Political Defections And Ideology

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The Nigerian ideology is centred on the economy, argues Ayodele Okunfolami

The siege on the Akwa Ibom State of House Assembly has ended. Members of the Nigerian Police Force had barricaded the assembly complex last week following a disruption of plenary a couple of days earlier because the Speaker of the House had declared the seats of five defecting assemblymen vacant. While the dust is settling in Uyo, the unpleasant aftermath of the governing All Progressives Congress party primaries still stirs kerfuffle between those whose political interests were undermined by the party leadership. There are rumours and counter rumours about the Ogun and Imo States APC chapters’ next move.

If we paid attention, before the political parties went for their primaries to pick their candidates for various elective positions ahead of the elections next year, there was a surge of defections across the aisles that distorted the political permutations. These movements have become characteristic of Nigerian democracy, especially during election seasons.

Giving ourselves a fair pass, defections still happen everywhere in the world, even in admired democracies (although sparingly). Nevertheless, it is usually an irritating deluge in Nigeria causing a large fraction of the electorate asking for stiffer measures to stop the tide. What irks the more is that these moves are in revolving doors to and fro the same political parties.

Putting a ban on decamping would be an infringement on the individual’s lawful right of free association. That would be akin to tying one permanently to a job, contract, religion or group. Others have opined that defectors should lose their elective positions but the constitutional lacunas, political conveniences and indifferent constituencies have not made this probable. It is times like this that people question the ideological leanings, if any, of our politics.

Considering our level of development, it is really inequitable to compare our political system with those galaxies ahead of us. In terms of age, these civilizations are centuries in front of us. This is not an excuse for us to begin as crudely or commit the same false starts they did. However, the course of life entails that allowance be granted every living organism to make its own mistakes and missteps before maturity is attained. So we ought to give ourselves some slack bearing in mind where we are coming from.

Unlike the republics we usually reference, we are coming not only from long years of dictatorship but also of unaccountable governance that wrecked every fibre of our being which made us question our personal and collective ideals. Consequently, we never had ideologies outside the spheres of our religion and region, if we did at all. The return of multi-party democracy almost 20 years ago set us on the path for ideology-based politics. But this route has faced a lot of detours in the form of long years of single party rule, defections, indistinct manifestoes and an ill-informed electorate.

To begin, does the average Nigerian have an ideology? This is a society where you see graduates of the natural sciences disowning their narratives by “defecting” to the arts or other finance-biased discipline to get on in life. Or people “defecting” to tellingly divergent trades or businesses without a logical or explainable conclusion to the previous.

Our collective development is gradually taking us to the level where particular sub -demographies are known to vote along particular doctrinal leanings for generations as witnessed in advanced democracies. All other things being equal, it is easy to predict which political party a baby, in say California or Texas, would vote for when it attains voting age or how a white or blue collared worker would vote or how immigrants or first time voters would shape the future by their ballots. Nigeria is slowly shedding off her ethno-religious paradigm to politics and governance. However, the emergence of far-right nationalist movements in the West seems to be reversing the sunset by playing racial and xenophobic politics thus taking ideology as we understand it to the back burner.

Corporate institutions like the judiciary and most especially the mind moulding media, in those climes have grown and have become so audacious to align themselves with political slants. CNN and The New York Times for instance usually stand by the liberal left winged Democratic Party as The Guardian and Daily Mirror do likewise with the Labour Party in the UK while Fox News and The Sun affiliate themselves with the right winged Republican Party of America and the Conservative Party of the UK. This is besides the numerous radio shows with radical hosts that propagate their partisan philosophies. Neither the Nigerian media nor its consumers have defined biases and so expecting clear cut ideologies from our politicians is too much to ask.

As history has shown us, democracy has a way of springing up sticky oligopolies so that the different choices before us are often the same, making decisions mainly sentimental. That is what affects the over-flogged ideology issue. Yes, they are packaged differently but can one really state the dissimilarities between the contending parties as the deficiency of one is being supplemented by the other and vice versa? Furthermore, these ideologies don’t only overlap, they also evolve over time so that a political party may now be against what it stood for previously.

Take Prime Minister Theresa May for example, who despite having backed a vote for Britain to remain in the European common market before the referendum, is today the Brexit campaigner –in-chief. Or Donald Trump, the President of the United States whose moral standing is at best bankrupt, choosing to uphold evangelical Americans’ values. Even Saudi women can now drive. The point here is that people change. That is why they are politicians, not priests. It is politics not presbytery and so expecting Nigerian politicians from a less cultured society not to flip flop is illusionary.

Nevertheless, if we take a deeper dive into our democratic space, the bipolarity of the polity since 2015 has given the electorate the opportunity to see the differences in the options placed before them. While one is more free market driven, the other tends to favour state control of resources. Whereas one is on the supply side of the curve, the other is of aggregate demand. One is Smithian, the other Keynesian. So the Nigerian ideology is all about the economy.
That is the Nigerian ideology. It is neither left nor right, liberal nor conservative, it is the economy. The legislator is cross carpeting to better his individual economy. The voter is voting to better his economy. Whether 2019 is about fighting corruption or selling public assets, it is all about the economy.
––Okunfolami wrote from Lagos