Governor Siminalayi Fubara of Rivers State is on the verge of a potential impeachment after reportedly falling out with his political godfather and predecessor, Nyesom Wike. The situation highlights Nigeria’s problematic political landscape where political office holders are expected to be more responsive to their benefactors rather than to the people who elected them.
On Monday 30 October 2023, the leader of the Rivers State House of Assembly, Hon Edison Ehie, and other lawmakers loyal to Governor Siminalaye Fubara were suspended by the House as announced by the Speaker, Martin Amaewhule. Shortly after, there were rumours that the state assembly had signed an impeachment notice to remove Governor Fubara from office. To add to the confusion, the governor was seen on video being teargassed and sprayed with water by security operatives as he rushed into the State Assembly to, apparently, stop his impeachment proceeding. A source claimed that the fire outbreak that occurred at the assembly just a day before was to prevent the lawmakers from gaining access to the premises to carry out their impeachment plan.
Fubara’s Monday travails, according to The Guardian, were caused by his political godfather and former governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike. Wike is also currently the minister of the Federal Capital Territory. Speaking at the Government House, Governor Fubara claimed that the mastermind of the impeachment attempt was trying to ‘divert attention’. He vowed to resist the impeachment attempt asking those behind it to ‘come out and tell Rivers people the offence that I have committed to warrant impeachment.’
A Niger Delta elder statesman, Chief Edwin Clark, pointed accusing fingers at Wike and asked President Bola Ahmed Tinubu to call Wike to order. Clark claimed that he got wind of Wike’s plot to ‘remove the governor, force his deputy, Professor Ngozi Odu to resign, and install the Speaker of the House of Assembly, another Ikwerre person, as the governor of the state.’
President Tinubu ultimately intervened as confirmed by Governor Bala Mohammed of Bauchi State, who on 1 November thanked the president for his swift action. Both Wike and Fubara were also seen exchanging pleasantries at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
Although both parties did not confirm the reason for the rift, there were reports that the governor in a bid to assert his political dominance sacked several Rivers State officials including: the state chief judge, Justice Simeon Amadi; his chief of staff, Hon. Chidi Amadi. Reportedly, Governor Fubara also suspended the chairmen of the 23 local government areas, a move the governor has denied. Despite this, Governor Fubara expressed optimism that the rift between him and Wike (his predecessor) would be resolved. He said: ‘There is nothing wrong if a father and a son have a problem…whatever it is, we will definitely resolve the issue.’
Fubara’s emergence as governor of Rivers State can best be described as Wike’s sole doing. Before Fubara was nominated governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Fubara was a former accountant-general with the Rivers State Government. Thus, he rode on the back of Wike’s political influence in the state to emerge as governor. During his thanksgiving service on the eve of Fubara’s inauguration on 28 May, Wike promised not to disturb the new government but hinted that he would not tolerate dissent. He said: ‘We will not disturb you from running your administration, but we will not allow you to make us cry.’
The rift between the minister and Fubara is no doubt related to the political power structure of the state and who controls it. Traditionally, a governor holds the political rein. However, in most cases, the governor has to contend with the political influence of his predecessor, a situation that usually causes tension and is usually resolved with either godfather getting the upper hand and retaining power or losing out completely to his political godchild. In response to the growing development in Rivers, Wike vowed not to be intimidated. He said:
If I want to do something, I will do it. Impeachment is not a military coup; impeachment is provided under the constitution. Nobody can take away our political structure, no one. You cannot work and people begin to bring enemies, those who fought you when you are struggling for the person to be in office, nobody does that. I am not a political ingrate, I am not — but don’t touch the political structure of Rivers State. I will not shut my eyes.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
The issue of political godfathers wanting to maintain control of their states after the governorship tenure is quite common in Nigerian politics. While campaigning for offices, candidates often vow to be subservient to their godfathers. However, it sometimes happens that once in office such politicians become ambitious, renege on their vows and seek to fully own the political machinery of their offices, a situation that causes tension. Wike and Fubara’s case, as with such situations, will end with one of them owning absolute power while the other person is relegated until perhaps another political challenger appears. Thus over time, governors either wrestle power from their godfathers or find themselves even more responsive to their godfathers’ demands for political survival.
In Edo State, for instance, Governor Godwin Obaseki wrestled power from his predecessor, Adams Oshiomhole, by running for a second term on the platform of the PDP after the latter prevented him from getting the ticket in the All Progressives Congress. Former Senate president, Bukola Saraki, ran for and won the governorship seat in Kwara State against the wishes of the state’s political godfather and his father, Olusola Saraki in 2003. In some cases, however, the political godfather is able to retain power and keep their stronghold on the state years after leaving office. In Lagos, for example, former governor and current president, Tinubu, is the undisputed political godfather of the state who has had a hand in who emerges governor of the state. Attempt by his successor, Babatunde Fashola, to install his own favorite after his administration failed as Tinubu’s preferred candidate, Akinwunmi Ambode, emerged as governor. In Kano State, Umar Ganduje served as deputy governor to Governor Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso for two terms before he became governor. However, the duo fell out when Ganduje accused his predecessor of godfatherism. However, in 2023, Kwankwaso ‘regained control’ of the state when his son-in-law, Abba Kabir Yusuf, was elected governor
The implication of Nigeria’s political godfatherism is that the state’s democratic system weakens and office holders routinely manoeuvre to install puppets as successors whom they believe will be answerable to them rather than the people. Also, successors abandon governance in exchange for plotting and scheming political control through tactics that might involve colluding with the legislative and judiciary arms of the government.
Political instability also has wider economic implications as investors consider these indices before committing their money and business to a state. Potential risks of instability that can affect the flow of business or raise doubt about the security of personnel and assets can affect the confidence and commitment of investors. Political instability caused by power tussles often spill into loyalty battles that affect businesses. For example in Kano State where a curfew was declared that grounded businesses as a result of tussle between Ganduje and Kwankwaso supporters in September. According to researcher, William Eromosele Odion:
Godfatherism affect developmental policies negatively. Quite often in protecting the interest of sponsors, policies of government are redirected to reflect the economic goal and desires of their sponsors. Thus the incidence of abandoned developmental policies and projects and inflated contracts are attributable to this factor. Little wonders that the cost of governance is on the increase -partly because these sponsors must be settled.
As Nigeria’s political landscape continues to evolve in an unprecedented 24-year-long Fourth Republic, it is important that democracy is strengthened not just through elections alone but in how the people and not godfathers remain central to governance⎈
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