Ogunsanwo: Democracy Has Gone Crazy in Nigeria


In this exclusive interview with Martins Ifijeh, the Founder, The FactBox Company, Babajide Ogunsanwo, who leads one of Africa’s biggest data analysts, speaks on how to deepen democratic values in Nigeria and his plan to launch Nigeria’s first leadership radio station

We are approaching two decades of rebuilding democracy in Nigeria. To what extent would you say that the construction work on Nigeria’s house of democracy is near completion?

Presently, Nigeria is far from ready to move into the house called democracy. We have not even started to paint the house. Though our past was dark, we should not lose hope. Our future shines brighter than the sun.  With every drop of blood in me, I believe that our future shines brighter than the sun because of our human potential. By the end of this year, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) reveals that our population would have surpassed the two hundred million mark. No other country in Africa has this potential. If this potential is combined with innovation and our natural resources, then we can achieve greatness. If this potential is combined with toxic leadership and gerrymandering, it will lead to our disintegration.

So, how much progress has Nigeria made with democracy after 18 years?

It depends on how you want to define and measure progress. The presence of evil doesn’t necessarily mean the absence of good; so 18 years of non-military rule is not equivalent to 18 years of democratic rule. In 1999, the national electoral body in Nigeria recorded less than 30 million valid votes in the presidential election even though there were more than 120 million adult Nigerians. This means that a significant minority determined who became president.  Again in 2015, INEC recorded less than 30 million valid votes even though there were more than 180 million adult Nigerians. So, it is evident that democracy has gone crazy in any country where a significant minority determines who becomes the leader of the country.

Shouldn’t democratic progress be measured on the quality of democratic institutions rather than voter turnout?

Democratic institutions are not built by waving a magic wand. You need people to build democratic institutions. It is tough to build these institutions if the people are not interested in who leads them. When majority of Nigerians do not turn out to vote, it means the country has shown apathy towards building democratic institutions.

In developed nations, especially in Norway, Denmark and the United States of America, democracy is sometimes summarised as “Government of the people, by the people and for the people.” In a sharp contrast, in Nigeria, democracy is “Government of the few, by the few for the few.” This is why I say that democracy has gone crazy in Nigeria.

Even in business, few people control the wealth.  The National Deposit Insurance Commission (NDIC) reveals that only two percent of Nigerians hold 90 per cent of the deposits at commercial banks. Again, craziness is whenever a significant minority determine the fate of the majority.


What successes should we celebrate in Nigeria’s democracy and how can we deepen democratic values?

There has been progress in freedom of speech when compared to the pre-1999 era. However, freedom of movement has declined, especially in the North Eastern region. We need to improve on freedom of education, especially by reducing the number of young girls that have no education.  The most important need of a young man in Nigeria is not access to the ballot box; it is access to the job market. In 1999, the official unemployment rate was 8.2 per cent, now it is 40 per cent. How does that sound?  But make no mistakes; democracy did not suddenly go crazy under President Buhari. Nigerians just reasonably hoped that he would be able to drive the craziness to a screeching halt.

What is the possibility of separating religion from democracy in Nigeria?

Religion and democracy are both about systems that people believe in. So, it is difficult to separate them. I believe that Nigeria should adopt one national religion. It should not be Christianity or Islam. “Doing Good” should be our national religion.  A lot of Nigerians are devoted Christians and Muslims yet Nigeria still ranks among the most corrupt countries in the world. Clearly, there is a lot of hypocrisy in the land.  The foundation of a lasting democracy is laid within the family and not in the Church or Mosque. The greatest democratic institution known to man is called “Character”. Character is built through good parenting, positive association, formal and informal education as well as social work.  Just as the government creates economic development programmes, it now needs to implement practical character development programmes such as mentoring programmes for young Nigerians.

How can we encourage more Nigerians to participate in leadership and nation building?

To make democracy thrive, we must be a nation of doers, not observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain on the quality of leadership. We make a big mistake if we think that nation building is to be carried out by only adults. Children, teenagers and young adults have a role to play in nation building. The nation has failed to introduce the principles of leadership and democracy to the younger generation; this has led to a dearth of quality leaders in Nigeria. This must be corrected. One reliable way to increase the number of high impact leaders in Nigeria is to increase the access that citizens have to leadership skill development.  This is why my current community development project is to launch Nigeria’s first leadership radio station before 2020. The radio station will focus on sharing quality information that helps to build great leaders.

What is your prognosis for next year’s general election?

Every day is an election because everyday circumstances influence people’s opinion.

Globally, the candidate with the best manifesto isn’t the one who wins. It is the candidate that creates the strongest emotional (feelings) connection with voters that wins. The perception about the candidate, not electoral promise will determine who wins the ballot next year. More importantly, Nigeria’s national poverty rate of 63 per cent not only means that majority of voters are poor, but that we are going to again rely on the ‘wise judgment of the poor’ to determine Nigeria’s next President. Clearly, our number one enemy is not Boko Haram, it is poverty. Remember the words of John F Kennedy, “The ignorance of one voter in a democracy impairs the security of all.”