FELIX NWANERI reports on the continued domination of Nigeria’s political landscape by members of political dynasties despite the belief that their existence is against democratic values as they do not provide equal opportunities for people to hold offices of power and service
There is no doubt that political dynasties have thrived even in advanced democracies such as the United States (U.S.) despite the fact that the country’s founding fathers objected to power flowing through blood rather than the ballot, which explains why they declared in the country’s constitution that “no title of nobility shall be granted by the United States.”
This perhaps, explains why the narrative of one of the country’s most prominent political families, the Kennedys, avoids the word – dynasty. Rather than referring to the New England clan as a dynasty, it is romantically painted as Camelot – the supposedly golden age of the presidency of John F. Kennedy (196- 1963). Despite the colouration, political dynasties in the U.S. have converted the last names of their members into impressive and long-lasting political brands.
The Kennedy dynasty, for instance, is unarguably the most famous dynasty in U.S. political history. John F. Kennedy became president, his brother Robert was an Attorney General and presidential candidate, while Edward was a long-time senator. At least, a member of the Kennedy family has been active in politics in last 65 years.
Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy III continues that tradition today. If the Kennedys are considered the “royal family” of Democratic politics, the Bush family is the Republican equivalent. Prescott S. Bush was the first member of the wealthy family to seek office, winning election to the Senate in 1952. Since then, the family has produced two presidents – George H. W. Bush and his son George W. Bush – as well as a governor and presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, George W.’s brother. George P. Bush, Jeb Bush’s son also served as land commissioner of Texas.
There are also the Rockefellers identified with New York, West Virginia, and Arkansas; the Udalls, who first became prominent in Arizona but recently had three cousins served simultaneously in the U.S. Senate as representatives for Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon; the Clintons, who moved quickly from Arkansas to national politics, with both Bill and Hillary (husband and wife) elected to positions in the federal government – presidency and Senate, respectively.
In Canada, there is the Trudeau family. Theirs’ is an interesting story. It was reported that when Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and U.S. President Richard Nixon met at a state dinner in Ottawa in 1972, Nixon proposed a toast to Trudeau’s four-month-old son – “the future prime minister of Canada, Justin Pierre Trudeau!” When Justin Trudeau did become prime minister in 2015, the “prophecy” was fulfilled.
Outside the Americas, the Nehru- Gandhi dynasty has dominated Indian politics since independence from Britain in 1947. Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s first post-independence prime minister. Nehru’s daughter, Indira, was the country’s first female prime minister, serving from 1966 until her assassination in 1984. Her son, Rajiv, succeeded her and was assassinated in 1991.
In 2004, Rajiv’s Italian-born wife, Sonia, became leader of the then-ruling Congress Party and her son, Rahul, nearly succeeded her. Africa has also had its own fair share of political dynasties. They include the Kenyattas of Kenya, Bokassas of Central African Republic, Nguemas of Equatorial Guinea and the Eyademas of Togo. Nigeria has also seen the rise of political dynasties as the nation’s politics and governance have gradually become affairs of members of a few families, who sit side-by-side to deliberate on important legislations and policies that affect the country’s over 200 million people.
Most of these families have moved from state or regional power bases to national prominence. They include the Yar’Aduas, Ojukwus, Nwodos, Adedibus, Obasanjos, Akinjides, Shinkafis, Sarakis, Tinubus, Okorochas, Ubas, Igbinedions and Abiolas. The patriarch of the Yar’Aduas, who hail from Katsina State, Musa Yar’Adua, was a teacher who later served as Minister of Lagos Affairs between 1957 and 1966 during Nigeria’s First Republic. His son, Shehu, who enlisted in the army in 1962 as part of Course 5 intake of the Nigerian military training school, later became Chief of Staff, Supreme Headquarters under the regime of General Olusegun Obasanjo.
He held the position between 1977 and 1979. He had earlier served as Transport Minister in the General Murtala Mohammad’s regime. On retiring from the army, Musa Yar’Adua joined politics. The organisation later merged with other groups to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which he sought its presidential ticket in 1992. He was leading the race for the party’s nomination before the process was cancelled.
The presidential ambition, which General Yar’Adua was unable to realise was achieved by his younger brother, Umaru, in 2007. He was elected president on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after he won the 2007 presidential election. He had earlier served as governor of Katsina State between 1999 and 2007. Death, however, cut short his reign on May 5, 2010 after a protracted illness.
He was succeeded by his vice, Goodluck Jonathan, who later appointed General Yar’Adua’s son, Murtala, as minister of State for Defence. The Nwodo political dynasty, perhaps, ranks among the greatest so far in Nigeria’s politics. The family has produced numerous political office holders including a governor, ministers, legislators, national chairman of a political party, among several others.
