Politics of godfatherism: Nigeria nemesis
GODFATHER is a word that has been used in different ways by different people to describe a sponsor of a child to infant baptism as done in many orthodox churches in Christendom who would serve as guardian in nurturing the child. There is the 1969 novel ‘The God father’ written by Mario Puzo, which was subsequently adapted to a blockbuster film titled The God father. It is also used to describe sponsors of loyalists to political positions in government under some terms and conditions that may include but not the least, financial settlement.
In all these definitions, the word ‘sponsor’ appears to be recurring and when we look at the positive perspective of it, there is nothing wrong for one to sponsor or to be sponsored for a political position in government especially if the key interest is to render good service to the masses. It is also re-assuring if the process of emergence of the candidate is transparent and widely acceptable. Here the godfather can be described as a guardian, mentor and strong supporter to his godson, working for him to succeed.
As ideal as the assertion above appears, it is clear that practically it is mainly the opposite that applies. Nigerian politicians always find ways of subverting the collective interest of the people to their own advantage especially in favour of their chief sponsor (the god father). Party structure and constitution in some cases are tampered with by these big untouchable men who command so much influence.
Godfatherism is a nemesis that has bedevilled Nigeria political system for a long time since independence. The first perceived instance was the nomination of Abubakar Tafawa Balewa as the Prime Minister of Nigeria by Ahmadu Bello (a godfather and Premier of Northern Region). This act subjugated our communal and national rights to the dictate of a remote personality and group of people around him. Godfatherism has been associated with many negative outcomes and little or no positives in Nigeria. It has worked in opposite of the basic principle of leadership which is supposed to be derived on merit. It promotes mediocrity, as those put forward by the godfathers, as candidates for elective positions are in most cases not the best out of the millions. Many are incompetent, bereft of ideas and hardly work towards the interest of the masses.
After the elections of 1999 and a couple of years gone by, it has dawned on many Nigerians that the serving president and some of the governors in some states were handpicked by godfathers, and the electorate only fulfilled their selfish interest by going to the poll to legitimise the scheme. Our voting was of little importance as they relied heavily on rigging for result. How did we come to know about this? Of course when the loyalty and peace of the polity are no longer as they used to be and in some cases, money and other ancillary positions are no longer dictated by the godfather and so on, with a resultant schism, power struggle and confessions, it becomes clear that we have been fooled again.
A case that comes to mind is the political struggle between the erstwhile godfather in Anambra State and his former governor godson. The godfather and cohorts wielded so much power and influence on the machinery of governance in the state at that time. The bid, or otherwise, to carry the godfather along and satisfy his demands almost brought Anambra State to its knees. The state government almost became bankrupt with salaries of teachers, pensioners, etc being owed for more than six months. It was a disaster and the tenure of the Governor in question eventually ended perceptively on a negative note.
At the expiration of that godfather’s reign, the power shifted to a relatively unknown group. The Presidency started this infamous style of contracting the control of the political party machinery of the ruling party in any state to an internally approved loyalist who in turn became the godfather of that state. In Anambra case, the job of the new winner of the godfather contract services was to successfully handpick candidates for the governorship, federal and state legislators as well as make nominations for federal or national appointments, state commissioners and the choice of portfolios they would occupy, etc. For this contract, the executor and chief operating officer was the infamous godfather-in-chief and his protégé working in the presidency that was the unseen hand moving the pawns on the chessboard of Anambra State. The godfather successfully executed the contract and had boasted once that he singlehandedly installed the governor of Anambra State, and the members of the state House of Assembly. It is needless to write about the rigging system that was in operation at that time. It is important to note that in all these ventures, the interest of the people of Anambra State was of little importance. The key interest remained to have a strong grip on the government of the state through any means necessary that included intimidation and oath taking. The godfathers manipulated the whole Anambra government system to their advantage with the perceived tacit support of the Presidency.
Nevertheless, after a while the relationship went sour due to the inability of the godson to honour their allegedly agreed contractual document (if it existed) or put in another way, a gentleman’s agreement that was easily deniable. The main point of disagreement we later came to know was over an allegedly huge sum of money in the tune of about N3 billion that the godfather demanded. The same godfather, it was claimed, had asked for N10 million monthly as money agreed with his predecessor the then military governor of the state as statutory payments for contract executed. What a ridiculous demand and selfishness. While the impasse lasted the godfather applied all the powers necessary at his disposal to attempt to cow the renegade godson. It all fell through. Having exhausted all means to whip the godson into line, the godfather and his protégé decided to crash the vehicle by voluntarily announcing that the election that brought the godson to power was rigged by them. At the end PDP lost the governorship to APGA and the rest is history.
