Godfatherism: A Bottleneck in Nigerian Political System

The phenomenon of godfatherism has become a plague in the body politics of Nigeria. There is an emerging trend in Nigeria which shows that an intending contestant must have and depend on a godfather with the requisite wealth and power to get him into elective office. The implication is that contestants no longer rely on their popularity among the electorates but on their chosen godfathers to help them secure electoral victories.

This phenomenon has trampled upon the basic principle of democracy and has encouraged the failure of political leaders to perform optimally.

The word ‘godfather’ has different meanings to different people. “Godfathers” in Nigerian politics don’t usually run for office themselves, but many believe they are the ones who decide the election winners and losers. They are political sponsors, who use money and influence to win support for their preferred candidates.

Godfatherism has become a norm in Nigeria’s political environment, where an individual can hardly hold political office either by appointment or election without patronizing a godfather because of their power and influence. Although godfatherism is not new in Nigeria but it has assumed a ludricrous dimension in the current Nigeria’s political dispensation.

Over the years, Nigeria’s political godfathers build loyalists around themselves and use their influence to manipulate the rest of society. Occasionally, they obstruct the participation of others within their political sphere and dictate party candidates.

These godfathers in most cases become powerful due to the important leadership positions they hold or have held, their wealth, their ability to mobilise grassroots support, amongst others.

To elucidate more about godfatherism in Nigeria, Dr Dele Ashiru, a senior lecturer at the department of political science at the University of Lagos says, “godfather culture is more about the individual than the collective. Democracy is about the people, but here you have a few individuals across the country who take critical political decisions, particularly that have to do with the recruitment of public officers.”

Godfatherism is very common throughout the nooks and crannies of the Nigerian politics. Some godfathers have regional control of their spheres of influences whilst others are in charge all around the country. These godfathers with national influences are usually visited by persons seeking political offices. They also own ginormous stakes in the influential media industry.

These godfathers sometimes combine their positions as traditional and religious leaders and fundamentally most of them have connections with former powerful military Generals.

Godfatherism is both a symptom and a cause of the violence and corruption that together permeate the political process in Nigeria. The following statement by Afe Babalola illustrated the monstrosity of godfatherism in Nigeria:

“a few years back, it took the judicial intervention of the Supreme Court to restore the mandate of a Governor in the South West who was impeached by some members of the State House of Assembly, allegedly on the instructions of the godfather who had facilitated the election of the governor in question.

“In the South-East, another governor was alleged to have signed documents indicating that he would serve a single term only if supported by a prominent politician in the state.

“Numerous other examples abound of politicians who have essentially handed-over the functions of their offices to their political benefactors with the effect that most political office holders are hamstringed in the performance of their duties. They must defer to their political godfathers for matters such as appointment of commissioners, appointment into the board of statutory corporations, etc.”

Greed, excessive love for power and dominance are seen as the major factors that either cause or promote the atmosphere of godfatherism in our political scene.

Effects of Godfatherism in Nigeria

Godfatherism in Nigerian politics keeps affecting the aspiration of the country to attainment of the best democratic policies in many ways.

Firstly, it aids the corruption and violence which have characterized many elections in Nigeria. On the day of the election, the politician who owes his candidacy to such a godfather can rely on his ability to mobilize huge resources in an attempt to bribe electoral officials and the electorates and where these fail, violence will be deployed to bring about the desired result.

This was affirmed by former Enugu State governor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani while speaking at a lecture entitled “Godfather Phenomenon: Media Hype or Democratic Realism?” in Lagos. He stated that the phenomenon of godfatherism in Nigerian politics is responsible for youth delinquency, violence and lack of good and effective governance in the country.

Secondly, godfatherism bring about numerous negative trends in the Nigerian political scene such as rigging elections, looting of funds, disenfranchisement and electoral malpractice, nepotism, tribalism, bureaucracy, insurgency and religious disputes.

The Anambra crisis that erupted between Chris Ngige and his supposed Godfather Chris Uba is a testament to these notions. The current situation of things in Lagos state also affirms the effect of ‘Godfatherism’ in our democracy.

Thirdly, godfatherism in Nigerian politics has eaten deep into the nation’s political space and economy. It has led to political slavery, puppetry leadership, and dogmatic citizenship. A concept of governance that forces its citizenry to accept all that godfathers offer.

Ayodele Patrick buttressed this fact by saying, “godfatherism in Nigeria has been here quite long. Ever since Nigeria launched its democratic rule, and freedom from military dictatorship, godfatherism has been the new style for political imposition. The imposition of candidates has taken so much time and political space in Nigeria, and this has continued to bedevil the country from progressing beyond the godfathers’ allowed capacity.”

In addition, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and three -time commissioner in Lagos State , Dr Muiz Banire, observed that godfatherism was one of the challenges for professionals and businessmen who might want to go into politics.

Fourthly, godfatherism helps in distorting the effective functioning of political parties, however, the issue is neglected by the political institutions shouldered with the responsibility of maintaining the sanctity of the system.

To encapsulate, godfatherism has been the bane of Nigerian politics. It hampers meritocracy and promotes mediocrity. Yes some “elected” officials with godfathers have distinguished themselves, but our electoral process should be free of manipulations from people with vested interest, for the good of all.

Solution to Godfatherism in Nigeria

Godfatherism is unacceptable for a Nigeria that claims to operate a democracy, which regards principles of transparency and accountability as vital for its effective functioning.

Therefore, some steps must be taken to put an end to this scourge of godfatherism for the purpose of optimizing the distribution of dividends of democracy in Nigerian society and making society to experience political betterment as one of the functions they entrust their leaders.

Firstly, we must begin to emancipate ourselves from the beliefs that constrain us as a people, rather we must ask the intelligible questions that would ensure voting incredible and accountable candidates.

Secondly, the National Assembly should also make a law that would forbid the act of godfatherism in Nigeria.

Thirdly, the President should find a means to checkmate the activities of Governors in this country. President should look at the way they use the grants sending to their respective states because if President is good but the Governors are bad the activities of president may not show.

Fourthly, we as a people and nation need to change our mindset on what politics is, and what it should be. We should adopt a new way of choosing leaders and elected officials – who enshrine principles of transparency, public accountability and are competent, have the required character and courage to lead Nigeria into being a developed nation.

Lastly, Influx of money into politics should be controlled by the government and the citizens should be made to understand that nobody has the monopoly of deciding who are to lead.