At the twilight of his administration as the governor of Edo State, the All Progressives Congress (APC) National Chairman, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, was asked how he felt having spent eight years in office, and he said: “Against the background that I came on the platform of a new political party, part of my mission was to purge the state of godfathers, which is the precondition for liberal democracy to thrive. And to create a new political environment that is sufficiently liberal, such that the people, not the godfathers, determine who becomes what in the politics of our state.
“When I had a meeting with some editors in Lagos to inform them of my intention to contest, they were unanimous that it was a mission impossible and they took time to lecture me about the powers of godfathers. “They told me that Edo had an unfair concentration of the most potent, most vicious and most aggressive of these godfathers. They had money, influence, connection in the army, police and in every aspect of life, and they didn’t think that with my background, equipped only with my mouth and a level of courage without money, I could possibly engage those forces.
“But, I also told them that from history and as a product of struggle against everything that is wrong with society; every unblessed power that dominates, harasses, intimidates, exploits and subjugates society will flourish only to the extent that the victims of that order accept not to question or that they are intimidated to submit to it and wallow in self pity, believing that only God gives.”
He further stated that looking back, he was fulfilled that he had dismantled the godfathers that had held Edo State down since the return of civil rule in 1999.
“Now, eight years on the job, looking back, I believe I have nothing more to prove. I have defeated the godfathers; all of them. So, in terms of the target I set for myself politically, mainly to demystify the godfathers and banish them from our polity, I believe that has been achieved. It is clear that they are all down; I am the only one standing and nothing can be better than that,” he said.
The above were the beliefs of the former labour leader after he defeated all the major power brokers in the state and literally installed his successor, Governor Godwin Obaseki. Those who followed the emergence of Obaseki in 2018 would agree that it was made possible by Oshiomhole’s doggedness and political sagacity.
However, though the tough-talking APC National chairman naturally became the new ‘king maker’ in Edo politics, many were patiently waiting to see how his relationship with Governor Obaseki would be sustained or whether it would follow the pattern of battles among godfathers and godsons in Nigerian politics.
Predictably, the friendship did not last long as Comrade Oshiomhole who declared in 2016 that godfatherism had been demystified and banished from the Edo politics, is today up in arms against Governor Obaseki, in what some close political observers have described as an epic political battle between the godfather and the godson.
It is already a norm in Nigeria for an outgoing state governor to anoint his successor in office. The practice has become so common that the political process, which ordinarily should offer great opportunity for the citizens to freely choose who should represent them in various offices, only exist in theory.
The reality is that citizens’ free will to choose who their political leaders should be through the electoral process has been hijacked by powerful individuals – the godfathers, who are very influential. They are men of means who command so much economic power. So, they decide who occupies what political position, when and how.
Bitterness and acrimony usually arise when the godson, after assuming power with the support of the godfather, covertly or overtly attempts to sideline the godfather. Analysts attribute this ugly development to the over bearing influence of the godfather, who always wants to dominate the government and dictate for the godson how to run the administration.
The ongoing cold war between Oshiomhole and Gov Obaseki brings to question why godfathers have often fallen out of favour with their godsons. What are those gentleman agreements often reached clandestinely but which most times become very difficult to keep?
There are beliefs in some quarters that without a political godfather, a political tenderfoot does not stand the chance of emerging a winner in any political contest – be it federal, state or local government elections. But the pertinent question begging for answers is why is it that after the electoral victories, godfathers find it difficult to maintain cordial relationship with their godsons.
People who hold this view would quickly point to the case of Anambra State, where soon after the former governor and vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 2019 general election, Mr. Peter Obi, ‘installed’ the current governor, Willie Obiano, their relationship went sour. The strained relationship between the duo did not only end in media war between their aides, Obi also went ahead to prove the existence of a crack in his relationship with Obiano when he opposed his second term bid and threw his weight behind the candidacy of Oseloka Obaze of the PDP.
