Former President Olusegun Obasanjo revisited the events leading to the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) loss in a local government election in Ogun State back in 1998.
The former president attributed the defeat to his refusal to endorse a bribery scheme targeting the police and personnel of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
He made this candid disclosure during a high-level consultation on ‘Rethinking Western Liberal Democracy in Africa.’
Speaking to a gathering of politicians and academics in Abeokuta on Monday, Obasanjo recounted how party leaders had proposed allocating funds for the police and INEC.
He recounted his staunch rejection of the proposal, emphasizing his belief that INEC officials and policemen are government employees receiving regular salaries.
Obasanjo expressed his discomfort with the term ‘Nigerian factor’ during discussions about democracy and developmental issues.
He shared that he first encountered the phrase during the inaugural local government election, where his party faced defeat.
Politicians alleged that the loss was a result of Obasanjo’s failure to consider the so-called ‘Nigerian factor’ in the election planning process.
The former president’s revelations shed light on the ethical challenges faced by political leaders and the complex interplay between principles and pragmatic considerations in Nigeria’s political landscape.
“When things go wrong, you said the Nigerian factor. The first thing I learned in politics was this thing called the Nigerian factor.
“In 1998, we had the first local government election. We had parties, and here in Abeokuta, we met in my office and they came up and said, ‘look, this is money for INEC, money for police.’ At a stage I said, ‘what nonsense! Is the police not being paid, and INEC too?’
“They said ‘that’s how we do it. I said ‘you cannot do that.’ So, they didn’t do that. And of course, we lost all the local governments. We lost all. And then they came to me and said, ‘Baba, you see? If you had allowed us to do it the way we used to do it, we would have won’. And I felt guilty.
“During the next election, which was the State Assembly, I just stayed in my house. I said ‘well, do whatever you want to do, I will not be part of it’. So, I didn’t even go. But, the result was the same. One of the people who got money didn’t even distribute it to where he was supposed to distribute it,” Obasanjo recounted.
The octogenarian underscored that the application of Western liberal democracy in Africa has not adequately considered human nature and the unique African context. Asserting the need for a realistic approach, the Balogun of Owu pointed out that a person facing hunger may be willing to exchange their vote for as little as N1000.
“When you are hungry, whatever anybody tells you cannot go in. Poverty is a great enemy of democracy. Ignorance or lack of education is a great enemy of democracy. And we seem to be deliberately fomenting poverty and a lack of education,” he stated.