The Nigerian Presidency has openly criticised former President Olusegun Obasanjo for his recent comments on the state of the nation’s democracy. Bayo Onanuga, the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, pointed out that the current democratic system in Nigeria can be traced back to Obasanjo’s policies during his tenure as both military Head of State (1976 – 1979) and civilian President (1999 – 2007).
Onanuga expressed that Obasanjo’s recent critique seems ironic, given his significant role in shaping the country’s democratic path. This response came after Obasanjo, at a high-level consultation on Rethinking Western Liberal Democracy in Africa, held at his Presidential Library, criticised the Western model of democracy for its inadequacies in delivering good governance and development in Africa. He proposed an “Afro democracy,” tailored to the continent’s unique needs, highlighting the Western model’s failure to consider African history and complexities.
Obasanjo described Western liberal democracy as a system where a few govern the majority, often excluding a significant portion of the population. He emphasised the need for African countries to redefine and redesign their systems of governance, moving away from models that were not home-grown and failed to work effectively for them.
The Presidency, however, blamed Obasanjo for adopting a poorly copied model of the presidential system during his administration. They criticised him for not advocating a better system, despite his current views. Onanuga remarked that Nigeria initially practised British parliamentary democracy, which was less expensive and more suitable, but it was Obasanjo who accepted the recommendation for an American-style democracy. The Presidency accused Obasanjo of copying the form and structure of this system but not its spirit and even attempting to modify the constitution during his tenure.
The recent spat between the Nigerian Presidency and former President Olusegun Obasanjo over the state of democracy in Nigeria raises critical questions about the suitability of Western democratic models in African contexts. Obasanjo’s call for an “Afro democracy” tailored to African needs is a significant point of discussion, highlighting the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of imported governance systems in addressing the unique challenges of African nations.
We believe that Obasanjo’s critique, though coming from a place of experience and insight, also bears the weight of his contributions to the current state of affairs. His role in shaping Nigeria’s democratic journey cannot be overlooked. However, his current stance offers a valuable perspective on the need for African nations to critically assess and adapt democratic models to better suit their socio-political realities.
The Presidency’s response, while critical of Obasanjo’s past actions, also underscores a broader issue: the challenge of implementing Western democratic principles in a way that aligns with African values and realities. The criticism of adopting a “poorly copied” model of the presidential system points to the complexities involved in transplanting governance systems across different cultural and historical landscapes.
This debate opens up a larger conversation about the evolution of democracy in Africa. It suggests a need for African countries to not just adopt but adopt democratic principles, creating systems that are more inclusive, representative, and attuned to the continent’s diverse cultures and histories. The concept of an “Afro democracy” proposed by Obasanjo could be a starting point for this discussion, encouraging African nations to innovate and develop governance models that truly reflect their unique identities and aspirations.
While the exchange between the Presidency and Obasanjo highlights differing viewpoints, it also presents an opportunity for Nigeria, and indeed Africa, to rethink and reshape its democratic journey. It calls for a move beyond mere adoption to adaptation, ensuring that democracy in Africa is not just a borrowed concept but a lived and evolving reality, reflective of the continent’s rich diversity and complex history.
Did You Know?
- Olusegun Obasanjo’s Unique Presidency: Obasanjo is one of the few individuals globally to have served as both a military and civilian head of state, offering him a unique perspective on governance.
- Nigeria’s Democratic Evolution: Since its independence in 1960, Nigeria has alternated between military and civilian governments, with democracy being reinstated in 1999 after a prolonged military rule.
- Western Liberal Democracy in Africa: Many African countries adopted Western models of democracy post-independence, leading to ongoing debates about their suitability and effectiveness in African contexts.
- Concept of Afro Democracy: The idea of an “Afro democracy” is gaining traction, advocating for governance systems in Africa that are more congruent with the continent’s cultural, historical, and socio-economic realities.
- Impact of Governance Systems on Development: The effectiveness of different governance systems in promoting development and good governance in Africa remains a subject of extensive research and debate, influencing policy and reform initiatives across the continent.