What’s Obasanjo’s quarrel with democracy?
Until he made the front page of major news outlets again last week with his advocacy of an African-style democracy, former president, Olusegun Obasanjo, had remained in relative limbo after his attempts to rally the opposition to rise against the declaration of Bola Ahmed Tinubu as president failed to gain traction in March this year.
That was about nine months ago. It wasn’t that Obasanjo did not try to remain in the news but he made no splash of any kind. Up until the time of his failed attempt to rally the opposition troop by direct and indirect means of incitement, the former president had tried to piggyback Peter Obi, the Labour Party candidate in the 2023 presidential election.
Obasanjo would not have succeeded had he attempted to deny his preference for Peter Obi. Ever conscious of his own importance, he stuck his neck out for Peter Obi and sat back to see his endorsement win support for Obi. His sudden love of Obi and readiness to carry him to the finishing line of the presidential race didn’t have the single-minded obsession the 2007 election had for him. Nor did he labour over Obi in the manner he had worked as a wet nurse all through the campaigns for the late President Umar Yar’Adua. Age was no longer on his side and he could do no more than stand on the sideline and hope to continue to be relevant in national affairs following his endorsement of Obi.
His long years on the corridors of power had conferred on him an aura of power and respectability that made just about everyone of the then candidates wanting his endorsement even when that had nothing more than a symbolic value. He chose to move from the sideline at a point and threw his considerably reduced weight, all pun intended, behind Obi. Like most other supporters of Obi, he took for granted Obi’s popularity among Nigerians and couldn’t see why anyone would want to give their vote to any other candidate but Obi. But he miscalculated as Obi struggled to keep afloat after the initial harmattan wind fire that attended the announcement of his candidacy as the Labour Party’s flag bearer. In spite of this, the unexpectedly good performance of the party as it went along to emerge the third most important party in terms of electoral value also helped it further.
Pitted against one another, the candidates struggled to win Obasanjo to their side. People who sought but failed to get his endorsement attacked those who did, and they were in turn attacked by their opponents as editorials and long articles were written as to the relative importance of getting or not getting Obasanjo’s support. Obasanjo basked in the euphoria of it all. All of that went up in flames, however, with the declaration of Tinubu as the winner of the election by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC. So it was that Obasanjo read quickly the writing on the wall and knew it was time to turn his attention to more rewarding things than, perhaps, risking the displeasure of the new government in town with his potentially treasonable activities.
He may never stop throwing provocative jabs at the All Progressive Congress party or the government led by Bola Tinubu but Obasanjo knows when to call time on an unpopular campaign, not permanently, but to restrategise in order to come out again better prepared to discomfit the enemy. That next time is now the return of Obasanjo with his call for an Africa-themed democracy, what he calls afro democracy, with the hope that could help steer us back to – where really? Obasanjo believes liberal democracy has failed Africa. His quarrel with it is that it is a mode of government of the few in the name of the majority. In other words, liberal democracy has not been representative enough and needs to have its innards turned inside out to reveal an African model.
While all the discussions about this went on in the gathering of intellectuals assembled at his presidential library, Obasanjo did not or, perhaps, could not elaborate on his proposal, mentioning the specifics of his advocacy and how this would be achieved. Rather, he went on with his argument among a gathering more disposed to agree with him than question the woolly reasoning that went into the public unveiling of the proposal. For what else have Nigerian politicians, following Obasanjo’s lead in the main, been executing if not afro democracy, beginning with his bequeathal in 1979 of a so-called federal constitution that outlawed any discussion or questioning of Nigeria’s unity?
We copied our model of presidential democracy from America whose foundation as a nation was laid by people who voluntarily chose to come together in order to uphold certain values. But Obasanjo’s military said Nigeria’s unity was not negotiable right from the first. What is this if not a nativisation of liberal democracy? Was it not Obasanjo that sought to change the two-term limit of our presidential system through a defeated constitutional proposal that would have earned him an unprecedented third term in office? When he failed, did he not also try to change the constitution of the Peoples Democratic Party by putting any winner of a presidential election on the platform of that party under the control of a Board of Trustee chair that must be a former president, a bill only Obasanjo himself could fill?
We are used to people being told to listen to the message and ignore the messenger whenever Obasanjo speaks. It’s about time we started listening to the message without ignoring the messenger. Obasanjo has a way of seeking relevance by sensationalising issues and each time he wants to do this, he rushes back into his African background to seek ancient cures for known ailments. When the apartheid regime failed to change in the late 1980s, Obasanjo it was that called for an African approach to a resolution of the problem through the use of ‘’African insurance’’, basically black magic. Yet he appeared to be in dead earnest. Had they won, the likes of Peter Obi and company supporting Obasanjo’s proposal will be singing a much different tune.
Liberal or Afro, democracy will continue to fail in Africa for as long as African politicians reject the democratic spirit that, for example, recognises the sovereignty of the people, respects their voice and is ready to accept defeat in an election without looking for scape goats at every opportunity. As far as this matter goes, the fault is not in our stars but in us. There may be nothing wrong in domesticating our practice of democracy but there is everything wrong in our politicians failing to take responsibility for our democratic failures.
•Written By Rotimi Fasan