The political squabble between the second republic governor of the old Anambra State, Chief Jim Nwobodo and his then political godson and former governor of Enugu State, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani is also one of the ready instances. Chimaroke was an unknown medical doctor, who had lived in the United States of America all his life. There were other credible, competent and charismatic candidates, who declared interest to contest the governorship seat of Enugu State in 1999 on the platform of the PDP, but as soon as Nwobodo presented him as the candidate of his choice, the game was up for other contestants. Like a wild fire, Chimaroke’s name was on the lips of every electorate and even before the election, it was clear that other contestants just wanted to fulfill all righteousness, because the handwriting was clearly shown on the wall that the godfather’s choice candidate, Chimaroke, would carry the day. And as was expected, after the election, Chimaroke was declared winner and retuned as governor-elect of Enugu State.
But, no sooner had he assumed office as the governor than he fell apart with Nwobodo. Chimaroke was alleged to have reneged on the agreement reached with his godfather before the election. The fight was so dirty that blood of innocent souls were spilled in the battle that followed. The godfather was eventually bruised badly and dethroned, signaling the change of guard. Chimaroke became the new godfather of Enugu politics and developed his own political structure known as ‘Ebeano’. He held sway until he installed his godson, Sullivan Chime as his successor in May 2007.
Similarly, just as Chimaroke refused to be under Nwobodo’s control, Sullivan also refused to be controlled and manipulated. He wanted to take charge of the affairs of the state knowing full well that he would be held accountable for his stewardship and not the godfather. The godfather didn’t like the idea and they fell apart.
Observers of political events in Nigeria are of the view that the issue of cold war between political godfathers and their godsons is not restricted to any geo-political zone; it cuts across all the six geopolitical zones of Nigeria. The hostility between the former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and his political godson, former Governor Theodore Ahamefula Orji was also a public knowledge. TA Orji, who was Kalu’s chief of staff was singlehandedly installed as governor against all odds by Kalu. But, barely one year into his first term as governor, his relationship with his godfather went sour and created a wild gulf between them.
The cold war between the former governor of Nasarawa State, Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu and his successor, Alhaji Tanko Almakura was also in public knowledge. In the build up to 2019 election, the two former governors had different candidates for the governorship seat of the state with each boasting that he would teach the other the political lesson of his life.
In Akwa-Ibom, things have fallen apart politically between the former governor, Godswill Akpabio and the current governor, Udom Emmanuel such that the centre could not hold. Akpabio, out of desperation to teach the governor some political lessons, defected from the PDP to the APC few months to the 2019 election and waged serious political war against Emmanuel. But, as usual, the godfather was roundly defeated.
What happened to the immediate past governor of Lagos State, Akinwunmi Ambode is still fresh in the minds of Lagosians, nay Nigerians in general. Ambode was believed to have offended his godfather, who unlike his counterparts in other states, still looms large politically, and he paid dearly for it. He was denied a second term ticket in his party, the APC, and even when he thought he was popular and wanted to test that popularity at the party’s primaries, his godfather deployed all his political arsenal and utterly disgraced him in the poll. He was roundly beaten in the primaries by the incumbent governor, Babajide Sanwolu, who became the godfather’s beautiful bride. Today, Ambode is in a quiet corner licking his wounds while his godfather continues to sing a victory song.
As in other places, Kano State is not left out as the former governor of the state, Rabiu Kwankwaso and his successor, who is the current governor, Abdullahi Umar Ganduje are also poles apart in their political relationship. The battle between the two gladiators for the soul of Kano in the last general election was so fierce that results of elections in some areas were cancelled, leading to a supplementary election. Ganduje eventually survived the political land mine as he emerged winner at the end of the day. But, ardent followers of political events in Kano State collectively agree that it is not yet Uhuru for Gov Ganduje.
Today, the outgoing governor of Bayelsa State, Seriake Dickson, like others before him, is also treading a similar path. He has anointed a successor and is vigorously campaigning for his electoral victory in next month’s gubernatorial election in the state.
Political historians who have closely followed developments between former governors and their successors are worried that Dickson’s case might not be an exception. The big question begging for urgent answer is: why would the outgoing governors always want their preferred candidates to succeed them? Why can’t they serve out their terms and quietly leave office for another popular candidate to succeed them? Where are the voting powers of the electorate in all of these? Does it mean that the voters no longer count? What is it that the outgoing governors want to hide; what are they afraid of? Or is it simply the inordinate urge to remain relevant politically even after leaving office?
