By Sani Danaudi Mohammed
Chris Albin Lackey’s quite expository classic, ‘The Origin and Meaning of Nigeria’s Godfatherism Phenomenon’ makes an engrossing read. It is a well-researched document on how the politics of godfatherism evolved in the Nigerian context. Being a term used primarily in Nigeria, godfatherism refers to the existence of political godfathers who, by virtue of their wealth and power, exert political influence behind the scenes while often remaining out of the limelight. Given his great political clout, a political godfather, in Nigeria, will be able to shape not only those who are nominated to contest elections but those who win.
To say nothing short of the truth, the emergence of godfatherism in Nigerian politics has done more harm than good to the nation’s embattled democracy which obviously needs resetting. The word ‘godfather’, which appears in parenthesis in many western political studies, can be traced back to 1960 when the godsons of the late Sir Ahmadu Bello, former Premier of Northern Region, later became a mythical political cabal known as the ‘Kaduna Mafia’22 in Nigerian politics. In southwestern Nigeria, at almost the same time, the godsons of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo were collectively known as The Afenifere Group. In those glorious days, The Afenifere Group was peopled by such political gladiators as Chief Bola Ige, Alhaji Lateef Jakande and Chief Bisi Onabanjo who would later become governors of Oyo, Lagos and the Ogun States respectively. These ones and many others, whose names would not be mentioned in this article for the constraint of space, were trained to imbibe the ideological beliefs of Awolowo, which are embodied in Awoism. Believed to have also ‘graduated’ from the Awoist School of ideological thoughts, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is an established political godfather whose political empire has produced a good number of Nigerian political heavyweights. Some of Tinubu’s godsons, like the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, are competing with him in the race towards clinching the APC presidential ticket.
Since the pre-independence era in Nigeria, the politics of godfatherism has become a norm in the Nigerian fledgling democracy. And it is high time the upcoming politicians fought it if they must make any headway in the impending political transition. A godfather, in the Hausa legend, is literally interpreted as ‘Maigida’ (landlord or the head of a household). The word ‘Maigida’, however, means more than its literal sense. For instance, Abner Cohen, Paul Lovejoy, and Polly Hill used the term in their works to refer to those who provided brokerage services to Hausa traders in transit across the different parts of West Africa.
The conflict arising from godfatherism has become one of the greatest problems facing the Nigerian political system. The holder of the political position becomes a stooge to his godfather since he who pays the piper dictates the tune. By the time the godson refuses to meet his godfather’s demand, he falls out of favour with the godfather and eventually gets removed from the political office. In the Fourth Republic of Nigeria for instance, Scenarios such as the Saraki-Lawal face off, Nwobodo-Nnamani quagmire, Adedibu-Ladoja crisis, Uba-Ngige rift, Yarima-Shinkafi feud, Kwankwaso-Ganduje misunderstanding, Jonathan-Sylva fight, Tinubu-Ambode scuffle and Goje-Inuwa affray are few examples of political conflict between godfathers and their godsons in the Nigerian socio-political context.
These godfatherism-induced political crises in Nigeria do not only portend great danger to our democratic experiments but also threaten the real essence of our peaceful co-existence as people of a culture-linguistically diverse nation like Nigeria. Needless to say that the billions of naira spent by Nigerian godfathers to bankroll the elections of their godsons have completely made a mess of our political affairs in this country to the extent that men of honour, character and integrity are now discouraged from contesting elective public positions. Today, in the presence of money, nothing else matters as much as impropriety does. Youths with the true spirit of struggles can hardly actualize their political ambitions beyond the wordings of paper headlines and the electronic rhizomes of social media. There is an urgent need for the young people to reactivate the struggles of mass mobilisation and installation of their fellow youths in the next coming elections. Failing this, their dream of active involvement in political governance will continue to be an illusion.