The patriarch of the Nwodo family was Igwe J.U. Nwodo, a traditional ruler who served as minister of Commerce as well as that of Local government in the then Eastern Region. Three of his sons also toed his political path. The eldest of the trio, Joe was a former gubernatorial and presidential candidate, while Okwesilieze, who became governor of Enugu State in the Third Republic, later served as the first National Secretary of the PDP and subsequently as and the party’s national chairman.
Nnia, who was Minister of Aviation in the Second Republic as well as Minister of Information during the regime of General Abdusalami Abubakar, is the immediate past President-General of apex Igbo body, Ohanaeze Ndigbo. Another political dynasty that is synonymous among Nigerians is that of the Obasanjos.
This dynasty has produced a head of state and president as well as a commissioner and senator. It also had one its members running for the presidency. The patriarch of the dynasty, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, was head of state between 1976 and 1979 and president between 1999 and 2007. His daughter, Iyabo, served as commissioner for Health in Ogun State before she was elected as senator for Ogun Central senatorial district in 2007. She ran for reelection in 2011, but her bid to return to the Red Chamber failed. Another of the Obasanjos, Mojisola (an ex-wife of the former president), who is a retired major of the army is also a key political player.
She founded the Masses Movement of Nigeria in 1998 and later ran for the presidency on its platform in 2003, interestingly against her husband. She also contested the 2007 presidential election, the only female on the ballot. The Sarakis, who hail from Kwara State in North Central Nigeria, are like the Kennedys of the U.S.
Their patriarch, Olusola Saraki (1933-2012), first entered politics when he contested the 1964 parliamentary election for Ilorin as an independent candidate but lost. He returned to politics in 1979 and was elected senator on the platform of the NPN and became Senate Leader. He was re-elected in 1983.
In 1998, Saraki became a member of the Board of Trustees of the All Peoples Party (APP), contributing to the party’s success in Kwara and Kogi states. He assisted Mohammed Lawal to become governor of Kwara State. He later switched allegiance to the PDP and in the 2003 elections, supported his son Bukola to emerge as governor of Kwara State, while his daughter, Gbemisola, was elected senator for Kwara Central. His plans to have Gbemisola succeed Bukola as governor in 2011 did not materialize as his son’s choice, Abdulfatah Ahmed, won the election.
Besides upstaging his father, the younger Saraki got elected into the Senate and was re-elected in 2015 on the platform of the APC, when he became president of the Eighth Senate. He later returned to the PDP and contested for the party’s presidential ticket but lost to former Vice President Atiku Abubakar. Another budding political dynasty in Nigeria’s political space is the Tinubus.
Unlike the others, theirs is not limited to family members. It has as its members, politicians across the states of the South-West geopolitical zone and even beyond. That the Tinubu political dynasty determines who gets what in Lagos politics cannot be disputed.
The dynasty is headed by a former governor of Lagos State, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, whose first foray into active politics was as a founding member of the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP) through which he was elected as senator for Lagos West in 1992.
Though the Third Republic was short-lived as a result of military incursion, Tinubu distinguished himself as the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Finance, Appropriation and Currency. With the annulment of the June 12, 1993 presidential Election, Tinubu became a founding member of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), a prodemocracy group, which for several years engaged the military for a restoration of democratic governance. Threats to his life later forced him to flee Nigeria. He, however, did not give up on the struggle as he joined NADECO abroad to continue the agitation.
He returned to the country in 1998. A year later (1999), he was elected governor of Lagos State on the platform of the Alliance for Democracy (AD). He was reelected in 2003. His wife, Remi, was elected senator in 2011 and she is presently three-term senator. Tinubu’s first daughter, Folashade Tinubu- Ojo, is the Iyaloja of Lagos State and the President General of the Market Men and Women of Nigeria. The former governor’s mother, Alhaja Abibat Mogaji, held the position before she passed on.
A son-in-law of the APC leader, Oyetunde Ojo, was elected into the House of Representatives in 2011 to represent Ekiti Central II federal constituency, while his cousin, Gboyega Oyetola, is the incumbent governor of Osun State. For the Okorocha political dynasty, whose arrowhead, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, criss-crossed several political parties before he was elected governor of Imo State in 2011 on the platform of APGA before he defected to APC through which he was re-elected in 2015, the character of its politics is that the spoils of war belong to them alone.
This was evident during Okorocha’s reign as governor of Imo State. His son inlaw, Uche Nwosu, who served as his Chief of Staff was later anointed as his successor but could not scale the election hurdle. Okorocha’s younger sister, Mrs. Ogechi Ololo, served as commissioner for Happiness and Purpose Fulfillment. Before her appointment as commissioner, she had served as Chief of Staff, Domestic Affairs in his brother’s cabinet. Apparently, the most interesting of the political dynasties is the Ubas of Anambra State.
It has produced a “governor” and two senators in the present dispensation. It also boasts of installing a former governor along with all state and federal lawmakers in the state in 2003. The dynasty comprised three brothers – Ugochukwu (a former senator), Andy (a former presidential aide and former senator) and Chris (a businessman and party chieftain). The trio closed ranks at a time, fought and ousted other political godfathers in the state to ascend to the political throne.
