The former president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, has spoken of the need to “give ordinary Africans a voice” during a speech at the University of Strathclyde.
Mr Obasanjo was delivering the keynote address at a conference at the Strathclyde Technology and Innovation Centre on Friday, attended by university professors and students, as well as other academics and members of the Houses of Parliament.
The conference marked the 20th anniversary of ‘Afrobarometer’, an independent, pan-African survey which measures changes in public attitudes towards economic, political and social issues in Africa. The organisation has grown to include data from 38 countries since its inception in 1999.
Addressing the conference, Obasanjo – who was democratically elected President of Nigeria between 1999 and 2007 – noted that the vast majority of Africans now support democracy and reject authoritarian and military rule. However, only one-tenth of African elections result in a governmental defeat.
Obasanjo explained: “Leaders are able to stay in power because the elections they hold are only free and fair until you scratch under the surface. There you find that the media is under state control, that the opposition is intimidated, and other evils which are designed to keep the government in power.”
Himself a former military leader of his country, Obasanjo was credited with the peaceful transition of power to Nigeria’s first democratically elected President in 1979. However, his successor was later overthrown in a military coup d’état and Obasanjo was placed under house arrest for his support of democracy.
Recalling those painful days of his past, the former President described how he was placed in front of a judge, without having committed any crimes, and warned of the ‘social consequences’ of his actions.
“And of course, I knew what he meant by social consequences,” Obasanjo continued.
Having long been a defender of democratic principles in Africa, Obasanjo spoke of the need to “empower those who want to see a more inclusive society”, describing democracy as “essential to African society”.
However, he also spoke of his fears over the spread of fake news and the rise of populism and vitriolic nationalism in democratic countries.
The former president concluded: “The only people who can safeguard democracy are the ordinary people on the street who want a better life for themselves and their families.”
By Rob McLaren