The Menace of Political Godfatherism as a Factor in the Underdevelopment of Nigeria

Political Godfatherism as a Factor in the Underdevelopment of Nigeria



Godfatherism has become an institutionalized phenomenon in contemporary politics in Nigeria which has far reaching implications for the political system. Before it was adopted in political circles, godfatherism was  formerly a religious term which presupposes placing a young Christian under the tutelage of an older and more proven Christian (Obaji, 2006). It is important to emphasis the fact that godfatherism is not alien to traditional African societies given the role played by elders. Traditionally, parents and elders are revered because they are custodians of custom and traditions coupled with their experience (Lawal, 2010). In Christendom, elders are viewed as knowledgeable individuals who are proven in the service of God and humanity, thus qualifying for the title of a godfather. For instance among the Yoruba of south-western Nigeria, a godfather could aptly be referred to as ‘baba nigbejo’, that is, someone who is always available and willing to come to one’s rescue. Among the Hausa, the ‘maigida’ landlord or head of a household is a godfather in his own right while the phenomenon is also an attribute of traditional Igbo society as reflected in the relationship between master and servant ‘nnam-ukwu and the phrase nma ma du’-man knows man (Albert, 2005 cited in Familusi, 2012). 

Within the traditional African socio-political system, traditional godfathers are regarded as mentors, role models and leaders par excellence. However the term has assumed a political coloration as attention is no longer seriously focused on Christian or traditional godfathers but political godfathers. In Nigerian politics, godfatherism depicts a benevolent father who has all it takes to promote a successful political career for a candidate, while expecting tangible and intangible rewards from the recipient. In this light, politics in the Nigerian society is seen more as a means of attaining wealth rather than as a process of service and the existence of godfatherism is very real. Within the political system, Godfatherism is regarded as 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 electoral contest (Gambo, 2006). In the same vein, Adeoye (2009) states that godfatherism in its simple form is a term used to describe the relationship between a godfather and godson. Thus, a godfather is someone who has built unimaginable respect and followers (voters) in the community and possesses a well organised political platform and general acceptance from the electorate that could secure victory for candidates of his choice. The view of Ayoade (2008) is that the term godfather is often used interchangeably with other terms such as mentor, financier, and benefactor among others. Therefore, political godfathers are regarded as rich men whose contributions to campaign funds of some candidates have helped them to win elections (Albert, 2005).

Godfatherism in politics is thus, regarded as a kind of political behavior in which economically, politically, and socially well-placed individuals in a society use their power and their connections to influence political and economic processes. This arrangement can be good or bad depending on intentions of the godfather. The term is simply a new way of describing political patronage and by extension, paternalism. In Nigeria, the godfather phenomenon has played historical roles and has to a large extent, shaped and refocused the practice of politics and governance. According to Nnamani (2003), Nigerians see the godfather as a looming and imperious guardian figure that provides a lifeline and direction for his godson. The godson is perceived to live a life of total submission and subservience, and to protect the interest of the godfather.

The phenomenon of political godfather in Nigeria can be traced to the first republic when the foremost nationalists of the country like Zik, Awo, and Tafawa-Balewa influenced and controlled political activities in Nigeria (Alabi and Sakariyau, 2013). These were the leaders of the three major political parties; Northern People’s Congress (NPC), Action Group (AG) and National Congress of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), who carefully and meticulously cultivated godsons that they were convinced would advance the well being of the citizens. According to Uzoamaka (2010) cited in Majekodunmi and Olanrewaju (2013), Ahmadu Bello of NPC, Nnamdi Azikiwe of the NCNC and Obafemi Awolowo of the AG were motivated not to use godsons as surrogates to promote parochial interests, but to promote the developmental aspirations of the people.

Unlike the present crop of political godfathers, the first generation godfathers were essentially benevolent and progressive because they did not abuse their status as godfathers by imposing frivolous demands on their godsons as is the case today. In a relative sense, the first republic political godfathers were drawn by community sense of interest in seeking to influence the electorates to vote for some candidates of their choice. It was enough satisfaction for them that they wielded tremendous influence in the society and this inevitably generated a groundswell of goodwill and reverence for them as their views on political issues were scarcely contested in their respective regions of the country.

