Friendship Of Unequals In Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics Vis-A-Vis Godfatherism In Nigerian Politics

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Friendship Of Unequals In Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics Vis-A-Vis Godfatherism In Nigerian Politics

Chapter One

General Introduction

Since inception of the current administration in Nigeria in 1999, a major political problem that has plagued the country and has become a socio-political problem is “Godfatherism.” Politics in Nigeria has become a business venture where everyone struggles to participate. To this, S. U. Togbolo opines,

Politics in Nigeria has become an investment where the investors are set to make profit at all cost, as a result, political brutality is pervading the society.[1]

This is so strong in Nigerian politics to the extent that the godfather is so strong to the extent of having a larger-than-life image in his area of influence. He determines appointments into state executive councils and where necessary, local councils. So this particular posture of the godfather is a new form of business which must attract huge financial returns at the expense of the democratic citizens. This is because the godfathers must be settled from the general coffer.

The relationship that exists between the godfather and godson points to what Aristotle in his Nichomachean ethics on ‘Friendship’ regarded as “unequal friendship.” This type of friendship involves the superiority of one of the parties where each should not expect to receive the same affection as he gives from the other.[2]

So, this particular relationship of the godfather and the godson requires that whenever the godfather sneezes, the godson catches cold and fever. In fact, the presence of the godfather literally dwarfs the godson. Moreover, to fear him is the beginning of wisdom for the godson.

Therefore, there must be a guide to check the excesses of the godfathers by instituting constitutional and legal checks on electoral and electioneering procedures that involve money, sponsorship and practices that undermine democracy and art of government. This will help to maintain decency in politics and check against the crisis of Godfatherism.

A Biographical Sketch Of Aristotle

Aristotle was born probably in 384BC at Stageira in Thrace. When he was about the age of 17, he went to Athens to enroll in Plato’s academy and remained there for nearly 20 years, until the death of Plato. It was known also that he had the reputation of being the “reader” and the “mind of the school.”[3]

He latter left the academy and accepted the invitation of Hermeias to come to Assos, near Troy. There, he was able for three years to write, teach and carryout research. While at Hermeias’ court, he married his niece Pythias who bore him a daughter. They later returned to Athens and his wife died. Aristotle then entered into an illegal relationship with Herpyllis from which he got a son, Nichomachus after whom the Nichomachean Ethics was named.[4]

In 343BC, Aristotle was invited by Philip of Macedonia to become the tutor of his son, Alexander who was then 13 years old.

Aristotle lived in Athens from 335-323BC during which he founded his school, Lyceum, and wrote most of his books. At the death of Alexander, the Athenians rebelled against his friends including Aristotle. As Socrates, before he was charged with ‘impiety’, but was reported to have said, “Lest the Athenians should sin twice against philosophy,” left the Lyceum and fled to Chalcis, where he died in 322BC of digestive disease of long standing.[5]

Statement Of The Problem

The problem, which this thesis seeks to address centers on the fact that politics in Nigeria has become an investment where the investors are set to make profit at all cost. It is obvious that the more efforts are being made towards positioning Nigeria as a democratic environment, particularly in the areas of thinking and action, the more the threat of relapse into the malaise of long habits of undemocratic practices.[6]

Politics of sponsorship or godfatherism is now the order of the day in Nigerian society. There is now what we call owners, managers and players of the state. Due to this fact, individuals aspire to be economically and politically players directing the affairs of the state. Politics is now the celebration of personality where the elites create a godfather zone. In this, a few do not go through the proper democratic procedure before becoming leaders in as much as they believe in the godfathers and remain in their place.

The problem comes in here when the godfatherism becomes a power struggle between the godfather and godson because of their selfish interest. The godfather at this point comes out to be the monopolist of the values of the outcome of governance and in full control of the state. Thus, S.U Togbolo says,

However, the godson having successfully clinched the seat with the support of the godfather quietly wants to sideline the political godfather. This may be, because of over lordship by the godfather wanting to dominate the government, giving directives and controlling the administration.[7]

So at this, there exists a war between the political godfather and his godson as they contend who should control the state. As we can see, political godfatherism is one of the pandemic that endangers our political environment. The power struggle between the godfather and the godson affects both the development of the state and the citizens. The godson either dances to the tune of the godfather or betrays those who gave him mandate or finds the seat too hot and the state ungovernable if the godfather does not succeed in removing him from office.

Purpose Of The Study

The aim of this research work is to unearth the phenomenon of political godfatherism in Nigeria, its activities, its moral implication and possible ways of curbing it to have a better democratic environment.

Godfatherism is becoming both a political and social problem. Politics of sponsorship is spreading like a wild fire in Nigeria. We see in the relationship that exists between the godfather and the godson. This appears like true friendship until power struggle, which is caused by their selfish interest, comes in. The relationship between the godfather and the godson is a utility friendship. And as we know in Aristotle’s teaching on friendship that in utility friendship, when that which is useful vanishes, the friendship cease to exist. Thus, he writes,

Those whose friendship is based on the useful or on the pleasant dissolve it as soon as it ceases to be advantage, since they were friends not of one another but of what was profitable for them.[8]

At this, the godfather carries war against the godson. Then, the godson will be distracted in his work and that leaves the state undeveloped. It is indeed a big deal that a single individual who claims to be a godfather should hold the whole state to ransom. The treasury of the state through the godson becomes a client to the godfather.

