. Except for the cast, the plot is the same from one state to the other.
It unusually starts as one big happy family of common interest for all. The ‘godfather’ shows up with an anointed candidate from the fold, which silences all other aspirations. In turn, he gets loyalty and royalties that risk reducing the benefactor to the status of a puppet.
Sooner or later, pride, greed, or both creep into the mix to unsettle the subtle ‘criminal enterprise’, and the political dynasty is in turmoil.
While it is not new in Nigerian democracy, the rise of multiple godfathers and groundswell of internal political conflicts across states should be troubling.
The rising desperation of godfathers and their so-called wayward beneficiaries is increasingly affecting good governance in most states as decisions are mostly taken to satisfy the interest of the kingmakers.
Today, new state governors are retaining the commissioners and other political appointees who worked with their predecessors-turned-godfathers. Others take daily briefing from them and even suspend state functions, including cabinet meetings, whenever the ‘godfather’ comes to town!
In the mix, across the board, is a conflict of interest between the general will of the people and that of the ruling elites.
Know your governors!
A recent research carried out by the Human Rights Watch, entitled: ‘Corruption, Godfatherism and the Funding of Political Violence,’ indicated that the last general polls produced more godfathers in the polity than before. Technically, all the immediate past governors that anointed and curry victory for their successors have joined the league of reigning godfathers.
In the aftermath of the 2023 election, former governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el-Rufai, emerged as the new political godfather in the state by ensuring that his former aide and preferred candidate, Uba Sani, emerged as his successor.
The incumbent has since paid back by renaming one of the most popular streets in the Kaduna metropolis, Rabah Road, after his godfather. Governor Sani even retained some political appointees, who served under el-Rufai’s administration.
Immediate past governor of Rivers State and the new Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Nyesom Wike, is another godfather produced in the last general elections. Wike ensured that Siminalayi Fubara succeeded him. The new governor has promised to continue with the leadership style of his godfather and build on his achievements.
Wike, who was just announced as minister, said he would not disturb Fubara, but at the same time he would not allow the governor to let him down. Fubara served under Wike as the Accountant-General of Rivers State.
In Delta State, the immediate past governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, who was the running mate to the presidential candidate of the PDP, also used his influence to ensure Sheriff Oborevwori succeeded him in office. While Chief James Ibori, another godfather, preferred Olorogun David Edevbie to succeed Okowa, the immediate past governor had his eyes fixed on Oborevwori.
The new Delta helmsman has since pledged to build on the legacy of his godfather. Oborevwori also recently gave approval for the naming of the Old Lagos-Asaba Road after his immediate benefactor. Okowa is now considered the new political godfather in the state, alongside Chief Ibori, who has been holding sway for about 24 years.
The story is not different in Kebbi State, where the immediate past governor, Atiku Bagudu, bankrolled and ensured Nasir Idris of the APC emerged as his successor. Bagudu is said to be indirectly calling the shots and determining who gets what in the state.
For the first time in the political history of Nigeria, the incumbent governor of Akwa Ibom State, Umo Eno, in an unreserved show of loyalty to his godfather and immediate successor, Udom Emmanuel, reappointed all cabinet members that served under Udom Emmanuel.
The trend is also prevalent in the Southeast region, especially at the governorship level since 1999. The five states of Abia, Imo, Ebonyi, Enugu and Anambra states have experienced and continue to have their fair share of politicians and money bags dictating the mode of succession.
One of the major reasons for this bordered on the desperation of the godfathers, to indirectly control the affairs of government or close their tracks to certain atrocities they might have committed while in office. It is alleged that some even subject their godsons into oath takings and written agreements to gain support.
In the beginning were godfathers
Recall that the Fourth Republic, which started in 1999, has produced notable numbers of political godfathers more than ever. And they have been shaping governance and politics within their respective states and at the national level.
Notably, President Bola Tinubu, is acclaimed the most influential political godfather in the current dispensation. ‘The Lion of Bourdillion’ is perhaps the most consistent politician, who after leaving office as governor of the economic capital in 2007, has allegedly continued to exert a firm grip and control of the politics of the state, if not the entire region. To him belongs the lot of anointing those who rule the state as governors, its senators and a large number of members of the Federal House of Representatives.
The majority of the 40-member Lagos State House of Assembly are routinely at his beck and call since 1999! Recall that Tinubu ‘installed’ former governors, Babatunde Fashola, Akinwunmi Ambode and the incumbent, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Beyond Lagos, he supported Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola (his former commissioner in Lagos), as governor of Osun State and bankrolled the court case that brought the former Minister of Interior into power as governor. Tinubu was also instrumental to the emergence of former Governor Adegboyega Oyetola, though to Aregbesola’s chagrin and ejection from the dynasty.
