HomePoliticsPolitical Godfatherism in Nigeria: History and Consequences

Political Godfatherism in Nigeria: History and Consequences

Western Nigeria is at the forefront when it comes to political godfatherism in Nigeria. Just like the godfather is the overall boss in Western mafia families that other lords pay homage to, this region also has its own all-powerful political figure who reigns supreme in the political hemisphere.

Yes, we all know him. He is none other than the Jagaban, the Lord of Balablu himself. The one who declared that Emi lokan (it’s my turn) and proceeded to plant himself on the seat after decades of installing people there.

Political Godfatherism in Nigeria

Tinubu is the overall governor, overall senator, and overall political figure in Western Nigeria (probably all of Nigeria now, since he’s GCFR), and governors, senators, and other political animals worship and take instructions from him. Daring to do otherwise is seen as an act of insubordination liable to punishment by making sure you don’t ever return to your previous political position or ever win an election again unless you grow your own huge wings to help you flourish independent of your political godfather.

Just ask Akinwunmi Ambode, the 14th Governor of Lagos State and the only one in democratic history who has served only one term in office.

In Nigerian politics, it is needless to emphasize that, for you to achieve some level of recognition and occupy some juicy political positions, you must have a godfather. Politicians kneeling down, prostrating, and bowing down in worship of other politicians who they deem as gods is not new in the Nigerian political atmosphere. It is now a tradition. Some call it humility, but we all know better that it is anything but.

Political godfatherism actually looks stupid and is clearly an act of desperation, its concept pointing to how much decadence Nigerian politics has suffered. It shows in clear terms that you can’t occupy a juicy political position in Nigeria based on your credibility and merit alone, but based on favoritism.

You must be ready to kneel before, worship, bow down, and adore some political majesties who will place you in their pockets and control you within their whims and caprices.

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History of Godfatherism

The works of Plato, Aristotle, Tacitus, and other classical philosophers largely focus on the concentration of political power in the hands of a few in early Greek and Roman society. Discourses on political elitism raise two important questions: hierarchy and inequality.

Both are necessary for understanding the concept of godfatherism.

‘Hierarchy’ is the vertical ranking of people in society into two categories: those occupying the highest positions and those at the bottom. Those at the bottom are assumed to be less important than those on top.

Also, these social hierarchies are assumed to be pyramidal in nature, meaning there are more people at the bottom of the hierarchy than on top. The latter is the creme du sac of the society, responsible for the exercise of social, economic, and political powers. Their power is chiefly in their ability to ‘articulate ideas, to persuade, to cajole and coerce, to mobilize, to embody and advance symbols to which large numbers of people respond. It is in respect of this point that the notion of the political elite is associated with inequality.

There are also sub-elites, which include all manners of professionals, especially public servants. These people, in the modern world, are not only interested in facilitating effective communication between the elites and non-elites, but they themselves do all they can to join the mainstream political elite class.

Godfatherism in the political situation thus makes it possible for both the sub-elite and non-elite to become recruited into the political elite class, so long as they can meet the parochial conditions for such a recruitment exercise.

Godfatherism – Etymology

The word ‘godfather’ means different things to different people. In several parts of Europe and America, it is simply associated with a jovial uncle.

The word also has almost the same meaning in the Catholic Church tradition. A young man trying to become baptized or married in the Catholic Church is expected to have a godfather, who is simply chosen from among the larger congregation and need not be a relative to the godson. The latter counsels the young person on how to live a responsible life.

Another type of godfather is one often seen in American ‘cowboy films’, associated with mafia gangs. The godfather is usually the big boss who surrounds himself with all manner of criminal, and often violent, clientele. The latter take orders from the godfather and defer to his ‘good judgment’ in virtually all things. In return, the godfather defends his adopted sons when they run into problems, either with law enforcement agents or members of other gangs.

