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How Nigerian Political ‘Godfathers’ Were Humbled In 2019

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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.

PREMIUM TIMES reviews how some political godfathers were defeated in the 2019 elections.

Bukola Saraki

The Saraki dynasty is a very strong one in Kwara State. Before Mr Saraki, his father, the late Olusola Saraki’s political structure was such a strong force that except you align with him, you were not likely to succeed as a politician in Kwara State.

The structure had produced six governors in the state since 1979.

Mr Saraki who has been the President of Nigeria’s Senate since 2015 could not deliver Kwara for his party in both 2019 presidential and governorship elections. Worst of it all, he also lost his re-election bid to the Senate.

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.

Before the elections, Mr Akpabio was so confident that he could not lose elections in the state. After all, he helped install the incumbent governor, then a political neophyte in 2015.

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.

Mr Abiodun is the favoured candidate of ex-Lagos State governor, Bola Tinubu, and his former Ogun State counterpart, Olusegun Osoba.

Mr Amosun tried to ensure his protege became governor against odds, even working against his party. However, the 12 years he spent holding elective positions could not help deliver Ogun to his anointed candidate.

Rochas Okorocha

Like Mr Amosun in Ogun State, Rochas Okorocha in Imo also supported the governorship candidate of another party.

His ‘trouble’ has become more complicated as INEC has excluded him from the list of senators-elect published on Monday. His party, the APC has equally suspended his membership.

Mr Okorocha contested to represent Imo West Senatorial District in the February 23 election. Though the returning officer, Innocent Ibeabuchi, declared Mr Okorocha winner after a controversial collation of results, he clearly noted he did so “under duress”.

“…I have been held hostage here for days so I’m trying to ease off and take my life home back to my children and for the sake of that I am calling these results under duress,” Mr Ibeabuchi had said before reading out the results.

In INEC’s list of senators-elect, Mr Okorocha’s name was omitted. “Declaration made under duress”, was boldly written instead.

Sadly despite his spirited fight, the two-term governor of the state could not secure the emergence of his preferred candidate in Imo.

Mr Okorocha supported his son-in-law, Uche Nwosu, of the Action Alliance (AA) to succeed him but Emeka Ihedioha of the PDP eventually won in the state.

Except he is recognised by INEC as a senator-elect, and considering his problems with the APC, the 2019 elections may signal the end of the Okorocha dynasty in Imo politics.

Abiola Ajimobi

Abiola Ajimobi contested in 2011 under the ACN and was elected governor of Oyo State in a keen contest.

He was returned in 2015 under the APC and became the first person to occupy the Oyo governorship seat twice in the state.

This actually fetched Mr Ajimobi the nick: ‘Kosheleri (It has not happened before).’

Mr Ajimobi enjoyed the confidence of the party’s national leadership to the extent of being entrusted with the reconciliation of members in other states.

While he enjoyed national recognition by the APC, locally within Oyo State, his actions split the party and angered the populace.

A large number of APC members including supporters of a late former governor, Lam Adesina, exited the party while many residents of Ibadan, the largest city in the state, were annoyed at his decision to tamper with their chieftaincy system.

By the time the 2019 elections came, the residents had gotten tired of Mr Ajimobi and the APC.

The APC lost both the presidential and National Assembly elections in Oyo. Many of Mr Ajimobi’s anointed candidates also lost state house of assembly elections in the state. Worst of all, the governor lost in his bid to be elected senator.

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