We were recently treated to an electrifying drama of disagreement and fight between the FCT Minister, Nyesom Wike and his gubernatorial successor, Governor Simi Fubara. It seemed Fubara was up against his maverick godfather who was bent on teleguiding his removal via impeachment by the state legislature.
Wike’s grudges are not exactly known in the public space, even though there have been rumours and speculations as to why the PDP stalwart is fighting a successor he helped put in power, barely five months after. Such godfather-godson rift is not new to us since the advent of the current democratic dispensation. We saw it unfold between Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju and Sir Emeka Offor, Governor Chimaraoke Nnamani and Jim Nwobodo, Governor Rasheed Ladoja and Lamidi Adedibu, and Governor Mamudah Aliyu Shinkafi and Sani Yerima. More recently, we have seen Governor Willie Obiano and his successor Peter Obi locked in a cold war throughout the former’s tenure as state chief executive, just as we saw Governor Akinwunmi Ambode lose his bid for his party ticket for a second tenure election following the disagreement that brewed between him and the strongman of Lagos politics, Bola Tinubu. The list is indeed endless. Arguably, the rift between Governor Chris Ngige and Chris Uba became a notorious case study in political brigandage as the fight turned very dirty especially with the abduction of the governor in a bid to force him out of office and burning of public property in different parts of the state by hoodlums in November 2004.
Given the endless recurrence of this sort of conflict, I have always reasoned that it will make an interesting subject for researchers in political science and even sociology. Our scholars need to start seriously researching on why people who help others to power suddenly become locked in a fight with them. What are they fighting for? Why must it always happen?
My thesis is that such fight happens when a predecessor or godfather is bent on protecting certain personal interest around the corridors of power. This interest is usually pecuniary but may also include other considerations like appointments. Thus, a predecessor hands over power but refuses to entirely leave the scene as he believes he still has some stake in the decisions taken by the successor. The same thing applies to a non-predecessor godfather who believes the person he helps to get to power is indebted to him and must subject his freedom to manage the resources and machinery of the state to the imperative of pandering to the godfather’s sense of entitlement.
State governors leave power without the willingness to also surrender the privileges of control that come with power. In our clime, such privileges often include exploiting the state machinery for personal gains, which is why we have been used to hearing that a predecessor is having a disagreement with the successor who has failed to fulfil one monetary commitment or the other.
Consequently, it becomes abundantly clear that when predecessors or other godfathers fight their successors or godsons, the reason for the fight has nothing to do with public interest or welfare of the people. It’s a fight primarily motivated by selfish interest. Never mind when they tell us that it’s about how the office holder is managing the state. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Politicians don’t normally disagree with each other once their interest agrees; so whenever they begin to disagree, know that there has been a clash of interests.
Imagine if the N160m SUVs were proposed just for the APC reps, the legislators from the opposition parties would have started crying blue murder. They would have begun to shout to the rooftops, quoting all books of governance and democratic morality to highlight how the ruling party is bent on plundering the resources of the country. They wouldn’t tell us that their grouse actually is that they have been excluded from sharing the spoil. But now that the spoil has been shared equally and without discrimination, all the politicians are in agreement as to the “justifiability” of purchasing the expensive cars even in the face of our current economic tragedies. Not even a single dissenting voice has been heard in that thoroughly multi-party parliament!
The same scenario has fully unfolded between Wike and the APC. His relentless virulent attacks on the party over the years made many people see him as representing the voice of the common people in the face of an incompetent and insensitive government. But those who understand the anatomy of partisan politics would have known better: Wike’s ranting was motivated by mere interest; he was speaking for himself and not the common man. Today, his interest has aligned with that of APC, hence the man, who was once seen as the nemesis of the ruling party, has become its major ally.
