The concept of godfatherism in Nigeria politics


Price: 2000 Naira (BSC, MSC)



1.1 Background of the Study
Democracy in Nigeria has had a chequered history. From the ‘Wild-Wild West’ experience of the first republic through prolonged autocratic military regimes and the truncated second and third republics to the present democratic dispensation, democracy has suffered debilitating experiences in the country. The perennial travail of democracy is predicated on a number of factors, including ineffective structures and institutions, the foreboding presence of the military, corruption, money politics and godfatherism (Said & Kehinde, 2007: 95)
However, Godfatherism has become a scary phenomenon in Nigerian politics. As rightly observed by Omotola (2007: 139), Godfatherism in Nigeria, particularly in its current form and character, is distributive. Though it is a longstanding and deeply rooted feature of the cultural values of Nigerian society, where it is purely socio-economic in nature and mutually productive both parties, its politicization would appear to have contributed to the criminalization of politics. For example, the Hausa have a well-institutionalized system where the godfather is known as “Maigida” (landlord or head of household). Godfathers reign across all spheres of the society: academics, legal, and religion environment.
Therefore, the clamour for democracy in Nigeria is to improve both political and socio-economic situation of the country through massive involvement in the policy making, but reverse is the case as those that attained political power in both legislative and executive arms of government got to the seat of powers through the support of some political ‘godfathers’ in various states cum the center, however, the desire of political godfathers is to hold political and socio-economic powers both at the center cum the component units as mechanisms to politically influence the activities of political office holders, that is, the Governors and some Legislators in terms of appointing people into various positions, such as Ministers/Commissioners, Chairmen of the boards, Secretaries to the various Institutions, DPM and Treasurers of Local Governments as well as allocation of some developmental projects into various localities within the state or center as well.
Consequently, the impact of the godfathers on Nigeria’s general elections was unprecedented.
Godfathers are those who have the security connections, extended local links, enormous financial weight to plot and determine the success of a power seeker at any level of a supposedly competitive politics. Although godfatherism has an institutionalized feature in Nigerian politics over the years, its contemporary manifestations suggest that it has assumed epidemic proportions, becoming one of the greatest threats to democratic consolidation in Nigeria (Omotola, 2007, 135). The recent activities of some Nigerian godfathers could be likened to attributes of mafianism; however, some still see the existence of godfathers as the balancer of power in a democracy. Akinola (2009) believes in the need to have a good-hearted individual (people’s hero) at the sole realm of absolute power, a godfather distributes power as he deems, and anoints who rules. But, godfatherism has taken a strange dimension in Nigeria’s political environment. It has become a menace pulling down the foundations of masses-driven governance, thereby denying Nigerians the much-deserved dividends of democracy.
Ademola (2004) added that since 1999, when Nigeria joined the comity of democratically governed countries, it has continued to experience an unprecedented rise in political violence ranging from increased crime wave, armed robbery, political assassination, and religious riots as a result of crises loomed between godfathers and some godsons, see the case of godfatherism, which reached its climax during the wanton destruction of lives and properties that witnessed the violent confrontation between a godfather (Chris Uba) and governor of Anambra state (Chris Ngige) and Dr. Olusola Saraki and his godson, late Admiral Mohamed Lawal in 1999-2003 administration in Kwara State which witnessed various political dimensions ranging from the destruction of lives and properties, electoral malpractices/violence, disenfranchisement of many qualified electorates through the engagement of thugs and lastly, the invitation of vote buying system between godfather (Dr. Olusola Saraki) and his godson (Late Admiral Mohamed Lawal) who wanted to become political dictator in the state. In conclussion, there is hardly any state devoid of the existence and influence of godfathers, though the level of such influence varies. In America, the political candidate wiggles around, seeking group and individual endorsements for their candidacy. Also, in other advanced societies, group influence and endorsement could be more valuable than a powerful individual (Akinola, 2009). In essence, godfatherism is a threat to the Nigeria’s nascent democracy. This makes it imperative in this project to explore the ugly phenomenon of godfatherism and its effect on democratization in the country.
