THE coinage, godfatherism, is perhaps one of the most popular and self explanatory adjuncts in the world today. It has a dual meaning, one being religious and seemingly harmless and the other political and sometimes dangerous. In the sphere of religion, a godfather is supposed to be a guardian that undertakes to teach a child (grandson) Christian values. In politics, however, godfatherism connotes favouratism, undue advantage, tyranny, suppression and even treachery.
Godfatherism gives undue advantage to a particular individual to excel over others; it grants unmerited favour on its candidate over others, especially in a competition or contest. It allows tyranny to lord over the people; it aids and even supervises suppression of fairness, truth and justice. Above all, godfatherism is an enemy of national development.
But in no sector of national development is godfatherism as prominent and pronounced as in politics. The history of our dear country, Nigeria, especially her political history, is replete with stories of political kingmakers who have in the last five decades, bestrode our political landscape, dictating not only the pace of leadership and governance but also our political development. In the last 16 years, this political cankerworm has caused tremendous damage and stunted the development of the political process in the country.
The political strategy of godfathers is well known. They anchor the political campaign to install their political sons to public offices as governors, legislators and local government chairmen in processes which involve huge resources and most times circumventing of electoral processes for their candidate who may not be the best on grounds of merit or the people’s choice by popular demand or vote.
The Nigerian experience of godfatherism has largely left the nation politically and economically underdeveloped in spite of the years of democratic governance. This is both true in its ability to subvert the people’s right to vote in leaders of their choice at elections as well as the frequent backlash resulting from the fighting that often erupts between the godfathers and their grandsons after the elections. It has been a recurring experience across the country in the last 16 years seeing these godsons turning around to fight their godfathers over control of the state or whatever level of influence they are meant to be in charge of.
There have been numerous examples of political sons and their erstwhile godfathers going for each other’s jugulars, often over the control of resources of the state.
In Edo State the issue of godfatherism in its political affairs centred on three personalities namely Chief Tony Anenih (Mr. Fix-it), former Chairman Board of Trustee of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Dr. Samuel O. Ogbemudia, and Chief Gabriel Iginedion, father of the former Governor Lucky Igbinedion. The ugly head of godfatherism was first raised during the process of the party’s primary where the gubernatorial candidate selection saw a popular Alhaji Azeez Garuba losing to Lucky prior to the 1999 election in an undemocratic manner. Again in 2003, on behalf of the trio, Chief Igbinedion, boasted at a campaign rally at Sam Ogbemudia Stadium that government house was not vacant, even though it was manifestly clear that the performance of his son Lucky’s administration was nothing to write home about. The governor was loyal to his godfather (Mr Fix-it ) until 2006, but when the issue of who would become the PDP flag bearer for 2007 gubernatorial elections came up, things fell apart.
The matter was serious to the extent that two factions of the party emerged with two secretariats, both at the state and local government levels with Chief Anenih and Dr S.O Ogbemudia on one side and governor Lucky Igbinedion and Chief Gabriel Igbinedion on the other side. With the older Igbinedion on his side and in the bid to prove his political might, the governor relieved appointees loyal to Chief Anenih and his group from their positions. But in reward for their loyalty, those people were often compensated with federal appointments . The tussle came to a head when Friday Itulah, an Anenih loyalist, was removed from office as speaker and replaced with David Iyoha, an Igbinedion supporter. It is no gainsaying that the people of Edo State suffered immeasurably in terms good governance and legislation as well as the development of social amenities while the economy also suffered considerably.
That was the situation which the incumbent Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole, found on ground when he contested the Governorship of the State in 2007 on the platform of the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN. Of course he had to undertake a tenacious legal battle that lasted almost one year before he could reclaim his mandate from Professor Oserheimen Osunbor of the PDP. The incumbent, whose popular campaign slogan was “One Man One Vote”, quickly went into battle to dismantle the machinery of godfatherism in the State. There is little doubt that his political battle with the “invincible Mr. Fix-it” is still fresh in the memory of Edo State people who welcomed it as a sign of freedom and the beginning of development for Edo State.
That is why it is still unbelievable the rumours making the rounds in the State at the moment that the same Governor has anointed some candidates for the coming governorship election in the State. It would amount to going against what he fought for if the rumour is true. Firstly, it will be an indictment on his part that his battle against the godfathers in the State was all done to gain control of the State’s political machinery for his own self interest. Secondly, aside denying the people of Edo State the freedom to make their choice at the election, the act would be taking the State’s political development several steps backward. Thirdly, the former godfathers whose wings he was able to clip in the past seven and half years, would now feel justified to return to their old arena. There is no doubt that Edo State will be the worse for it. And of course it will be an unfair contest for other candidates to go into such a competition with the power of incumbency behind one of the contestants.
On the whole, there is need to address the evil of godfatherism if this country must develop politically, socially and economically.
Happily, the present administration, whose battle cry is CHANGE, has begun the process by addressing the issue of corruption. But while it is doing so, the government must also address the issue of poverty to empower the people against cash and other corrupt inducements during elections. Also our electoral machinery must be sanitised to check these political jobbers who believe they could subvert the right of the people to choose the leaders of their choice against the peoples’ sovereign will.
One question that has always agitated the minds of political analysts is why state chief executives most times insist on installing “anointed candidate” over the peoples popular choices. Aside the fact that it arrogates monopoly of knowledge to such governors, the whole thing smells of desperation on the part of a governor to cover up his evil deeds while in office. With his stooge taking over from him, he would feel more secure to enjoy his loot and even continue to exploit the people. A governor who has nothing to hide would be ready to quit the seat of government when his term expires without imposing a stooge.
On the whole, there is need to address the evil of godfatherism if this country must develop politically, socially and economically. Happily, the present administration, whose battle cry is CHANGE, has begun the process by addressing the issue of corruption. But while it is doing so, the government must also address the issue of poverty to empower the people against cash and other corrupt inducements during elections. Also our electoral machinery must be sanitised to check these political jobbers who believe they could subvert the right of the people to choose the leaders of their choice against the peoples’ sovereign will.
Mr David Ikhueoya, a political analyst, wrote from Benin City, Edo State.