Truth is that politics everywhere is about interest, but in a normless enclave like ours, this interest can dangle between the acceptable to the utterly criminal. This explains the difference between succession politics in our land and in advanced democracies. Obviously, leaders in those countries aren’t coldly detached from the politics of who succeeds them in office; they also often have their choice of a successor. The same applies to other kingmakers (influential party stalwarts) who may back a particular candidate. But in all this, everyone must play by the rule as dictated by the law and institutions. There’s no subversion of the people’s electoral will just to force your person into power and no attempt to use the person you help to power as a tool for exploitation of the state machinery for selfish interest.
The psychology of power is akin to that of money; touch it a little you would like to hold it more firmly, hold it more firmly you would like to securely bury it into your pocket. Power is self-expanding and hegemonic, it is always in constant fight against anyone attempting to circumscribe it. That’s why in any vibrant democracy, conflict between the arms of government is common as each arm tries to circumscribe the power of the other while fighting off attempts from other arms to circumscribe its own power. This is the logic and anatomy of power, and it explains why a humble godson or successor-to-be would suddenly change from being a compliant dove to a fighting lion once power gets into his hand. A Nyesom Wike must understand that a Fubara with gubernatorial powers is now a completely changed person in terms of his political thinking. He is now in a different circumstance where the pull is more towards self-assertion than subservience.
What we’re experiencing between Wike and Fubara is a loud testimony to the fact that ours is a state captured by political rogue elements who masquerade as leaders. The mere fact that individuals have the mindset that they can be outside power and be manipulating the state machinery for personal gains exposes the very low level which the evolution of our political consciousness is yet at. Such mentality is found among the mafia and other underworld criminal gangs that have historically sought to exploit state institutions for selfish gains. In other words, ours is a criminal state where what’s regarded as crime in other climes have become part and parcel of our legitimate politics.
Some persons have suggested that the solution to all this lies in the nation embracing a culture of free and fair elections such that the power to decide who becomes a leader truly rests in the people. This, according to this school of thought, would ensure that leaders’ loyalty remains with the electorate and not with any godfather. This suggestion is predicated on the belief that these godfathers do impose such leaders against the will of the people, hence their sense of entitlement as to the leaders’ loyalty.
While there is some truth in this argument, I do not think free and fair elections are the ultimate answer to the problem. No matter how free and transparent our elections become, it will not take anything away from the fact that contestants will still require money and other forms of support to contest and win elections. This is where the godfathers will always step in and eventually will feel they are entitled to influence governance.
On the contrary, the solution, to my mind, lies in strengthening the law and institutions to always rise to the occasion. If those individuals including a police AIG, believed to have acted on behalf of a certain godfather in Anambra State in 2003, had been condingly punished by the law, the Rivers Commissioner of Police would not have found the courage to engage in his macabre dance (presumably on behalf of Wike,) last week. The same can be said of how the law and the institutions stood seemingly helpless in the face of the sheer brigandage of Adedibu in Oyo as he sought to have a pound of flesh of Governor Ladoja. There are several other instances.
Once the law cannot censure and sanction misconduct, impunity reigns. This explains why the dance of shame as seen in Rivers state last week has been and remains a recurring spectacle in our politics.
I don’t think we have seen the end of this fight yet, despite the supposed intervention by President Tinubu. As in similar instances, we will soon begin to hear of Wike’s altruistic and patriotic reasons for fighting his godson. But one good thing is that time ultimately reveals every hidden agenda and it has proven infallible in doing this. For instance, time has today exposed Wike’s much hailed populist activism for the selfish politicking it has all been. Do we still need the infallible time to let us know that his fight against his successor is also born out of selfish interest?
If our laws and institutions could not stop, or at least censure and punish, those that abducted a sitting governor in Anambra State 20 years ago and those that embarked on that destructive voyage that saw the burning of several state buildings in the state in 2004, then there is absolutely nothing to deter those who merely deployed the police in support of an impeachment plot in Rivers State 20 years after. If the solo but very powerful protest against that anomie by Chinua Achebe through rejecting a national honour couldn’t change anything, then we are really living in a fiefdom, to borrow the word of that literary giant, where anything can happen. Clearly, urgently rejigging our legal system and institutions is the only way to go.
Henry Chigozie Duru, PhD, teaches journalism and mass communication at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Nigeria.