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How beneficial are godfathers to Nigerian politics?

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On Thursday, July 2, 2020, I was a guest of the Nigerian Television Authority Yoruba programme called, “Ojumo ‘Re”. The topic of discussion that day was “The role of godfathers in Nigerian politics”. That got me thinking and I decided to research more and do this piece on the phenomenon.

Merriam Webster online dictionary defines a godfather in the following terms: “A man who sponsors a person at baptism” 2: “One having a relation to someone or something analogous to that of a male sponsor to his godchild: such as a: one that founds, supports, or inspires; b: the leader of an organised crime syndicate.” 

Invariably, when adapted to the field of politics, a godfather could be said to be one that founds, supports, or inspires. Godfathers whether in religious, business or political terms are generally very influential and powerful. They are the typical “Very Important Personalities”. Strikingly, not all godfathers run for political office or seek political appointments. Some of them are contented being the “kingmakers” who sponsor political protégés to the political throne.

Political godfatherism is not only a Nigerian phenomenon, it is also not limited to a clime or creed. Many political gladiators or chieftains from the First Republic through to the current Fourth Republic can be regarded as godfathers. It is apt to classify Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Aminu Kano, Chief J.S Tarka as some of the notable godfathers of Nigerian politics in the First Republic. Some of them like Awolowo, Zik, Aminu Kano joined by Oloye Olusola Saraki who was the Senate leader in the Second Republic rank among notable godfathers in the Second Republic. During the aborted Third Republic, the National Democratic Coalition better known as NADECO and Afenifere leaders such as the first Executive Governor of Oyo State, Chief Bola, Ige, Pa Abraham Adesanya, Pa Alfred Rewane and Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu came out strong as the political godfathers in the South-West politics. They determined who got what, when and how in the South-West politics.

In Fourth Republic which started in 1999, we have seen a former political protégé, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, emerging like a colossus since his stewardship as governor of Lagos State in 2007 to becoming a political godfather not only Lagos but also in the South-West and indeed Nigerian politics. Other political godfathers of note in this Fourth Republic include former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Defence, Gen. T.Y Danjuma (retd,), 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, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso. The list is by no means exhaustive.

Why did I categorise these gentlemen as political godfathers? These are people who determine the political barometer in their states, geopolitical regions or national politics. They are very influential, successful businessmen, former political office holders and very powerful. Take for instance Oloye Olusola Saraki of the blessed memory. He was a former leader of the Nigerian Senate in the Second Republic. He was reported to have backed Alhaji Adamu Attah to become the governor of old Kwara State in 1979. When they fell apart as is wont in cases of political godfathers and godsons in Nigeria, Oloye moved to back Chief Cornelius Adebayo in the race for the Kwara Government House in 1983. Adebayo won. From then, every governorship candidate that he threw his weight behind ended up being victorious at the poll. He was the one that backed Mohammed Lawal to victory and when he fell apart with him decided to make his own son, Bukola, governor of Kwara State and made his daughter, Gbemisola, a Senator. He succeeded. Unfortunately for Oloye, his son became his political nemesis during the 2011 elections as Bukola did not agree with his father to back his sister, Gbemisola, as the next governor after him. Oloye left the Peoples Democratic Party to form a new political party, Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, under which Gbemisola contested the 2011 election but lost to the governorship candidate of the PDP, Abdulfatah Ahmed, who was Bukola’s anointed candidate for the post.

Chief Lamidi Adedibu was referred to as the strongman of Ibadan politics. Though he was never elected into a political office, Adedibu was so influential to the point that former President Obasanjo and former chairman of the PDP, Col, Ahmed Ali (retd.) deferred to him and took sides with him against former governor of Oyo State, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, when the duo fell apart over the sharing of the state’s resources. He got the governor impeached by the lawmakers in a hotel room in Ibadan and for 11 months, Ladoja was in court before his mandate was restored. Adedibu successfully sponsored many candidates to office and was instrumental to the emergence of Ladoja and his successor, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala. He also made his son, Kamorudeen, a senator of the Federal Republic.

Like Adedibu, Chris Uba (Eselu) was never elected into any political office but boasted to be the “godfather of all godfathers” in Anambra State when he swayed the outcome of the 2003 governorship election for his godson, Dr. Chris Ngige. The godson later reneged on the alleged pact signed with his godfather and all hell was let loose as the godfather got the governor illegally impeached as well as allegedly sponsored three days of mindless arson on Anambra State. He was never brought to justice.

  In Kano, former Governor Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso reportedly sponsored many of his supporters in the Kwankwansiyya movement to electoral victory. He even backed his former deputy, Dr, Umar Ganduje, to succeed him. Unfortunately, he and the incumbent governor fell apart and his political influence in Kano politics greatly decimated.More in Home

Two former presidents on my list are worth discussing. Ex-president Obasanjo not only backed her daughter, Iyabo, to become a senator, he was also very instrumental to the emergence of the three presidents after him namely – Umaru Yar’Adua, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan and Buhari. Unfortunately, Obassanjo and the incumbent had parted ways politically. This happened ahead of the 2019 presidential election. Buhari himself is a godfather whom many of his godchildren used his political clout or influence to ride to political office either in elective or appointive positions. Tinubu earned the title of political godfather given his exploits since leaving office as Lagos governor in 2007. He was credited with the choice of his successors from Babatunde Raji Fashola to Akinwunmi Ambode and now Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Some of his political protégés include Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, immediate past and the current governors of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola and Gboyega Oyetola, among many others.

The question that naturally comes to the fore is, how beneficial have these godfathers been to Nigerian politics, governance and development? Not much. Many of them are more obsessed with personal agrandisement and expansion of their political empires. They care less about national, state or regional development agenda even though they constantly parrot it. It is mere lip service. The reason the relationship between godfathers and godsons doesn’t last is the attempt by the godfathers to micromanage their godsons. That apart, for backing them to victory, godfathers often make heavy demands on their protégés. They want plum political appointments for their other minions who depend on them for their political survival who also have to return certain favours to their political benefactors. They also want lucrative government contracts for themselves. However, so many political godfathers can be classified as benevolent dictators. They never do their political deeds for altruistic but selfish reasons.

The Human Rights Watch in a 2007 report entitled, “Corruption, Godfatherism and the Funding of Political Violence”, observed thus: “These godfathers are not mere financiers of political campaigns. Rather they are individuals whose power stems not just from wealth but from their ability to deploy violence and corruption to manipulate national, state or local political systems in support of the politicians they sponsor. In return, they demand a substantial degree of control over the governments they help bring into being—not in order to shape government policy, but to exact direct financial “returns” in the form of government resources stolen by their protégés or lucrative government contracts awarded to them as further opportunities for graft. Godfathers also require their sponsored politicians to use government institutions to generate patronage for other protégés

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