How Nigerian political ‘godfathers’ were humbled in 2019


    The word ‘godfather’ has different meanings to different people. In Nigerian politics, a godfather is a ‘big boss’ that maintains political control of a territory by ensuring that either he or his self-chosen appointees are elected to govern such areas.

    They include the rich and political influencers who contribute to campaign funds of some candidates with the aim of winning elections.

    Over the years, Nigeria’s political godfathers are those that build loyalists around themselves and use their influence to manipulate the rest of society. Sometimes, they block the participation of others within their political sphere and dictate party candidates.

    These godfathers in most cases become powerful due to the important leadership positions they hold or have held, their wealth, their ability to mobilise grassroots support, amongst others.

    In the recently concluded elections, some godfathers maintained their grip in their areas of control while many others were humiliated. Presidential and National Assembly elections were held on February 23, while state elections were held on March 9.

    He was elected governor of Kwara in 2003 through the help of his father. After his tenure, he refused to support the candidature of his sister, Gbemisola. Instead, he supported the incumbent governor, Ahmed Abdulfatai, who floored his sister against the will of his father.

    In the build-up to the 2015 election, Mr Saraki joined other aggrieved governors of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to form the nPDP. The nPDP would later join other parties to form the All Progressives Congress (APC).

    That did not affect his control of the Kwara’s political machinery as Mr Saraki’s new party, APC, won the 2015 general elections in Kwara.

    Mr Saraki’s troubles, however, started after the 2015 elections when he defied the APC, to emerge the Senate president; working in cahoot with PDP lawmakers.

    He, eventually, left the APC for the PDP in 2018 and sought the presidential ticket of the latter. He lost the primary to Atiku Abubakar.

    Things, however, got worse for Mr Saraki as he lost his senatorial seat. His anointed candidate for governorship was also defeated in all the 16 local government areas in the state with the magic of “Oto ge”. Overall, the PDP lost woefully in all the 2019 elections in Kwara.

    Except the PDP presidential candidate succeeds in his challenge of President Muhammadu Buhari’s electoral victory, Mr Saraki may have to be a ‘spectator’ in Nigerian politics in the next four years; the first since he became a politician.

    Godswill Akpabio

    Godswill Akpabio is a former Senate Minority Leader and former governor of Akwa Ibom State from 2007 to 2015.

    During Mr Akpabio’s tenure as governor, he was able to build a strong political structure for himself in the state. He, however, could not save himself in the 2019 race.

    Mr Akpabio, who left PDP for APC last year, lost his bid to return to the Senate in Akwa Ibom North West Senatorial District. His new party, APC, also lost all the elections in Akwa Ibom.

    On July 16, 2018, while speaking at a rally in Ikot Ekpene, he said: “Godswill will be done again and again irrespective of the political party.”

    The following month, he decamped to APC after meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari earlier in London.

    Mr Akpabio came into the political limelight in 2002 when he was appointed Commissioner for Petroleum and Natural Resources, Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and also Lands and Housing.

    He used his Office as Commissioner for Chieftaincy and Local Government Affairs to build political structures across the 31 Local Government Areas in Akwa Ibom State. He defied the then governor, Obong Attah, to emerge the governorship candidate of the PDP in 2007 and was elected governor. Since then, he’s had a firm grip on the politics of Akwa Ibom.

    He was, however, humbled in his own game as his new party, APC, lost all the elections in Akwa Ibom.

    George Akume

    George Akume is another ‘godfather’ whom things did not work in his favour during the last election.

    Since his election as Benue governor in 1999 on the PDP platform, Mr Akume has held a firm grip on the politics of Benue. After he completed his tenure in 2007, he moved to the Senate. He won his Senate seat again in 2011 despite defecting to the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and was elected the Minority Leader of the Senate.

    Mr Akume was again re-elected senator for Benue North-west in the 2015 elections on the platform of the APC, a party formed by the merger of different parties including the ACN.

    Mr Akume also largely contributed to the victory of Samuel Ortom in the governorship election in Benue. Both men, however, went separate ways in the aftermath of the repeated herdsmen crisis in the state. Mr Ortom moved to the PDP while Mr Akume remained in the APC.

    For the first time since 1999, however, Mr Ortom lost an election in Benue despite being a staunch member of Nigeria’s ruling party. The APC also lost the presidential and governorship election in Benue.

    Ibikunle Amosun

    Although Ibikunle Amosun, the outgoing governor of Ogun State, won his Ogun Central senatorial bid under the platform of APC, he failed to help his ‘godson’, Adekunle Akinlade, emerge as governor.

    In December 2018, Mr Amosun vowed to work against his party’s governorship candidate in the state. His preferred governorship candidate, Mr Akinlade contested under the platform of Allied Peoples Movement (APM).

    Mr Akinlade won a controversial governorship primary of the APC conducted by the party in the state. However, a panel sent by the headquarters of the party conducted a separate primary which produced Dapo Abiodun.


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