But rather than consolidate their grip on power, they allowed personal ambition to tear them apart. This prompted Andy and Chris to turn their respective political weaponries against each other in the 2019 elections. Consequently, their political dynasty lost the Anambra South Senatorial District seat. In the recent governorship election Anambra State Andy flew the flag of the APC, which Ugochukwu was edged out by Valentine Ozigbo in the battle for the PDP ticket through the court.
Another political dynasty is the Shinkafi family of Zamfara State. It was led by Alhaji Umaru Aliyu Shinkafi (now late), who served as Federal Commissioner of Internal Affairs before being appointed as Director General of the National Security Organisation.
On his retirement in 1983, he delved into politics and was one of the promoters of the Nigerian National Congress (NNC), a political association formed in 1989 after the disbanding of political groups by the General Ibrahim Babangida-led military junta. The NNC later joined the defunct National Republic Convention (NRC). Shinkafi emerged as a leading presidential candidate of the party, but the primary election was later annulled and the presidential aspirants banned from politics.
A new primary election was conducted and Bashir Tofa emerged as the party’s presidential candidate with the support of Shinkafi. A younger brother of the late Marafa Sokoto, Aliyu, was elected governor of Zamfara State in 2007 on the platform of All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP) after he served as deputy governor during the eight year tenure of Governor Ahmad Sani Yerima. His defection to the PDP cost him re-election in 2011 as he was defeated by ANPP’s Abdulaziz Yari.
He re-contested in 2015 and lost again to Yari. Besides his sibling, the late Shinkafi’s daughter, Fatima, was appointed as commissioner for Commerce and Industry by Yari in 2015. She was later appointed Executive Secretary, Solid Minerals Development Fund by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Another of his daughters, Zainab, is the first lady of Kebbi State. While these established political dynasties are not likely to quit the stage at least for now, some new ones are equally emerging on the scene. They include the Iboris led by former governor Delta State, James Ibori; the Obanikoros led by a former minister of State for Defence, Senator Musliu Obanikoro; Igbinedions led by Sir Gabriel Igbinedion, Orjis led by former Governor Theodore Orji; Ibrahims led by former Governor Buka Abba Ibrahim; Kwankwasos led by former Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso and Osobas lead by former Governor Olusegun Osoba, among several others.
These emerging political dynasties are hoping to seize the opportunity of the forthcoming 2023 general election to challenge the status quo in their bid to expand frontiers. However, some of the established ones who suffered political misfortune during the last general are plotting a come-back. This gradually sets the stage for an interesting political battle not only at the federal level where the likes of Asiwaju Tinubu is likely to battle other political gladiators in the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), including those who used to be members of his dynasty for the party’s presidential ticket, and in states like Imo, Kano and Kwara, where Okorocha, Kwankwaso and Saraki are plotting to regain control. Already, most of the political dynasties have started oiling their political machineries by mobilizing their political structures as notable names among their members are being mentioned as possible presidential and governorship hopefuls.
However, the question most analysts and observers are asking over this development is: Does the existence of the political dynasties really help the people or do they exist to service the political interest of a few individuals? Some analysts and stakeholders, who spoke on the emerging political trend, said the electorate share the biggest chunk of compromise that ensures that politicians perpetrate themselves and members of their families in power.
A former presidential candidate of National Conscience Party (NCP), Chief Martins Onovo, said: “We must be vigilant to always condemn deviations, especially from people in leadership positions because, when such deviations are tolerated, they become not only precedents but standards. While relations of office holders are Nigerian citizens and may be ordinarily qualified for the positions they seek, we must ensure that their sponsors do not abuse the power of their offices to install them unlawfully.” National President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev. Samson Ayokunle, who warned against recycling failed leaders, said such portends danger to the advancement of the country.
His words: “There is a need for political regeneration in terms of leadership in this nation. Recycling those who have failed because they have money to throw around should no longer be allowed if we want to go forward. This is obstructing people with good intentions to get there. If we change our attitude and the system and we continue with the way we are doing things, we will not get anywhere.
We need true leaders.” The state chairman of Young Progressives Party (YPP) in Kwara State, Mr. Charles Olufemi, who also cautioned against what he described as recycling old, weak, and sick politicians in order to ensure good governance and socio-economic growth of the people, said the old politicians cannot ensure modern ideas and information technology that would navigate the country into political and economic stability. Olufemi, who spoke during a roadshow to mark the one-year remembrance of #EndSARS protest in Nigeria and to educate residents on the proper use of voters’ cards, said: “Our old politicians have failed the people of the country, and it is now time for the youth to retire them to their various homes in the next elections.
“We are the generation that will inherit this country. But, we have to save it first. It is clear that the challenges facing Nigeria and Nigerians presently cannot be solved by our lamentations on social media nor can they be addressed by street protests. We must, therefore, move from the street to the ballot to achieve the YPP ballot revolution.”