Even if you’ve never seen it, everyone knows of the classic movie The Godfather

Godfatherism sometimes manifests itself in the politics of developed countries of the world and Latin American countries in terms of some criminal underworld groups sponsoring politicians during elections in return for the protection of contracts. This kind of situation is euphemistically referred to as ‘party machine’ politics in the American political science literature.’

Political godfatherism, however, is slightly different from all the others identified above. Political godfathers are found all over the world and consist of rich men who contribute to a candidate’s campaign funds to help the latter win elections. Even in developed countries, such people invest heavily, most especially in the media, to shore up their candidates’ image while at the same time helping to discredit rival candidates.

Nigeria has all the above types of godfathers. Those who serve others, those who expect society to serve them, and even those who channel their resources into criminal activities.

SEE: Rigging Elections in Nigeria: A Political Masterclass

Political Godfatherism in Nigeria

Dr. Jibrin Ibrahim, during an interview granted to the BBC on 10 November 2003, defined Nigerian political godfathers, as “men who have the power personally to determine who gets nominated and who wins an election in a state“.

Governor Chimaroke Nnamani of Enugu, who had a running battle with his godfather, Senator Jim Nwobo, for over two years, defined the term from his own personal experience as “… an impervious guardian figure who provided the lifeline and direction to the godson, perceived to live a life of total submission, subservience, and protection of the oracular personality located in the large, material frame of opulence, affluence, and decisiveness, that is, if not ruthless … strictly, the godfather is simply a self-seeking individual out there to use the government for his own purposes.”

Political godfatherism in Nigeria entails building an array of loyalists around the godfather and using influence, often tied to monetary considerations, to manipulate the rest of the society. Political godfathers use their influence to block the participation of others in Nigerian politics. They are political gatekeepers, dictating who participates in politics and under what conditions.

Political godfatherism in Nigeria is highly injurious to the advancement of popular, participatory democracy in the country, as these godfathers are responsible for most of the pre and post-election violence that Nigeria experiences.

Power, Clientelism, and Transactional Leadership

Transactional leadership occurs when leaders and followers interact with a view to exchanging valued things. What is exchanged could be economic, psychological, or political: trading of votes, hospitality to a person on the account of a contribution to helping to sustain the leader’s position, etc.

In other words, both the leader and the follower are familiar with what they benefit from each other, which is the basis of the relationship. However, a major shortcoming of this kind of leader-follower relationship is that the parties have no enduring purpose that holds them together.

Political godfatherism in Nigeria often starts with political figures being accorded important
leadership positions in their political parties. This could be a result of the length of time they have spent in party politics, or also due to their wealth or ability to mobilize grassroots support. They are accorded prominent positions at party meetings and no important party decisions are taken in their constituencies without taking into deep consideration their often narrow interests.

The phenomenon of godfathers, most especially of the type that is seen in Nigerian politics, is a worst-case scenario of transactional leadership. Political godfatherism in Nigeria involves a strictly instrumental relationship between the godfathers and their clients, and their main goal is to use their clients to attain selfish goals; the latter too do the same.

This relationship, thus, has little or nothing to do with the larger society the two of them claim to lead. There is no enduring purpose to hold both of them together, which is why it is not uncommon to find them going in separate directions at the drop of a hat.

READ ALSO: Is Democracy the Best Form of Government in Nigeria?

Political Godfatherism in Nigeria: Patterns of Manifestation

There are five types of political godfathers discernible under the present political dispensation in Nigeria.

The first type includes ‘geo-political’ or ‘ethnic’ organizations that arrogate to themselves the right to decide who represents their jurisdiction in government. Such movements include ‘Afenifere‘, the Yoruba socio-cultural organization; Arewa Consultative Council (ACF), which presents itself as the authentic voice of the North; and Ohanaeze, the pan-Igbo cultural group that considers itself to be the only body with the power to determine Igbo interests.

However, the powers of all these organizations have dwindled as their candidates for political offices are often defeated by those sponsored by ‘individual godfathers’.

