Since the late American writer, Mario Puzo, wrote the bestseller crime novel The Godfather in 1969, the definition of that concept, which has its origins in the church, has changed. The crime novel became the definition of the godfather who gets what he wants at all costs. In that novel, Don Vito Corleone was the head of a Sicilian Mafia family based in New York. No one dared go against the Godfather. His word was law, and you risked your life if you dared him. The only way to live in peace was to queue behind him and do his bidding. If you insisted on going against him, your life could be snuffed out just after you were done with a sumptuous lunch. In other words, you could come to an abrupt end in your career if you dared the Godfather.
The concept of the godfather came from the church. It is nothing near what it became in Mario Puzo’s novel. The church developed it as one who stood for a child when he or she was baptised as an infant. The godfather had the responsibility to ensure that the child was raised to imbibe Christian virtues, and turn out a responsible and God-fearing adult.
The concept in political circles comes close to its biblical meaning. But that was in the past, perhaps in the days of such thinkers and pundits as Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ahmadu Bello. Those wonderful pathfinders ensured that people who rode under their wings to power did not abuse office. They ensued that they delivered the dividends of democracy, and they did not usurp the office from the people they helped to get into office.
I was once told a story by a direct participant of how the late Azikiwe appealed to Chief Sam Mbakwe, governor of old Imo State, to call back one of his appointees, who had been fired. Zik of Africa was close to that aide but he appealed to Mbakwe to reinstate the aide, adding that it was not an order, and should not suffice as a reason for poor performance. The governor, of course, obliged his political leader. The point being made is that the godfathers of those days hardly imposed their will on their followers, and hardly interfered with governance beyond ensuring that those in office were guided by party manifesto. I have also been told a story of how Awolowo’s preferred candidate failed to emerge in one of states in the South-West, when he was leader of the Unity Party of Nigeria, which was the dominant party in the region at that time. In spite of the alleged prodding of his wife, the revered political icon refused to interfere, insisting that democracy must take its course. He did not intervene, but only insisted that the emergent candidate must abide by the party’s manifesto.
Today, the concept has become a business venture. it is the business side of politics. The concept has come in two phases. The first, which still exists, is where someone has the war chest (money) and decides to throw it into the fray for the political struggle. When the battle is won, he becomes the unseen hand dispensing the loot. He gets prime contracts, nominates appointees and has direct access to the boss. Everyone around the boss knows the one who cannot be stopped from the boss. Although some of them operate from the shadows, hardly seen in public. The second phase of the concept, which is now prevalent, is political office holders, who, when they come into office, literally decimate those who brought them to power and become new power-brokers. When they leave office, they remain there by other means. They nominate their replacement and become the one from whose barrels power flows. They have the war chest and the political structure to get down to the grassroots. For them, politics goes beyond service to the people, it hovers on the edge of perpetual relevance, and permanently holding the lever of power. Their tentacles spread from the press to the market leaders, touts, law enforcement agencies, and other imaginable places.
The irony is that these people once rode on the back of others to power. Next, they whittle down those on whose back they rode to power, and position themselves as he who cannot be ignored. That seems to be the root of some of the squabbles we see in the polity today. The political developments in Edo seem to be rooted in the foregoing.
Governor Godwin Obaseki has been hounded out of the APC on the ruse of inconsistencies in his certificate, one that was not strong enough to deny him the ticket four years ago. The real matter, and Obaseki himself had alluded to this, was that he was in office but not in power. When he moved to become his own man, the former governor, Adams Oshiomhole, who literally put him in office, fought back. Obaseki said he could not nominate people for appointments at the federal level, because his former boss made those nomination even before he (Obaseki) knew about them. Naturally, the nominees would by loyal to the man who put them there. That way Oshiomhole was deepening his hold on the power block in Edo. It’s important to note that Oshiomhole had boasted of “retiring” the late Chief Tony Anenih and the likes from the position of godfathers when he came into office. He had been satisfied that those who held the state by the jugular had been sidelined. He was his own man, and ran the state the way he deemed fit.
In my view, he must have taken a hint from the typical character of emergent godfathers, that Obaseki’s effrontery to stand as his own man was bound to unseat him. He must have seen that Obaseki wanted to emerge as the new godfather in Edo. If that happened, then he, Oshiomhole, would have been consigned to irrelevance in Edo politics. As the saying goes, a head hunter would stop anyone who moved behind him with a knife. The former governor would not let Obaseki go behind him with a knife.
One intriguing thing about this political concept, if it can be so described, is that, nine of 10 cases, godsons always turn against godfathers. The examples are countless, virtually everywhere in Nigeria. There should not be two captains in one ship, which is why Lagos seems to be relatively at peace. Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT) has effectively proven that some godfathers are stronger than others. Lagos political actors have conceded to him. He has the ace. From Atiku to former President Goodluck Jonathan, who allegedly unleased loads of dollars in the project, no one has unseated the ultimate godfather of Lagos politics.