And The Political Franchise Continues
By Muiz Banire SAN
Our last week intervention was on the unsavoury of political violence in Rivers State under the title “And Fubara Removed His SIM Card From Wike’s Phone.” In that discourse, I drew the attention of us all to the emerging, if not established, pattern of godfatherism in the land. To a certain extent, I condemned the development and hoped that the masses someday would rescue themselves from the political hawks. A few hours thereafter, a friend of mine and brother silk, Tunde Adejuyigbe, SAN, called me in his usual characteristic manner to interrogate the subject of the day. In his candid way, he had remarked rightly that the ongoing development was simply a political franchise. I couldn’t but immediately agree with him on the apt description of the scenario.
It was that discussion that brought the above title of this piece and the need to further interrogate the issue which has become a festering sore in our fragile polity. By the foregoing, aspiring and imposed successors to the seats of the governor of the states already implicitly or explicitly consented to the franchise by way of concurrence with the terms and conditions, if you like, call it covenants and restrictions, imposed by the godfather, who in most cases is the outgoing governor. The process of perfecting the franchise might be by simple agreement or occultic involvement. Many go to the length of taking oaths in sordid shrines where fetish objects adorn their conscience and befuddle their thinking faculty. The contents of the covenants could be scary like the one that was leaked online some years ago in which the godson was promising to apportion a substantial part of the state’s revenue to compensate the godfather and failure of which he invoked the spirit of their goddess to deal decisively with him. Consequently, new governors that emerged under such schemes have no premise to disagree with the terms.
I am sure that they all know that they are dining with the devil as they are accepting the nomination. Consequently, when the godfathers start breathing down their necks, they must not but joyously bear it. Certainly, it should not be unexpected to them. In fact, it is often said to be an act of treachery where they resist. The point I am making is, in as much as I do not subscribe to godfatherism, once you subscribe to the franchise, you cannot morally be heard to be resisting. You simply bear the consequence of your indiscretion, ambition or greed. Hence, the ugly scheme cannot but continue to fester. The question is, who is bearing the loss and how can this ugly trend be remedied? It is certainly the masses who are at the receiving end. As often said, when two elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. The godfather has not spent his personal money to procure the party nomination ticket for the godson, neither did he spend his personal money to ensure his victory at the election. The resources stupidly and recklessly squandered to ensure the emergence of the godson are the resources of the taxpayers.
They are huge amounts scooped from the state’s coffers and doled out to voters to purchase their conscience in voting the godson. They are monies often looted from the state’s treasury to bribe electoral officers and compromise security officers as in most cases such godfathers have left no good legacies behind by which their political parties could have easily secured re-election. The only option left for them is to buy votes in a competitive bazaar where the masses are the ultimate losers at the end of the macabre trade. The godson has now ascended the throne and he is not being allowed to govern freely. It is not that he too has good intentions for the people but is only concerned on how to protect his personal interest so that he too can perfect the means by which the godfather brought him into power and wield the same type of power over his own successor.
Thus, from the beginning of his reign, the stage is set for power tussles and consuming struggles between the godfather and the godson. It is an ancient rule of politics that there are two main ways of gaining power: either from the nobles or through the help of the people. According to Niccolo Machiavelli, in his most popular treatise on power, The Prince, “But now we come to the other case, where a private citizen becomes the ruler of his country neither by crime nor by any other outrageous act of violence but by the favour of his fellow citizens (and this we can call a constitutional principality, to become the ruler of which one needs neither prowess alone nor fortune, but rather a lucky astuteness). I say that one becomes a prince in this case with the favour of the people or of the nobles. These two different dispositions are found in every city; and the people are everywhere anxious not to be dominated or oppressed by the nobles, and the nobles are out to dominate and oppress the people. These opposed ambitions bring about one of three results: a principality, a free city, or anarchy.”
In the present situation, the typical Nigerian godfather is representing the nobles. His interest is not often to guarantee good governance for the people but to sustain his political empire and continual dominance of the people, a permanent guarantee of access to the people’s commonwealth. He wants to have his tongue on the ladle at every moment without losing contact, hence the need to procure the seat of governance for a protégé or stooge that is willing to be a mere appendage or effigy. He also needs such a fellow who can cover the tracks of his indecencies, indiscretions and corruption while he held sway in office from the prying eyes of the civil society, the anti-corruption agencies and the international community. Succession becomes a do-or-die struggle in which he is ready to kill and plant a stooge in office. He actually has no legacy of good governance to bequeath and all the claims of not allowing his legacies go to ruins are nothing but mere efforts to preserve self-interest. Once he is able to identify someone he feels can play that role, he deploys all state resources and apparatus to achieve his aim. On what basis would he now tolerate a successor who is willing to be independent?
As Machiavelli put it, “A man who becomes prince with the help of the nobles finds it more difficult to maintain his position than one who does so with the help of the people. As prince, he finds himself surrounded by many who believe they are his equals, and because of that he cannot command or manage them the way he wants.”
No one ascends power with the singular benefaction of another and thinks he is not obliged to his benefactor. At the time of entering into the covenant, the urge and greed to be governor do not allow the godson to see the treacherous and dangerous road that lies ahead. The Italian philosopher has summed it up in beautiful statements that can hardly be improved upon as “…men are so imprudent that they take up a diet which, as it tastes good to start with, they do not realize is poisonous”.
When the crisis comes, the godson is seen running from pillar to post, forgetting that he has chosen a covenant with the devil from which he cannot be easily extricated.
It is like the case of someone who engaged in ritual money enterprises and after relishing the tasty dish of wealth, wants to quit the covenant of the devil. It is a wise saying of Yoruba that “Esu o nii fun ni ladie sin k’o ma gba odidi eni lowo eni. Don’t expect not to pay with human blood when you made a contract with the devil.” Many ritual noveau riche run to the churches or Imams for salvation after realizing that the day of reckoning is near; when it becomes clear and unavoidable that death is the wage of sin.
The point is that it is better to rely on mass appeal and popular means of attaining power than to rely on the strength and stratagem of a godfather. No one ascends power by the help of another and thinks the benefactor only did him favour out of altruism. Yes, there may be cases of such generosity and love to produce the best leader for the masses, hardly do we have them in 1% of all cases. The solution therefore will seem to be in the action of the citizens. This implies that, not until the people start rebelling against the mechanism, the franchise will continue to thrive. Except we tame this trend, no good leadership should be expected in the circumstances.
The products of such processes are mostly ‘dealers’ with the consequential effect of bad governance and absence of democratic dividends for the people. Since sovereignty belongs to the people, let them rise up and claim it. The unfortunate aspect of the situation is the permanent docility of the people; their mass indolent indiscretion that does not detect the danger in taking stipends to vote for continuity of bad governance. Once the masses are part of the conspiracy by their failure to reject the tempting stipends being offered during elections, the franchise becomes a permanent part and driving force of our polity. There is, therefore, no way out until the people rejects the franchise of evil and self-succession which in most cases lead to nothing but principality and anarchy. This is my plea. We cannot continue with the political franchise system and expect any development or dividends.