The second category consists of ‘geo-political’ or ‘ethnic father figures’. These are prominent individuals within geo-political or ethnic organizations who are popularly respected by members of the movement they belong to, as a result of some past ‘nationalist activities’. Such people have occupied public positions in the past and were
found to have served their people to the best of their ability. Their political opinions are thus much respected.

The best-known example of this class of godfathers was the slain Nigerian Minister for Justice, Chief Bola Ige. He was the Deputy leader of Afenifere, but his influence in Yoruba politics towered above that of the pan-ethnic group. In his lifetime, politicians in southwestern Nigeria fought to make sure that he was on their campaign train.

The third category of political godfathers consists of rich Nigerians who see sponsorship of political candidates as a source of upward social and economic mobility. Such politicians go around, like a typical businessman, looking for ‘materials’ (not necessarily marketable) to invest their money in. The clients are usually people who are interested in winning elections ‘by all means’ but who do not have the grassroots support, the money, or the violent dispositions for winning elections. The godfather provides the candidate with this assistance in exchange for some personal benefits for the godfather after the election.

The fourth type of godfathers are those who only deal with rich clients. Such people, for want of appropriate terminology, can be said to be ‘political entrepreneurs’.

The fifth type is the rich patrons who are willing to provide what it takes for either rich or poor clients to win elections. He is willing to provide both poor and rich candidates with money and logistical support to win elections.

SEE: The Rash Called Political Thugs in Nigeria

Political Godfatherism in Nigeria: Impact on Democratic Governance

Democracy has to do with the protection of the interests of all and should not only focus on the narrow interests of the privileged in society. True democracy comes from the grassroots and not from the top; it evolves from the effective participation of the citizenry in the political process. In a democracy, the governed do not only come out to exercise their voting rights, but they also have the right to be voted for.

Political godfatherism in Nigerian politics is a contest between elitism and democracy. The typical godfather in Nigerian politics basically seeks to manipulate state officials and institutions for his own interests. Conflicts occur only when their clients refuse to be manipulated, and this does not augur well for the development and growth of any democratic process.

This kind of situation promotes mediocrity and financial corruption as the incumbent godson is at pains to satisfy the whims and caprices of the godfather among other competing demands on the scarce resources of the government. Hence, the interest of the larger number is savagely undermined.

Any godson who fails to cooperate with the godfather is subjected to all forms of humiliation and political violence.

Godfatherism is also one of the most important factors responsible for electoral malpractices in Nigeria. However, this should come as no surprise, given the assurance that godfathers give to their clients on winning elections when reaching agreements with them.

This explains why elections in Nigeria are usually a contest of power between godfathers. They come out with all the tricks to help their candidates to victory; these include multiple voting, exchanging official ballot boxes with unofficial ones already filled with voting papers, stealing electoral boxes, chasing voters away from constituencies where their candidates are likely to have few votes, killing and wounding political opponents, etc.

Such activities produce counter-violence during elections, which partly explains why most elections in Nigeria are violent.

ALSO READ: Tribal Politics In Nigeria

Conclusion on Political Godfatherism in Nigeria

It should be noted that godfatherism occurs in many other democracies around the world, as it is not uncommon to have influential people in the society giving strong backing to electoral candidates. There is nothing wrong with it if the goal is to use it to get the best people into public offices.

What is wrong with political godfatherism in Nigeria is that the godfathers have turned
politics into a money-making business under which elections are rigged with the aim of 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. In all cases, the godfathers try to exaggerate the extent of their investment in their godsons, which is where the violent conflict starts from.

Political godfatherism in Nigeria is a hydra-headed monster in Nigerian politics. It will continue to threaten the practice of popular political participation in the country if no
concrete efforts are made to deal with the problem.

Jimmy Anisulowo
Jimmy Anisulowo
A couple of unexpected turns in life found Jimmy with a metaphorical pen in hand, churning out content and living in his head so much that he knighted himself the Pen Dragon. He is also an avid reader, gamer, drummer, full-blown metalhead, and all-round fun gi