Godfatherism: the cancer in our political leadership By By Dan Agbese

White ash appeared to briefly cover the fire lit in River State by two political juggernauts, Wike and Fubara. The fire still smoulders. Wike, the bull dozing minister of FCT, is the immediate past governor of the state; Fubara is his immediate successor.

It is reasonable to assume that Wike had a hand in Fubara’s political fortune and, therefore, he qualifies as his godson. Their problem is typical of the uneasy relationship between godfathers and their godsons. It hacks back to the human struggle for freedom.

The godfather-godson relationship usually turns sour when the godson refuses to play in accordance with the unwritten agreement between them. Power has a funny way of dramatically altering the dynamics of relationships among men and women. Godsons too seek to breathe.

Godfatherism is nothing new in our national politics. It has defined or rather redefined it negatively since our return to civil rule 24 years ago. The typical godfather is either a former or departing player on the political stage at national and state levels. He has the clout to bestow favours on whomever he chooses. The hand on the levers of power may belong to the godson but it is he who pushes the button.

In his transition to civil programme, former President Ibrahim Babangida recognised the danger posed by letting a few men decide the fate of the country and its leadership at all levels. He took steps to prevent the godfathers from assuming the commanding role in our leadership recruitment they have eventually assumed today. He tried to draw the line to separate the new breed from the old brigade in order to introduce a new political order with the new breed in control. He outlawed godfatherism. But it came to grief.

Every election in our country throws up strange and unknown faces; men who have not paid their dues but yet are thrust on the stage as state governors and legislators at national and state levels. They are the anointed godsons of those who arrogate to themselves the right to impose candidates on their parties for elections into the executive and the legislative branches of government.

This is the cancer in the heart of our national politics. We have never seriously interrogated the role of the godfathers in growing or managing our democracy. Their role is entirely ignoble. The assumed right of the godfathers to impose candidates for elections has badly flawed our leadership recruitment process. It has put what should be collective decisions in the hands of the godfathers, also known as stake holders.

This is more damaging to our national politics than you might think. Still, think about the effect on our democracy and the development of the nation at various levels. Third rate men who are not prepared for leadership at the level they are imposed on the people on the say-so of the godfathers are the celebrated leaders of a nation in want of competent and committed leaders, not legalised thieves.

Babangida borrowed the concept of party primaries from the United States and introduced it here to give all the members of a political party the right to choose those who should represent their party in elections into the executive and the legislative branches of government. He believed that giving the power to all party members to make this critical decision would serve two fundamental purposes.

One, it would constitute the first step in the examination of those who put themselves forward for elections because they would be obliged to prove to their party members that they have the right antecedents and are therefore capable of providing good leadership. Two, it would promote our leadership recruitment process and ensure that whoever the parties put forward are deemed to be men and women who have the paid their duties and have proven their competence at other levels of public or private services. We should have no problems in accepting that the party primaries have endured because the general got it right.

But what have we now made of this important concept in our leadership recruitment process? We have Nigerianised it. We have deviated from its principles and bastardized it. Because the godfathers have taken over the party primaries. And the imposition of party candidates in all elections is now accepted as the norm.

Chimaroke Nnamani, former governor of Enugu State, once boasted that he had clipped the wings of the godfathers in his state. He had freed himself from their unrighteous demands and dictatorship. Perhaps, but the godfathers are alive and well in all the states of the federation. It is tragic because it is naïve to expect third rate men to provide first class services and meaningfully drive our national development. We can all see the deleterious effect of this in our development at all levels.

The blind cannot see but he can feel the comprehensive mediocrity in governance at national and sub-national levels. We cheer when a state governor uses public fund to rehabilitate a road; we cheer when a state governor awards a contract for the supply for drugs to an ailing government hospital. We are reduced to cheering because it provides the salve on our collective conscience and dulls the pain of poor governance begat by mediocre leaders minted by the godfathers.

Feuds between godsons and godfathers are familiar diets served in the media. They are about the battle for power and control at the expense of the people. An unwritten agreement between them usually gives the godfathers unfettered control of the government machinery. They are paid for doing nothing but being godfathers. One state governor in the south-west once told a group of us, the nose-pokers, that the problem between him and his godfather had to do with his refusal to pay him and his wife more money. He was paying his godfather N50 million and his wife N30 million a month. The godfather wanted him to increase the payment to N100 million and N50 million for him and his wife respectively. Money is at the root of every feud between a godfather and a godson.

A godson who is not found wanting in the discharge of his duty as a state governor is simply plucked off his political perch for the mortal and unforgivable sin of displeasing his godfather. His replacement might be either a more competent man or a man with two left hands, a yes-man willing, ready, and eager to massage the ego and minister to the whims and caprices of the godfather.

Godfathers are control freaks. They keep their godsons on a short leash to limit their freedom and their all-too-human inclination to roam beyond the power loop considered safe for the godfathers. Growing wings is always considered by a godfather as the height of disloyalty and treachery. The response is always swift: clip the godson’s wings and stop him from flying. A politically grounded godson is tossed out of the power loop as a has-been. But the godsons give as much as they get too. They resist their godfathers and toss them out of the power loop. Consider, if you will be so kind, the damage done to the country by a system that exists to reward men who do nothing for the public but are paid so generously from the public treasuries.

I have looked into the future of our national politics and wish to report that nothing is about to change. Power seekers need godfathers. It makes the process of power acquisition easier and miraculous. It is now accepted as the unique nature of our political system. So, ask not why our political system is ragged and unstable. Ask not why we celebrate motion as movement. Ask not why men who are fit to be councillors are thrust upon us as state governors. Ask not why our political leaders hardly lead. Ask not why corruption is a just reward for poor and disarticulated leadership. And ask not why disruptions and chaos are accepted as normal in our national politics. Remember that the godfather never sleeps.