Godfathers: An Introduction Editor’s Foreword: The Republic V7, N1

‘Godfather’ is a term people use candidly in discussing Nigerian politics but how did godfathers become a fixture in our political landscape in the first place? Our latest issue, Godfathers: An Introduction, looks at the enduring hold of political ‘big men’ over the Nigerian political establishment. Purchase the issue here. We ship worldwide.

In a few days, millions of Nigerians will head out to vote and while it is difficult to predict our next president, one thing is certain: whoever wins the election will be leading a Nigeria that is more divided, more uncertain, poorer and less patient than it was eight years ago. While preparing for this issue, our team faced a bit of a dilemma: on one hand, we felt we could cover the elections, the voting landscape specifically. On the other hand, we felt that it might be wiser to do that online instead: our print magazine comes out quarterly, lasting three months till April. For most people that will read this issue of our magazine, the presidential election and gubernatorial elections (set for 11 March), will have likely happened. You’ll know your president; you’ll know your governors. Plus, if ahead of voting, you needed a refresher on the major candidates, you could read our past issue, The Road to 2023 

Beyond the elections, what we found interesting was that Nigerians don’t often discuss the connections between governors, presidency, the web of strategists that makes our political elite or the nitty gritty of the wider culture of patrimonialism our politicians share. Nigerian politics is often theatrical but some of its most essential characters are known to ‘move in silence’. One such character is the Godfather, the typically invisible hand that picks, props up, pushes into the limelight and, when deemed necessary, even punishes political neophytes.

The 2023 elections have been exciting to observe, not simply because of the third-force disruptions often ascribed to the Labour Party’s Peter Obi, but perhaps even more so because—and rarely does this happen—the spotlight has fallen on Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who in recent years has been viewed by many as a political godfather. Tinubu himself has claimed responsibility for empowering some of the most powerful Nigerian politicians today. Lagos and the southwest more broadly are known for being his regional stronghold and critics view his presidential ambition as being part of a personal quest to expand his empire. But Tinubu is only one of many historical and present-day godfathers, background figures whose reach extends beyond politics and even into the realms of business and wider society. Regardless of the outcomes, the 2023 elections have exposed the enduring hold that ‘big men’ have over the Nigerian political establishment. The elections invite us to consider a Tinubu candidacy as another kind of disruption: what does it mean that a godfather has taken centre stage? Ultimately, the elections allow us to take a closer look at these powerful figures and the people, politics, systems and conventions that safeguard their hold on Nigeria.  

Muzz Muhammad launches the issue with a survey of past and present godfathers, with a focus on their roles as financiers of political parties. In Nigeria, Mohammad argues, godfatherism is ‘nothing new’ and can be found going back as early as the independence era. Today, the large sums of money godfathers bring into politics perpetuates their existence. Mohammad highlights that all major candidates have been accused of some form of godfatherism. ‘With how pervasive godfatherism has been in Nigeria,’ Muhammad writes, ‘it may be difficult to imagine means to separate the Nigerian electoral process from its corroding influence.’ 

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Doyin Olagunju ventures further into Lagos, whose current governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, is running for a second term. Sanwo-Olu emerged from a long line of governors endorsed by Tinubu, who himself was once the governor of Lagos. Olagunju shows how in recent years, successive Lagos State administrations have charged themselves with fulfilling a more mythical than real Lagos State Master Plan. For Olagunju, every governor of Lagos since Tinubu has been a custodian of this masterplan, and not without its consequences. For more radical governors like Akinwumi Ambode who threatened to depart from the masterplan, it has meant political suicide. And yet, even more compliant governors like Sanwo-Olu have suffered losses: ‘Since his swift rise to governor,Olagunju writes, Sanwo-Olu has shown more interest in promoting APC’s mythical Lagos Master Plan than in establishing his own path, a situation that has made him politically unexciting.  

Our first issue of 2023, this issue also includes feature essays and interviews on subjects ranging from the arts to science and technology. This issue also includes additional coverage of the COP27 climate conference that held in November 2022. Since our previous issue, The Republic has received funding and capacity-building support from Africa No Filter (ANF). We have also won the Google News Initiative’s Innovation Challenge. ANF’s support contributed towards the production of this issue. Additionally, Google’s award will go towards helping us to build ATLAS, a photo discovery and licensing platform.  

As usual, we encourage our readers to engage with our essays and articles and to provide insightful comments. Readers may send their views directly to the Editor by addressing emails (of no more than 700 words) to wale@republic.com.ng, with the subject, ‘Comment on Xyz Essay’, or ‘Letter to the Editor’ as applies. Comments and letters will be archived and, depending on the quality of the arguments presented, we may reach out to assist in developing your letters and comments further for publishing in the magazine.  

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At The Republic, we will always prioritize the meaningful exchange of ideas. We commit to pressing forward: on the most critical of social, political and economic issues; by innovating through knowledge gaps; and by providing guidance through thickets of opinion, ignorance and misinformation—three key features of our time—in search of glades of insight 

The views, thoughts, and opinions published in The Republic belong solely to the author and are not necessarily the views of The Republic or its editors. We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editors by writing to [email protected].