Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has expressed his displeasure with the judicial system in Nigeria, saying that it is not normal for a few judges to overturn the decisions of millions of voters during elections. Obasanjo described the powers vested in the hands of a few judges as “totally unacceptable”.
Obasanjo made these remarks at a high-level consultation on Rethinking Western Liberal Democracy in Africa held at Green Resort Legacy, Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library, Abeokuta, Ogun State. He was reacting to the recent judgements of the Court of Appeal on disputes arising from the 2023 elections in Nigeria.
The Court of Appeal had sacked three governors in separate judgements delivered by the judges. The affected governors are Dauda Lawal of Zamfara State, Abba Kabir Yusuf in Kano, and Caleb Mutfwang of Plateau State. The judgements have sparked reactions from Nigerians who said they have lost hope in the judiciary, especially when the affected governors are of the opposition parties.
Obasanjo said he did not agree with the practice of allowing a few judges to make final decisions on electoral matters, without any recourse to the will of the people. He said he did not know how to solve the problem, but he suggested that there should be a way to handle it.
He said: “I believe whatever form of democracy we have or whatever system of government we have, three or four men in the judiciary should not be able to overturn the decisions of millions that have voted.
“Now, we have to find a way to handle that. I don’t know what the way will be but, for me, I think it’s totally unacceptable that millions (of votes), maybe 10m on one side, maybe 9million on the other side. Then, you have five people sitting down, three of them agree, two disagree. And you come up and make cathedra pronouncements that cannot be changed. I believe that should not be accepted.”
Obasanjo also recalled how he lost a local government election in Ogun State in 1998 because he refused to bribe the police and the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials. He said he was told by his party leaders that there was money allocated for the police and INEC, but he rejected the proposal, saying that they were government workers earning salaries monthly.
He said: “When things go wrong, you said the Nigerian factor. The first thing I learnt 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 government elections.”
Obasanjo said he was not comfortable with the phrase “Nigerian factor”, which he said was used to justify corruption and malpractice. He said he came across the phrase when he lost the local government election because he did not take cognisance of the Nigerian factor while planning for the election.
“When things go wrong, you said the Nigerian factor. The first thing I learnt 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 emphasised that the Western liberal democracy being practised in Africa has not really taken human nature and the African situation into full account.
While saying it is time to be realistic, the Balogun of Owu said a hungry person will sell his vote for just 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 lack of education,” he stated.