By Afe Babalola
One of the problems militating against true development by the political parties in Nigeria is the absence of internal democracy often symbolized by what has come to be known as the godfather factor or godfatherism. I do not intend to attempt an academic exposition of the phenomenon known as godfatherism in Nigerian politics.
I therefore will not tread the path of academics who are often more concerned with arriving at the definition of the term whilst at the same time failing to grasp or address its effects on Nigerian politics. A godfather in the Nigerian context is one who by virtue of either immense wealth or political goodwill is able to determine not only the persons that are nominated by their parties to contest election but who in most cases are able to guarantee the victory of such candidates. The said guarantee may come in the form of purchase of votes or outright intimidation of voters and hardly by legitimate means. A political godfather in the Nigerian context may even be able to form and finance a political party. Therefore, most politicians will do anything to gain the favour of political godfathers.
History of Godfatherism in Nigeria
Interestingly, what is referred to as godfatherism may not in reality be new to Nigerian politics. Several writers have traced the origin of godfathers to the First Republic when the trio of Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe, Chief Obafemi Awolowo and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa wielded enormous influence across Nigeria. Through their political parties, they were able to influence the political careers and fortunes of many politicians of the period. It may even be said that their influence persists till the present day as can be seen particularly in the case of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, by the competition amongst some political groups in the South-West for recognition as being the most faithful to his ideologies. The point must however be made that there are great differences between the concept and effects of godfatherism as existed in the First Republic and what obtains in Nigeria of today.
The politicians of old were mostly interested in bringing about true development and the dividends of democracy to the populace. They were also motivated by the need to leave a lasting legacy to serve as inspiration to generations of Nigerians. In choosing or selecting protégés whose careers they influenced, they were not motivated by the parochial interest which underlines the actions of most politicians in Nigeria of today. The returns which these noble politicians of old expected of their political godsons was not bags full of foreign or local currencies or award of contract to them or their cronies. On the contrary, they expected to receive news of the sterling performances of those whom they helped to attain political office and authority.
Political benefactors or mentors
With the above in mind, the forefathers of Nigerian politics could be better described as political benefactors or mentors and cannot be classified as godfathers
Times have indeed changed in Nigeria. From the return to civil rule in 1999, the Nigerian political landscape has, more than ever before, become plagued by the overbearing presence and influence of political godfathers. Most politicians see political godfathers as the most convenient means of winning elections. However, experience has shown that the patronage of political godfathers carries with it grave consequences, not only for the politician, but also for the public and the political stability of the country itself.
A few years back, it took the judicial intervention of the Supreme Court to restore the mandate of a Governor in the South West who was impeached by some members of the State House of Assembly, allegedly on the instructions of the godfather who had facilitated the election of the governor in question. In the South-East, another governor was alleged to have signed documents indicating that he would serve a single term only if supported by a prominent politician in the state. Numerous other examples abound of politicians who have essentially handed-over the functions of their offices to their political benefactors with the effect that most political office holders are hamstringed in the performance of their duties. They must defer to their political godfathers for matters such as appointment of commissioners, appointment into the board of statutory corporations, etc.
The stranglehold of godfathers in Nigerian politics continues to affect the aspiration of the country to attainment of the best democratic policies in many ways. Firstly, it accounts for the corruption and violence which have characterized many elections in Nigeria.On the day of the election, the politician who owes his candidacy to such a godfather can count on his ability to deploy enormous wealth in a bid to corrupt electoral officials and the electorates and where these fail, violence will be deployed to bring about the desired result.Secondly, this invariably leads to loss by the electorates in the electoral process. Many voters before the recent efforts of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to bring about true reform in the electoral process,had developed strong apathy towards the system. Most voters will therefore leave their homes only with the intention of collecting whatever largesse was available at the polling booths and with absolutely no interest in the capacity or ability of whoever is declared the winner of the election.Thirdly, the politician who eventually wins the election based only upon the backing of his political godfather will feel no obligation to the electorate who in any event might have been disenfranchised in the whole scheme of events. He will therefore devote the entirety of his tenure of office to the promotion and satisfaction of himself, his cronies and his godfather.
Holistic appraisal of our political system
Fourthly, the citizenry will end up being impoverished due to the fact that a leadership that is totally disconnected from the aspirations of the people has been produced by a flawed system.In addition to the above, society suffers in several other ways from the concept of godfatherism in the form of increased crime rate and a general lack of disrespect for the due process of law.
In the light of the above, the question has always been posed as to why Nigeria continues to be affected by the concept of godfatherism. What is it in our constitutional, sociological, economical and perhaps psychological makeup that permits the seeming institutionalisation in Nigeria of a practice or concept which is otherwise frowned upon, not only in better politically developed countries, but also in some with whom Nigeria can still be said to share a common history and circumstances of development? The answer in my estimation is not to be found in the stars. The way out of this quagmire lies in a holistic appraisal of our political system. Specifically, one way in which we may address the problem is to look at how parties in Nigeria are formed, structured and most importantly, financed. A situation in which the financial fortunes of a political party lies with a single individual or members of a select few is bound, not only to bring about, but also to further accentuate the ills associated with godfatherism.
To be continued.