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An emergent feature of politics in Nigeria is the phenomenon of a Mafiosi style of godfatherism in leadership. The political class has been instrumental in propagating this political orientation which deliberately nurtures the corruption of the electoral process, governmental structures and equally ensures that the electoral process and state power are skewed towards satisfying the selfish interest of the dominant political mentors otherwise known as ‘political godfathers’ or the ‘Mafiosi.’
Godfatherism has been in Nigeria for quite a long time. 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 which further illustrates how the Mafiosi style of leadership can be compared to Nigerian politics.
Literarily, godfatherism and leadership are not the same and do not have the same meaning. Even though all godfathers are leaders, not all leaders are godfathers. This conviction arises from the real meaning of a godfather; just like the legendary Don Vito Corleone of Mario Puzo’s bestseller The Godfather and his son Michael Corleone, political godparents provide inspiration and support, including financial help for a particular cause. Godfathers whether in religious, business or political terms are generally very influential and powerful. They are the typical ‘Very Important Personalities.’ Strikingly, not all godfathers run for political office or seek political appointments. Some of them are contented being the kingmakers who sponsor political protégés to the political throne.
Godfatherism has become a scary phenomenon in Nigeria politics. This is because; godfathers have sustained a reputation for deploying their wealth to secure party nomination for candidates of their choice, sponsor their elections including manipulating the electoral process for their selfish interest. This dominant political culture has not only been sustained by the privileged few but has become perverse and is today a major source of tension and political instability in the polity.
The concept of godfatherism is firmly establishing itself as a guiding principle in contemporary Nigeria politics. Godfathers are generally defined as men who have the power personally to determine both who gets nominated to contest elections and who wins in the election.
In Nigeria, political godfatherism is like a well-organised crime just like it is in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather, it is also not limited to a clime or creed. It evolves and new tenures and regimes give birth to new godfathers while others take it by force through violence or strategic planning and positioning. Many political gladiators or chieftains from the First Republic through to the current Fourth Republic can be regarded as godfathers. It is apt to classify Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, Alhaji Tafawa Balewa, Sir Ahmadu Bello, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Alhaji Aminu Kano, Chief J.S Tarka as some of the notable godfathers of Nigerian politics in the First Republic. Some of them like Awolowo, Zik, Aminu Kano joined by Oloye Olusola Saraki who was the Senate leader in the Second Republic rank among notable godfathers in the Second Republic. During the aborted Third Republic, the National Democratic Coalition better known as NADECO and Afenifere leaders such as the first Executive Governor of Oyo State, Chief Bola, Pa Abraham Adesanya, Pa Alfred Rewane and Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu came out strong as the political godfathers in the South-West politics. They determined who got what, when and how in the South-West politics.
In this Fourth Republic which started in 1999, we have seen a former political protégé, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, emerging like a colossus since his stewardship as governor of Lagos State in 2007 to becoming a political godfather not only in Lagos but also in the South-West and indeed Nigerian politics. Other political godfathers of note in this Fourth Republic include former President Olusegun Obasanjo, the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), former Chief of Army Staff and Minister of Defence, Gen. T.Y Danjuma (retd,), former Minister of Information in the First Republic, Chief Edwin Clarke, Chief Chris Uba in Anambra State, former governor of Delta State, Chief James Onanefe Ibori, and a former governor of Kano State, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwanso, the Igbinedions in Edo state. The list is by no means exhaustive.
These heavyweight political figures can be classified as political godfathers because of their method of operation. They manage a very organised, well-developed political web which consists of stooges, proteges and minions. These are people who determine the political barometer in their states, geopolitical regions or national politics. They are very influential, successful businessmen, former political office holders and very powerful just like Don Vito Corleone.
One evolving trend of godfatherism in Nigerian politics can be referenced on how Amerigo Bonasera always came to kiss Don Corleone’s (the Godfather) feet to ask for favours, this is how Nigerian politicians run to their respective Godfathers for help, for the state governors, these Godfathers force them to sign away their federal allocations, they also sign pacts with the devil by swearing oaths of loyalty and allegiance at native shrines.
Perhaps the greatest resemblance between Mafiosi gangsters and Nigerian politicians is in the area of perpetrating mayhem, killings, and the hiring of hoodlums and goons. Party politics in Nigeria is never complete without political thuggery and assassinations. There is a long list of opponents in Nigeria that have fallen from assassins’ bullets sponsored by political opponents. In gangster land, putting out a hit or contract on a rival gangster is also commonplace. Gangsters are known to belong to mobs and so are Nigerian politicians, hence the descriptions Kaduna Mafia, Langtang Mafia, and few others not conspicuously existing. This mob mentality actually became a permanent feature of party politics in Nigeria in the second republic.
