The commencement of civilian government in our country, with the investiture of the Obasanjo Presidency in May 1999, brought to the fore, certain nuances rooted in the neo-feudal cultures of the Yoruba, South West of Nigeria. It is the so-called ‘ BABA SYNDROME.’ Everybody, from ministers to personal staff, address the president as BABA, in the same way that under the military, the Heads of State and governors in the states were addressed as OGA.
A democratically-elected president, who is obliged by the Nigerian Constitution to operate in a law-governed environment of separation of powers and in-built mechanisms of checks and balances, has ruled the country, with an imperial disdain for the norms of the democratic process. This disdain has cast a long shadow of conflict on the polity as manifested in the disturbed relationship with the last National Assembly.
The ‘BABA SYNDROME’ is a mongrel, rooted in the deference to the much-touted wisdom of old age, so hallowed in the Yoruba culture that our President comes from. In its more negative manifestation, the ‘BABA SYNDROME’ is an authoritarian and intolerant streak, which brooks no opposition. When this mixes with a military, commandist tradition, such as has been the circumstance of our President, the outcome is the character trait which we have all witnessed on the part of General Olusegun Obasanjo since 1999: a know-it-all-attitude which refuses to acknowledge the wisdom or the point of view of the other person.
The deference to age in traditional societies in transition to modernity, has to be creatively balanced with the modern norms of a democratic society, which are built on vigorous debate, the right to dissent, and the eventual construction of consensus, for the development of society. This, unfortunately, has been a major failure of the past four years of the civilian government, under the Presidency of General Olusegun Obasanjo.
Dissent, a different view of issues and insistence on the doctrine of separation of powers, were demonised by a Presidency which operated with a ‘messianic’ delusion. It is therefore not a surprise, that our democratic space is still occupied by the neo-feudal, larger-than-life, and self-righteous posturing that have been manifest over the past four years.
As President Obasanjo commences his new term, which is a product of a much disputed election and therefore a tainted mandate, it has become incumbent upon him, to temper his attitude in a more restrained and collectivist manner. This is because the Nigerian people have not chosen to be governed by a neo-feudal, authoritarian leader, who has all the wisdom, while every other arm of government, especially the Legislature, would operate just as a rubber stamp.
The “BABA SYNDROME” must be tamed for the sake of the healthy growth of the democratic project in Nigeria. Our President should climb down from the very high pedestal of intolerance on which he has perched since 1999, to a more sober level of engagement with the Nigerian people. He must accept that the democratic process includes moments of robust disputation and dissent, coming from different quarters of a complex country like Nigeria.
“BABA” cannot know it all. We should allow the flowering of a most healthy democratic culture in our country, that is not hostage to a neo-feudalism which more often than not, thrives on intolerance and authoritarianism, as the BABA SYNDROME has manifested in the past four years.