By Milcah Tanimu
In a swift rebuttal on Monday, the Presidency held former President Olusegun Obasanjo responsible for the present condition of Nigeria’s democracy. Bayo Onanuga, the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, conveyed this stance, asserting that the current democratic system in the country can be traced back to Obasanjo’s influence during his tenures as military Head of State from 1976 to 1979 and civilian President from 1999 to 2007.
Onanuga criticized Obasanjo’s recent commentary on democracy, stating, “Obasanjo ought to know that he brought this thing into Nigeria. He was the one who made us adopt it in 1979.” He went on to highlight the irony of Obasanjo’s critique, suggesting that the former president now appears to be expressing wisdom after leaving office.
The reaction from the Presidency followed Obasanjo’s remarks at a high-level consultation on Rethinking Western Liberal Democracy in Africa. Obasanjo had raised concerns about the shortcomings of Western democracy in delivering good governance and development in Africa. He proposed the concept of “Afro democracy,” emphasizing the need for a system tailored to the unique circumstances and history of the continent.
Obasanjo critiqued Western liberal democracy as a “government of a few people over all the people,” arguing that it did not fully represent the majority. He questioned the relevance of a system that, in his view, neglects and excludes the minority.
In response, the Presidency faulted Obasanjo for poorly implementing the democratic model during his leadership, particularly his choice of the presidential system over the parliamentary system. Onanuga contended that Obasanjo, instead of advocating for a better system, accepted the recommendation for an American-style democracy, which he asserted was not in line with Nigeria’s historical practices.
The Presidency also accused Obasanjo of incorrectly copying the presidential system’s form and structure without grasping its underlying spirit. Onanuga further highlighted that Obasanjo attempted to modify the constitution during his presidency, implying a flawed implementation of the democratic framework.