By Ekerete Udoh
While I was in Nigeria last month, I went to visit a close friend - a top politician from one of the states in the Middle Belt with whom I usually engage in intellectual gymnastics on national issues. While we were together in his hotel room at Transcorp Hilton Abuja, Piers Morgan’s show was being shown on CNN and the contentious topic was gun control - the wedge issue the Republicans and its cadre of gun advocates on the National Rifle Association-NRA have exploited over the decades to muddy and coarse any rational and reasonable discourse on gun control.
The guests on the programme represented the two diametrically opposed ideological platforms that shapes and delineates American politics. As expected, the guests displayed the usual over-the top, ideologically driven- sometimes unhinged rhetoric and unnecessary bloviating that revealed nothing new, but the talking points and other platitudes drawn from their respective constituencies. The NRA apologists stuck to their expected inflexible ideological posturing and conjured up an imaginary Leviathan barreling down their freedom boulevard, and depriving them of their constitutionally protected right to bear arms as enshrined in the 2nd Amendment. To them the whole shebang about gun control amounted to government’s intrusion on their liberty and freedom and they would have none of such intrusions. On the other side of the divide, were the anti-gun liberals-usually Democrats who were equally strident in their appeal for tougher gun control laws and the tightening of background checks to ensure that assault weapons don’t get into the hands of criminals. The discussion was pretty intense and neither side was willing to yield ground for the other’s point of view. The verdict as to who was right or wrong, was to be determined by the viewers- the American electorate
At the end of the segment, my friend asked me why American politicians usually appear to be somewhat inflexible and rather exacting in their approach to issues and I told him that what he saw on the program represented the beauty of the American political process -the display of robust discourse shaped and distilled from a sharply focused ideological prism- a culture that has over the centuries helped the electorate to make profound choices on which side of the two ideological divides better represents their core values and concerns.
Nigerian politics has always been an amalgam of disparate entities, interests and actors that are not joined together by a deeply held or shared philosophical beliefs but by the impulse of ‘what’s in-there for me’. This lack of a galvanizing set of principles and values has created a deep sense of apathy as the electorate finds it difficult to make clear distinctions between the political parties and what they stand for.
American politics on the other hand from the founding of the nation has always been defined by clear and distinct ideological beliefs. Even though the founding fathers did not initially believe that political parties should form the organizing block for electoral pursuits- James Madison likening it to the rule of the mob, they non-the-less had distinct visions as to how the nation would evolve, and the tensions embedded within those distinct visions would eventually yield and crystallized in the formation of political parties-the Democratic-Republican Party by Thomas Jefferson and the Federalist Party by Alexander Hamilton. These two visions-represented in liberal /progressive governing ideology embraced by the Democratic Party and conservative/rugged individualism that pretty much defined the Republican Party governing philosophy have helped America develop and deepen its electoral process and party politics till today.
At Independence, Nigeria had a semblance of ideologically distinct political parties. The Northern People’s Congress of the Late Sir Ahmadu Bello-the Sarduana of Sokoto was in every sense of the word heavily conservative and that ideology represented the dominant view point of the Northern-socio-political class. Late Obafemi Awolowo’s Action Group was fiscally conservative but socially liberal / progressive and it spoke to the dominant political thoughts and orientation of the people of the South West- given the level of their political sophistication and intellectual curiosity of the region’s electorate.
Late Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons was an amalgam of disparate ideological strains with the conservatives intellectually engaging the progressive for the soul of the party, which revealed a lack of core ideological foundation, and that saw the party going into a marriage of convenience with the conservative NPC. The party to its credit, had a nationalist platform which, given the zero-sum approach to power by the other parties was a naïve political stance to adopt.
The second Republic also had a relatively ideologically well-defined party-the National Party of Nigeria-NPN was a reincarnation of the First Republic’s NPC, the Obafemi Awolow led Unity Party of Nigeria –UPN was also a re-incarnation of Action Group while the Dr. Azikiwe led Nigerian Peoples Party was the NCNC with another name.
The conservative government of NPN presented its governing ideology at the federal level and the progressive government of UPN also presented its governing ideology in the states it controlled and Nigerians were able to see which of the two visions better speak to their broad concerns. Unfortunately before Nigerians were able to internalize such, the military struck and rolled back democratic culture.