1.2 Statement of the Problem
From the background of this study, we have seen the nature of political setting which the Nationalist leaders inherited from the departing British colonialist at independence. The teething problems associated with politics and administration in the new state resulted in early dropping of the British Parliamentary system. But not even the adoption of American presidential system of government in 1963 when Nigeria because a Republic could address, once and-for-all, the problems of leadership succession created by the exploitive foundation and the seeds of discord sown by ethnic politics and selfness of the new leaders. It was these problems that generated the political crisis of 1964/65, which gave rise to the first military intervention in 1966. The successive military regimes that ruled this country since the 1966 Nzeogwu coup detat exacerbated this ugly scenario by creating a clique of multi-millionaire Retired Generals and desperate politicians through their appointments and their arbitrary awards of contracts. These retired Generals and wealthy politicians(money-bags) have graduated from mere kingmakers to desperate godfathers who not only hijacked the affairs of political parties in the country but also sponsored candidates into political offices with a view to having unimpeded access into the public treasury.
These Godfathers induced and connived with their godsons to loot public funds with reckless abandon. According to Chimaroke Nnamani, the former Governor of Enugu State, one of the victims of godfatherism who rose to become a super godfather himself, strictly the godfather is simply a self seeking individual out there to use the government for his own purpose. The cost of this incidence is enormous to the state as what obtains is that when the incumbent godson is at pains to satisfy the whims and caprices of the godfather among other competing demands on the scarce resources of government the interest of the larger number is savagely undermined (Nnamani, Essence Journal Vol. 1: 2004 11).
Unfortunately for the nation the godfathers and their products are united in their desire to fend for themselves at the expense of the nation. They rarely engage in any productive ventures (except as cover ups) and are not in a hurry to do so.
Today they are either the occupants or sponsors of the vast majority of the members of both the legislative and executive arms of government at all levels.
Even local Government councilors, let alone chairmen cannot emerge outside their godfathers. They do not canvas for votes and arrogantly call the bluff of the electorate since they can get elected without the electorates (Adeladun, B, A 2004, file://A/godfatherism.html quoted in Chijioke and Adejare, Essence: 2004: 110).
Jibrin Ibrahim (2003) asserts that the concept of godfatherism is firmly establishing itself as a guiding principle in contemporary politics.
According to Ibrahim, Godfathers are generally defined as men who have the power personally to determine both who gets nominated to contest elections and who wins in a state.
For Ibrahim, “one thing in politics is that you must believe in godfatherism, “if I did not believe in it, I would not be in daddy’s place” (Ibrahim, Nov. 10 2003 BBC focus on African Magazine, quoted in Chijioke and Aderibigbe, 2004: 113).
This shows that there are “godsons” who are trained and sponsored to be in top positions in the society. In some states, godfathers bind their godsons by getting them to sign undated resignation letters, cheques and filming them making resignation announcements. In some cases, godsons carry the briefcases and become errand boys before their godfathers “anoint” them for political offices (Jibrin Ibrahim).
According to Thovethin (2004), we will recap that political godfather phenomenon is not new in Nigeria. It started during the first republic when the forefathers of the nation influenced and controlled political activities in Nigeria (Essence Journal, Vol. 1 2004: 62-63).
These set of godfathers constitute what I termed old godfathers. A good example of these and their protégés are shown in the table below.
Table 1: Former leaders and their godsons.
1 Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe Dr. Jim Nwobodo
2 Chief Obafemi Awolowo Chief Bola Ige
3 Sir Ahamadu Bellow Alh. Tafawa Balewa
4 Mallam Aminu Kono Alh. Abubabkar Rimi
Source; (Essence Journal 2004: 62)
The above group of godfathers offered leadership, ideas, expertise, knowledge and wisdom, which they shared with their brilliant protégés. Their relationships were based on issues and the desire to perpetuate a philosophy of government and a style of development. These protégés acquired knowledge, wisdom, skills and experience from their godfathers. Using the image and goodwill of these great men, the protégés won elections to become a succeeding generation of leaders of the people. Their relationships were not dependent on money for the purchase of people’s votes, manipulation of the electoral process or electoral fraud (Thovoethin, 2004, in Essence Journal Vol. 1 62).
