Two weeks ago, I was with a group of friends at Maryokun’s concert in Ibadan. After the concert itself had ended, we decided to chill somewhere to wait for the day to break so that we could go home. It was while we waited that we observed some people crowding around Davido’s (who had also performed at the concert) car as it drove out of the venue, ostensibly waiting for him to give them some money. That prompted a member of our group to start a rant about how Nigerians are “entitled” and “lazy” and would rather “molest a celeb” for money. I raised the argument that I mentioned in this piece I wrote two weeks ago about begging and culture. As we argued back and forth, I thought of an issue that we all think is a major problem in Nigeria’s politics and governance, What everybody calls “Godfatherism”. “Godfatherism” is when some rich members of a community who have a desire to control the affairs of that community, influences poorer members of that community with money or any other kind of inducement in order for the latter to carry out the former’s wishes, especially as concerning politics. So these people are made to do stuff like manipulate elections, or as thugs to assassinate people they don’t like or generally to commit atrocities within the community.
From the picture I have painted, it goes without saying that Godfatherism and Godfathers are bad for Nigerian politics and it is a practice that should be discouraged if Nigeria is to move forward. However once again as I discussed in the piece on begging, Godfatherism is more than just “some poor people going to a rich man’s house to collect five thousand naira to vote for said rich man/ rich man’s candidate,” or “some thugs collected ten thousand naira, to go kill a rich man’s opponent or disrupt an election that does not favour said rich man”. It is a practice that, like begging, is steeped in culture and a practice that shows that once again most of us, the educated folk with our fancy degrees who get on social media to complain about it, are a bunch of hypocrites. That we only hate the practice of Godfatherism when poor people collect five thousand and ten thousand naira from that “bad politician” that we don’t like or when they crowd around a celeb’s car. We, and by “we” and I mean those of us with smartphones, twitter and/or one or two cars, and fancy degrees, actually enjoy the benefits of Godfatherism, we just don’t like it when poor people also enjoy those benefits, because we hate poor people more than we hate Godfathers.
Let me begin my explanation with a question. How did you feel the first time you went to a party abroad, say to the United States of America and then you were told everyone had to bring their own food and drink? I am sure that you probably felt “This doesn’t happen in Nigeria.” Again let me ask another question, do you know that that time you went to the bar with your friends and the richest guy among you bought everybody else rounds of drinks? If you didn’t say anything about it, that means you are just as entitled as those people crowding Davido’s car. Have you ever felt a twinge of anger that that rich uncle of yours visited your house, or you visited him and he didn’t give you money? How many of you got the job you are doing now or a contract for a project because an uncle or someone you know got a political appointment? How many of your younger brothers and sisters are in the university because your parents knew some Head of Department or some Dean of a Faculty who helped to fix them up? But of course my own friends and relatives giving me privileges that I don’t deserve because they have a relationship with me are not bad people, it is those bad politicians who give people five thousand naira to vote for them that are destroying the country and they should all be killed and their dead bodies thrown into the ocean. Your Special Assistant friend who helped you get funding from his principal for your Community project, and the Head of Department who helped you fix your admission might not ask you to go beat up someone or steal a ballot box in return, but they are doing it with the same mindset as the local godfather who buys poor people’s votes with five thousand naira.
The reason why your friend won’t complain about buying the drinks, and your Uncle won’t groan about your “entitlement” when he gives you money is because of he believes you have a certain value to him as a person. In precolonial African societies the value of an individual is what he “is”, in western society, the value of an individual is what he “has.” And because acquisition stems from work, the individual inevitably has his value defined by what he “does” to get what he “has” So for example If I organize a party in Africa and my friends come, I have a duty to buy food and drink for them, because they ARE my friends. In the West my friends must HAVE their food and drink in order to be of value to me. The implication of the above viewpoints is that in a place like Africa, you still have value even if you don’t DO anything, and the society has a duty to take care of you, because of your value as a member of that society. The good thing about this is that it ensures that the old, the disabled and the weak are not neglected. Yes, it also leaves room for the lazy, and the entitled people to mooch off the commonwealth without contributing anything in return, but the advantages far outweighs the disadvantages.
So when the West came to Africa, what it did through its educational system was to teach Africans that VALUE should be ACQUISITIVE rather than INHERENT. The good thing about that education was that lazy and entitled people could not mooch off the commonwealth anymore, and You can choose what you want to BE so far you are willing to DO the work that you need to be able to HAVE. Unfortunately it also created a class of “educated” people who think of everybody else in the society not in terms of “How much value does this person have as a human?” but in terms of “How much value can this person does this person have in terms of things I can acquire from them?” In a society where value is inherent, value exchange does not have to be a direct transaction all the time, because in most cases the individual is the value. However in a society where value is acquired, You have to have something of value to exchange for the something of value you want. In that kind of society the people who do not have anything of value to exchange are regarded as the bad eggs and looked down upon
Now here is where “Godfathers” come in. Godfathers understand a basic truth in life that the educated folk who constantly complain about them refuse to admit. That people want to be and should be valued according to their humanity and not according to some numbers that you crunch. That there are some people who are not able to acquire value, not because they are lazy and entitled, but because they are disadvantaged one way or another. The elderly, the physically and mentally challenged, immigrants, I could go on. These people are not second class people because they don’t have earning value, because in a lot of cases the state they are in is not something they can control…
TO BE CONTINUED
This piece ended up being longer than I envisaged so In order not to dump too much information on you folks, I have decided to split it into two parts. Catch the concluding part of the piece next week- Adebayo