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January 26, 2023

Democracy: Where we missed the bus – Obasanjo

  • Calls for a truly people oriented constitution
  • Marvels at arrogance of incompetence and ignorance among leaders
  • Labels Nigerian elite commission agents, politicians, appointment hunters and influence peddlers
  • Safeguarding Nigeria’s democracy, everybody’s responsibility -Wike
  • We have long way to go – Fayemi

By Egufe Yafugborhi

FORMER President Olusegun of Obasanjo has said Nigeria’s democracy, after six decades of political independence, has remained stagnated, even deepened negativities, because leaders are not demonstrating capacities to provide transformative leadership that unites Nigerians.

Obasanjo, as Keynote Speaker, was among guests to Rivers state Governor Nyesom Wike Thursday in Port Harcourt where he reflected on
“Respecting The Principles Of Democracy” at the Rivers State Government facilitated International Conference On “Deepening Democratic Culture And Institutions
For Sustainable Development And Security In Nigeria”

Commending Wike for the gathering, Obasanjo said, “It has been a while since academics, politicians, policymakers and professionals from all over the world came together to discuss Nigeria. We sure need more opportunities to interrogate and understand our past and present, to design and plan our future”

In the highlights of his presentation, the former President attempted to to redirect stakeholders minds to where they missed the bus in the conviction that if the citizens were patient, humble, reflective, and willing, another bus (2023 elections) is just around the corner only if the people were ready to be active passengers.

He said though no two democracies were exactly alike, “However, citizens that live in democracies share common perspectives, expectations and commitments to basic tenets of democratic practice. And they may turn out to be beneficiaries or victims depending on the course of the process and practice of democracy.”

Where We Miss The Bus

On Nigeria missing the bus, he said, “Our democracy has gone through twists, dives and turns since political independence. The best of our history has been the sustenance of democracy since the transfer of power to an elected government in 1999.

“However, there may be reasons to doubt how much lessons the leaders and followers have drawn from our past and how far they are willing to go to deepen, widen and strengthen democracy and democratic practice.

“The Constitution of the country provides the foundations that guide political activities. Democracy equally enables political actors to engage each other within set rules. But when actors confuse the beginning with the end, or adopt the infamous Machiavellian dictum that the end justifies the means, they get set for a race without boundaries, with no rules or where anything goes.

“An elite of commission agents, politicians, appointment hunters and influence peddlers is unlikely to appreciate the value of democracy and democratization. Everyone in this room, whether we admit it or not, is an expert in Nigerian politics.

“We all have opinions and we have prescriptions for all the problems of Nigeria. Yet, the country is not making progress. Most of us are experts in what we know little or nothing about and ignoramus in what is our duty and responsibility.

“We have tried all sorts of regimes, ideologies, planning strategies and personalities in power: the so-called new breed did not show that they were different. Equally, states run by professors, retired military officers and other professionals including teachers did not experience visible and substantial improvements.

“True, there have been some outstanding leaders at various levels of power but no tree has ever made a forest; the good ones are few and far in between and did not form critical mass. The lack of conversations across fault-lines and primordial proclivities mean that our leaders are unable to share ideas and have durable and sustained policies for long enough time.

“This prevents useful cooperation, collaboration, stability and sustainability. It means whatever best practices are in one location remain there and may die there. If after six decades of political independence, our leaders are not showing clear capacities to provide transformative leadership that unites Nigerians and contains ethnic, religious, regional and clannish, selfish, even class proclivities, then, there is a problem.

“In fact, it is possible to declare that the ways in which we have practised our democracy have deepened contradictions, negative coalitions, distrust, disloyalty and unpatriotic tendencies within and between communities and constituencies all over the country.”

“We have tended so far to pursue the symptoms of the contradiction rather than focus on the causes and the disease remains stubbornly endemic. Unless we generate the courage and commitment to change course and do things better and differently, we may be heading for more trouble ahead.

“Democracy, when properly practised in the interest of peace, inclusion, national growth, development, security and stability, is supposed to address national problems, no matter how complex.

“In Nigeria, each new government behaves as if Nigeria is a newly found country. In fact, during campaigns, some leaders sound as if they plan to reinvent Nigeria and create new Nigerians overnight. That is because they miss the aspect of democracy that emphasizes continuity, stability and predictability.”

Prescriptions For Progressive Democracy

Going forward, Obasanjo said, “I marvel at the level of arrogance of incompetence and ignorance. The impunity is sickening. There are thousands of persons with integrity all over the country. Leaders need to identify and connect these persons with their communities and organisations to build a true national movement and commitment to democratic practice.

“Without reinventing the wheel therefore, let me state very clearly that the principles I have been talking about include, but certainly not limited to building and compacting a truly people-led and people-driven Constitution that they would own and defend against political predators of any form.

“This is the basic foundation that when you involve the people in the process, they understand it, make their inputs, see the document as their own; not only would they defend it, but it would also guide their political actions, alignments and realignments. Their welfare and well-being is involved and they can make meaningful contributions.”

The guest speaker noted that a new constitution should then be complemented by, “Citizen participation in rule-based political competition: How much internal democracy do the parties have; are the parties used to identify and train new leaders?”

He also recommended commitment to equality before the law and respect for human rights, tolerance and inclusion, accountability of leadership and public officials, respect for the constitution and the rule of law.

“By all means, these do not exhaust the tenets of democracy but they represent a good starting point. If a nation can get through these levels, all other tenets will be easy to achieve”, Obasanjo added.

Governor Wike in his remarks on the occasion, note that, “The efficiency of the judiciary in interpreting and enforcing the existing regulatory regime, including the laws, regulations and guidelines beyond reproach and the capacity and consistency of INEC and the Security Agencies to be firm, impartial and independent in the discharge of their functions are most crucial.

“Safeguarding and deepening our democracy lies with every citizen. We must have the courage to stand up for justice, the rule of law, an independent and courageous judiciary, and our rights and freedoms to vote and be voted in a transparent election.”

Former Governor of Ekiti State, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Chairman of the occasion said, “Though, there are some political milestones achieved since1999, there is no doubt that we still have a longway to go in building a robust culture of power and politics that is both Democratic and sustaining.”

As part of the event, there was the unveiling of the book, “Bridging Rivers”, which captured the governorship legacy of Wike with the book launced under the chairmanship of former governor of Rivers State, Dr. Peter Odili.