Something that has been tried and tried again and most of the time the experiment came to grief, why does anyone want to try it again? I am thinking here of the dubious Nigerian political art of godfatherism, in which a powerful godfather anoints a godson, rams him through to a powerful office by hook or by crook, and then insists on calling the shots and dictating terms in matters of appointment, policies, projects and contract awards to the newly empowered godson. It almost never ends well, so why is Minister of the Federal Capital Territory Nyesom Wike bent of trying it?
Last week, Nigerian news media suddenly exploded with news of a rush attempt to impeach Governor of Rivers State Siminalayi Fubara, who has been in office all of five months. Rivers State House of Assembly was set ablaze by unknown persons on Sunday evening. The following morning, an Assembly faction loyal to Wike sat in a hall, sacked House Leader Edison Ehie and served Fubara with an impeachment notice. The governor then marched to the Assembly complex, but policemen blocked his path and even fired teargas at the supposed state Chief Security Officer. The tables then turned when Fubara got 26 MPs to sit in Government House, sack Speaker Martin Amaewhule and elect Ehie to replace him. Hours later, reports had it that Fubara has sacked his Chief of Staff, his Chief Security Officer and also sacked all 23 Local Government chairmen, supposedly all of them loyal to Wike. The Assembly faction loyal to Fubara then suspended the state’s Chief Judge, Justice Chibuzor Amadi. What was the Chief Judge’s own in this? Apparently the game is: no Chief Judge for the State Assembly to write to and seek the appointment of a panel to probe the impeachable offenses!
Many governors in Nigeria commit impeachable offences nearly every day, but we usually wait for them to commit a very big one. The big [extra-constitutional] one, if our political history in this Republic is anything to go by, is to attract the president’s wrath. Governors Diepreye Alamieyeseigha of Bayelsa, Joshua Dariye of Plateau, Rashidi Ladoja of Oyo and Ayo Fayose of Ekiti were all impeached at the behest of, or at least with a wink from, President Obasanjo. He followed up with a state of emergency in Plateau, suspended the governor and appointed an Administrator, actions now thought to be unconstitutional.
The word “godfather” first crept into Nigeria’s political lexicon around 2003, when the first set of Fourth Republic governors ended their first terms in office. Anambra PDP, at Obasanjo’s behest, threw out its incumbent governor, Chinwoke Mbadinuju, at the primary stage and got Dr. Chris Ngige “elected” in his place. It soon transpired that Ngige was anointed by a godfather, Chris Ubah, to whom he made many promises and was taken to Okija shrine to swear an oath of fidelity. To boot, he signed a post-dated resignation letter and handed it to the godfather, which was publicly unveiled at the date chosen by the angry godfather.
Since then, the word godfather acquired a sinister connotation in Nigerian politics. It usually begins with “anointment,” another sinister word in Nigerian politics that crept into our vocabulary from 2007, when the president and all the first set of governors elected in 1999 completed their constitutionally limited two terms in office. The departing president and almost all the departing governors “anointed” their successors, not necessarily for altruistic reasons but in hopes of achieving an unofficial “third term” in office. While some succeeded in ramming their anointed ones to office, others did not succeed. In most cases however, for those that succeeded, it turned out to be Pyrrhic victories because they soon fell out with the godsons.
We cannot recount here all the cases of Nigerian godfathers falling out with their anointed godsons, but some examples will suffice. President Umaru Yar’adua, who had no ambition to become president until Obasanjo personally selected and rammed him into the office, soon fell out with him when he struck an independent course. Obasanjo was angry; he had publicly said that the PDP Board of Trustees, whose chairmanship he snatched from Chief Tony Anenih, “will make policies for the [Yar’adua] government to implement.” Yar’adua, who was as quiet as they come, had a different idea.
Godson rebellions began early in this Republic. After only a year in office, Kwara State Governor Admiral Mohamed Lawal fell out with redoubtable godfather Dr. Olusola Saraki. It was not Oloye’s first taste of godson betrayal; in the Second Republic he fell out with Governor Adamu Attah, who he almost single-handedly installed; quarrelled with Governor Cornelius Adebayo that he helped to unseat Attah in 1983, and fell out with Governor Mohammed Shaba Lafiagi in the Third Republic. Oloye only got peace of mind when he installed his son, Dr. Bukola Saraki, as governor in 2003.
In Kaduna State, departing governor Ahmed Makarfi anointed Architect Namadi Sambo in 2007 but within a year of Sambo’s climb the two men were in conflict, eagerly fuelled by political associates. Their quarrel was only pushed to the background when Patrick Yakowa, a former deputy to both men, took over in 2010. In Zamfara State, Governor Mamuda Shinkafi’s rebellion against godfather Alhaji Ahmed Sani Yariman Bakura puzzled political watchers because in 2007, Shinkafi was the only deputy governor throughout Nigeria that was anointed by his departing boss. Their bitter quarrel ended in 2011 when Shinkafi lost his re-election bid to another Yarima anointed, Abdul-Aziz Yari.