Similar godfather’s overbearing influence was played-out in many other states such as Oyo State (Lamidi Adedibu vs. Rasheed Ladoja 2003-2007), Kwara State (Olusola Saraki vs. Mohammed Lawal), Rivers State (Harry Marshal vs. Peter Odili), Abia State (Orji Uzor-Kalu vs. T.O Orji), Enugu State (Jim Nwobodo vs. Chimaroke Nnamani; Chimaroke Nnamani vs. Sullivan Chime, (Uba vs. Mbadinuju and Uba vs. Ngige in Anambra), e.t.c. While the above mentioned are concentrated in the respective states of origin of godfathers and godson, however the case of Bola Ahmed Tinubu, which initially started as a lonely seed planted in Lagos (with eventual retainership of Lagos State and emergence of Raji Fashola) however latter grew to cover the whole of South-Western Nigeria and beyond. Even Governor Segun Mimiko of Ondo State benefited somehow from Bola Tinubu during his pursuit and eventual legal victory at the courts.
At the national level, it is a combo of godfatherism and cabalism that operates using everything possible including ethnicity to entrench their selfish interest. Obasanjo’s emergence as president of Nigeria in 1999 was under the support and sponsorship of some notable ex-generals and elite mainly from the North. The basis for the choice of Obasanjo was to assuage the bad feelings of the South-West over the raw deal the zone suffered and death of Moshood Abiola the winner of June 12, 1993 election on the one hand and on the other hand because the North as the vaunted kingmaker said it was Obasanjo they could trust.
After Obasanjo has settled down and consolidated in power, he took the godfather politics to another level of impunity and carelessness. His style was more of military command kind of control. It was sheer show of power and control over virtually everything political and government. Needless to say that election during Obasanjo’s tenure under Prof Maurice Iwu’s independent national electoral commission was a disaster as attested to by all observers, local. Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was foisted on Nigerians through that disastrous election.
Conversely, on a positive note, Bola Tinubu and Babatunde Fashola’s godfather/godson relationship brought a seemingly positive outcome to Lagos State because Fashola did not disappoint both the godfather and Lagosians and that to me is wisdom.
The key question remains: Where does the masses come in, in the whole political and electoral equation? Arguably, Nigerians are docile and extremely patient, or put in another context, of shallow memory and repeatedly easily deceivable by their political leaders. The godfathers know how to play games with our obvious sentiments of ethnicity to their own advantage and to our collective disadvantage. In all these instances of the past, we have refused to learn, grow and develop ourselves.
One easy way possible to take our destiny in our own hands is to revise our electoral system and build fraud controls into it such that would expose and fling out potential cheats and abuses, that’s if and only if, the law enforcement agencies and judiciary are compromise-proof. My suggestion is to design an electronic counter machine that will allow us to vote electronically and give us results in real-time. That means, if I go to the polling station, I would simply press a button under which party I want to vote and the counter would record in iterative manner and in real time the total sum of votes per candidate per voter and on the big electronic board displays on real-time the result. It will subsequently automatically print two slips of evidence with your face on it, one for the voter and one for INEC. Since party agents, electoral officers, peoples, police etc are within sight in polling units and everybody could see the number of people on the polling booth it would be difficult to rig the vote by repeatedly pressing the button, neither would the machine be carted away because the machine is networked. This would eliminate the electoral frauds that do happen between the times of closure of voting and declaration of result. Even electoral staff would find it difficult to cheat if the result is on real-time. As an extra check, a human scanner that could also count should be installed at the entrance of the polling booth just like the one that counts cars at the tolling gate. Remember that option A-4, which was introduced by Prof Humphrey Nwosu was based on a real-time counting of numbers of people who queued for each candidate of a party of their choice; and everyone knew the result for each polling unit instantly. However, in the method I am suggesting, it is you and the electoral machine under the watch of electoral officers, police and the electorate that matter.
In summary, it is important to reiterate and let’s not forget that our horrible electoral experiences so far are not unconnected with the activities of godfathers and poor electoral structures. If the electoral system is robust, it should give the electorate power to choose the right candidate irrespective of which interest the candidate represents. In my opinion, the masses would make fewer mistakes in choosing their leaders compared to when a godfather or cabal does the selection on behalf of the people.
•Chukwuemeka Oranye, V.I., Lagos.