In the eastern part of Nigeria, there were lots of such hired goons, who were financed by the politicians at the time; Jim Nwobodo was financing the Jim’s Vanguard while Emeka Odumegwu Ojukwu financed the Ikemba Front. Clashes between these two opposing camps were widely reported in the media and at the time provided real entertainment to the party politics followers, their rivalry culminated in the now-famous Nkpo junction clash between the Jim’s Vanguard and the Ikemba Front, this clash led to the ‘ignominious pimp’ speech by the Ikemba. In Imo state, the ‘weeping’ governor late Sam Mbakwe set up the Onunaka Front Organisation (OFO) which he used as his own private security outfit, Mbakwe had no problems in recruiting members into this organisation as he had ample supply from the unemployed weight lifters who normally congregated at the Aba stadium, known as ‘ndi akpu obi’ (Big and muscular men). These political thugs later metamorphosed into armed robbers when they were disbanded as a result of the Buhari/Idiagbon military coup, but having tasted power they never really went away and have continued to provide ‘executioner’ services to successive politicians, they were recently seen in action in Anambra state but this time under the direction of Chris Uba. Militia and Vigilante organisations such as the OPC, MASSOB and The Bakassi have also been used in the Western and Eastern parts of Nigeria by politicians as thugs to intimidate their opponents; the politicians are known to sponsor these organisations through the purchase of arms and also by making financial contributions.
The other associated similarities between Nigerian politicians and Mafiosi gangsters are betrayal and backstabbing (the kiss of death theory). Olusegun Obasanjo demonstrated this in his saga with Audu Ogbeh, he was having lunch with him while at the same time detailing security operatives to his house to put him under house arrest and force his resignation. Ibrahim Babangida did the same to his alleged friend, the late M.K.O Abiola when he annulled the June 12 elections, which Abiola had contested with Ibrahim Babangida’s assurances and won, this made Abiola remark that ‘with friends like this, we no longer need enemies’. One can also recall Michael Corleone kissing his brother-in-law in the presence of his sister, despite having given the order for him to be executed.
Oloye Olusola Saraki was a former leader of the Nigerian Senate in the Second Republic. He was reported to have backed Alhaji Adamu Attah to become the governor of old Kwara State in 1979. When they fell apart as is wont in cases of political godfathers and godsons in Nigeria, Oloye moved to back Chief Cornelius Adebayo in the race for the Kwara Government House in 1983. Adebayo won. From then, every governorship candidate that he threw his weight behind ended up being victorious at the poll. He was the one that backed Mohammed Lawal to victory and when he fell apart with him decided to make his own son, Bukola, governor of Kwara State and made his daughter, Gbemisola, a Senator. He succeeded. Unfortunately for Oloye, his son became his political nemesis during the 2011 elections as Bukola did not agree with his father to back his sister, Gbemisola, as the next governor after him. Oloye left the Peoples Democratic Party to form a new political party, Allied Congress Party of Nigeria, under which Gbemisola contested the 2011 election but lost to the governorship candidate of the PDP, Abdulfatah Ahmed, who was Bukola’s anointed candidate for the post.
Chief Lamidi Adedibu was referred to as the strongman of Ibadan politics. Though he was never elected into a political office, Adedibu was so influential to the point that former President Obasanjo and former chairman of the PDP, Col, Ahmed Ali (retd.) deferred to him and took sides with him against a former governor of Oyo State, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, when the duo fell apart over the sharing of the state’s resources. He got the governor impeached by the lawmakers in a hotel room in Ibadan and for 11 months, Ladoja was in court before his mandate was restored. Adedibu successfully sponsored many candidates to office and was instrumental to the emergence of Ladoja and his successor, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala. He also made his son, Kamorudeen, a senator of the Federal Republic.
Like Adedibu, Chris Uba (Eselu) who can be likened to Don Carmine Cuneo was never elected into any political office but boasted to be the ‘godfather of all godfathers’ in Anambra State when he swayed the outcome of the 2003 governorship election for his godson, Dr Chris Ngige. The godson later reneged on the alleged pact signed with his godfather and all hell was let loose as the godfather got the governor illegally impeached as well as allegedly sponsored three days of mindless arson on Anambra State. He was never brought to justice.
In Kano, former Governor Rabiu Musa Kwakwanso likened to Don Philip Tattaglia reportedly sponsored many of his supporters in the Kwankwansiyya movement to electoral victory. He even backed his former deputy, Dr, Umar Ganduje, to succeed him. Unfortunately, he and the incumbent governor fell apart and his political influence in Kano politics greatly decimated.