In Enugu State in 2007, departing governor Chimaroke Nnamani anointed his chief of staff Sullivan Chime to succeed him, but they soon fell out. The most successful Double Godfather in 2007 was departing governor of Abia State Orji Uzor Kalu. He created a brand-new party, PPA, and successfully installed Governors Theodore Orji in Abia and Ikedi Ohakim in Imo states. In fact Orji, who was Kalu’s Chief of Staff, was elected governor while he was cooling his heels in prison. Both Ohakim and Orji quickly fell out with Kalu. In Kebbi State in 2007, Governor Muhammad Adamu Aliero anointed Alhaji Sa’idu Dakingari straight out of the Customs as his successor but within a year the two men were in conflict. In Gombe State, Governor Muhammadu Danjuma Goje anointed Ibrahim Hassan Dankwambo in 2011 but within weeks his successor turned on him.
They were not the only ones. Soon after PDP wrested control of Oyo State from AD in 2003, Governor Rashidi Ladoja fell out with grand godfather Alhaji Lamidi Adedibu, said to be over the sharing of security vote. When President Obasanjo stopped over in Ibadan on his way to Otah to settle the quarrel, he met Adebibu at the airport and asked him why he was causing trouble. Adedibu said, “It shows that I am the son of my parents, because Ibadan was established for trouble making” among pre-colonial Yoruba kingdoms!
In Nasarawa State in 2007, Governor Aliyu Akwe Doma rebelled against former governor Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu, who anointed him. In Anambra State, Governor Willy Obiano repudiated his godfather Peter Obi soon after he took over in 2014. In Bayelsa State, President Goodluck Jonathan pushed out Governor Timipre Sylva in 2011 and installed his godson Seriake Dickson as governor but by 2015, he was planning to push out Dickson too. Dickson was only saved by Jonathan’s defeat in the 2015 election, just as Katsina State Governor Ibrahim Shema managed to get a second term only because President Yar’adua died in 2010.
In Borno State in 2013-15, self-effacing Governor Kashim Shettima also fell out with his godfather Ali Modu Sheriff soon after both of them moved to APC. In Sokoto State, former governor Aliyu Wamakko fell out with his godson, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, but managed to have the last laugh this year when he got another long-time godson, Ahmed Aliyu, to succeed Tambuwal. One of the bitterest godfather/godson fall-outs in Nigeria was between Rabi’u Musa Kwankwaso and Abdullahi Umar Ganduje in Kano State since 2016.
But there were a few successful cases of anointment in Nigerian politics. They include Vice President Atiku Abubakar/Governor Boni Haruna in 1999-2007; Vice President Mohammed Namadi Sambo/Kaduna State Governor Mukhtar Ramalan Yero; former governors James Ibori/Emmanuel Uduaghan in Delta; former governors Ibrahim Idris/Idris Wada in Kogi; former governors Bukola Saraki/Abdulfatah Ahmed in Kwara; former governor Ibrahim Geidam and cool-headed Governor Mai Mala Buni in Yobe; Senator [later Vice President] Kashim Shettima/Governor Babagana Zulum in Borno; as well as Asiwaju [later President] Bola Tinubu and Governor Babajide Sanwo-olu in Lagos.
You see, Oga Wike, your fall-out with your godson arrived so early in the day that APC national leader President Tinubu had to take over from PDP Governors Forum the task of quenching the fire, lest it sets Rivers State [and with it oil production] on fire. You tactlessly refused to dismiss charges in the media that the quarrel was over financial demands. In a backhand manner you confirmed it by saying that nobody complained when you were spending money to instal Fubara as your successor.
You also said you will not allow anyone to take away your political base and render you irrelevant. Which relevance do you want again when, after being Minister of Education, eight years as Governor of Rivers, you landed the juiciest post in President Tinubu’s cabinet? It is the combination of this your roforofo fight in Rivers and the rambunctious manner you are handling the FCT portfolio that could endanger your future political relevance. Please calm down. Reorder your priorities in FCT. Trumpet your fight against one chance and insecurity, build new districts, complete on-going projects and develop the outlying areas. You may continue to demolish illegal markets and settlements, but don’t make it the cornerstone policy of your administration. Meanwhile, allow Fubara to govern Rivers, then see if you can topple him in 2027. Always remember what the godfather Don Vito Corleone said in Mario Puzo’s all-time great novel, The Godfather. “Revenge is a dish best served cold.”