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Godfatherism: Of Tinubu, el-Rufai and Banire

One event, in the past two weeks, that has generated a line of discourse is that involving the trio of Senator Bola Tinubu, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai and Dr. Muiz Banire, SAN, and one which I, ordinarily, felt the public ought not to engage, so as not to allow it to fester. However, more recent activities in the media by certain elements whose opinion, they think, must override others’ and to whom any form of decency is sacrilege, have compelled one to examine issues surrounding this development. One of them is The Nation’s back page columnist, Idowu Akinlotan, in a piece entitled; “The Waspish el-Rufai” published in the Sunday, May 12, edition in which the fast-paced writer did not seem to be rather voicing his independent opinion.

I am sure followers of the subject matter must have read known that it is an issue that has to do with politics of godfathers in Nigeria and its inimical dangers, to which Mallam el-Rufai, the stormy petrel of Kaduna State, suggested some solutions. The impression given in most of the media reporting was as if el-Rufai targeted a particular human being in his response to an enquiry; which is far from it. As background facts, a club of professionals, called The Bridge Club, invited the governor of Kaduna State for an interactive session in Lagos State on Saturday May 4. At the event, which I personally attended, el-Rufai brilliantly made a presentation on various issues, particularly the need for professionals to join politics and not leave it to charlatans. He believes it would ultimately endanger their interests, if they ignore politics. Upon conclusion of the presentation and during question and answer session, Dr. Banire, SAN, raised nine issues for el-Rufai to respond to, amongst which was the question of how the professionals that were being invited by el-Rufai into politics would survive the grip of godfathers on Nigerian politics.

A year earlier, the same Banire was the guest lecturer at the 2018 edition of the event organised by the same group of professionals and at which he canvassed arguments on why they ought to join politics. I was also present at the said event. It was in response to Banire’s questions at the May 4, event that el-Rufai alluded to Kaduna and Lagos with respect to how to wriggle out of the tight grips of godfathers who have stifled the political space against democratic practices. I believe it was only logical that el-Rufai use Lagos as an example when the person asking the question was from Lagos and Lagos was the venue of the event he was addressing and the place of business of most of the professionals present.

He avoided mentioning any name and I know that there could be several godfathers in a state. Indeed, from my experience and knowledge, godfathers exist right from the ward, local and state to the national levels. The goons of those who, however, feel they are guilty rose up in arms in their characteristic manner to malign the erudite fellow and the personality of Dr Banire. It is common knowledge that their stuff lies in abuses, whilst they pretend to be democrats. Assuming, without conceding, that their godfather was even referred to, this is democracy that affords people expression of divergent views. Tolerance and accommodation are the key words in any democracy. It is certain that the concept of democracy is an anathema to these elements who arrogate the summary of democratic credentials to themselves and think the ultimate decider of democratic existence of our society should be the exclusive preserve of their ‘infallible’ godfather.

I am of the strong view that godfatherism is evil. Whilst it is not agreeable to quarrel with godfathers, when it comes to sharing of appointive offices, save within the confines of merit and capability, in terms of election into political positions, one must insist on compliance with the process established by the law. Having invested in the political process, party leaders and godfathers should have the field day while trying to protect their personal or clique interests through political appointments, as that process is highly political and lacks much of regulatory compliance of a legal process. I have interviewed Banire on so many occasions since 2014 when his campaign against imposition in political parties began and I know that the need to ensure internal democracy within political parties has been the core of his disagreement with all godfathers who think that the future of a people should be their sole responsibility; to determine who should occupy elective offices.

A key point to note is that part of the reasons Banire differs with their approach is the that imposition of candidates unleashes on the society dangerous and incompetent hands whose only ambition is to satisfy the godfather and protect their own personal interests at the expense of the masses. The truth is that we continue to parade these incompetent hands that do not understand, in the first instance, what governance is, much less knowing the essence of their being in government. The system is continuously robbed of quality leaders as the masses are made to lack access to public funds to guarantee their welfare. The qualitative heads of intellectuals and professionals are ostracised from politics, as they lack the financial wherewithal to further their ambition. On the other hand, the godfathers and their lackeys warehouse public funds to the detriment of the people.

Brigandage and violence in our polity today are products of godfathers’ attempts to corner the political space at all costs. To maintain their hegemony over the system, they make use of all available tools. They promote thugs in the system, in order to scare away quality people. Only God knows how many innocent and quality lives have been lost in the process. To my mind, el-Rufai’s proposition is nothing new to us and, contrary to the groveling piece of Akinlotan, we are not to be taught by el-Rufai who was not, at the same time, pretending to be Mr. Know-all. El-Rufai’s altruistic suggestions are only difficult to realize, because of the seed money he alluded to as a pre-requisite. Serious-minded people interested in good governance do not possess such billions and where they do, they are not likely to use it in that manner, as they are not political merchants intending to profit at the expense of the public while in office.