Another ruthless godfather, Ex-president Obasanjo not only backed his daughter, Iyabo, to become a senator, he was also very instrumental to the emergence of the three presidents after him namely – Umaru Yar’Adua, Dr Goodluck Jonathan and current President Muhammadu Buhari. Unfortunately, Obasanjo and the incumbent had parted ways politically. This happened ahead of the 2019 presidential election.
Asiwaju Tinubu who can be likened to Don Emilio ‘the wolf’ Barzini is a political godfather to be very reckoned with given his exploits since leaving office as Lagos governor after two terms in 2007. He was credited with the choice of his successors from Babatunde Raji Fashola to Akinwunmi Ambode and now Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Some of his political protégés include Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, immediate past and the current governors of Osun State, Rauf Aregbesola and Gboyega Oyetola, among many others. His political connections also spread far into the South-South region with a few stooges in the Southeast.
The final honourable mention would be the Fulani Oligarchy who currently run the top show in Nigerian politics, they can be likened to Don Vito Corleone and his successor Don Michael Corleone. Although they are not as prominent as the Corleones, they have massive political power at their disposal. They operate anonymously from the backgrounds while calling the shots in numerous events that have affected Nigerian politics of recent. Another factor that distinguishes them from other shot-callers in Nigerian politics is their ruthlessness when it comes to oppositions. The Fulani Oligarchy can boast an enviable reputation of garnering unwavering loyalty from their minions by making reputable examples of those who go astray from their directives and those who try to double-cross them. Some good examples are Adams Oshiomhole is a political godfather and kingmaker who worked under the directives of the Fulani Oligarchy. He was demystified and shamefully cast out of the corridors of power when he tried to go against the oligarchy. Owelle Rochas Okorocha, and Orji Uzor Kalu, on the other hand, are well-known minions of the Oligarchy who were entrusted with the more radical Southeast region. Their power drunkenness and carelessness which cost them potential top positions in the Southeast and the near loss of control by the Oligarchy in the Southeast region was punished adequately with a prison sentence, loss of property and some court summons.
Another example is the Asiwaju Bola Tinubu affair who like the proverbial Nza bird, ate to his full and challenged his Chi (personal god) to a wrestling bout. The Chi in this example being the Fulani Oligarchy. Tinubu’s indication of trying to vie for the top seat in the country cost him more than he bargained for. Slowly and systematically, he was also demystified, rendered irrelevant in a party he helped to create and then finally pitched against his own people following the recent Lekki Tollgate massacre. As mentioned earlier, the oligarchy is a group of people (a Mafiosi family) who operate anonymously and remotely to completely demolish political oppositions with or without a probable cause.
Godfatherism in Nigeria is of no benefit to anyone or the political spheres of Nigeria. Many of these godfathers are more obsessed with personal aggrandisement and expansion of their political empires. They care less about national, state or regional development agenda even though they constantly parrot it. It is mere lip service. The reason the relationship between godfathers and godsons doesn’t last is the attempt by the godfathers to micromanage their godsons. That apart, for backing them to victory, godfathers often make heavy demands on their protégés. They want plum political appointments for their other minions who depend on them for their political survival who also have to return certain favours to their political benefactors. They also want lucrative government contracts for themselves. However, so many political godfathers can be classified as benevolent dictators. They never do their political deeds for altruistic but selfish reasons.
The political bondage the Fulani Oligarchy being the ‘head family’ of godfathers in Nigeria has on other regions is something that cannot be easily broken out of. Just like the Mafiosi, they have established a strong network of stooges and minions who they have empowered with money and political positions. They have also craftily taken hold of all major agencies in Nigeria, from security agencies, tax revenue agencies to the judicial and legislative arms of the Nigerian Government. They also control the direct flow of funds in the Country while calling all the major shots and decisions in the Federal Government. Breaking out of the hold of the Fulani Oligarchy is somewhat near-impossible if not difficult.
Again using Mario Puzo’s The Godfather as a good reference, the only way the Southern region would be able to break out of the stronghold placed on them by the Fulani Oligarchy is by the use of good political realignments. Firstly, they need to identify all stooges and minions under the payroll of the oligarchy. This would be quite an uphill task but with the help of good connections, they will be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. And then, the next would be to build up external connections in other regions in the country. These connections would include those who have a score or two to settle with the oligarchy and other Northern stalwarts who do not condone the activities of the Fulani oligarchy. After this, they can either engage the oligarchy in a political face-off or outwit them politically thereby beating them at their own game.
AFRICA TODAY NEWS, NEW YORK