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Opinion: Reflecting on Obasanjo’s Call for ‘Afro Democracy’ and Critique of Western Democracy’s Applicability in Africa

November 20, 2023

I find Obasanjo’s remarks quite remarkable for a few reasons. Here’s a man who was a military dictator with absolute power to do as he wished (and he wielded it as a typical African dictator). He lacked compassion for his detractors, especially his own fellow-townsman Fela Kuti.

Corruption took a deeper root in Nigeria with him in power, especially after he took off the uniform.

The killings of political critics were ushered in during his civilian government. The subsequent dictators (Babangida and Abacha) perfected it.

One would have thought that a man who saw and led Nigeria from both sides of the pendulum arc would have seen the light, and acquired the wisdom to prepare our nation for democracy. Apparently, being a two-term civilian leader failed to instill in Obasanjo the discipline and practice of democracy. In politics, he would have passed the proverbial 40 years of maturity. I guess he’ll be a political fool forever.

I read his pathetic speech and can’t seem to make sense of it. What exactly is Afro democracy? Is it in the same league as Russian or Chinese democracy? A rose by any other name smells as well. This one stinks. Take that and stick it in your hat Mr. Obasanjo.

In case you missed civic lessons in high school, the definition of democracy is:
a system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

Every progressive and enlightened nation practices this form of government. What political scientists have observed is that when everyone adheres to the basic and guiding principles, democracy works to the betterment of a society. It’s peaceful and leaves no hard feelings. After an election, the loser concedes and the winner is magnanimous in acceptance. No victor no vanguished. Everyone pledges to work together for the good of the republic. It’s that simple.

We’ve just witnessed a vivid example of political sportsmanship in a small West African nation, Liberia. George Weah has just taught Nigerian political thugs how to be a true leader of democracy.

Almost every election in Nigeria has been preceeded by mayhem either through the inefficiency of the Election Commission or the thuggery of the political parties. The Election Commission (with billions of naira poured into it can’t organize a high school debate with its abject and pathetic leadership, and lack of organizational skills. That is a body that should never have its leader picked by one political party. Bipartisanship should be the only smart way to pick a man or woman to conduct elections. After every chaotic election, Nigerians have to endure the endless and fruitless challenges of the results (usually with the predictable outomes of the corrupt party members winning). That says a lot for our corrupt judicial systems.

Obasanjo should have seen that while he was in charge. He, through his myopia and selfishness failed us.

The calibre of the men running for elected offices in Nigeria fall far below the threshold. There have been nothing but a bunch of hooligans and thieves, from the local to states and national offices. Putting them up for elections is tantamount to bringing in the Mafia to run the country. That in itself is an insult to the crime syndicate. They have code of conduct and honour. They punish cheaters swiftly.

Corruption has been the rule of the day in our politics. It’s the reason why Nigeria finds itself at the bottom of economic performance statistics. One does not need to dig deep to see the result of substandard candidature in Nigerian political arena. A discredited man from Akwa Ibom sits as the Senate leader. This is a person that’s been investigated for Corruption. The immediate former governor of Kogi state has yet to answer for the multiple houses he purchased in Dubai. The last two past leaders of the Nigerian Senate had air of corruption hovering over them from questionable acquisition of wealth. The sitting Nigerian president can’t explain the source of his wealth. He, Obasanjo, will have a hard time explaining how he came to own a huge farm, and the insane wealth as a Nigerian military officer. Nigerian generals are not paid even $100,000 per year in salary. Where did his money come from?

Donald Trump of the United States is being paraded through four courts because of his acts both as a private businessman and a U.S. president. A true democracy holds its leaders accountable. Nigeria has not even scratched the surface in that area. We don’t have collective shame. Rather, in our naivete, poor Nigerians hail thieves for their displays of ill-gotten wealth. Go figure.

This stems from lack of education. Majority of our country men and women are functional illiterates who have no clue what their civic duties are. They vote enmass for thieves. If Nigeria practiced true democracy would Tinubu be in office today? I doubt it.

Why do I feel strongly about the last statement? The way the judicial branch of government in the United States has seen it fitting to deliberate honestly over Donald Trump gives the citizens of America the faith to vote for their leaders. They know there are judicial brances like the courts that will jail politicians, and enforcement agencies that will prosecute any polician. On the contrary, Nigerian courts pander to whichever political party can pay the most. No transparency in their deliberations. A recently-retired Justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria pretty much laid bare the shortcomings of his colleagues on the bench. He should know.

Sadly, the ones who have been shortchanged are Nigerians. They’ve been robbed of the experience of true democracy; not some made-up definition that another failed leader has coined for his own stupid reason. So, my advice to Obasanjo is this:

1) use the time you have left on earth to speak the truth about your failings as a former Nigerian leader.

2) Use your vast wealth to set up a foundation whose sole goal is to train young Nigerians in true democracy as practiced in the West.

3) Advocate for the reorganization of the election Commission. No one should stay as the head past five years.

4) Advocate for better security of the ballot box.

5) Advocate for the criminalization of election violence and for very stiff sentence of those found guilty–regardless of political affiliation.

Every Nigerian leader and the politicians, run to Europe and America to hide stolen money. They enjoy the excellent healthcare in the West and stay in homes purchased with stolen money. The moslems among them buy up homes in Dubai. None of them head to Russia or China. Why?

I summit that perhaps democracy as practiced in the West, has given Nigerian political rogues some assurance that the political fairness,(and to a great measure economic stability), resulting from it suits them.

The question then is why can’t we emulate it? Why reinvent the wheel per Obasanjo. It’s foolish and ill-advised. Fix the broken Nigerian political machine and give the citizens something tangible to exercise their rights. After all, done right, democracy is a government of the people for the people by the people. Not a concoction to serve a few corrupt individuals.

Sir Sam Udom is a Public Affairs Analyst and a writer based in Atlanta, USA.

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