The increasing number of old politicians manoeuvring the system to get their biological sons and daughters to either occupy elective offices or secure political appointments is turning Nigeria’s democracy gradually towards oligarchy, reports GODWIN IJEDIOGOR.
As former governors increasingly populate the Senate and cabinet of President Bola Tinubu’s administration, their children, relatives and cronies are also gradually filling state and federal legislatures, as well as states’ cabinets as commissioners, advisers and MDAs’ Board members, in what many see as acts of nepotism or favouritism.
The positioning of biological and political children for appointment and election by top politicians goes on and on, even as children of the common man continue to be used as thugs and canon-folders before, during and after elections. And the rule of the dynasties continues.
It has become a common practice for those in positions of authority to prepare their biological children to take over from them in due course. Some of these children go the extra mile to achieve their ambitions, not minding their backgrounds, even though it remains a factor, others rely heavily, and sometimes solely, on their parents’ political structures to climb the political ladder at all levels.
Though it has been the norm since the return of civilian democracy in 1999, for example, the Saraki family held sway in Kwara State until swept aside by the All Progressives Congress’ (APC’s) oto ge campaign in 2019.
In Yobe State, former governor, Bukar Abba Ibrahim, went to the senate, while his wife, Khadija Bukar Abba-Ibrahim, a former minister of State for Foreign Affairs, is currently a four-time member of the House of Representatives, representing Damaturu/Gujba/Gulani/Tarmuwa Federal Constituency and even defeated her stepson to win the APC ticket in one of the primary elections.
Also in the National Assembly is Regina Akume, wife of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Senator George Akume, who is representing Gboko/Tarka Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. Akume was Benue State governor between 1999 and 2007.
Beni Butmak Lar is the daughter of the late Solomon Lar, a former governor of Plateau State and a founding member and one-time national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). She represents Langtang North/Langtang South Federal Constituency for a fifth term in 2023.
Ireti Heebah Kingibe was elected a senator to represent the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and was married to a former SGF, Babagana Kingibe, and is also the younger sister of Ajoke Mohammed, wife of the late former head of state, Gen. Murtala Mohammed.
The list is inexhaustible, but the trend is growing, and brazenly too, and this time around, some children of former governors have been added into the National Assembly, especially the House of Representatives, where a couple of them have been named to head standing committees, even when they are first-timers at that level.
They include Bello el-Rufai, son of immediate past governor of Kaduna State, a former minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and currently a ministerial nominee, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, representing Kaduna North Federal Constituency, as Chairman of the House Committee on Banking Regulation; Olumide Osoba, son of former governor of Ogun State, Chief Segun Osoba, a returning member, representing Obafemi/Owode/Odeda/Abeokuta-North Federal Constituency, chairs the Committee on Justice.
Others are Erhiatake Ibori-Suenu, daughter of former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, a former member of the Delta State House of Assembly for Ethiope West, now representing Ethiope Federal Constituency as Chairman of the Committee on Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Adegboyega Adefarati, a former commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and son of the late former governor of Ondo State, Chief Adebayo Adefarati, representing Akoko South-East/South-West Federal Constituency, chairs the House Committee on Labour, Employment and Productivity.
There is also Olamiju Akala, representing Ogbomosho North/South/Oriire Federal Constituency, a former chairman of Ogbomosho North Local Government and son of the late former governor of Oyo State, Alao Akala, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala, is Chairman of the Committee on Youths.
Blessing Onuh, representing Otukpo/Ohimini Federal Constituency of Benue State, is the daughter of the former senate president, David Mark.
Ondo State Governor, Mr. Rotimi Akeredolu, appointed his son, Babajide, as director general of the newly created Performance and Project Implementation Monitoring Unit.
In Delta State, Marilyn Okowa-Damilola, daughter of the immediate past governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, is a member of the state House of Assembly, representing Ika North-East State Constituency.
