Kwankwaso, Ganduje and the legend of political godfatherism

Sani Danaudi Mohammed

Chris Albin Lackey’s classic, ‘The Origin and Meaning of Nigeria’s Godfatherism Phenomenon’ makes an engrossing read. It is a well-researched document on the evolution of politics of godfatherism in Nigeria. Godfatherism refers to the existence of political godfathers who, by virtue of their wealth and power, exert behind-the-scene influence. Given his great political clout, a godfather in Nigeria will be able to shape not only those who are nominated to contest elections but also those who win.

Godfatherism has done more harm than good to the nation’s democracy, which obviously needs resetting. ‘Godfather’, which appears in parenthesis in many western political studies, can be traced to 1960 when the godsons of late Sir Ahmadu Bello, former Premier of Northern Region, became a mythical political cabal known as the ‘Kaduna Mafia’22. In South-west Nigeria, at almost the same time, the godsons of late Chief Obafemi Awolowo, were collectively known as Afenifere. In those glorious days, Afenifere comprised political gladiators like Bola Ige, Lateef Jakande and Bisi Onabanjo who became governors of Oyo, Lagos and Ogun states, respectively. These and many others imbibed the Awolowo ideology, embodied in Awoism. A ‘graduate’ of Awoist school of ideology, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu is a godfather whose political empire has produced a good number of Nigerian political heavyweights. Some of Tinubu’s godsons, like Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, are competing with him in the race to clinch the APC presidential ticket.

Since pre-independence era, politics of godfatherism has become a norm in Nigeria. And it is high time upcoming politicians fought it if they must make any headway in the political transition. A godfather, in the Hausa legend, is interpreted as ‘Maigida’ (landlord or head of a household). ‘Maigida’, however, means more than its literal sense. For instance, Abner Cohen, Paul Lovejoy, and Polly Hill used the term in their works to refer to those who provided brokerage services to Hausa traders in transit across the different parts of West Africa.

The conflict arising from godfatherism has become one of the greatest problems facing the Nigerian political system. The holder of the political position becomes a stooge to his godfather since he who pays the piper dictates the tune. When the godson refuses to meet his godfather’s demand, he falls out of favour with the godfather and eventually gets removed from office. In the Fourth Republic, for instance, scenarios such as Saraki-Lawal face off, Nwobodo-Nnamani quagmire, Adedibu-Ladoja crisis, Uba-Ngige rift, Yarima-Shinkafi feud, Kwankwaso-Ganduje misunderstanding, Jonathan-Sylva fight, Tinubu-Ambode scuffle abd Goje-Inuwa affray are few examples of political conflicts between godfathers and their godsons.

These godfatherism-induced political crises in Nigeria portend great danger to our democracy and threaten the essence of our peaceful co-existence as people of a culturally diverse nation. The billions of naira spent by godfathers to bankroll the elections of their godsons have made a mess of our political affairs in this country to the extent that men of integrity are discouraged from contesting elective offices. Today, in the presence of money, nothing else matters as much as impropriety does. Youths with true spirit of struggles can hardly actualise their political ambitions. There is urgent need for young people to reactivate the struggles of mass mobilisation and installation of their fellow youths in the coming elections. Failing this, their dream of active involvement in political governance will continue to be an illusion.

The late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s godsons in the Eastern Nigeria included Chief Jim Nwobodo and Chief Sam Mbakwe, both of whom were also governors in Anambra and Imo states, respectively, from 1979 to 1983. Abubakar Rimi and Balarabe Musa, who were governors of Kano and Kaduna states in the Second Republic, recognised Aminu Kano as their political godfather. The interesting thing about the syndrome of godfatherism in Nigeria is that the godsons produced by the earliest godfathers like Ahmadu Bello, Awolowo and Azikiwe also became godfathers, especially during the ill-fated Third Republic and the present political dispensation in Nigeria.

Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje is known to be Rabiu Kwankwaso’s longtime friend. He was Kwankwaso’s special adviser and deputy when he was minister of defense (2003-2007) and governor of Kano state (1999-2003; 2011-2015). Ganduje indisputably doubles as a beneficiary of Kwankwaso political nurturing and a victim of godfatherism. The desperate move to install Gawuna as his successor in 2023 is obviously a political move by Ganduje to crown self-appoint as another godfather in Kano politics. Currently, Kwankwaso is making spirited move, working with his new party (NNPP) to install Abba Gida Gida, his former commissioner for works, in a bid to retain his position as the godfather of Kano politics. Whoever emerges from both APC and NNPP as governor of Kano state come 2023 will be the godson of either of Kwankwasiya or Gandujiya dynasties.

The massive defection of political gladiators from the ruling All Progressives Congress into NNPP portends grave danger for the Ganduje political camp. This implies that come 2023, the drum will be sounding in favour of the Kwankwasiya dynasty. Optimistic of his victory at the Kano state 2023 gubernatorial elections, Gida Gida, Kwankwaso’s godson, seems to be celebrating his triumph in advance. Now, APC has already lost Abdulmumin Jibrin, the campaign DG of one of Tinubu’s support groups, to the NNPP. Similarly, Hon. Kabir Alhassan Rurum (former Speaker of the Kano State House of Assembly and staunch ally of Ganduje) and numerous game changers in Kano state politics like Ibrahim Shekarau, two-term governor of Kano state (2003-2007; 2007-2011), Hon. Kawu Sumaila, former SSA to President Muhammadu Buhari, and other Ganduje loyalists have moved to Kwankwaso camp.

The foregoing are not the only odds stacked against the success of the Ganduje camp at the polls come 2023. The young Salisu Yakasai, a communication expert and refined journalist, is all out, on the political platform of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), to slug it out with both Ganduje and Kwankwaso. Yakasai’s intimidating CV is as convincing as the structure he is currently building to defeat the accomplished godfathers and, thus, change the narrative in the state. He was former special adviser on media to Ganduje and former director general, media and communications at Government House Kano. He’s the founding curator of Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum Kano Hub and media marketing consultant and former freelancer reporter for CNN. A Harvard and LSE trained technocrat, Yakasai is grassroots politician with over two decades of active participation in national politics. As a champion of the European Union Spotlight Initiative in Nigeria working on Girl Child and Gender Based Violence, Yakasai will sure have the youths to his side in order to give godfatherism a technical knockout in Kano state. Having no godfather working for him in the background, Yakasai’s current acceptability in Kano portrays him as the next Kano political avatar, should he win the governorship seat.

As long as Ganduje fails to put his house in order, many will soon be on their way out of the party. Now, while it seems Kwankwaso and NNPP cash-in on the cracks within the Ganduje camp, it would be premature to conclude as, over the last seven years in the saddle, Ganduje has proved how politically adept he is, exhibiting impressive dexterity and sagacity. He is an opponent that cannot be written off easily. The next few months will be an interesting skit to watch. Kano seems poised to exhibit a master-class in politics.

Danaudi, National President of Arewa Youths advocate for Peace and Unity Initiative,

writes from Bauchi, Bauchi state via [email protected]