Politics Sans Ideas?


The Horizon By Kayode Komolafe, Email:  kayode.komolafe@thisdaylive.com, SMS: 0805 500 1974

As the Americans would say the last presidential election in Ghana provided another teachable moment for politics in Nigeria. By the way, some Nigerian politicians find it rather infra dig comparing political development in Ghana with that of Nigeria. The other day, a political leader with an impeccable progressive pedigree told this reporter in a private chat that given its size Ghana does not face 10% of the challenges Nigeria is confronting in socio-economic and political terms. So it would be most inappropriate to draw a parallel between the two West African countries. The matter is not helped by the historic animus nursed by some in Nigeria towards Ghana because of the remarks reportedly made by Nkrumah that Nigeria was a ‘big-for-nothing” country.

Yet students of political history would readily point to a symmetry in the post-colonial experiences of both countries. Last week, Ghana recorded another conclusive presidential election. Since 1992, power has alternated (after eight years) between the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP). In keeping to the tradition, President John Mahama of NDC has congratulated the president-elect, Nana Akufo-Addo, of NPP.

Apart from the smooth transition, another less remarked trait of Ghanaian politics is the attempt to give some weight to issues in elections. In other words, at least ideas have a little place in the politics. It is a promising index of maturity in the politics of Ghana. This was quite evident in the course of the campaigns.

Smaller parties canvassed contrasting ideas about how to improve the Ghanaian condition. There are, of course, residual issues of ethnicity and the personalities of the candidates. It is instructive that in his concession speech Mahama said inter alia: “I wish to thank the leadershp of the NDC, all of our members, foot soldiers and sympathisers for their belief in the principles of social democracy and their commitment to the vision.” Even in defeat, Mahama is still proclaiming the social democratic vision of NDC! That is a vision of politics in which the social content of democracy is emphasised in terms of investments in people’s welfare. Social democrats struggle for investments in education, healthcare, social housing, social security etc. On the other end of the spectrum, the NPP is often associated with liberal /conservative vision of how society should be organised. However, the reality of the workings of the Ghanaian political economy is that the two parties have had to implement the neo-liberal policies under the supervision of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Historically, Ghanaian politics is largely influenced by the progressive Nkrumahist and the conservative Danquah-Busia traditions. The progressive tradition is traceable to the political legacy of the great pan-Africanist and Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, while the roots of conservative tradition were in the politics of the formidable opposition leader J.B. Danquah and President Kofi Busia.

This is why the contrast begins. In Nigeria, not much weight is given to ideas in politics. Political parties lack ideological anchors. That is why you should probably not blame politicians changing parties frequently because there are no ideological borders to cross in the political landscape. Political traditions have proved not be durable. Whatever happened to the traditions of the Talakawa liberation of Aminu Kano, nationalism of Nnamdi Azikiwe or the welfarism of Obafemi Awolowo in the politics of 2016? Specifically, what are the ideologies of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in power and the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)? The two parties are yet to mobilise the people around coherent visions of development. The three administrations so far produced by the PDP only came up with “agendas” after the respective presidents had been elected. Similarly, the APC now in power is yet to articulate any coherent strategy of development. Little surprise that the rumblings in the APC have nothing to do with policy disagreements just as the schism in the PDP does not derive from any ideological division. Politics has been indecently reduced to electoral calculations towards 2019. The game is no more democracy; it is simply electocracy.

This should explain why there are no serious intra-party and inter-party debates about the big issues of our time. The necessary debate would surely go beyond the rhetoric of how to “capture’ power in 2019. Neither APC nor PDP is seriously discussing the grave issues of economic recession, insecurity and separatist political agitations. Beyond the legitimate criticism of the APC government, the opposition would have to come up with alternative solutions to the problem. Again, talking about tradition and the primacy of ideas in politics, an Awoist party, for instance, would articulate a coherent programme of getting out of recession as an alternative to the improvisations on display in the name of economic management. The humanitarian crisis in the northeast is burgeoning. A few days ago, two British newspapers wrote editorials calling on western governments to return the stolen money from Nigeria so that the nation could save starving children and millions of other displaced people. The situation of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the northeast is viewed to be among the worst globally. You don’t get such feelings from the rhetoric of our politicians. Since ideas are not taken seriously politicians cannot come up with workable solutions to problems. This is the tragedy that is not fully appreciated in Nigeria.

No political party in Nigeria is putting this disaster in the forefront of political agenda. Of what purpose is politics if the fate of millions of people in desperate conditions is not the concern of politicians? Politicians fight ferociously over zoning of political offices among a few members of the elite; they don’t talk much about the conditions of millions of hungry and dehydrated poor persons in a zone. To allocate positions on the basis of zone does not require a lot of ideas; but to solve the humanitarian crisis of the magnitude in the northeast requires a lot of thinking, harvest of ideas and committed to the public purpose. As a matter of fact, in a clime of ideas-driven politics every party contesting the 2015 presidential ought to have articulated a comprehensive programme of not only ending the Boko Haram war, but also of rehabilitating the displaced people and reconstructing the devastated region.

Another indication of the relegation of ideas in Nigeria’s politics is the contemptuous treatment of reports for which a lot time, energy and money were invested to produce. Talking about socio-economic blue print, why is that an administration does not examine what the previous ones put together to see if anything useful could be consolidated from the package? There are on the shelf reports of constitutional/national/political conferences on the structural issues of Nigerian federalism. Yet restructuring the Nigerian federation has almost been reified by ethnic and regional champions to the level of a political ideology. Elections are still conducted as warfare; yet there are reports of panels that looked into ways of bringing sanity to the process. Episodic communal upheavals continue to plague different parts of the country despite legions of reports of panels of enquiries into previous bloodletting. The panels’ reports embody solutions, which nobody bothers to ponder.

The Niger Delta Question remains unanswered. Yet a master plan was once put together to resolve the multi-dimensional crisis of the cheated region. The thematic areas of the plan are on the environment, socio-economic development, security and geo-political issues. The amnesty programme of the government of President Umaru Yar’Adua was in a way derivative of this master plan. A lot of time, energy and resources were invested to generate the ideas embodied in the plan. Why couldn’t subsequent administrations work with the plan and modify it if necessary to achieve results? Even President Goodluck Jonathan, a man from the Niger Delta, could not give life to the plan in over five years that he was in the saddle. The bitter consequences of the failure of the Nigerian state to redress the injustice and underdevelopment of the region are manifest in the political economy today. In a dispensation where ideas matter, previous reports and plans in various departments of national life would be distilled to see what useful ideas could be contained in them.

To confront the socio-economic and political problems facing Nigeria, politics of ideas should be embraced.