The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) declared Governor Obaseki as the winner of Saturday’s gubernatorial election in Edo state. The All Progressives Congress (APC) polled 223619 votes while Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) polled 307955 votes. The atmosphere before and after the election was saturated with discourse on godfatherism. Political news headlines over the weekend featured godfatherism as the key word – victory over godfatherism, triumph over godfatherism, New dawn; it is the end of godfatherism in Nigerian politics, etc. Paraded in different forms the major takeaway dominating the news was that the battle against godfatherism has been won in Nigeria politics following the victory of Governor Obaseki of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) at the just concluded governorship polls in Edo state.
The political phenomenon of godfatherism is a concern for all and sundry. The term “godfathers” originated from Chicago gangsters in the United States led by Al Capone before the World War II period. Discussions about it becomes heightened towards elections even though it is not a new phenomenon in the Nigerian political arena. There is no consensus as to the definition of the word but in simple terms it is a situation whereby an influential individual hand-picks someone to attain leadership in order to exert authority or influence. The end result of the process is satisfying the political ego of the so-called godfathers. They are called godfathers despite the fact that they do not possess the intrinsic characteristics of a god. Chris Uba, one of the foremost godfathers in the fourth republic’s godfatherism, once acclaimed that “I am the greatest godfather in Nigeria”. His statement followed the 2003 general elections which he claimed was the first time an individual single-handedly put in position every politician in the state.
Godfatherism in Nigeria dates back to the 1960s when the first set of Nigerian politicians fought for the Independence of the country. The key figures – Obafemi Awolowo Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello – cultivated the habit of raising political sons from each region of the country. But there seems to be a different motivation to the initiative of the founding fathers to what we see today. The key motivator in the first republic’s godfatherism was to develop and guide the aspiration of the upcoming generation of politicians. It was a mentorship in the political arena. This is in distinct contrast to the fourth republic’s godfatherism.
The godfathers wield influence across different strata of government. The overwhelming influence of the political godfathers on the office seekers strips them of their independence in governance. It is slavery based on manipulations of their surrogates for selfish agenda. The question that lingers is why do godfathers act through their surrogates rather than running for the positions themselves. There are many possibilities. Oftentimes, they are not qualified for the position. They do not possess the scaling ability to be sold to the voters and they are obsessed with their “good” names. Godfathers do not want to get their names into liabilities that come with holding public offices.
When considered critically the problem of godfatherism is an issue for the political elites. Even though the ripple effects of it splay on the masses there is a greater concern for the masses. What’s the motivation of the fighters and defenders of godfatherism? Is the interest of the public the ultimate motivation? Or a mere continual hunger for political power and massaging of their ego while the masses become the instrument of war? Since the inception of the fourth republic in 1999 the political actors in the major political arena have been largely the same. The notable change is transference from one political arena to another. If juxtaposed the political actors in the two leading political parties have been at the other side at certain times. In fact, sometimes, the players of a party might have rained curses upon their current party while away in the opposition party. There are several examples and the just concluded Edo election exemplifies it. 2015 positioned Obaseki (APC) vs Ize-Iyamu (PDP) while in 2020 there was a switch. Same players under different clubs. This should be of concern for Nigerians than fighting or defending godfatherism with the elites in the political game.
At the top, it is a tiny fraction of people who dictate the political tone of elections. They play on the minds of the public whom they acknowledge when elections are knocking. More than godfatherism we should be concerned about the power elite theory in play. The theory proposes that only a small minority, consisting of individuals of the economic and political networks, holds the most power and that is independent of democratic elections. Nigeria has various routes for citizens interested in governance. This is only true on paper. When considered critically the governance structure has been made to allow only a minority. The country runs on an elite theory of government in contrast to the pluralist theory of government which says that political power rests with competing interest groups in government.
Vildredo Pareto, Gaetano Mosca and Robert Michels were the cofounders of the Italian school of elitism which became a template for subsequent schools of elitism. The basic ideas of the theory are:
- Power lies in position of authority in key economic and political institutions,
- The psychological difference that sets elites apart is that they have personal resources and vested interest in the government. For Pareto, there are two kinds of elites – the governing elites and non-governing elites. Michels later developed his iron law of oligarchy politics. He asserted that rule by an elite, or oligarchy, is inevitable as an iron law within any democratic organization. In simple terms, any organization eventually becomes dominated by the ruling class.
There are three classes of people in the political game. The tiny elites who have been changing teams to dominate the political arena, the relatively small middle group and the masses at the bottom who are used every four year to fulfil the ambition of the tiny elites. The governing elites come largely from the leading politicians, major corporate owners and high ranking military officers. The major powers wielded by the masses are expressing public opinions, voting every four year and being instruments in the hands of the power driven elites.
There is greater concern for the public than joining the political elites in rejoicing the triumph of godfatherism. The political elites understand the game. They know the mechanism of getting through to themselves. History shows this vividly. It seems this is the time to change the political actors of Nigerian politics. It is the only way we can begin to enjoy the fruits of democracy.
Nicholas Aderinto is a young Nigerian who believes in the transforming power of written words in creating lasting changes in the society.