However, there are lots of differences between ideological godfatherism of the past and the crude and predatory form that is currently in place in Nigeria. The second table below represents the new type of predatory political godfathers in Nigeria.
Table 2: Recent godfathers and their godsons
1 Dr. Olusola Saraki Alh Mohamed Lawal
2 Dr. Jim Jim Nwobodo Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani
3 Chief Emaka Offor Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju
4 Chief Chris Uba Dr. Chris Ngige
5 Alh. Lamidi Adedibu Alh. Rashed Ladoja
Source: (Essence Journal, 2004).
According to Thovoethin (2004) what we have in Nigeria today as exemplified by the above table shows that godfatherism has assumed a perverted form. There is no teaching or learning process between the godfathers and their godsons. There is no subscription to common ideals, common goals for human developments and social growth. The new godfathers have no knowledge, ideas and expertise to impart. These godfathers assume their current political position because of their enormous wealth which they invest into politics and expect a return or profit (Theovethin, Essence Journal vol. 1, 2004: 62-63). In fact the only lession they tend to teach their godsons is how to rig and manipulate election results to come to power and how to loot the public treasury (emphasis mine).
At the state level this problem is more pronounced. Even in some states where the godsons attempted to free themselves from the godfathers, these had resulted in protracted political crisis between the two where the godsons utilized state funds to fight for survival thereby frustrating every development efforts as official corruption has become the order of day. This had been the case in Enugu state between 1999 and 2007 where Chief Jim Nwobodo who single-handedly installed Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani as Governor of the state was pushed aside by the “disobedient” godson after a prostrated political crises which nearly brought the economy of the state to its kneels.
The governor having freed himself from the estranged Godfather (Chief Nwobodo) went ahead to solidify his position in the state and succeeded in becoming an autocratic godfather himself by single handedly selecting and installing the 17 local Government chairmen of state who became helpless tools in his hands in the embezzlement of the state and local government funds. The establishment of the state/Local Government Joint Account system helped to compound the problem of official corruption in the Nigerian public sector. The operations of the Joint Account system have so far attracted criticisms. There had been hues and cries at the local level about the way and manner in which the state local government Joint Account is being managed by the various state chief executives. The local government chairmen and other well-meaning Nigerians attribute the low level of developmental activities at the local level to the meager allocations occasioned by unwarranted deductions from local government statutory allocations at the Joint Account Committees. They therefore called for the scraping of the Joint Account system which they blamed for contributing to the woes of the councils through the selfish manipulations of the state Chief Executives.
1.3 Research Question
The research question of this proposed work are stated below:
1. What is Godfatherism
2. What are the concept of Godfatherism in Nigeria politics
1.4 Objectives of the Study
The objective of this study is to show how the phenomenon of concept of godfatherism in Nigeria politics.
1.5 The Significance of the Study
The significance of this study is that it will show how godfatherism and its attendant corruption have affected the management of the state and Local Government Joint Account and other state money. The study shall be useful to the federal government who will use the result of the study to ascertain whether or not to continue with the issue of joint account or to allow the local governments to directly receive and manage their allocations.
It will also be useful to students of political economy as it will be the basis for further research by other interested researchers.
1.6 Research Methodology
Doctrinal method and also empirical shall be mainly adopted in this research which will entail the consideration of statutes, textbooks of both foreign and local authors, journals, case laws conferences, materials form, collection of facts and data through questionnaires, internet and other relevant materials will be consulted.
1.7 Literature Review
The works of Plato, Aristotle, Tacitus, and other classical philosophers are largely focussed on the concentration of political power in the hands of a few in the early Greek and Roman society. Thinkers such as Pareto, Mosca, Michels, and Marx Vilfredo Pareto, 1935 too devoted their political analysis to how power is used and misused by the elite class in different contexts. The domination of power by the hegemonic class in many parts of the contemporary world can thus be said to be nothing new but has a robust pedigree. The main lesson from all these works is that the study of political elites and leadership is very important for understanding the trajectories of development in any society. As Welsh observed, (William A, 1979) political elites ‘participate in, or influence the making of, decisions that allocate resources within and among social units’. A variety of conflicts are produced in the process.
