Last week, former President Olusegun Obasanjo lamented that western democracy was imposed on us and we have continued with it even when it is not working for us. In his keynote address at a high-level consultation on “Rethinking Western Liberal Democracy for Africa” in Abeokuta, he noted that western liberal democracy will never work as a system of government in Africa because it does not consider the views of the majority of the people.
He therefore called for alternative system of government and suggested “we look inward and outward to see what in our country, culture, tradition, practice and living over the years that we can learn from, adopt and adapt with methods everywhere for a changed system of government that will serve our purpose better and deliver”.
Nigerians have however reacted to President Obasanjo’s submissions. In their reactions, activists, lawyers and other stakeholders agreed with Obasanjo that democracy has failed in the country but blamed him and other Nigerian elites for not allowing democracy to work in Nigeria. According to them, what is being practiced in Nigeria is corrupted version of democracy as the Nigerian elites undermine democratic principles.
Centralisation of power, not liberal democracy, Nigeria’s problem — Ukairo
Abia based lawyer and former Legal Adviser, Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, South East Zone, Chief Ukpai Ukairo, in his reaction disagreed with former President Olusegun Obasanjo, that Western democracy is Nigeria’s problem. He argued that the excessive concentration of power at the centre, is the bane of democracy in Nigeria.
His words: “Obasanjo who is a key member of Nigeria leadership that has shaped our democratic practice from military to civilian government is, once more, demonstrating the lack of depth in tackling the Nigerian problem. I completely disagree with him. The challenge of Nigeria democracy is that we are imposing the same system of government, the same methodology, the same thinking, across a large vast of Nigeria where the cultural, political, economic perspectives and beliefs differ. “When OBJ imposed the Land Use Act across Nigeria, he didn’t consider that there were fundamental differences in the way lands were managed, owned and controlled across Nigeria, yet he imposed it. The Igbo society or Eastern Region of Nigeria was more democratic than the Western world because colonialism was imposed on Nigeria .
We were largely democratic, that’s why we have ‘Ohanaeze’ system. When things fall apart, you see the republicanism of the Igbo man where the people contribute to the governance of the people; where decisions are taken through the people and not imposed unlike the Northern region where the words of the Emirs were taken as gospel or the West/ Yoruba land or Benin kingdom where the Obas reigned supreme. “So, the challenge of Nigeria development is the centralisation of power. Let’s go back to true federalism. Let’s throw away this yoke that the entire country must be governed in a particular way under a constitution that centralises power in Abuja. Once this is done, all the challenges of development will be easily tackled. It’s not liberal democracy or western democracy that is our problem, it’s the practice of liberal democracy through centralised authority without taking into consideration the different perspectives, the different managerial skills, cultural and religious dispositions of the people.
It’s not about the system but the operators —PANDEF
The Pan Niger Delta Forum, PANDEF, through its Publicity Secretary, Hon. Ken Robinson, said: “For us in PANDEF, our position is restructuring of the nation to correct the imbalances and the lopsidedness in the country in terms of local government areas system where you see Bayelsa with eight local government areas, Kano with 44, Rivers with 23 and Lagos 20 local governments areas. “Whether a system works or not, it is about the attitude and character of the people and not necessarily the system, because the system on its own may not be perfect because there is no perfect system.
“Whether it is Parliamentary, Liberal Democracy, Autocracy or whatever, it is the people that will make it work and not the system itself that works. The significant point to note is that it is not about the system, it is about the people of Nigeria. If our attitude toward governance, and even this constitutional democracy is right, and if people like former President Olusegun Obasanjo, will do things rightly and do the right things at the right time, the country will work and the democracy that we are practicing will be strengthened and the body overseeing the conduct of elections will also be strengthened.
Elites including Obasanjo never allowed democracy to work —Arewa Consultative Forum
Spokesperson of ACF, Professor Tukur Mohammad-Baba, said: “I agree with him in general but I think Obasanjo is one of those who made Western democracy not to work for our country. Therefore, he should be the last person to complain about it. We all remember the 2007election and how it was manipulated in favour of Yar’Adua. Democracy has not been working, but the elites, especially military and civilian elites, like Obasanjo, were the ones who never allowed it to work. We know how Obasanjo kept interfering in the Senate over the choice of its leadership. He never allowed senators to freely choose their leaders. He forced a party chairman to resign. People like Obasanjo and Buhari should please keep quiet and let us be, they have done their worst.”
