President Obasanjo Don’t Tamper With the Democratic Space Please

May 6, 2003
2 mins read

The media reported at the weekend that President Obasanjo expressed disagreement with the open political space in Nigeria which led to the registration of thirty political parties, after a protracted legal battle by different political associations in the country.

In the views of Obasanjo, three or four parties are enough, and the thirty parities have caused in his words, “more confusion.” He went further to wonder why fourteen of the registered parties did not even bother to contest the just-concluded elections. Obasanjo capped it by saying that “the USA and Britain  had only two or three political parties, therefore once you have a choice of one or two parties, that is enough.”

It is important to underline the danger lurking in what amounts to ‘thinking aloud,’ on the part of President Obasanjo, originally an autocratic military dictator who is finding the garb of democracy obviously ill-fitting. He had authored a book in the past in praise of a one-party dictatorship and in the past four years acted with disdain for the basic norms of a democratic society.

The danger in the line of thought which he revealed at the weekend is that given the overwhelming majority that his PDP will control in the incoming National Assembly, unless citizens, civil society, the media, and political parties are vigilant, Obasanjo can push for legislation to restrict the political space in our country as was done by the military dictatorships of our past.

The truth is that a cardinal element of the democratic process is a multiplicity of choice of political parties canvassing different perspectives for the citizens, in terms of platform of political ideas for the development of a human society. It is on this basis that a legitimate social contract is instituted between the political class and the citizenry.

The beauty of this process is that parties range from the most serious to the most comical, such as Labour and Conservatives on the one hand, and the Monster Raving Looney Party at a comical extreme on the other hand, in Britain. It is therefore not true that there are only two or three political parties in England and America, as President Obasanjo stated.

Besides, we are not attempting to replicate the Anglo-American experience on the soil of Nigerian politics. No. The evolution of a multi-party system in Nigeria has offered the opportunity to impact upon the political process in Nigeria to many groups and individuals who were left out when the space was restricted only to groups of our Iumpen-bourgeoisie that had distinguished themselves only in the manipulation of the levers of political power, to serve narrow, personal interests, in most of our post-independence era.

Nigerians now have a choice of political parties, which in coming years might begin to even specialize, say, in efforts to solve environmental problems, or devoting time to alleviating peculiar problems facing some localities in an area of our country.

We disagree with President Obasanjo about the number of political parties in Nigeria. A country of over 100 million people can operate effectively with 30 political parties. We caution that he should not take any precipitate step to restrict the democratic space in Nigeria. Similarly, we appeal to political parties, civil society activists, and citizens at large, to be on the lookout against any attempt to distort the essence of a multiparty democratic process by Obasanjo, or anybody else.

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