Marilyn, an educational activist and advocate, earlier served as senior special assistant on Girl-Child Education to her father.
Orode Uduaghan, daughter of former governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan, and Funyei Manager, son of former senator representing Delta South for 20 years, Senator James Manager, were appointed commissioners by Governor Sheriff Oborevwori.
In Rivers State, Dr. Adaeze Chidinma Oreh, daughter of former governor, Dr. Peter Odili and retired Supreme Court Justice, Justice Mary Odili, was made Commissioner for Health by Governor Simi Fubara, who also appointed Chima Aguma, son of former attorney general under immediate past governor, Nyesom Wike, Emmanuel Aguma, Special Assistant on Aviation Matters.
Special Assistant, Finance, Joseph Awuse, is son of Sergeant Chidi Awuse, Wike’s close political ally and paramount ruler of Emohua Kingdom, while Special Assistant, Social/New Media, Marshall Obuzor, is Wike wife’s (Justice Eberechi Suzzette Wike) younger brother.
Osun State Governor Ademola Adeleke appointed Mrs. Adenike Adeleke, said to be the second wife of the first governor of the state, late Senator Isiaka Adeleke, an elder brother to the governor, as Commissioner for Federal Matters.
The governor also appointed Tunji Adeleke (Jnr.), a 30-year old graduate of Adeleke University, Ede, as Chairman of the Local Government Service Commission.
Immediate past governor of Enugu State, Chief Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, appointed sons of the former governor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, former minister, Chief Dubem Onyia and former attorney general of the state, Mrs. Justina Offia (SAN) into his administration.
His successor, Mr. Peter Mbah, continued the trend by reappointing Onyia Jnr. and Chilo Offia as Special Advisers.
Offia’s mother is one of the counsels defending the governor’s victory at the tribunal.
Mbah also appointed Lloyd Ekweremadu, son of the former deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu; Ada Chukwu, daughter of former governor, Sullivan Chime; and Ben Ugochi Madueke, a relation of former chief of Air Staff, Vice Marshal Allison Madueke.
In his reaction to the trend, human rights activist and former senator, representing Kaduna Central of Kaduna State, Shehu Sani, said it is an indication that Nigeria’s democratic elective and appointive positions are becoming hereditary, as those in position of authority are subtly imposing their family members and cronies to inherit power, and by extension, inherit the wealth of the country.
This scenario, he added, is a very dangerous threat to the country’s fledgling democracy, as office holders tend to be gradually moving away from imposing their loyalists to now imposing their own blood relations.
Chief Ralphs Okey Nwosu, National Chairman of the African Democratic Congress (ADC) recalled that between 1990 and 1996 when some of them were working very hard to see the military off, he thought they all had the same values and thoughts as to how Nigeria can be great again, not realising that some of them, or even the majority, would descend to become anarchists and more destructive than the military people they worked hard to see off.
He stated: “So, it pains me; given the kinds of things that are happening today, it shows how short-sighted our people are. The quality of political leadership we have now is very shady and it’s quite unfortunate.
“They are short-sighted and this whole thing is going to boomerang very soon; it cannot last. It shows that some of our so-called leaders are limited and those who are bringing their children into government are also very limited in intellect, knowledge and patriotism.”
To Prof. Benjamin Okaba, President of Ijaw National Congress (INC): “That is to tell you how primitive our democracy is. Our democracy, which ought to be the government of the people, by the people and for the people, has become the government of the minority.
“This is a minority that has decided to perpetrate itself in office or governance, rule over their subjects and when they are tired, they hand over to their children, relatives or cronies, thereby making positions hereditary, rather than assertive. It is now inherited instead of achieved.
“It is an aberration in all ramifications. We have examples of such everywhere now in the country where former governors have their children appointed as commissioners or Board members or elected into the local government councils, states Houses of Assembly and the National Assembly, even as their parents become ministers or senators.”