Discourses on political elitism raise two important questions: hierarchy and inequality. Both of them are necessary for understanding the issues to be raised in this paper. ‘Hierarchy’ has to do with the vertical ranking of people in the society into two categories, namely, those at the top and those occupying the lowest positions. Those at the bottom are assumed to be less important than those on top. These social hierarchies are assumed to be pyramidal in nature.
There are more people at the bottom of the hierarchy than those on top. The latter are the crème du sac of the society and are responsible for exercise of social, economic and political powers. Their powers consists largely in their ability to ‘articulate ideas, to persuade, to cajole and coerce, to mobilize, to embody and advance symbols top which large numbers of people respond’. It is in respect of this point that the notion of political elite is associated with inequality. The political elites simply organise themselves in a manner that makes them superior to the rest of their society. This inequality makes it easy for us to differ entiate between ‘rulers’ (the political elites) and the ruled (the masses).
An important issue raised by Pareto and Marx in their works is that political elites insulate and isolate themselves from their society and try as much as possible to reproduce themselves from within. They do all possible within their reach to ensure that non-elites do not join their membership. To ensure this, the political elites maintain a safe, functional distance from the rest of the society.
They reproduce themselves on an individual and selective basis in a process which Pareto specifically referred to as the ‘circulation of elites’. The criteria for such elite recruitment are often parochial and the process is usually done in a manner that does not in any way compromise the traditional integrity of the dominant elite class. As Pareto argued, the dominant class often tries to frustrate any efforts at the ‘collective circulation of elites’ and would rather support individual recruitment. Marx supports this position but argued that an element of revolution is needed for enthroning a new social class or occupational grouping in such a society.
The position of Mosca is slightly different from those of Pareto and Marx. Mosca disagrees with Pareto that elite recruitment is only possible on an individual basis. He believes in the possibility of one social class replacing another. He however disagrees with the Marxists that this is only possible through a revolution. He believes that it is possible for a non-elite member to join the elite class through ‘collective social mobility’. The latter refers to the status that people attain as a result of their social, economic and professional efforts. Mosca also believes that there exists already in many societies of the world a group of people that could be referred to as a ‘sub-elite’. These are the people that facilitate communication between the elite and non-elite and are thus potential tools for relatively large-scale elite recruitment.
Those referred to as sub-elites by Mosca include all manners of professionals, most especially those public servants who translate the policies of the elites into concrete developmental issues in the society. This sub-elite is, in the modern world, 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. What is easily noticed in a developing part of the world, such as Africa, is that the transition of such group of people into the political elite class is facilitated by one or other form of ‘godfather’ (a prominent member of the elite class). In many parts of the developing world where democracy has not been allowed to have a sound footing, it is still a case of selective individual recruitment, as Pareto and Marx argued. The Nigerian situation, which we seek to examine in this paper, however makes it possible for both 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. This paper deals with how ‘godfatherism’ serves as a medium for such selective elite recruitment in Nigeria.
The word ‘godfather’ conjures up different meanings to different people. In many parts of Europe and America, it is simply associated with a cuddly uncle.
The word has almost the same meaning in the Catholic Church tradition. A young man trying to become baptised or married in the Catholic Church is expected to have a godfather. The Catholic Church’s godfather 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.
In France, the term ‘godfather of industry’ is used to depict corporate titans, that is, businessmen with the most clout, and an intriguing class of people who keeps the economy running. The French ‘godfathers’ can be broken down into two types: the first are those who manipulate the economy for their own benefit, and the second those that can be referred to as crisis fixers, social reformers, and populist advocates of the poor (Jibrim Ibrahim, 2003). Another type of godfather is one often seen in American ‘cowboy films’. Such people are associated in the films with mafia gangs. The godfather is usually the ‘big boss’; he surrounds himself with all manner of criminal, often violent, clientele. The latter take orders from the ‘big boss’ and defer to his ‘good judgment’ in virtually all things. The godfather defends his adopted sons when they run into problems, either with law enforcement agents or members of other gangs. 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 liter ature (Jibrim Ibrahim, 2003).