Blame corrupt politicians, not democracy—CHRICED
In his own reaction, the executive director of the Centre for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRICED), Dr. Ibrahim Zikirullahi, argued that; “there’s nothing wrong with the system we are practicing but what is lacking is commitment and political will. Irrespective of the model that we adopt, if there’s no political will to religiously implement policies with the goal of having a united Nigeria, where all citizens will be treated equal and where no tribe is superior to others, then we will not have a peaceful and viable society to call our nation. So, whether we call it Arab or Afro democracy or western democracy, it is the same characters that will practice it. Even now, can we say we are truly practicing Western democracy? In the Western countries, there is a clear separation of powers. So, for me, it is not about a model. Yes, we could say that this model is not working. Can we see how we can reform it? In Saudi Arabia and most countries in the Middle East, they don’t practice democracy but their citizens are doing well. Governance is all about citizens, if the government is detached from the people, it doesn’t matter what you call that system, it will definitely fail and it’s just a matter of time for it to collapse.”
Joseph Ambakederimo, Convener South South Reawakening Group, asserted: “Western Democracy is not the problem, the operators are the problem. Other countries that operate the same western democracy are prosperous and some others have remained stagnated in growth and some others have retrogressed. The excessive greed exhibited by our politicians is the cause of our problems and until we stop this avarice we will make progress very slowly. Again, the former President was only shying away from the truth because he is involved and the reason we are where we are as a country.
“Another issue is corruption that has become so pervasive that the public and private sectors are now in competition over where corruption is more entrenched. We do not punish wrong doing anymore, we reward failure, no respect for the rule of law. So, these are some of the things that have blighted our democracy and until we change the present way we do things in this country we will continue to blame the system of government. The operators are the problem and we must all accept it this way.”
Zik Gbemre, Coordinator, Niger Delta Peace Coalition said: “Obasanjo is a part of the reason democracy doesn’t work in Africa. Obasanjo had the rare privilege of becoming military head of state and elected president for two tenures, like Buhari. “The election that brought him as elected president in 1999 was fairer than the election of 2003 that elected him for his second tenure. Under him, his party, PDP, forcefully took over all the states of the federation except Lagos State. What we see today in Nigeria started under Obasanjo in 1999. Then, he didn’t see all of this failure. Obasanjo has not said something that is new that some of us had not said in the past. The problem is known. Elections in Nigeria are not free and fair and it is caused by the politicians who want to cling to power to feed on government.
“Looting of resources started in 1999 and is getting worse. Corruption is killing democracy because it is deliberately encouraged. What does Obasanjo mean by ‘Liberal Democracy’? Democracy has no shades or variation, it is always liberal, supports a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties and free enterprise. And that we copied it from the West and have continued with it is not the reason it is not working for us. It is not working because we have deliberately created a culture of practicing a corrupted version of it.
“The reason democracy is not working is because power brokers including Obasanjo have refused to let the people’s genuine vote count. They won’t allow BVAS work, won’t let IREV apply. They want to continue to win by hook and crook. “There is no alternative suggestion than to advocate for stakeholders to change their hearts and minds to embrace democracy with respect for what it truly is, government by popular mandate. “Public institutions, INEC, security agencies, the judiciary and civil society must partake in Nigeria’s democracy with a sense of purpose, honesty and integrity”.
Miakpo Emiaso, Retired President of the Delta State Area Customary Court, said: “Democracy as a system of government is near perfect, it is the best available to mankind right now. But I have always said that what we have is not a democracy the way democracy is understood generally. This military democracy was imposed on us by Obasanjo himself. “People have said in the past that we are different people with different orientation, with different aspirations. For you to say you want to run this country on a single chain of command under a presidential system like what you have in America is to make a fundamental error. You can’t run this country as complex as it is from one person in Abuja. “I call for a proper federal system that is run as a federal system where each federating unit enjoys autonomy. We did it before in the 1963 constitution for the federal which was different from the constitution of each of the four regions and that means that each of the four regions ran their governments the way that they felt fit. It is time to go back to what is similar to what we used to have before 1966 when the military came in. That was a system which highlighted the various constituents of the country and the various constituents of the regions when a person who becomes minister must have won an election. “Now, what we are running is something that encourages impunity where somebody gets to government house and thinks he has all the powers to do whatever he likes. The system encourages corruption because the office will corrupt the person and that corruption will be absolute. And if the person is corrupt, there will be no progress, no development and the people will be poor.”