He said it is also a sign that politicians have reduced meritocracy to the bottom, while oligarchy is becoming the order of the day, adding: “This is not a democracy; it is now a distorted system, and tells you how primitive, self-seeking and selfish our politicians have become. It shows that all they work and strive for is not the betterment of the country, but for their selfish interests and personal aggrandisement.
“I am sure that Nigerians have come to realise that on a daily basis, our democracy, rather than making progress, is deteriorating in values and substance. I don’t know to what extent we would continue to endure and allow this wicked usurpation of the common man’s mandate. For how long shall we watch and wait?”
Mr. Dan Ukwu of the Dan Ukwu Leadership Foundation said using appointments to curry favour has become the greatest challenge facing democracy in Nigeria, insisting: “This is one of the major challenges in Africa, but more in Nigeria. It is called nepotism engagement.
“There is nothing wrong if the person merits the appointment and that is if the person has capacity or is competent. Anything to the contrary is not acceptable and tends towards political favour. It is a disservice to the people.
“This is why we have been in darkness since 1960. Most office holders, whether military or civilian, are unprofessional in conduct while in office. The percentage of those who exhibit professional work ethics is very few.
“Remember, 90 per cent of leadership failure is character-driven failure. Appointing the sons and daughters of previous heavyweight is less my concern, but can they deliver on any given assignment? Some of those appointed may have not worked anywhere before; they have no experience anywhere, but because of the influence of their people, they are appointed to public offices. That is the danger.”
Public Affairs analyst, Chukwumere Okechukwu, blamed the faulty electoral process that had always enthroned the wrong people into power, stressing: “Those who have always benefited from the process will do whatever it takes to remain in power.
“Part of what they do to sustain such illegality is to make appointments and award contracts to curry favour. If our elections count, we will not have cause to resort to appointing those who cannot help the system.”
Reminded that the voters actually elected some of these people, in the case of elective positions, Sani stated: “We know very well the way elections take place in Nigeria, that once they have the backing of their parents, relations or political godfathers, the election is as good as won.
“There are a lot of funny things in this country today, so nothing surprises anybody anymore. Some politicians are trying to monopolise political power for their own family members and this could lead to a serious revolt and is capable of crashing our democracy.”
Okaba added: “Are they really elected? In the last election, Nigerians, at least for once, expressed enthusiasm to elect people of their choice, but the electoral umpire dampened that desire as a result of some technical or human glitches. People thought that their votes would count, and you could see the massive turnout during the presidential election.
“But when at the end of the day, there were these glitches, people felt it was going to be the same as the past and voter turnout in subsequent elections was abysmal due to lack of confidence in the process. So, you cannot say that the people actually elected most of them.
On the fact that most of the occupants are qualified for the offices/positions, just that they may not have attained the position if not favoured, Nwosu said that shows that their parents were not qualified, and the country cannot go too far with such.
“Look at where we are today. If they, their parents and the kind of oligarchy they are trying to form were working, as it should, would Nigeria be where we are today?
“I can assure you that a lot of top-quality families will not even want their children in the Nigerian system, let alone the Nigerian government. Why would you, after training your children, giving them good education, throw them back into corruption?
“Those families that tried this before, where are they today, apart from mentioning their names as having occupied this and that? They made money for themselves, but what did they do for their constituencies and Nigeria? Where did they take the country to?” He reckoned that a time would come when most people who served the country from 1999 to date could go to jail if they are alive and our democracy progresses.
“Those who appoint their relations and cronies into political offices do so to ensure their families continue to rule over the people. Anything that is morally deficient will be exposed one day,” he stated.
While there are some known family political dynasties in the United States (US), for example, the Bush family, the ADC chairman responded: “Yes, they are driven by values and quality principles, and there’s nothing wrong with that, because they contribute to nation-building out of patriotism.
“That is why you see such even in the military; they want to contribute more than to take, and they are not favoured, like we do in Nigeria. That is the difference.
