An emergent feature of politics in Nigeria is the phenomenon of godfatherism. The political class has been instrumental in propagating this political orientation which deliberately nurtures the corruption of the electoral process, governmental structures and equally ensures that the electoral process and state power are skewed towards satisfying the selfish interest of the dominant political mentors otherwise known as “political godfathers.” According to word on the streets, godfatherism has become a scary phenomenon in Nigeria politics.
Godfatherism has multiplicity of definitions. Godfatherism in a broad sense is an ideology which is constructed on the belief that certain individuals possess considerable means to unilaterally determine who gets party ticket to run for an election and who wins in the electoral contest. In other words, godfathers are men who have the “power” and “influence” to decide both who gets nominated to contest election and who wins in the election.
Godfatherism is the practice of political office seekers getting connected to an individual who is believed to have the ability to deliver desired outcome in an electoral contest. This is because; godfathers have sustained a reputation for deploying their wealth to secure party nomination for candidates of their choice, sponsor their elections including manipulating the electoral process for their selfish interest. This dominant political culture has not only been sustained by the privileged few but has become perverse and is today a major source of tension and political instability in the polity.
It is a political slave trade or political sponsorship based on political manipulation with several evil agenda. The godfather is the political slave merchant while the godson is the political slave or slave boy or political article for sale. The godson is purchased with big sum of money under a demonic oath. Their aims and objectives include appointments, stealing, robbery and looting of the government treasury. The decision-making appointments and contract award is usually also manipulated by the godfather. It is like drug abuse.
Often, the influence of the godfathers is only significant within the parties where they operate. However, in the event that a party controls the government, their influence equally radiates the electoral landscape of the entire political constituency and their support can secure electoral victory. There are some other notables whose influence transcends the political party. Hence, they are considered as political colossus in their various constituencies and are sought after by parties and candidates alike because of their ability to condition the electoral fortunes in favour of their perceived loyalists.
The origin of godfatherism in electoral politics could be traced to Chicago in the United States of America in the pre World War II era. It was within this period that the heads of criminal gangs sponsored politicians in elections, manipulated the results to get them elected in return, received protection and contracts from their godsons. It can be seen from this cryptic account of origin that the key defining characteristics of godfatherism in the USA and in Nigeria are broadly speaking, similar. That is, manipulation of election results by influential characters in favour of certain category of politicians.
In Nigeria, due to the overbearing influence of the political godfathers on political office seekers, the latter are robbed of their independence; thus they become mere surrogates and are conditioned in such a way that they become totally subservient to their godfathers.
The problem associated with the cancerous phenomenon is that Political parties lack the capacity to act contrary to the wishes and aspirations of these godfathers because they look up to them to bankroll their campaigns and to use their influences to see their candidates through elections. Their influences at certain points even overshadow the judiciary and court orders are seemingly not regarded.
Godfathers take advantage of the theory of the Mitchelian “Iron law of oligarchy” which is to the effect that power abhors vacuum and a leader often emerges to steer the course of any organization. The emergence of such powerful individuals or clique whittles down the prescriptive power of the organization and the powers of the oligarchy increase as the hold of the organization decreases. The emergence of the oligarchy signals the decline of party and the rise of impunity i.e. godfather. The oligarchy therefore survives if and when he is assured of the protection of misdemeanor.
Godfatherism is not a recent phenomenon in the Nigerian electoral politics. Contrary to widely held belief that it is a creation of the fourth republic, the phenomenon dates back to the 1960s when the first generation of Nigerian politicians through some constitutional arrangements, wrestled political power from the British who took their exit from the country on October, 1.1960. It is contended that the likes of Sir Ahmadu Bello, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe and Chief Obafemi Awolowo carefully cultivated godsons whom they believed would build on their legacies. Furthermore, he asserts that the chief motivation of doing so was not to use godsons as surrogates to promote parochial interest but to promote the developmental aspirations of the people. Therefore, a distinction between the first generation politicians and the fourth generation politicians has been established.
Back in the day, young politicians had to go under the tutelage of an experienced and elderly statesman to acquire the skill of governance and imbibe the charisma of his godfather as political ingredients in his career as a well groomed politician. For example, Chief Obafemi Awolowo mentored millions of Yoruba nationality without mortgaging the interest of the Western Region; Alhaji Ahmadu Bello and Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa mentored many northerners without extracting any economic benefits from the region; Sir Odumegwu Ojukwu mentored Honourable Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe who in turn groomed many younger politicians without using them as stooges (or state money-making-machines).
First generation godfathers were involved in the normative search for credible candidates by ensuring their behavioural values and antecedents are accepted before electing or appointing them into public offices but the fourth generation godfathers display “negative godfatherism”.
Godfatherism has eaten deep into the fabrics of our political and socio economic advancement. Our pioneer godfathers demonstrated healthy and positive godfatherism. They fixed their godsons based on merit. They never wanted to reap material rewards from the government, they helped to install but their common objectives where the promotion of party ideologies, peoples‟ welfare and caring leadership
The contention here is that godfatherism in the first republic was a noble venture as it set the stage for political mentorship. Godfathers of today see electoral politics as a huge investment opportunity with considerable promise of massive returns and may not hesitate to employ whatever means, legitimate and illegitimate tangible and intangible to actualize their goal.
Godfathers operate in Nigerian politics with impunity because of their immense influence. This scenario lays credence to the theory that godfathers manipulate electoral process to have their anointed godsons into public offices in exchange for protection and patronage.
