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The History of Godfatherism in Nigerian Politics

The History of Godfatherism in Nigerian Politics
Godfatherism is best described as a form of political corruption in which an influential individual handpicks another, often less influential candidate, to attain leadership in order to exert authority or influence. This may be due to the unpopularity of one candidate, or to work around incumbency term limits.

There is a new political phenomenon that is becoming a thing of concern to all and sundry; this emergent phenomenon is the concept of “godfatherism.” It is an ideology which deprives the people of their fundamental human rights of not benefiting from the dividends of democracy. This practice is rapidly  converting politics from a civil engagement to an enterprise where only the moneybags are beneficiaries; these godfathers rely on their wealth whereby they sponsor candidates of their choice because of their influence. This paper intends to discuss the predatory variant of godfatherism which is the one that offends and negates moral sensibility and collective aspiration of the people. In Nigeria, the concept of godfatherism and politics will be defined and a theoretical framework of analysis will be provided. The paper looks at the case of the activities of godfathers in some selected states. The paper will also spell out the implications of predatory behaviour of godfathers in Nigeria.

The history of godfatherism in Nigeria can be traced to be as far back as at the time of independence. As at this time, the concept had not become a full-blown issue as it is now. The democratic system practiced in Nigeria is a factor that led to its prominence.

One might wonder, what is godfatherism? Political godfatherism in its simplest form can be generally seen as a practice which involves the sustenance of a kind of a kind of social and political relations in which the inferior looks onto the superior for the dissemination and self-actualization of firm roles, desires and connections which unite both together or in which both have equal pole but with the greater influence of what the inferior gets in the process (Majekodunmi, 2013: 71).

From the above statement, one can infer the idea of there being a superior who is being looked up to by an inferior for guidance and counselling on decisions to make and steps to take when faced with a challenge (the inferior).

Most godfathers give their mentees or inferiors ideas, not because they want their mentees or proteges to benefit from them but because they surely know that there is a benefit or personal gain awaiting them. In Nigeria, the motive behind every political godfather’s ambition is the desire to be in charge of granting and awarding government contracts, the political or public appointment of various officials into government parastatals, in order to gain direct access to the wealth of the state or country, as the case may be. These godfathers see their godsons or proteges as puppets whom they can direct and influence their decisions. They also have a large part to play in the decision-making process of their godsons.

Political godfatherism started with nationalist activities of the 1950s. The educated elite which constituted just six percent of the total Nigerian population championed the struggled for Nigerian independence. The educated elites, most of whom had only primary education, were respected for their knowledge and bravery in confronting the white man.

Politics of godfatherism became widespread in Nigerian political movements in the 1960s, and early post-independence where leaders became political godfathers (Mamah, 2004). The action of political fathers was obvious with the advent of civilian rule in 1979. However, the military governments that branded the 1980s jammed its achievement. A study by Alabi & Tunde (2013:6), points out that the political godfather phenomenon is not new in Nigerian politics. It explained further by saying that this issue started during the First Republic when the leading supporters of independence of Nigeria (Zik, Awolowo, Tafewa Balewa, etc), managed political activities in Nigeria.

 However, it should be noted that there is a clear difference between the political godfatherism we had back then, and the one which we have at present. The present political godfatherism sees the godsons dancing to the tune of their godfathers and totally submitting themselves to the wills of their superior. Godfatherism got to its apogee during the unpleasant hostility that ensued between Chris Uba, a political godfather and his godson, Chris Ngige, the former governor of Anambra state, which lead to the destruction of properties and loss of lives.

The political godfatherism as we have it in our present-day Nigeria has had and is currently having a negative effect on the democratic system we have in the country.

Becoming the elected candidate of a party for a particular post, can be said to be largely influenced by whomsoever the godfather endorses. Take for example, the primary elections which took place in the All-Progressive Congress party in 2019. Governor Akinwunmi Ambode was expected to run for his second term in office and naturally once would expect no “able” opposition from his party as he was expected to be the sole candidate, but to everyone’s dismay, the “ supposed” godfather of APC had another candidate in mind and it was no surprise when his chosen candidate won the primaries and even went on to win the gubernatorial elections. The reason for this unusual turn of events was not far-fetched by many, the former Governor was not dancing to the tune of his godfather.

The Emergence of Godfatherism in Nigerian Politics 

The word 'godfather' appears in parenthesis in many western political studies.  The situation is different in Nigeria. The patronlclient relationships that  popularised the term in Nigerian politics have cultural roots among many  Nigerians peoples. It is not a totally new experience in the sociology of the Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo for people to have one or other type of 'godfather'. For example, the word 'godfather' has a local equivalence in Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo languages and these words have been in usage since the pre-colonial era. A godfather is known among the Hausa as a 'maigida' (landlord or the head of a household). The word 'maigida' goes beyond its literal meaning. Abner Cohen, Paul Lovejoy, and Polly Hill'" used the term in their works to refer to those who provided brokerage services to Hausa traders in transit in different parts of West Africa. These Hausa traders brought cattle from their homeland to different parts of southern West Africa and took back kola nuts to the North. At the various transit centres where they have to stop to do businesses, they rely on a maigida to facilitate their economic activities. The maigida provides them with accommodation, storage and brokerage services. The maigida receive compensations for their services and many of them became rich from the number of clients they had. Even in Hausaland, from where these itinerant traders came, this kind of patronlclient relationship is popularly known. As Ferguson observed: 

In Hausaland, whcn a stranger with kola is staying in the house of one man, and a potential buyer is staying in the house of another man, they bargain over the kola and on each calabash they set aside two kola nuts, 'yan k'ida', as a gift: one goes to each of the landlords." 

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