Since the country returned to democratic rule in 1999, we have seen the absence of parties with clear ideological underpinnings. The ruling party-Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is an eclectic group of politicians who are all over the map on the ideological spectrum. You have dye-in the wool conservatives and those Americans would be call liberals or far-left, you even have people who had labeled themselves socialists and communists in the past.
The Action Congress which prides itself as a progressive party is anything but. Within this party too, you will find hard core conservatives – people who are keenly pro-business and would, as expected be in bed with them. Even though its platform may speak to liberal and progressive ethos, the party is difficult to define along such lines since a dominant voice that may not totally embrace progressivism appears to shape its philosphical platform. The others-CPC and ANPP defy ideological labels. Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu –the Chairman of the ANPP as the Governor of Abia state during the ill-fated Third Republic governed as a progressive.
And so, the question remains: would the nation be better served and if we had a two party system that is shaped by two visions of governance? I think the nation would! American two-party system shaped by liberal and conservative governing modules has helped the electorate hire and fire politicians based on how the politicians interpret these visions. Even Ghana has essentially become a two -party state-the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic congress (NDC) - and both have distinct ideological platforms.
Let the Nigerian electorate have a clear distinction as to what a party stands for and then decides if that vision will address his or her concerns and issues. If I may recommend here: There is nothing stopping the PDP from becoming a conservative party that embeds itself with the private sector as the engine of growth of the economy and subsequently work to create the enabling environment for the private sector to thrive; there is nothing wrong with the party advocating a strong national army, with a well articulated national security doctrine, promotes a foreign policy that seeks to advance its national interest and is not shy to deploy whatever hard and soft power it could muster to carry out its will, preach about an opportunity society where you can be anything you set your heart and soul to; the abrogation of the indigene/settler issue, advocates the erection of a wall of separation between the church/mosques and state and equip and promote robust law enforcement and anti corruption mechanics, promise to upgrade infrastructural amenities and deploy the full instruments of sanctions against those who betray the peoples’ trust-these are distinct ideological platform that can appeal to any number of electorate.
The proposed opposition party could act as an ideological contrast to the PDP by advocating the use of government to create the enabling conditions for the individual to thrive, introduction of a social safety net- free medical services, free and compulsory education, a foreign policy that is based on engagement, protection of the environment, among other progressive issues-all these it can enshrine in its platform. Let Nigerians then be able to decide which of the two, they can hire and fire their leaders as is being done in the United States and even in our sister country- Ghana. I think Nigerians should begin a conversation on this and see where it may lead us to.
Inoyo Toro Foundation: when private sector complements government’s efforts
While in Nigeria, I also ran into a friend-Barrister Udom Inoyo, the Executive Director in charge of EXXON Mobil’s resources at the banquet to honour the Akwa Ibom state Governor-Barrister Godswill Akpabio’s Golden Jubilee in Uyo. I had not seen Barrister Inoyo in about five years.
“Even though I haven’t seen you in years, I read you every Saturday in THISDAY-keep up the good job,” my friend had complemented and he later told me about an NGO he had set up-the Inoyo Toro Foundation which he said, was established to complement the Government of Akwa Ibom State’s bold efforts in enhancing the quality of education in the state.
To achieve the above objective, the foundation has embarked on some core areas: the Annual Award for Teaching Excellence in Akwa Ibom State Public Secondary Schools, Teacher Training and Professional Development, Student Mentoring Program, ICT Skill Acquisition for students and Grand Mentor Teachers’ Award.
The annual Award for Teaching Excellence takes place every November and has previously been graced by the state Governor-Barrister Godswill Akpabio (CON) and Mallam Nasiru El-Rufai- the former Federal Capital Territory Minister was the Guest of Honor during last year’s edition.
“We believe that the private sector should work actively in concert with government to improve the material well-being of our people as is done in the Western world. Education is critical to our success as a nation and capacity- building should thus be an area that that all hands should be on deck. Encouraging student to excel in math and sciences, mentoring them, motivating the teachers to be the best they can possibly be, is a win-win proposition. The foundation applauds what Governor Godswill Akpabio has done in the education sector and we are complimenting his efforts in this regard. This is my little way of giving back to the community all the blessings that the education I received has afforded me.
The foundation which came into existence in 2007 is being supported by Exxon Mobil, Accenture, Addax Petroleum, Le Meridien, UAC, Afren, DCF-Delta Afrik Charitable Foundation, Top Oil /Gs Development among other coporate bodies.