“The moment a dynasty is being built on corruption and suffering of others, it would collapse and eventually bring shame, not the kind of dynasty we see in some developed countries.”
According to the INC leader: “A family can get entrenched in participatory politics, but you can see that in most cases, even the family members are trained and groomed for the task ahead.
“We are not talking about a situation where somebody just left the higher institution, with no training or grooming or experience at all, because his or her father or mother was a governor or top office holder, you just get selected, nominated or appointed.
“In the past, we saw that even those in authority identified and picked even children of people outside the political circles for their antecedents. But now, antecedents don’t count any more. We have seen a state where somebody who had not earned a salary after graduation is made a commissioner to oversee a ministry. That is the point we are making.
“But if the person, whoever he or she is, has earned or merited that position, fine. For example, the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s children who made attempts at the federal level did not just jump there; they also worked very hard, following the path of their parents.
“So, there’s nothing bad in aspiring or getting an appointment when your father was or is a politician or an office holder, but it should not just be a case of hand-picking; it should be based on cognate experience and personal qualities.”
He lamented that in most cases, the people are helpless, because the so-called leaders apply carrot and stick policy, as well as a deliberate strategy of impoverishing them, so that they become powerless and hopeless, to the point that if one speaks against the system, his or her poverty level advances.
“There is a high level of sycophancy, so even those who are quiet or clapping their hands do so because they feel the only way of advancing their own selfish course is to be praise-singers and be considered a loyal servant worth compensating with crumbs. This is because when the chips are down, if you don’t have any biological affiliation or perpetual loyalty, you are considered an outsider.
“You might even be loyal to them, fight for them, abuse people on their behalf and commit electoral offences at a time these children were nowhere on the scene, probably in their comfort zone in foreign countries, and yet remain in the same position. That is where we are today in our Nigerian democracy,” he bemoaned.
On the way out, Sani said: “This is how democracy dies. A situation where the military are taking over power in neighbouring West African countries, I think it’s time for us to sit down and reassess our democracy.
“Part of the reasons why democracy is now crashing in West Africa has to do with the way power is being used and abused by those in positions of political authority. It is either people wanting to bring members of their own ethnic group, their own religious group or now bring in their own blood relations to dominate power.
“We have to create a situation whereby there will be honour. If not, we would wake up one day and find out that nobody wants to hand over power.”
Okaba suggested the strengthening of our democracy, saying the institutions are too weak to be relied on and far from being independent; hence the need to find a way to ensure true democracy in the country and let due diligence be applied.
“It’s also important to work on the economy and give hope to the people, because politics has become the fastest growing sector or business in the country. With little investment, people become millionaires overnight; hence the less emphasis on quality education today. To most people now, going to school is just to have a tag, not because graduation provides enablement for self-employment.
“If we have a strong economy where people can diversify into different areas and make decent living without necessarily going into politics, the better for the country. A son that is doing well, for example, in a bank will not jump into politics at the beck and call of his father. I know of a governor whose lawyer-son in Lagos believes in eking out a living for himself instead of joining his father in politics.
“We have great potential, all the government just needs to provide is the enabling environment and do the right things.
“It’s unfortunate that a lot of our youths have decided to be dependent on ready-made appointments. We have cases where youths would tell you that it is more profitable for them to be saying ‘I am loyal’ to a politician than to work in the ministry and be earning N40, 000 to N50, 000 every month.”
He added: “We also need to restructure the country, so that people, communities, local and states would be strengthened based on their comparative advantage and stop feeding bottle approaches where states and local councils run to Abuja every month for allocation.
“Again, the advantages given to politicians are too many; there must be a way of redistributing wealth in this country. Nigeria is rich, the only problem is that 90 per cent of its wealth is in the hands of about 10 per cent of its people. There are people who earn about N30, 000 monthly as minimum wage in this country where some people earn between N14million to N25million. Look at the disparity. The gap between the rich and poor is immoral.”
WRITER: Godwin Ijediogor culled from The Guardian