Our interest in this paper concerns political godfathers. They are slightly different from all the others identified above. Such people are found all over the world. They consist of rich men whose contributions to campaign funds of some candidates have helped the latter to win elections. Even in the developed world, such people invest heavily, most especially in the media, to shore up the image of their candidates while at the same time helping to discredit rival candidates.
An example is Carlos Slim, a low profile businessman whose financial support helped Vincente Fox break the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s seventy-one-year grip on power in the 2000 presidential elections in Mexico.
Such power brokers are sometimes referred to as ‘godfathers’.
Nigeria has all the above types of godfathers: most especially those who serve others, those who expect the society to serve them, and even those who channel their resources into criminal activities. Our interest in this paper is in the godfathers in the political sector. Dr Jibrin Ibrahim defined this category of Nigerians, during an interview granted to the BBC on 10 November, 2003 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 godfather from his own personal experience as follows: 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.
The ‘political godfathers’ in Nigeria build an array of loyalists around them and use their influence, which is 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: they dictate who participates in politics and under what conditions. The role of such people is highly injurious to the advancement of popular, participatory democracy in Nigeria. Political godfathers are responsible for most of the preand post-election violence that we have seen in Nigeria. It is thus necessary to have a better understanding of their activities as a way of generating new ideas on how to make the political process in Nigeria less violent and more democratic. Our goal in this paper is to problematize how individuals become a basic cluster in patron-client relationships in Nigeria and in the process begin to negatively affect the political process in the country, often negatively.
• Predatory Political Godfatherism- The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language defines the Godfather as a man who becomes sponsor for a child at its baptism or on confirmation. That is the Christian notion of the word. In politics, the godfather is taken to mean the man who becomes sponsor to a candidate during elections. Predatory political godfatherism, therefore, entails the sponsorship of candidates into political positions and their consequent utilization as tools to loot public treasuries and satisfy personal and or group interests. That is the sponsorship of candidates into political appointive or elective offices with the intention of using such persons in plundering the public wealth. It is a more threatening form of what Richard Joseph referred to as ‘prebendalism’.
• Official Corruption – Corruption can be simply defined as the misappropriation of public resources. Appropriation becomes misappropriation when it deviates from the existing norms of the society.
For the purpose of this study, official corruption is taken to mean corrupt practices undertaken by public officials, that is, political office holders.
Section 98 of the Criminal Code refers to Official Corruption as the receiving or offering some benefits, rewards or inducements to sway or deflect a person employed in the public service from honest and impartial discharge of his duties (Odekunle (eds) 1986: 33). In other words official corruption is operationally defined as the behaviour of public officials which does not correspond to known and publicly acceptable norms and which aims at serving the private interests of those who practice it. It includes white collar crimes committed by politicians and respectable persons in connection with their occupations or offices such as embezzlement of public funds, election rigging, misappropriation of public funds, indirect acquisition of public funds or property through padded payrolls, the placement of relatives in pay-rolls or outright monetary payments from appointees (Odekunle quoted in Chukwu 2003:25).
• Federation Account – This is the account into which all revenues and monetary accruals to the Nigerian Federation are lodged before their final distribution to the various strata of governance (Federal, State and Local Governments). It is not federal government account but an account belonging to the entire federation.
• Federation Account Allocation committee – This is the committee charged with the responsibility of monitoring all revenue accruals to and distributing the money in the Federation Account to the federating units on monthly basis.
• The State Local Government Joint Account- This is the Account kept by the various states of the federation into which all revenue allocations due to their councils are lodged before their distribution to the various councils by JAAC.
• Joint Account Allocation Committee (JAAC) – This is the committee set up by the states and charged with the responsibility of distributing the funds in the state Joint Account to the various councils on monthly basis.

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