Political Godfatherism in Nigeria: A Case Study of Rivers State and Strategies for Curbing it

By Opara Anselm Oguguo


Political godfatherism has been a persistent issue in Nigerian politics, undermining the democratic process and fostering corruption. This article examines the case of Rivers State, where the phenomenon of political godfatherism has had significant consequences. We will focus on the relationship between former Governor Nyesom Wike and his successor, Governor Siminalayi Fubara, and how it has led to internal strife within the state’s House of Assembly. Furthermore, we will explore how this issue can be addressed to prepare Nigeria for the 2027 general elections and upcoming elections in Imo, Kogi, and Bayelsa states, with a keen eye on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and the importance of adhering to electoral laws.

Political godfatherism in Nigeria is characterized by influential politicians who wield immense power and control over the political landscape, often using patronage and resources to promote their proteges. This practice undermines the principles of democracy, transparency, and accountability.

In Rivers State for instance, Governor Nyesom Wike’s departure from office did not mark the end of his influence over the state’s politics. His continued interest in the state’s affairs created tensions that spilled over into the House of Assembly, where legislators aligned themselves with different factions, leading to internal strife and chaos.

The inability of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), a dominant political force in Rivers State, to resolve the conflict between Governor Wike and Governor Fubara highlights the pervasive nature of political godfatherism and its destabilizing impact on political parties.

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The Intervention by the All Progressives Congress (APC) and President Bola Ahmed Tinubu led government in the absence of a resolution from the PDP, the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), and its leader, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, intervened to restore peace and stability to Rivers State. This intervention underlines the disruptive potential of political godfatherism and the necessity of external interference to maintain governance.

It is, however, important to recall that in the Second Republic, 1979-1983, Olusola Saraki, then chieftain of the ruling National Party o f Nigeria (N,P.N.) in K wara State, worked against the re- election ofgovernorAdamu Atta, also ofNPN. He helped in installingAtta in 1979, in a context involving late Josiah Olawoyin, then a candidate ofthe Unity Party of Nigeria (U.P.N). However, when Atta disagreed with Saraki. the godfather pulled his weight behind Cornelius Adebayo, candidate of the opposition party, U.P.N., during the 1983 general election. It is pertinent to note that the concept of Godfatherism started with the acrimony that existed between Dr. Olusola Saraki (godfather) and Alhaji Muhammed Lawal (Protégé), the governor of Kwara state between May 1999 and September, 2003. Dr. Saraki was purported to have endorsed other contenders as governor of the state and also bankrolled his campaign expenses. But Lawal refused to reciprocate this gesture of Dr. Saraki when he did not give him adequate government patronage and by acting in ways contrary to what was expected as a loyal “godson”. Saraki who appears to have a firm control of Kwara state politics swore that a second term for Lawal would no longer be a matter of course.

Furthermore, the political tussle in Anambra State actually started in 1999 with governor Mbadiniju and his godfather, Chief Emeka Offor. What appeared to be a minor disagreement between the governor and his sponsor later turned out to be a major face-off which threatened the soul of the State. The crisis eventually hamstrung the governor and in the process, he incurred the wrath of other segments of the State. The situation was worsened by his inability to pay State workers salaries regularly and public schools remained closed for up to one academic session. This led to a strike action by workers.

A more further example where the issue of Godfatherism is displayed is the attack on the President, Nigeria Labor Congress by the thugs sent by the Imo State Government.

The legal implications of these political conflicts are substantial. They raise questions about the legality of the actions taken by various factions, the undue influence of unelected individuals in politics, and the need for comprehensive electoral and political reforms to tackle these issues.

Political godfatherism has a profound impact on society, leading to a lack of accountability, pervasive corruption, and economic mismanagement. Ordinary citizens bear the brunt of these power struggles, as the welfare of the people takes a back seat to the personal interests of political elites. The turmoil and instability in Rivers State also disrupt the lives of ordinary citizens, affecting their access to basic services and their overall well-being.

To curb political godfatherism in Nigeria, several strategies can be implemented:

a. Electoral Reforms: Comprehensive electoral reforms can promote free and fair elections, reduce the influence of money in politics, and enhance transparency.

b. Strengthening Political Parties: Political parties must prioritize internal democracy, reduce the power of a select few, and ensure that decisions are made based on merit rather than patronage.

c. Empowering Civil Society: Civil society organizations can play a more active role in monitoring and advocating for transparent governance, holding politicians accountable, and educating citizens about their rights and responsibilities. These civil societies are Oduduwa Peoples’ Congress, Arewa Peoples’ Congress, Ohanaeze Ndi Igbo, PANDEF- Pan Niger Delta Forum, Movement of the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, Nigeria Labor Congress, Red Cross Society, Boys Scout, Girls Guild, ASUU- Academic Staff Union of University, AWACIO- Aids for Women, Adolescents and Children International Organization.

d. Legal Reforms: Enacting and enforcing laws that regulate campaign financing, lobbying, and the activities of political godfathers is essential.

e. Raising Awareness: Public awareness campaigns can educate citizens on the negative impacts of political godfatherism and the importance of choosing leaders based on merit.

In Preparing for the 2027 General Elections and Upcoming State Elections, addressing political godfatherism is crucial as Nigeria prepares for the 2027 general elections and upcoming state elections in Imo, Kogi, and Bayelsa. INEC, as the electoral body, must uphold electoral laws and ensure that the electoral process is transparent, free, and fair. This includes preventing undue influence from political godfathers, enforcing campaign finance regulations, and promoting a level playing field for all candidates.

In conclusion, political godfatherism in Nigeria, as exemplified by the case of Rivers State, undermines the democratic process, fosters corruption, and disrupts governance. To prepare for the 2027 general elections and upcoming state elections, it is imperative that Nigeria tackles this issue head-on by implementing the aforementioned strategies. Additionally, INEC must play a crucial role in enforcing electoral laws and ensuring a fair and transparent electoral process. Addressing political godfatherism is essential for the growth and stability of Nigeria’s democracy.

Call Bridget Edokwe Esq on 08060798767 or send your email to barristerngblog@gmail.com

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