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Godfatherism and dearth of political mentorship

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As a leader, your greatest leadership obligation is succession planning. However, recent happenings in the Nigerian political scenario point to the contrary with an unfolding disquieting narrative: a breed of leaders who prioritise manipulation over genuine leadership, resulting in a declining tradition of political mentorship.

The return of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, starting with the era of President Olusegun Obasanjo till the present government, worsened the situation as the nurturing of political leaders in Nigeria is no longer based on merit but on imposition by political godfathers in various states, especially outgoing governors picking their cronies to succeed them.

Historically, political mentorship has been the basis of leadership development; a conduit through which the wisdom of seasoned statesmen is passed down to the next generation. Such could not be said in the Nigerian situation, a nation grappling with the complexities of governance. This once important tradition is fading into obscurity, leaving aspiring leaders to navigate treacherous waters without the compass of experience to guide them.

While this article dwells on political mentorship, it is satirical to mention here that this ugly trend is also found in all facets of leadership in Nigeria, be it religious, traditional, private and public organisations, non-governmental bodies, etc.

The dearth of role models who embody integrity, accountability, and a genuine commitment to democratic tenets is very evident in our political landscape. This has created a lacuna that opportunistic figures are quick to exploit to manipulate public opinion, consolidate power, and advance personal agenda as recently witnessed in the fiasco that engulfed the leadership transition in Rivers State and other states with similar leadership alignment.

The emergence of this disconcerting trend, the dearth of political mentorship and the simultaneous rise of manipulative leadership have paved the way for a breed of politicians who manipulate rather than inspire.

Following Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the country’s political landscape was marked by a sense of optimism and the challenge of establishing a  united country. The leaders of that era, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa and Ahmadu Bello, played dual roles as both statesmen and mentors. Their wisdom and guidance were crucial in piloting the nascent nation through the complexities of nation-building, fostering unity, and instilling a sense of purpose in the political heirs they nurtured.

Though the advent of military rule in Nigeria cast a long shadow over the nation’s political mentorship journey by stifling democratic institutions, political mentors like Chief Anthony Enahoro and Chief Ayo Adebanjo persevered in nurturing political consciousness and advocating a return to democratic governance. The struggle against military rule became a rallying point for mentorship, as leaders imparted lessons of resilience and enduring value of democratic ideals.

The return to democracy in 1999 marked a watershed for political mentorship in Nigeria. Beneath the surface of Obasanjo’s presidency, shadows of manipulation began to emerge. While his administration made strides in economic reforms, allegations of political interference and strong-arm twisting of opposition figures tarnished the democratic veneer. Critics argued that the once lofty ideals of transparency and accountability were being compromised, as political manoeuvring took precedence over principled governance.

During Obasanjo’s tenure, the paradox of mentorship and manipulation became increasingly apparent. On one hand, Obasanjo himself had been mentored by political stalwarts such as Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and had played a pivotal role in shaping Nigeria’s post-military political landscape. On the other hand, the political climate of his era saw a decline in mentorship, as leaders became more focused on consolidating power than nurturing the next generation.

The erosion of ethical standards and the subversion of checks and balances created a breeding ground for leaders who prioritised personal interests over the common good.

Nigeria has since been grappling with the repercussions of the Obasanjo era of leadership dynamics as the nation has been striving to strike a new balance, with leaders cognisant of the pitfalls of manipulation and the importance of revitalising mentorship as a cornerstone of political development.

Also, during the Obasanjo presidency, godfatherism became a prominent feature in Nigerian politics as these godfathers strategically positioned themselves as kingmakers, backing candidates who pledged allegiance to them. In return for support, these candidates often found themselves indebted to their godfathers, leading to a compromise in governance that favoured personal agenda over the public good.

The era witnessed the emergence of powerful political figures, often with deep pockets and extensive networks, playing a decisive role in determining who ascended to political offices. These godfathers, having nurtured political alliances, expected unwavering loyalty and influence over policies and appointments in return.

The story of Dr Chris Ngige and Chris Ubah of Anambra State is a story great box office movies are made from. It echoes the broader quest for political autonomy, transparency, and a redefined narrative where the voice of the people reigns supreme over the whispering of political godfathers with personal agenda.

Godfatherism manifested in a subtle but pervasive erosion of governance structures. Elected officials, owing their political success to godfathers, found themselves entangled in a constant tug-of-war between serving the public interest and appeasing their benefactors. The result was a compromise of policy decisions, the allocation of resources, and the appointment of key officials—all done with the implicit approval of the godfather.

The nexus between godfatherism and corruption became increasingly evident during this era till date, eroding the leadership principles of mentorship. In the pursuit of political patronage, elected officials succumb to the pressure of their godfathers, leading to the diversion of public funds for personal gain. This intertwining of interests fueled a cycle of corruption that further eroded public trust in government institutions.

Years after Obasanjo’s presidency, the spectre of godfatherism has persisted in Nigerian politics. The phenomenon transcended party lines, infiltrating both the ruling and opposition camps. Godfathers continued to play pivotal roles in determining the political fate of candidates, perpetuating a system where allegiance to powerful individuals held more weight than commitment to democratic ideals.

The erosion of political mentorship has broader implications for the health of democratic institutions. Without the steady hand of experienced mentors, leaders may become autocratic, sidestepping accountability and undermining the foundations of a thriving democracy. This erosion poses a severe threat to the democratic ideals that Nigeria aspires to uphold.

A cursory look into the nation’s political landscape reveals that manipulative leadership are stark and the consequences are felt at every level of society, as public discourse becomes polarised, and the pursuit of the common good takes a back seat to personal ambition.

Curbing the rise of manipulative leadership requires a multifaceted approach. First and foremost, there is a pressing need to institute political mentorship programmes. This can be achieved through well-run political parties with very strong youth wings(not political thugs). The political parties of the First and Second Republics had a very strong tradition of youth wing; hence we heard of the Zikist movement in the NCNC and later the NPP, and Awoists in Action Group and later the UPN. Establishing platforms where seasoned statesmen actively guide and mentor emerging leaders can be a powerful antidote to the prevailing trends.

The electorate must play an active role in demanding transparency, accountability, and ethical conduct from their leaders. Citizens hold the key to breaking the cycle of manipulative leadership, and by fostering an environment that values integrity and collective welfare, they can reshape the political landscape.

The imperative for change in navigating the abyss of manipulative leadership amidst the decline of political mentorship in Nigeria has never been more urgent. The revival of mentorship stands as the only hope and a catalyst for a new era of leadership that prioritises the common good over individual ambition.

It is through the collective efforts of mentors, aspiring leaders, and citizens alike that Nigeria can steer away from the dangerous currents of manipulation towards a future defined by integrity, accountability, and genuine democracy.

Okoronkwo writes via [email protected]

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