A laughable material emanating from Akinlotan tried to paint the supposed interest of Senator Tinubu in the 2023 election as the interest of the South-West. While many of such writers lay claim to being democrats and that their intentions are devoid of ethnic bias, their traditional outlook hardly leaves them, as the stench of their ethnic soup always oozes out whenever they open their mouths. He engaged in over-vaulting outbursts when he stated; “while the president may be wary of revealing his hand too quickly, Mr Oshiomhole seems clear where to head. Whether his instincts tell him or not, he knows that the Yoruba hate politicians from their region forming nefarious external alliances to undermine one of their own. Mr Banire may have stayed too long in Lagos, and his political antennae may have become dulled to the ruinous consequences of the first and second republics’ political intrigues against Obafemi Awolowo that led to the defeat and extinction of many Yoruba conspirators but surely he has read enough of the two eras to know that he is threading on thin ice.”

Akinlotan and his ilk must realise that President Muhammadu Buhari has not, for once, engaged in imposition of candidates or played godfather. While using Oshiomhole as a goad or cannon, he attempted to intimidate President Buhari to agree that the best thing that can happen to Nigeria, after his tenure, is to allow the dictates of a reactionary personal interest championed by their roughneck of godfather. To now make the unwary public and their gullible followers queue behind them without critical reasoning, Akinlotan’s first salvo at Banire’s person was to arrogate to him an ambition that he never nursed. While some surrogates had been parroting recklessly about that Banire’s campaign against godfather politics was because Tinubu did not award him a governorship ticket, his unthinking pen pushers have made it a cliché whenever they want to attack Banire on his conviction that internal democracy should be allowed in political parties. I know that Banire had, on so many occasions in public interviews, challenged Senator Tinubu to mention only one occasion when he approached him that he wanted to be governor of any state in Nigeria. I can only recall that the same Banire confided in me when he was leaving government in 2011 that his main ambition was to become a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a professor in an academic institution. To God be the glory, he has attained the pinnacle of his profession without the aid of any godfather and his ambition to contribute more to the academic development of this country in the capacity of a professor would ultimately be realized, provided he does not rest on his oars.

Why would someone advocate godfatherism in our polity, after the bloody nose earned by the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the last elections in some states it hitherto controlled and the divisive pulls that nearly tore the party to shreds? It is clear that failure to observe the simple tenets of internal democracy has rubbished the party at the polls. Imposition of candidates in the last primary elections has brought nothing but innumerable number of court cases and the party had to discreditably struggle to retain political offices it easily won in the past. An example is Osun State governorship election which the president was reported to have said the party won by “remote control.” One wonders the merit in winning elections by remote control to which people like Akinlotan have not responded. It is a shame that a political party that popularly won the governorship election in 2014 in Osun State, despite the federal might and its force of state terror deployed by the Federal Government had to resort to “remote control” to retain power, just four years after.

Kano State is another apt example in this regard. In virtually all the zones in Nigeria, the party has lost gubernatorial seats it earlier occupied.

Until the past few days, I never knew their poster boy, el-Rufai, could earn their anger so easily. Now, they demonise him as the worst thing that has ever happened to the masses in the current dispensation. Suddenly, the fiery administrator became incompetent and full of all negatives. The gutter condemnation deployed by the pen pushers of Lagos to describe el-Rufai in the past few days are best reserved for someone to be roasted for dinner and the punishment against whom must be made condign to the general public whose sympathy might be triggered against the wickedness of the magisterial godfather. If anybody is a beneficiary of godfather politics but who must have realised the evils in that anathema, it is Governor Akinwunmi Ambode. I am pretty sure that his opinion of that pill is not palatable today and he, definitely, would be the loudest to reject same, if he were to maintain a stand.

I, however, believe that to tame the evil of godfatherism, political education and enlightenment must continue. It is sure that a day is approaching sooner than later that the mass of the people shall realise that their wellbeing does not lie in the hands of godfathers, but genuine democratic determinism. On that day, they will take control of the situation and vest in genuine people the good governance of the society. The message, therefore, today is that we must not give up but continue our enlightenment of the people, particularly the youth whose future is being endangered by the practice. I know that having spoken my mind in this way, I must be ready for the attack of the hirelings whose perpetual brief is to defend anything pro-Tinubu and condemn even Jesus or Mohammed, if a verse in the scriptures should suggest an interpretation capable of rejecting their godfather’s preference. All men of conscience must remain undaunted, as no positive or democratic change comes to society without any form of resistance from the beneficiaries of a status quo. I equally urge the president, as part of the legacy he will leave behind, to do everything humanly possible to tame this monster of godfatherism.

Fanawopo, a public affairs analyst, writes from Lagos

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