As the grandmaster of godfathers, Tinubu was also the brain behind the victory of Dr Kayode Fayemi in Ekiti State, just as he supported former governor of Edo State, Senator Adams Oshiomhole.
His loyalists in Lagos composed an anthem in recognition of his political powers, “On your mandate we shall stand, on your mandate Bola, on your mandate Bola, on your mandate we shall stand”, meaning that nobody gets political appointment or elected in the state outside Tinubu’s political structure.
Former governors of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel (PDP), Ibikunle Amosun (APC), had at one time or the other tried to play godfather in the state but failed.
Aregbesola also wanted to emerge as the godfather to his successor, Oyetola, the move split the party, derailed Oyetola and eventually cost APC the last gubernatorial poll in Osun State.
Former governors of Ekiti and Ondo, Ayo Fayose and Segun Mimiko also attempted to play the role of godfathers at one time or the other when they used the state resources to foist their godsons as gubernatorial candidates against the popular choice of their party, and PDP eventually lost both states to APC.
Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, at different times in 2003, played godfather role to some elected governors leveraging his federal might, not only on his party but also in the general elections.
The 2003 and 2007 polls were regarded as poorly conducted elections in the country. The consequences of Obasanjo’s godfatherism disposition are believed to have led to dangerous manipulation of the electoral body, the security agencies, judicial process and violence.
The immediate past president, Muhammadu Buhari, former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Defence, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, former Minister of Information in the First Republic, Chief Edwin Clarke, Chief Chris Uba in Anambra State, Chief Tony Anineh popularly known as “Mr. Fix It”, former governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, and a former governor of Kano State, Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso, have also played godfatherism roles at different times.
In Abia State, the godfathers had held sway in the past 24 years, where they dictated the pace of governance, starting with Senator Orji Uzo Kalu, who became the governor in 1999. Kalu served for eight years and anointed a successor in Theodore Orji. They later parted ways.
Orji anointed his successor in Okezie Ikpeazu. Ikpeazu also wanted to plant his successor but for the incursion into the politics of the state in 2023 general elections that brought on board the Labour Party (LP) governor, Alex Otti.
Imo State has, however, manifested a different scenario. The struggle by politicians has diminished the hold of godfathers in the politics of the state.
Former governor of Anambra State, Chinwoke Mbadinuju, became the first victim of godfatherism in the region when he could not gain a second term ticket, following his inability to keep to faith with the agreement he entered with his godfather, Chris Ubah, when he came to power in 1999. Ubah in his stead adopted Chris Ngige to succeed him.
Ngige also became a victim of the syndrome, and he was abducted from government house through the instrumentalities of his self-styled godfather and moved to a hideout, where he was to be pressured to sign and resign from office. But intervention by the Federal Government restored him to office.
In Enugu State, the trend has continued. After Senator Chimaroke Nnamani became governor by the support he received from his erstwhile godfather, Chief Jim Nwobodo, he moved to ensure that he planted his successor in Sullivan Chime in 2007. Although he fell out with Chime later, Chime however, saw to the emergence of Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi in 2015. Ugwuanyi after eight years worked for the success of the incumbent governor, Peter Mbah, who he single-handedly picked from the PDP.
For Ebonyi State, former governor, Sam Egwu, ended his tenure in 2007 and planted a successor in Martin Elechi. Elechi, however, failed to plant his successor and his deputy, Dave Umahi, manoeuvred his way, snatched the ticket and later became the governor.
Umahi planted his successor, Francis Nwifuru, who of course, was the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, throughout his tenure as governor.
Politics of you-chop, I-chop
Despite the prevailing economic crunch and poverty, 17 two-term former governors (among the 18) would be entitled to humongous statutory pensions and other perks, including mansions, luxury cars, allowances, security, and vacation. Yet, these states, and Zamfara combined, owe 42.5 percent of N5.33 trillion total domestic debts of the 36 states and the FCT, and 38.34 percent of $4.45 billion of their combined external debt.
Comparatively, the total combined Internally Generated Revenue of the 18 states was N275 billion in 2021, according to the National Bureau of Statistics.
Notably, state assemblies have been toeing the precedence first set by the Lagos State House of Assembly in 2007 when it passed a law authorising a sickeningly generous retirement package for the then governor, Bola Tinubu, now the president.
Explaining the impacts of godfatherism in Nigerian democracy, a don and former Commissioner of Transportation in Lagos, Bamidele Badejo, said the conflict arising from godfatherism has become one of the greatest problems facing Nigeria’s political landscape.
He said the crime of privilege often turned elected public officers to stooges of their godfathers, and by the time the godson refuses to meet their (godfathers’) demands, he is eventually impeached from office or denied a return ticket. Governance at the state level always suffers whenever crisis ensues between the godfather and his political son.