Nothing is wrong with our democracy but our constitution —Okorodas, lawyer
A Yenagoa based legal practitioner, Barrister Ken Okorodas, said: “What I think is the greatest problem of democracy in Nigeria is the concentration of constitutional powers on the president. For instance, the appointment of the Chief Justice of the Federation can only be done by the President. If the president is appointing the Chief Justice, will he not dictate the affairs of the judiciary? The president is also empowered by Section 256 of the 1999 Constitution to appoint the Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, and other officials of INEC subject to the confirmation of the National Assembly. The powers of the president under our democracy are enormous and that is why our democracy is at the mercy of who becomes the president of Nigeria.”
It’s time we jettison western/liberal democracy — King Dakolo
Chairman, Bayelsa State Traditional Rulers Council, HRM King Bubaraye Dakolo Agada IV, FANA, Ibenanaowei of Ekpetiama Kingdom, said: “President OBJ’s crystal clear position on the woeful failure of western democracy in Africa is one which I strongly hold too. I have extensively canvased for a radical change from this suffering and smiling system of governance called western democracy which serves the west so well while we suffer all the ills of a society in distress. Is it not evident that the more we practice it the more the west prospers to our own peril? “If we must advance from the pitiful depth in which we have allowed ourselves to be plunged into by unwittingly retaining and sustaining a western economic algorithm which is designed to keep Africa and Africans carrying the heavy brunt of the entire world for the last five hundred years we must change this borrowed poison. And quickly too. “Pitiably, can’t we all see that the more we wriggle within the prescriptions of the so-called western experts the deeper we sink in all the indices of better life? So, after 70, 60, or 50 years of post-colonial self-rule we suffer under the weight of heavy debt burdens, lack of basic infrastructure, lack of adequate power, violent conflicts of all types across the continent. We suffer difficulties or near absence of proper intra-African trade, intra-African travel, intra-African communication. We are still almost fully dependent on so called hand outs from western donor agencies. A grand western deception which we unfortunately hardly see through. Is it surprising that we receive an average of about $50 billion annually from the west as intervention funds as opposed to sums which range from $200 to $400billion annually, which the west takes from the continent? So, in a period of five decades for instance, we have lost well over $15trillion at an average annual loss of $300. We have also lost millions of trained experts to the west by clever poaching if you will. “We have also been losing multiples of billions of USD as stolen funds stashed in Europe and America annually. Were the system of governance organic or tailored specifically to serve our purposes most of these wouldn’t have happened”.
A Public Analyst, Hon Ayo Fadaka said, “It is so sad that many people in privileged positions don’t know that they are in office to provide service. They are either in office with a sense of entitlement or because some godfathers hijacked positions for them. This is responsible for the parlous quality of governance available. Also, our socialization process is wrapped and abysmal, etiquette, honor and integrity no longer matter in our society and it is absolutely impossible for a good leadership to emerge. These days, people vote for known felons. Many people bereft of honor and integrity superintend over our lives, how can we then progress? We must therefore begin to build solid blocks that will guarantee a responsible citizenry that will produce patriotic leaders that will not be propelled by selfish determinism, but committed to the well-being of the nation and the citizenry. We must think hard to create a way out of our current malaise that is a direct affliction from the years of crass corruption and unpatriotic acts of past and current leaders who are absolutely responsible for our current sad state, Obasanjo inclusive.