The godfathers of today are selfish and deceptively philanthropic, they work for other people sometimes for exaggerated political recompense. They are not in the business of philanthropy. In fact it is the intention of the godfather to rule by proxy. Often times, godfathers are not qualified to hold office as prescribed by laws. They therefore succeeded in circumventing the law by installing their protégé. Consequently, all aid is tied. Thus, the phenomenon of godfatherism in Nigeria can be persuasively described as “prebendal politics‟ where primitive accumulation is exalted far and above the interest of the people. Therefore, the relationship that exists between the godfather and the godson can be described as exploitative and total subversion of the will of the people. At the end, the godson is incapacitated and cannot provide the essential social services to the generality of the populace.
Their strategies are everything but fair; they dispense violence freely and fully on those who stand on their way. Under such circumstance, they play the additional role of warlord. They often establish, train and maintain a standing personal “army” which they ostensibly supplement with a sprinkling of the official police detachment in order to effect electoral change. They also bribe electoral officials and other security agents to manipulate election results. The gesture is often reciprocated by the godson upon resumption of office. Thus, the initial support given by the godfather then becomes an investment with a colossal rate of returns because the godfather becomes the „de facto‟ leader.
The relationship between the godfather and the godson is not free floating. It is contractual and the contract is sometimes written and even sealed spiritually with an oath or, at the extreme in a shrine. The godfather makes substantial critical governance decisions, appointments and he is a recipient of either major juicy contracts or earns inordinate stipends. The godfather is the political slave merchant while the godson is the political slave or slave boy or political article for sale. Their aims and objectives include appointments, stealing, robbery and looting of government treasury. The decision-making process, appointments and contract award is usually manipulated by the godfather.
Little wonder, in electoral contest, certain candidates are ascribed the status of government candidates and at the end of the contest, such persons often emerge as the winners of the election and afterwards, employ anti-democratic means of ensuring that the social ill is perpetuated indefinitely. The issue of greedy godfathers in the Nigerian political scene has now reached epidemic proportions. Just like bribery, corruption, nepotism and fraud, the perpetrators want to make it a way of making a living.
There has been a lot of crises in Nigerian politics and Administration, a crisis of confidence in our elected officials, loss of faith in our democratic government and an increasing frustration at government, and more also, an increasing frustration at the irrelevance of individual’s vote in our political process. All these crises are crises caused by the unholy alliance of godfatherism.
Thus some of the implications of the activities of godfathers in Nigerian politics can be summarized as follows:
1. The actions of these godfathers often results in the destruction of lives and properties. As a result of contest for supremacy between godfathers and their protégés, private and government properties as well as the lives of innocent people have been destroyed.
2. Another implication of godfatherism is that it has led to breakdown of law and order, thereby paving way for hooligans to exploit the opportunity to unleash terror on citizens.
3. The most deadly effect of the role of godfathers in the politics led to the increase in the crime rate. Godfathers recruit youths as foot soldiers and arm them by giving them necessary logistics. The aftermath of this situation is kidnapping, cultism, armed robbery, drug abuse etc.
4. Maladministration and unaccountability. This scenario often plays out in Nigeria politics. The result is outright exclusion of the people from the decision making process of government. Consequently, the rule of law, due process, and transparency in the management of public affairs are all abused in a bid to actualize their goals.
5. Another grievous implication of godfatherism in Nigerian politics is that political office seekers are robbed of their independent and rational sense of judgment and personal dignity, they become mere surrogates and subservient to their godfather.
Recommendations and conclusion.
There is need to painstakingly seek to curb the existing wide spread practice of godfatherism which has considerable implications for the integrity of Nigeria‟s electoral system. The conversion of politics from being a civil engagement to a commercial enterprise through the practice of godfatherism, especially the predatory variant, portends a threat to the future of democracy in Nigeria.
a. Appropriate legislation by government should be enacted to check the behaviour of these godfathers; stiffer sanctions must be enshrined in the constitution so as to deter anybody that may be tempted to make such a practice a vocation.
b. The government should reconsider the issue of independent candidacy. This is necessary so as to reduce the over bearing influence on candidates by those acclaimed financial moguls who have the capacity to buy the conscience of the political party platform.
c. There is the need to restructure the electoral commission (INEC) since it is critical to the success of democracy in Nigeria. This has become pertinent so as to weed off the complications which often arise during elections as a result of the wanton abuse of electoral processes by the self-styled godfathers.
d. The role of civil society organizations in combating this monster is very vital. The civil society organizations in Nigeria must ensure independence in decision making and supervision. Furthermore, they must ensure proper enlightenment of the citizens on their rights.
e. The anti-craft institutions of government such as Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) should be independent of the office of the Attorney General of the Federation to enable them discharge their own responsibilities without fear or favour. They should be more rigorous and robust in pursuing organized crime in all ramifications across all facets of the economy, morality should also be incorporated. This will guard against the laundering of ill-gotten wealth during election periods.
In conclusion, the practice of godfatherism poses a serious threat to the survival, growth and consolidation of democracy in Nigeria as it excludes the vast majority from participating in the democratic process. We are inclined to believe that the harrowing experiences of godsons in the current dispensation will make politicians to think twice before they go into any immoral deal with godfathers whose only motivation for sponsoring candidates for election is to harvest dividends generously from it.
Duruebube “Oblong” Nnadi