Former President Olusegun Obasanjo says Nigeria continues to fail as a country because everyone is impatient with democracy.
Obasanjo said that the country is not advancing despite being ruled by leaders from various intellectual and professional fields.
He said that the leaders should start making efforts to correct the mistakes of the past instead of acting like Nigeria is a new country.
Obasanjo spoke Thursday while delivering a keynote address on “Deepening Culture and Democratic Institutions for Sustainable Development and Security in Nigeria” in Rivers’ capital Port Harcourt.
The former president said that a nation that does not “engage in conversation, self-analysis, self-criticism, and regular reading and interaction cannot make meaningful and sustainable progress.”
“It’s probably best to state at the outset that no two democracies are exactly alike. Democratic practice and institutions are shaped by the specificity of history, sociopolitical struggles, culture, the nature of production and exchange, orientation, social balances, and the character of government and ruling elites,” he said.
“However, citizens living in democracies share common perspectives, expectations, and commitments to the basic principles of democratic practice. And they can be beneficiaries or victims depending on the course of the process and the practice of democracy.
“Therefore, in this our short conversation today, my goal is to redirect our minds to where we missed the bus. If we are patient, humble, thoughtful, and willing, another bus is just around the corner: are we ready to be active passengers?
“Our democracy has gone through ups and downs since political independence and we are all living witnesses of our achievements and failures. The best of our history has been the maintenance of democracy since the transfer of power to an elected government in 1999.
“There are reasons to appreciate this part of our history because until now we have kept the armed forces out of the control and total and formal domination of political power.
“However, there may be reason to doubt how many lessons leaders and followers have drawn from our past and how far they are willing to go to deepen, broaden and strengthen democracy and democratic practice.
“We do not understand that democracy is not a one-shot game. It is evolutionary and it takes time to ground the practice. It is not for rapid changes and indeed if we follow the rules we would all realize that regimes or governments may change but the principles remain constant.
‘WE MUST BUILD POSITIVE FOUNDATIONS COLLECTIVELY’
The former president said it is important that leaders rebuild their commitment to democracy, adding that they can still learn lessons from the few good democratic practices of previous governments.
“Our failure on several, if not all fronts, is because we are impatient with democracy and democratic practice. That impatience carries with it an element of greed, selfishness and lack of patriotism,” he added.
“However, if you look at our pre-colonial history, you will find countless strong practices that were genuinely democratic, including checks and balances to prevent dictatorship and misrule in any form.
“When a new King/Queen is installed, they don’t proceed to behave as if the community were new. He does not immediately proceed to build a new palace and destroy the legacies of the ancestor.
“Rather, the focus is on correcting past mistakes, building on inherited legacies, cultivating support from all sectors, enhancing inclusiveness, and respecting existing governance and leadership structures and institutions.”
‘LEADERS CAMPAIGN AS IF THEY PLAN TO REINVENT NIGERIA’
Obasanjo said that in Nigeria, each new government behaves as if the country is a “newfound”, noting that during campaigns, “some leaders sound as if they plan to reinvent Nigeria and create new Nigerians overnight”.
“That’s because they miss the aspect of democracy that emphasizes continuity, stability and predictability. One regime can lay the foundation, but it requires many regimes to continue to build positively and constructively on the foundation. In large part it is because we overlook and often ignore the basic principles of democracy,” he said.
“Everyone in this room, whether we admit it or not, is an expert on Nigerian politics. We all have opinions and we all have recipes for all of Nigeria’s problems. However, the country does not advance. Most of us are experts in what we know little or nothing and ignorant of what is our duty and responsibility.
“We have tried all kinds of regimes, ideologies, planning strategies and personalities in power – the so-called new generation did not prove that they were different. Similarly, states run by professors, military retirees, and other professionals, including teachers, did not experience substantial, visible 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 between and have not formed a critical mass.
“If after six decades of political independence, our leaders do not show clear capabilities to provide transformative leadership that unites Nigerians and contains ethnic, religious, regional and clan, egotistical and even class leanings, then there is a problem.
“Indeed, it is arguable that the ways in which we have practiced our democracy have deepened contradictions, negative coalitions, mistrust, disloyalty, and unpatriotic tendencies within and between communities and constituencies across the country.
“Again, this means that there is a deep structural and philosophical problem that we must address. Until now we have tended to chase the symptoms of the contradiction instead of focusing on the causes and the disease remains stubbornly endemic.
Obasanjo added that unless Nigeria generates the courage and commitment “to change course and do things better and differently, we may be in for more trouble down the road.”