Our leaders are not making democracy work — Mom, Consulting Director of Lawyers Alert
The Consulting Director of Lawyers Alert, and Chairman of Benue NGO Network, BENGONET, Mr. Lazarus Mom argued that democracy is not working in Africa because African leaders are not open to making it work. According to him, “Other countries where democracy is working, did they go anywhere to learn how to practice it? It’s working for them because they are open to making it work and they are making it work. “It is not working in Africa because African leaders are not open to making it work. An African leader doesn’t want to be questioned, an African leader doesn’t want to be asked about issues, an African leader doesn’t want to be held accountable, and these are the tenets of democracy. “African leaders believe in autocracy, they believe in chiefdom, they want to rule over everybody, they want to always have that mega authoritative aura and these are things that are not democracy friendly. Democracy is not working because we don’t want it to work, simple. Again, there is nothing like homegrown democracy. Democracy is democracy, it is a government of the people, by people and for the people. There are two main different kinds of democratic practises, it’s either parliamentary as practiced in the UK, presidential as in the US or a mix of the two. Some people try to mix both and it’s working. “So it depends on what you want. Democracy is all about letting the people decide. People will vote in their leaders, people will hold their leaders to account, and the leadership will be open to the people. “These are the basic tenets of democracy; people participating, government being transparent and government being held accountable. Once these three things are there democracy is achieved. Nothing more or less than that.”
Sit-tight politicians hinder growth of democracy —Dotun Hassan, president, Yoruba Council Worldwide
“It is not the system of governance that has failed but rather the sit-tight politicians who continue to impede progress and hinder the growth of democracy in the country. The historical background and mentality of Africans are based on hereditary and oligarchy system where there is no tenure, everyone is bound to honor each other by mutual respect. I insist that there is no better governance structure than democracy but we can improve on democracy that will represent the yearnings and aspirations of every ethnic tribe, every citizen and every view of everyone across the country. Once an average African leader knows that his tenure is coming to an end, he will begin to think of what will make him to still be relevant in power. They believe that power is a means to an end and that was the same mentality Obasanjo used in running the affairs of the country and was one of the reasons he sought tenure elongation”.
Human factor is the bane of our democracy – Uwoghiren
Edo based lawyer, Jefferson Uwoghiren said, “The constitutional democratic process that we are having is failing because they are all built on weak institutions. When you ask the man who is contesting to choose who will be the umpire of his electoral contest, it is the beginning of errors. There is no neutrality in the process of electoral contestations in Nigeria and Africa and it starts from the umpire; how are the umpires chosen, are they voted for freely and elected by the people as their representatives? A lot of them are card carrying members of the same political parties that are in power and you cannot build something on nothing.
“Obasanjo knows where the problems are but he is addressing them differently. Let’s assume that the electoral bodies are deficient in conducting proper elections, the courts are supposed to act as corrective institutions but what have been their roles? It is very difficult for a sitting president to lose in any of our courts because the separation of power process is not very clear. These judges are appointed by the executives, they owe their career advancements to the executive arm of government. Our judicial reforms are not working, our electoral reforms are not working, it is not because there are no sufficient laws to change them but because there is no will power, the political class are determined to subordinate the judicial arms to their whims and caprices, so it is not about democracy not working in Africa. Why will what is working in Europe not work in Africa? The human factor is basically responsible”.
Alagoa Morris, an environmentalist said: “Social institutions are the pillars of society and when they are weak; society suffers. Politicians, money bags and other influential people have seriously weakened the social institutions in Nigeria. There, it is important to give the resuscitation of our social institutions priority. We need strong institutions, not strong men and women. That would be the only solution and what responsible government should strive to achieve in the common interest. Nobody should be above the love of the land.”
Dr. Emma Okah, a former Commissioner for Information and Communications in Rivers State posited: “There has never been a genuine determination to build a nation, but a determination to build ethnic regions. Actions of politicians do not help in building our democracy. That is because no politician is punished for committing electoral crimes. Politicians do things and get away with it without any commensurate penalties.”
Character of operators problem, not system — Akwa Ibom Ex-Rep member
A former lawmaker who represented Oron Federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Peter Umoh, said: “the problem does not lie in the system, the problem lies in the character of Nigerians who operate the system from the presidency down to the local government Council administration. So, the problem is not in the system of government, but the character of the principal operators. This is really where the problem lies. Even if you bring any other system in Nigeria, if the character of the principal actors does not change it will result in the same thing”.
