President Muhammadu Buhari with INEC chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, during the latter's swearing-in at the State House, Abuja

With the gale of defections across the political parties, the days of politics of ideology may be long gone, writes  Onyebuchi Ezigbo

The history of political associations in Nigeria dates back to the pre-colonial days, when socio-cultural groups and their affiliate bodies tried to promote cultural heritage and ensure peaceful cohabitation. But with the advent of colonial administration, political groups with a more focused agenda emerged to challenge the power and authority of the intruding colonial rulers in the governing of the affairs of their country.

At that time, the most common objective of these political groups was to mobilise fellow country men and women into action to resist the presumed oppressive tendencies of the foreign colonial masters and to demand for freedom and independence of their land. Thus, the agitation for self-governance triggered off the formation of many political associations, which later metamorphosed into political parties.

A simple definition of political party could therefore be the coming together of like-minded people with the common vision to win and control government in order to implement policies that reflect its ideology.

Among the first generation political parties to be formed in Nigeria was in 1959, shortly before Nigeria gained her independence from Britain. They were the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons (NCNC). This party was led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. The second political party was the Northern People’s Congress (NPC) led by the Saudana, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, which was majorly populated by the Hausa-Fulani of the northern extraction.

The other one was the Action Group, also led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo and which dominated mainly by the Yoruba-speaking people of the southwestern part of Nigeria. But one of the significant features of these early political parties was their clear and distinct vision, which could be translated to mean their ideology at that time. While the NCNC could be said to be more nationalistic and liberal, based on its membership and approach to issues then, the other two parties, tried to identify and pursue issues relating to the core interest of their people.

Yet, whatever the differences that existed among them, their commitment to securing freedom and better life for the Nigerian people was total. With such strength of vision and commitment, it was not surprising that they were able take up the challenge of administering the country after the colonialists left the Nigerian shores.

But for the military intervention, which swept then civilian government away from office in 1966, the major political parties in existence then would have matured into a very strong and virile institution for leadership training and development. Curiously, political parties that evolved during the Second Republic between 1979 and 1983 tried to follow the example set by the First Republic politicians by forming political parties with ideological distinction.

For instance, the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN), which later won the national election and formed government at the centre was known for its conservative ideology. The Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) led by the late Azikiwe shared mixed ideological leaning that was neither rightist nor leftist but known as “a little to the Right and a little to the left”. It had strong affiliation to capitalism and gave less emphasis to welfarism.

Unlike the NPN, the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) led by the late sage, Awolowo will be remembered for its emphasis on social welfare for the populace. In the same manner, the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP), which along with the UPN was the only ones that had a second life under the dispensation had a core leftist ideological stance popularly known as the “Talakawa Idealogy”. This endeared it to the poor and lowly placed from the northern Nigeria.

The same thing applied to other political parties that existed then during the Second Republic; they all had something that stood them apart from each other and a membership that also held tenaciously to the party’s vision and objectives. This factor, however, accounted for why carpet-crossing in the legislature was nearly non-existent during the Second Republic, when compared to what obtains now. Instead, what was seen then was more of political realignment in which parties with common agenda or those that shared similar ideology negotiated a working agreement to secure majority votes.

Interestingly, the return to civil rule in 1998 has brought in its wake, political parties that have no ideological foundation. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), All Peoples Party (APP), Alliance for Democracy (AD) and the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) all came into being because of their desire to contest elections and of course, ‘grab power’.

They did not give adequate attention to the issues of ideology and what can differentiate each party from the other. Apart from a few stated objectives and aims, these parties have no clear-cut ideology or policy framework, which they can flaunt to the Nigerian electorate.

In the case of the former ruling party, PDP, which was in government at the centre for 16 years, there is little or nothing that the supporters could identify as its main vision, which it had consistently stood for. But the party stated in its Constitution that it’s cardinal goal shall be to promote sustainable development, to promote federalism and equitable revenue sharing formula.

Apart from providing security of life and property, the party also pledged to promote national integration and the peaceful existence of the diverse people of country.  In addition, PDP pledged to ensure an egalitarian society founded on freedom, equality and justice. For APC, a merger of political parties, which rose to power by galvanizing opposition forces based on the slogan of “change” to win power, there is nothing to point to as its ideological underpinning.

The party, which consistently referred to itself as a movement only said it would run a people-oriented government and that it would fight insurgency, corruption and injustice in the land as well as improve the economy, which it said had almost been run aground.

Others like the Labour Party and the APGA do not also have distinctive ideologies aside from their stated objectives under its aims and objectives. They pledge to implement social democratic programmes.  The LP, for instance, prides itself as a social democratic party, whose main aim is to create a new Nigeria, where patriotism, altruistic, transparent and commitment to process and rule of law in governance will be guaranteed. It also said it would seek to pursue a populist policy of narrowing the gap between the poor and the rich in the society.

However, it failed to identify with any of the socialist and welfarist ideological standpoints through which it hopes to deliver its promises to the people. There is every indication that this absence of ideological framework by present day political parties has been responsible for the several incidences of defection and carpet-crossing by politicians.

More worrisome is the frequency of such defections and the fact that most of the politicians have formed the habit of moving from the losing party to the ruling one, either to secure victory at an election or secure security in their personal lives. This unhealthy situation is fast defining the new age politics and definitely not good for the development and the institutionalisation of virile political parties in the country.

Consequently, developments before, during and after the general election of 2015 provided an apt depiction of the unreliability and mercurial nature of the Nigerian politicians. Whilst the merger that gave rise to the APC is understandable since it was a child of circumstance, to think that the same category of people, who left the PDP, believed to have destroyed the country to the point it is now, are the same set of people that have come together to define what APC and the future of the country should be means distinctive result might be a tall order after all.

There is, therefore, no debating this: the concept of ideological politics is completely decimated and non-existent and what is prevalent today is the politics of stomach infrastructure, both for the ruler and the ruled. Survival is now the underpropping factor, supported by the need for security to live a life devoid of harassment or intimidation by the government in power.

Unfortunately, the kind of society that the average Nigerian seeks is not realisable through such a mindset, not only because it is selfish and Darwinian in concept, but more because it is not an abiding disposition that would see the parties outlive themselves. This is why the future of Nigeria’s ideological politics is deemed bleak and only a revolution genuinely instigated by the desire to live this dream can make it happen.