In a political environment where an aspirant for government power or a job must accept terms from a would-be-godfather in order to receive support from him for a sure access to power is corruption. Furthermore, we know that there must be a bargain so that the godfather will be fully out to support the godson. We now live with the philosophy of “nothing goes for nothing.” Then, this bargain of the godfather and the godson mortgages the interest of the governed whose mandate the godfather bought over for the godson.

In this thesis, we have to show how this utility friendship or unequal friendship between the godfather and godson has been a thorn in the flesh of the citizens. It aims at the fact that our so-called leaders and their godfather know that the citizens are entitled to their dividends of democracy since they have invested a lot in it. Our cry is for our leaders to know that the mandate of the citizens is the most important. The godfathers will come and go but the citizens will remain. The leaders as such should invest on the citizens rather than on the godfathers. [9]

Methodology Of The Study

This phenomenon godfatherism has eaten deep into the Nigerian democracy. Our polity is now an investment where the investors multiply as days go by. It is now a matter of necessity that this research work employs the method of explanatory, expository, evaluation and practical.

On explanatory aspect, I shall explain lucidly the concepts of friendship more especially that of unequal and the concept of godfatherism in Nigerian politics. While on the side of expository, I shall go a long way to expose the activities of the godfathers, what seem to be the causes of godfatherism and the love that exist between the godfather and the godson which also seemed like true friendship.

It will be evaluative, since I am going to evaluate the moral implications of godfatherism and its effect on the people. Finally, it will be practical also since the research work is experiential and deals with observable facts in Nigeria democracy or politics.

On the other hand, this thesis comprises of four chapters which for the sake of clarity will be divided into two parts. The first part will contain the general introduction featuring the biological sketch of Aristotle, statement of problem, purpose of study, methodology and literature review.

The second part will be further divided into two dimensions. Chapters one and two will deal with friendship and godfatherism respectively. Here, I will discuss the concept of friendship, its definitions, types, and unequal friendship. Again, I shall also look at the concept of godfatherism, its origin, definition, activities of godfathers and the causes of godfatherism.

The chapter three treats unequal friendship of Aristotle and godfatherism in Nigerian politics. Here, we shall see the relationship that exists between the godfather and the godson. Finally, the fourth chapter evaluates the moral implication of godfatherism; guides against it and then conclusion.

Literature Review

The topic of my research is ‘Unequal Friendship in Aristotle’s Nichomachean ethics Vis-à-vis- Godfatherism in Nigerian Politics’. I have conducted researches from diverse areas. I first conducted my researches through the websites like,,, and I also laid my hands on several articles that deal on the topic of my research. I searched references cited on them for more studies. Furthermore, through the computer, I got some relevant books for my research. So let me now present my literature review. It will feature two ways: the review of relationship between friendship and godfatherism and the review of godfatherism: an offshoot of political party in Nigeria.

The Relationship Between Friendship And Godfatherism

Nigerian politics in recent times has been experiencing what we call godfather phenomenon. From the inception of the present administration in 1999, this phenomenon has been a different ball game. I will begin by trying to show how friendship of unequal can become a root to godfatherism because of self-interest relationship existing between the godfather and the godson. In this, many philosophers and thinkers have shown their views right from the ancient period to this contemporary age. While some view friendship from its negative perspective, others upheld the positive aspect of it.

Moving down the epochs, in the pre-modern era, we have the work of Homer, the Iliad, where he portrayed the friendship of Achilles and the Patrochus as being very exclusive. Here, Achilles did not consider the plight of the people outside his friendship.[10]This exclusive character of friendship as portrayed by Achilles makes friendship selfish.

Likewise, the school of Hegesias holds the same notion that friendship is nothing except for selfish motives of those who engage in it. This motive may as a matter of fact involve selfishness of purpose. Thus, Theodorus opined that there is non-existence of friendship because of its inanity to both the wise and the unwise.[11]This particular view is because of the utility and pleasure types of friendship where the bond of the love is dissolved as soon as their needs disappear.

However, in the Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle on friendship gave a necessary and profound response to the above views of these philosophers by outlining the difference between the inferior and superior or perfect friendship.[12] The friendship of utility and pleasure for him are for self-interest of those who engage in it but that of good or perfect is for those who do not consider their self-interest. While that of the utility and pleasure which dissolve with the disappearance of what is profitable is selfish, that of the good or perfect subsists and is not selfish.

In the Roman antiquity, it shows how the friends of Tarquinus notably Titus, Tiberius, Marcus, Manius and Lucius worked secretly and anxiously to restore him to power when the people rejected and banished him.[13]They considered their interest not that of the public. This is synonymous with the activities of the godfather and godson who choose the option to betray the state.

In the modern era, Francis Bacon, following the opposite view of the thinkers in the Roman antiquity, maintained that friendship is worthwhile and that there are certain dividends that those who engage in friendship relation should get from being friends.