The late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe’s godsons in eastern Nigeria included Chief Jim Nwobodo and Chief Sam Mbakwe, both of whom were also governors in Anambra and Imo states respectively from 1979 to 1983. Alhaji Abubakar Rimi and Alhaji Balarabe Musa, who were respectively governors of Kano and Kaduna states during the Second Republic, recognised Alhaji Alninu Kano as their political godfather throughout his lifetime. The interesting thing about the syndrome of godfatherism in Nigeria is that the godsons produced by the earliest godfathers like Ahmadu Bello, Obafemi Awolowo and Nnamdi Azikiwe also became godfathers, most especially during the ill-fated Third Republic and the present political dispensation in Nigeria.
Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje is known to be Rabiu Kwankwaso’s longtime friend. He served as Kwankwaso’s Special Adviser and Deputy when he was Minister of Defense (2003-2007) and Governor of Kano State (1999-2003; 2011-2015) respectively. Ganduje indisputably doubles as a beneficiary of Kwankwaso’s political nurturing and a victim of godfatherism. The desperate move to install Gawuna as his successor in 2023 is obviously a political move by Ganduje to crown self-appoint as another godfather in Kano politics. Currently, Kwankwaso is making a spirited move, working with his new party (NNPP) to install Abba Gida Gida, his former Commissioner of Works, in a bid to retain his position as the godfather of Kano politics. Whoever emerges from both APC and NNPP as governor of Kano State come 2023 will be the godson of either of the Kwankwasiya and Gandujiya political dynasties.
The massive defection of a great number of political gladiators from the ruling All Progressives Congress into NNPP portends grave danger for the Ganduje political camp in Kano State. This development is giving Kwankwaso a green light that, come 2023, the drum will be sounding in favour of the Kwankwasiya political dynasty. Interestingly, optimistic about his landslide victory in the Kano State 2023 gubernatorial elections, Abba Gida Gida, Kwankwaso’s godson, seems to be celebrating his triumph in advance. Now, APC has already lost Abdulmumin Jibrin, the Campaign DG of one of Tinubu’s support groups, to the NNPP. Similarly, Hon. Kabir Alhassan Rurum (former Speaker of the Kano State House of Assembly and a staunch ally of Governor Ganduje) and numerous political game changers in the Kano State politics like Ibrahim Shekarau; two-term Governor of Kano State (2003-2007; 2007-2011), Hon. Kawu Sumaila (OFR); former SSA to President Muhammadu Buhari, and some others who are loyal to Ganduje have moved over to the Kwankwaso camp.
The foregoing are not the only odds stacked against the success of the Ganduje camp at the polls come 2023. The young Salihu Tanko Yakasai, a communication expert and refined journalist, is all out, on the political platform of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), to slug it out with both Ganduje and Kwankwaso. Yakasai’s intimidating CV is as convincing as the structure he is currently building to defeat the accomplished godfathers and, thus, change the narrative in the state. He was former Special Adviser on media to Governor Ganduje and former Director General, Media & Communications at Government House in Kano. He’s the founding curator of Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum Kano Hub and media marketing consultant and a former freelance reporter for CNN. A Harvard- and LSE-trained technocrat, Yakasai is a grassroots politician with over two decades of active participation in national politics. As a champion of the European Union Spotlight Initiative in Nigeria working on Girl Child and Gender Based Violence, Yakasai will sure have the youths to his side in order to give godfatherism a technical knockout in Kano State. Having no godfather working for him in the background, Yakasai’s current acceptability in Kano portrays him as the next Kano political avatar, should he win the governorship seat.
As long as Ganduje fails to put his house in order, many will soon be on their way out of the party, The only reason they are still holding out is to properly cross the t’s and dot the i’s on the backstairs negotiations. Now, while it might seem that Kwakwanso and the NNPP are properly positioned to cash in on the obvious cracks and hysteria within the Ganduje camp, it would be premature to conclude that as, over the last seven years in the saddle, Ganduje has proved how politically adept he truly is and has exhibited impressive political dexterity and sagacity numerous times. He is an opponent that cannot be written off easily. The next few months will be an interesting skit to watch. Kano seems poised to exhibit a master-class in politics. We shall watch as events unfold!
Danaudi, National President of Arewa Youths advocate for Peace and Unity Initiative, writes from Bauchi via: firstname.lastname@example.org.