Even at 52, Nigeria’s brand of politics is still lacking in the ideology required to strengthen her evolving democracy, writes Olawale Olaleye
Like an unfathomable riddle, the nation’s political experiment has still presented a quintessential case study in ideology-based practice. For many a pundit, through their wired intrigues and practice, it is not difficult to discern that politicians in the country generally form political parties for the sole purpose of contesting and winning elections. It is not so much the establishment of political platforms set up for the purpose of development and on the basis of deep political and economic convictions.
Often times, emerging political gatherings – of old and young politicians – are celebrated but without introspection on whether or not such gatherings are fixed on set goals. Since independence, Nigeria has had a flurry of political associations and parties. Whilst some died no sooner than they were birthed, others evolved with time and metamorphosed into new ones but only in name.
However, between the First and Second Republics, political parties that existed were ideology driven. They included the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) – dominated by Northern Nigeria; the Action Group (AG) – dominated by the people of South-western Nigeria; National Convention of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), as it came to be called after 1960 – dominated by people of South-eastern extraction. They were believed to be ideology-driven because at the time, it was clear what each of the parties stood for, as much as the clear differences that existed between them, barring the ethnic leanings.
For instance, the NPC was conservative and not very inclined towards the hurried exit of the British colonial masters, pre-independence. The AG, as it were, was more socialist in outlook with Marxists doctrinal beliefs that the state should be paternalistic. However, the NCNC could be referred to as liberal or centrist, with a somewhat moderate stance on issues. Indeed, this was believed to have accounted for its significant following in the South-west.
Perhaps, as many have argued, strong fiscal federalism, coupled with regionalism after independence, strengthened the political parties at the time, as each strove to produce results in their region of dominance. The regions in turn were responsible for socio-economic development in areas like health and education, leaving the center to confront issues such as finance, international relations, customs, immigration, national security and related sectors, exclusive to it.
Talking about ideology-based politics, Chief Obafemi Awolowo’s example usually comes handy because of his welfarist approach to governance. His party, the Action Group, grew in stature beyond the confines of the Western Region as his lieutenants ensured that the party’s decisions were implemented down the line. The result of such carefully conceptualised programmes was the progress witnessed in the entire region, which stoked competition in other regions. Awolowo was clearly a step ahead of his contemporaries because of his disposition to progressive politics.
To think that Awolowo maintained the tempo when he inaugurated the Unity Party of Nigeria in the Second Republic also showed consistency. The UPN under his leadership had a clear-cut ideology akin to that of the defunct AG and the cardinal points were broad. The five states that emerged under the party’s control outrivaled others in grassroots development and were in sync with the party’s integrated rural development approach.
But soon after the military interregnum, true fiscal federalism was crippled, thus paving the way for today’s centrist structure. Since then, successive political parties have not reintroduced ideologically based politics.
Observers believe that ideal political parties must have a recognisable personality and character. But with the mushroom of political parties in contemporary Nigeria, nothing appears to be exciting about their pattern of politics, especially when the players are can be deemed to have been recycled and whose primary reason for forming new parties or crossing over to others is to regain the power and influence they had lost in their former folds. This, pundits say, is contrary to what underscores ideological politics where parties are vehicles for development with a disciplined commitment to good governance and party ethos.
Playing opposition politics, analysts contended, goes beyond flowery rhetoric. It is connected more with well-organised machinery that criticises intelligently, chips in accolades where necessary and carefully provides alternatives to governance and leadership as well as policy execution.
But what is prevalent now are pretenders who make noise for the purpose of negotiating with those in authority, for as long as they can play out their deception into believing they command sizeable political followings that can prejudice the political interests of opponents in a given equation.
Unfortunately, the hypocrisy of the present formation, analysts say, is that certain members of a political party will publicly deride their party and still not toe the honourable path of quitting on the pretext that as founding members, they would not quit for people who do not know how far they’d come. Such disposition, observers believe, is inimical to the interest of ideology-based politics.
It is yet a common denominator in virtually all the parties in contemporary Nigeria– from the PDP to ACN, CPC, APGA and ANPP. The opposite is the case in other climes. Anyone who despises his party and sees it as undemocratic in practice on the basis of ideology quits and goes ahead to either form a new party or pitch tent with those whose ideologies tally with his. Such attitude is believed to demonstrate the democratic practice of the individual as evident in his principle.
This, notwithstanding, observers often found excuses for the nation’s present situation. One of the very common arguments is that the return to democracy in 1999 saw an individual, late Chief Bola Ige, participate in the drafting of the constitution and manifestos of virtually all the political parties, a situation that gave birth to the parties brandishing nearly the same constitution and manifestos without distinctive differences. To date, there has been no conscious effort to carve out distinct identities and leanings, despite the claim by some to either being progressive or conservative.
But as Nigeria marks her 52 independence anniversary, analysts believe that a conscious shift in the direction of ideological politics will not only help redefine her structure, it will also enhance her democratic tenets and consequently begin to evolve into the dreams of her founding fathers.