He added that politics of godfatherism does not only portend great danger to Nigeria’s democratic experiments, but also to the very essence and validity of our existence as a nation.
He said: “The billions of naira expended by Nigerian godfathers for bankrolling the elections of their godsons have totally monetised elections, which automatically disqualifies men of honour, character and integrity from holding elected public positions.
“It has also encroached into spheres of the Nigerian polity. It is, therefore, suggested that godfatherism should not be treated as a party affair, but should be offered political, social and legal treatment by the government and the stakeholders,” he said.
Speaking on how to minimise negative effects of godfatherism in Nigerian politics, Chairman Arewa Youth Consultative Forum (AYCF), Yerima Shettima, warned that the development could ruin the country and not just its democracy if it is not checked. He suggested total overhauling and political restructuring of the nation if godfatherism politics must stop.
A human rights lawyer, Dr. Femi Aborisade, said godfatherism would soon take the country to its doom with the dimension it took in the last elections.
He said: “The first thing is that the problem of godfatherism is not only in politics, it also affects all the facets of Nigeria’s sector even in the religion circle. We should just agree that it is leading us to a system collapse and very soon we shall feel its dangerous impact. The solution is that politics should not be monetised. There should be a constitutional provision to forbid anybody from inducing others with money during elections. Poverty must also be eradicated while elected officers should be paid based on minimum wage.”
A lawyer, Goody Uwazurike, said godfatherism politics in Southeast is so bad to the extent that those behind it no longer bother about the feelings of the electorate.
He lamented how the development has compromised the security agencies, electoral umpire, and the judiciary. He said: “Godfathers only need a stooge to present for elective post; his duty is to compromise the necessary institutions including the judiciary. It doesn’t matter if the election counts or not.”
He suggested independent police, independent electoral bodies, judiciary and the need to address prevalent poverty in the system.
He also warned Nigerians about the incumbent National Assembly, which he described as godfather-selected lawmakers “I doubt if it can be independent.”
A former lawmaker from Rivers State, Bernard Mikko, also expressed doubt whether godfatherism in Nigeria politics can stop unless something is done to address the prevailing state of poverty among the masses.
“Poverty has corrupted the minds of Nigerians such that people do not believe that independent struggle can lead to a positive outcome in elections,” he said.
A stalwart of National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), Fred Agbeyegbe, said godfatherism started in Nigeria under the leadership of fathers of independence, the late Sadauna of Sokoto, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, who adopted Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, the first prime minister of the country as his godson. Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alhaji Aminu Kano and a few others.
Agbeyegbe said these were the first set of political godfathers, but they are benevolent in nature compared to what is obtainable now. “You can hardly get elected during the First Republic without the endorsement of these people, but yet they are miles apart from the ones we have today.”
Agbeyegbe said the syndrome may be difficult to eradicate because there is a semblance of it in what President Tinubu has just done in the appointment of his ministers and the election of the principal officers of the National Assembly.
A scholar and author, Tunde Temionu, said the thought of eradicating godfatherism in the context of human endeavour should be forgotten. According to him, it is not possible because it is part of our religion, culture and even ways of life in Nigeria. “Research has proven that there are no facets of Nigerian society you don’t find the concept of godfather and godson.
“As long as poverty remains prevalent and most politicians believe that public office is an easy way of making money and not necessarily to serve, contestants will always need a godfather to bankroll their elections and they will owe him their loyalty and allegiance when they get into power,” he said.
An Election Operation Consultants, Oluwole Aguda said: “The concept of godfatherism has gone through socio-political evolution globally. It is only presented differently depending on the political context. In Nigeria, for instance, it connotes control as opposed to structured guidance, which promotes development that obtains in other parts of the world.”
He said godfatherism thrives because elective politics is a huge capital-intensive venture. He said: “In the last general elections, you needed a minimum of N21 million to collect Expression of Interest forms for some elective offices in major political parties. It went as high as N50 million and N100 million in some cases and so, one is faced with a complication I call ‘unbaked idealism’ where idealists who are perceived to be competent to run elections are unable to participate because they do not possess the financial muscle for such.
“Many therefore resort to help offered by persons perceived to be capable of meeting the funding gaps of electioneering, under terms which many think is stringent.
“In a nation where the minimum wage is still N30, 000, the capacity to express interest by the average Nigerian is almost foreclosed. So, the transactional nature of godfatherism in Nigeria is the main challenge in my opinion.”
He said eradicating godfatherism will entail extensive social change. “The cost of elections in Nigeria is too high. There is no regulation capping certain expenses. INEC will have to eliminate the high costs of participating in elections in Nigeria, which is a driving factor for godfatherism,” he said.
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