In the same view, Kant was with the opinion that friends should confide in each other and that friendship is what everyone seeks to deserve.[14] R.W. Emerson followed Kant by hitting the nail at the head when he said that man finds whom he can relate with benevolently.[15]In this, there is no measure in reciprocating love or affections as the case may be.

Our discourse on friendship points to the fact that the love between the godfather and the godson is detrimental to the people because when there is no proportionate return of their contract then there will be war. As in the friendship of Tarquinus and his other friends who did not consider the good of the state but theirs first, so is it in the case of the godfathers and godsons as we are experiencing in the present dispensation in Nigerian politics. Thus, the state must suffer under-development. Thus S.M Togbolo speaks,

Governor Mbadinuju made the people of AnambraState to experience demonstration of craze instead of democracy. The education system was a mess, social life and basic amenities were not met for the people of the state.[16]

To this, Elizabeth Telfer, argues that friendship though being particular to the friends should be for the general welfare.[17]So, this shows that godfatherism is harmful both to the citizens and to the development of the particular state.

As a matter of fact, one can say that benevolence which is an important quality in friendship is also the root of godfatherism when understood and applied wrongly. Benevolence being the root of godfatherism in politics cannot be done ex gratia but always with the intention of getting something greater in return. In the effort of Dr Nwachukwu Anakwenze to trace the origin of godfatherism, he says,

The concept of “Godfatherism” has its origin in Christainity. Godparents are chosen as surrogates to help biological [or adopted] parents raise a Christian child to become a God-fearing, law-abiding adult.[18]

In this line, Eddy Odivwri adopted the same idea of godfatherism originating from Christianity. In his effort to trace its origin said that it is as old as humanity itself. Then, it was a sort of being applied selflessly which was seen as a positive practice that benefits the godson and advances the society.[19] Today, godfatherism is another ballgame. The godfather of today becomes the beneficiary and gives favour only if it will advance his selfish interest and ideology.

The godfather sees the benevolence he renders to the upstart as a business venture where the upstart cannot walk outside the rules laid down by him.

Let us now see how party politics gave birth to political godfatherism in Nigeria.

Godfatherism; An Offshoot Of Party Politics In Nigeria

Before the emergence of the British colonizers in Nigeria, there have been communities, kingdoms, and village republics existing in its primitive state. According to Otite, the variety of links existed between the various states and people because they were related and exposed to each other. It was divided into rulers and the ruled.[20] Oyediran has it that these rulers or recruited elites that can be hereditary or honorary make authority and decision according to the people’s tradition.[21]

These kingdoms and communities were democratic according to African standard, because each society participates in politics until the Eurocentric devaluation of African culture and the glorification of European way of life set.[22] Then, the African democracy sunk into the limbo of oblivion at the arrival of the British colonizers.

After the partitioning of Africa in the Berlin conference of 1884-1885 by European powers, the British introduced a western model of democracy that is completely alien to Nigerian culture. In 1900, what is known as Nigeria today was made up of three units (Lagos colony and protectorate and the protectorates of southern and northern Nigeria).[23] The British rule started involving the traditional rulers in preference to the then few educated elites. Therefore, when these elites felt displeased, they started forming political parties as a form of protest against the British rule as to achieve independence.[24] Thus, Awosika says, “Political parties came into existence in Nigeria during the transition from colonialism to self-government.”[25]

These elites were united in this fight against colonialism but division came after the attainment of independence. The British government in Nigeria led to a complete disruption of traditional system of government, which Lord Lugard proving it in 1903 saw it as dead old treaties. Therefore, they applied an indirect rule where traditional rulers became their delegates.[26] It was at this that the appointment and imposing of people on the majority became institutionalized. Hence, godfatherism set in.

Nigeria, after the colonial era and independence started fighting themselves especially those in power in their attempt to impose candidates of their choice on the people. Therefore, the three largest tribes in Nigeria started forming their own political parties. Their leaders now became their godfathers in terms of political recruitment. The Hausa and Fulani formed N.P.C.; Northern Peoples Congress, Aminu Kano was their godfather. The Igbo formed N.C.N.C.; National Council of Nigerian Citizens, Nnamdi Azikiwe became their godfather. The Yoruba formed A.G.; Action Group, Obafemi Awolowo was their godfather. Therefore, godfatherism set into Nigerian politics with a better face before it was twisted.

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From the foregoing, we have seen that experience is not just, what happened to someone but rather what one was able to learn from such experiences. Godfatherism, in Nigerian political environment has been an experience, which have existed from the first republic to the present democratic dispensation. As such, it ought to have taught us something and we ourselves who have had the experience must have learnt something that would have influenced our polity.

From such experiences, it is incongruous to talk about godfather and democracy as mutually interplaying factors in modern democracy. The existence of this phenomenon assumes and produces double tragedy. Firstly, if allowed to exist, it will affect and continue to affect the welfare of other members of the society adversely. Secondly, if there is a face-off between the godfather and godson, it produces an incalculable damage to others.

Therefore, every possible effort should be made to hamstring the excesses of godfathers. This is because if there is no concerted effort to deal with it, it will continue to torture our democracy in particular, the life of people, their property and meaningful development in general.

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