A legal practitioner, Chinaza Christopher, said: “African dictators have stifled democracy, both the western conceptualized democracy and African conceptualized democracy. Democracy has not yet failed; it has not even taken off.”
A social crusader, Ayowole Sanyalu, said: “Nigeria practices what can best be described as “elite democracy”: government of the elites, by the elites, and for the elites. Obasanjo and his likes were profiteers from this kind of primitive form of democracy that has brought nothing but misery to the people of Nigeria. “Elite democracy is far from being democratic, it is the “dictatorship of the elites”.
The ordinary people of Nigeria must stand up to this dictatorship, and replace it with popular democracy.”
Let us allow our democracy develop — Omare
Eric Omare, a practicing lawyer in Warri, Delta State and former national president, Ijaw Youth Council, IYC (IYC) worldwide, said: “I don’t think that western type of democracy is not working because it was imposed on us. What is happening in my view is that we are still developing our democratic practice which may take some years to mature. This is more so considering the fact that we do not have any other type of democratic approach that can be adopted to suit our peculiar circumstances. What is needed is to improve on the present democratic systems practiced in different African countries.”
A Public Analyst, Hon Stephen Adewale, said, “given that Chief Obasanjo introduced Western Democracy to Nigeria as we know it today, this is the first time he has implicitly told us that it was imposed on him by the West. Chief Obasanjo benefited from this system, and whatever flaws it had, he played a significant role in it, as he had the opportunity to change the narrative while in power from 1999 to 2007, but he did not. The truth is that even the classic African traditional institutions in Africa have largely failed, so we need not get bogged down in addressing the wrong issues. During the same time span, we witnessed China, an authoritarian country, grow from the size of Nigeria to arguably the world’s second-biggest economy. We’ve also seen Singapore becoming the world’s wealthiest country at one point. The issue, in my opinion, is not the type of administration we choose in Africa but the structure of our country.
A legal practitioner, Fehintola Peter said, “I don’t see anything wrong in liberal democracy, it is our leaders that are not practising it the way it should be practiced. It is the process that is defective”.
Alake Fagbade, a septuagenarian, said the comments should not have come from the former President.
“Is he just waking up from his slumber to know that? When he had the opportunity to make things work, what did he do? Nothing is wrong in the system, it is the operators who should be blamed. Even, if the democratic process is not working, can’t we domesticate it to make it work? Most of our leaders don’t have the interest of people at heart. How did it work during the time of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, Dr Nnamdi Azikwe and Alhaji Tafawa Balewa?”
A former lawmaker at the Osun State House of Assembly, Mr Waseeu Adebayo disagreed with former President Olusegun Obasanjo that liberal democracy has failed in Africa. He argued that democracy is still developing in some African countries, including Nigeria. According to him, “What our leaders failed to do, including Obasanjo’s Presidency is to put in place strong institution rather than individuals. The liberal democracy we practice today takes very long time to be institutionalised, we have just spent 24 years in this experiment, it is too early to declare that it has failed. “Though, it is not yet uhuru, but there is hope ahead, we need more reforms and need strong institutions to complement our democracy, especially in Nigeria. There are a lot of recommendation waiting to be implemented, like the 2014 CONFAB report, the Justice Uwais-led committee on electoral reform recommendation and many others, which, if properly implemented will make our democracy stronger”.
A public affairs analyst and former Commissioner for information and civic orientation in Ekiti State, Mr Lanre Ogunsuyi said, “If you look at the allocation of the federation, the quantum of money that goes to the federal government, that of the states and local governments but we don’t have commensurate development. That is why people are now saying that this system is not working for us and I align with those people because the people are getting tired and frustrated because they can not see what they have been promised. I think that we should tinker with the constitution again, it was imposed on us by the military It is not working and the people are disenchanted. Be that as it may, democracy still remains the best system of government but we can amend or tinker with the structure.
“I will recommend a part time legislative assembly in both national and the states, I will also recommend the pruning down of officials. We are at a time when we are confronted with economic malaise, I don’t think we need 49 ministers, this is the largest number of ministers we have ever had, this does not reflect the true situation of things in the country”.