Nevertheless, it is important to note that the interest of the present crop of political godfathers in Nigeria differs substantively from the godfathers of old in the Christian religion. In the words of Ogbonnwan, “the true meaning of the word godfather has been twisted” (Ogbonnwan, 2004). He stated further that, godfatherism today refers to a relationship with subordinates, which no longer signify the caring, loving and kindness characteristic of the old. Rather, the term has been bastardized and now connotes the boss of a political party working against the interest of the people. Corroborating Ogbonnwam’s assertion, Anakwenze (2004) describes the situation thus “the present characteristic posture of godfatherism in Nigeria today differs substantively from the godfathers of the Christian faith”. The main difference between the godfather of today and the godfather of the Christian faith is that the later provide counseling and guidance to his godson to become a morally responsible individual in society, whereas the former sees himself as the beneficiary and gives favour only when he feels that it advances his own interest. This implicit personalized virtue of the political godfather now dominates the relationship between a godfather and godson in Nigeria. It is in this sense that Nnamani, the former Governor of Enugu State, defines godfather simply as “a self-seeking individual whose goal is to use the government for his own purposes,” (Nnamani, 2003). Anakwenze (2004) also opines that:

“The present day godfathers lack the basic understanding of the fundamental concept of government. However, they believe that government is there to be hijacked to serve personal political interest and to enrich them”.

This is now the case as present day godfathers have turned politics into a money-making business under which elections are rigged with a view to forcing pre-determined candidates into office. The office-holders are in turn subjected to all forms of indecent manipulations by their mentors. The godfathers in Nigeria see their support to their godsons as an economic investment that must yield superlative dividends by all means. Anambra State in particular, is one of the federating units in Nigeria that is popularly known for godfather politics. Between 1999 and 2003, the fight was between Emeka Offor (Godfather) and the Governor of the State Chinwoke Mbadinuju (godson), who refused to dance to the tune of the godfather, subsequently led to Mbadinuju losing the gubernatorial ticket for Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and his inability to contest elections in 2003. The dust raised by the actions of these political bigwigs was yet to settle when two other actors emerged, Chris Uba and Chris Ngige. Uba was the godfather responsible for the installation of Ngige. Ngige pledged his loyalty to Uba and assured him of cooperation. Based on this Uba bankrolled the gubernatorial election to the tune of three billion naira. After the election, Ngige refused to pay back his godfather the necessary commission and patronage. And what supposed to be a cold war was made public with the abduction of Ngige and his purported resignation (Chukwuemeka et al, 2013). Since then, peace has eluded the State until Ngige was defeated at the election petition tribunal for rigging the gubernatorial polls by the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate Mr. Peter Obi.

Since 1999, when Nigeria regained her legitimate political power from military administrators under the auspices of General Abdulsalam, many cases of political violence from North and South poles of the country have become the order of the day. The inherent effect of political godfatherism is political violence which often results in massive destruction of lives and properties. An instance of such occurred during the election and post election period in April 2011 in Nigeria where there were many cases of destructions of lives and properties as a result of the instructions given by the godfathers to their supporters in various states of the federation with the predominant use of young citizens as political thugs, the proliferation of arms and ammunitions, the disenfranchisement of citizens to exercise their political right. Issues of politicized employment in the states, the promotion of high level of poverty, disrespect of the rule of law, production of unresponsive leadership, and manipulation of public policies are the resultant effects of godfatherism on the state in the form of structural or physical violence.

There is hardly any state devoid of the existence and influence of godfathers but such influence varies in instances such as Saraki vs. Lawal in Kwara State, Offor vs. Mbadimunju (1999–2003), Uba vs. Ngige (2003–2006), in Anambra State, Kachalla vs. Alimodu Sherif in Borno State (2002–2003) and in the second half of the fourth republic Ladoja vs. Adedibu in Oyo State. Thus, godfatherism is a threat to Nigeria’s nascent democracy, therefore making it imperative to explore the ugly phenomenon of godfatherism and its link to political violence.

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