Critical analysts believe that greed is the major factor that drives godfatherism. A chieftain of the APC, Prince Tony Momoh believes that an outgoing governor who wants to play godfather might not have anything to hide but that he only wants to adopt someone he trusts; a step he describes as natural.
However, he believes that the concept of godfatherism is tied to greed because according to him, politics in Nigeria is war. “It is a manifestation of greed which is part of our makeup now. The greedy will like to grab everything he has rather than distribute. Politics is war in Nigeria instead of service and even where those in charge say they allow free flow and competition, they still have their own button to press to put those they like and trust in position,” he said.
Prince Momoh does not see the fight between godfather and godson as strange because according to him, godfathers want the godsons to serve as gatekeeper, forgetting that human spirit does not know submission. He said: “The fact is that the person who installed you there wants you to be a gatekeeper and if you refuse to be a gatekeeper, he will try to assert the influence which he had under the illusion that he can still assert such powers, but he would only discover very late that his wings have been clipped since he no longer occupies the office. The human spirit only knows loyalty and that is why during the era of slave trade, the slaves, in spite of the fact that there were difficulties in escaping; seized the opportunity they had to escape because human spirit does not know submission. God did not create slaves; God created human beings who assert themselves in the environment where they find themselves. And that assertion happens when you threaten that God-given right of human person. So, if you are in charge of any particular territory, and someone wants to tell you how to move in that territory, you will resist.”
He believes that the implication of the development on the country’s democracy is that as long as democracy is seen as a business rather than a service, there will be opportunity for those who are investing. “If the country is restructured as some people are pushing, democracy would be made to be a service where people only earn allowances and that would automatically end godfatherism because people will not be trying to install anybody again since they know that there is nothing to gain,” he said.
Head of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights, Malachy Ugwummadu believes that the idea of anointing a candidate by an outgoing governor or godfather is conceived in treachery; nurtured in deceit and delivered in perfidy. “So, it is only a matter of time before water seeks its level and the whole thing crumbles like a pack of cards. Once the motives for such arrangement are no longer sustainable, the cleavages will begin to show and once they show, it will be interpreted to mean insubordination. And because they also got in through hook and crook, they would want to sustain the process through hook and crook and that is what normally happens. If it is just for service to humanity and the people, you will have less of those frictions,” he submitted.
To checkmate the excesses of godfathers, he believes that people should activate their powers under section 14 of the constitution which vests sovereignty of the Nigerian state in the people and not in the outgoing governors or godfathers. “If that is so, we will therefore, take refuge in late Gani Fawehinmi’s admonition that the strength of whoever oppresses you, including dictating to you who takes over government, lies in your own weakness. Therefore, people should be much more organised and strategic such that even if a governor or godfather, for some personal parochial reasons identifies a successor, the will of the people will continually prevail. If the wish of a singular governor, no matter how wonderful he performed in office, runs in conflict with the wish of the people, the people’s wish must always prevail,” he stated.
The spokesman of the pan-Yoruba socio-cultural organisation, Afenifere, Yinka Odumakin lamented that Nigerians have abandoned God the Father for godfathers because they are involved in mafia politics. “It is unfortunate that our politics have been reduced to this level but what most of the so-called godfathers don’t know is that it does not work. The reason you still want to be godfather is because you have surrendered the sceptre of power you are holding to your successor. For those who are well-meaning; if you become a governor, what you need to do is to serve your people and let your successor emerge. It may be somebody you prefer that has emerged, and you want to lord over him and control him; there will always be crisis because it is the power you left that he is now holding. So, it has not worked anywhere and it won’t,” he said.
He also agrees that it is greed that makes outgoing governors to want to anoint their successors. He equally believes that some of them have skeleton in their cupboards. “They are hiding something and there is also the greed to continue to take from the system what the person has been taking before. Those are the two factors, but the bigger of the two factors is political greed,” he submitted.