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The 2015 election won by President Muhammadu Buhari has, perhaps, been the most issue-based contest in this dispensation. His party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), was more or less hurriedly put together to wrestle power from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after 16 years of dominance in the polity.
A fusion of parties and political forces, the APC had no option than to sell concrete programmes as a negation of the policies the PDP was offering at the time. Thus the famous three-point agenda of Buhari emerged as security, economy and anti-corruption war. The ideas behind this agenda were enunciated by the APC partisans at various levels.
There were, of course, the undercurrents of the geo-political question about the continuation of President Goodluck Jonathan in power after completing the tenure of his boss, President Umaru Yar’adua, who died in office. Some political forces argued that after eight years of President Olusegun Obasanjo, a southerner, the logic of “power rotation” in Nigeria suggested that in 2015 a northerner should be elected to complete the “northern turn” begun by Yar’adua. However, this was not the dominant factor for Buhari’s victory.
Definitely, ethnicity, regionalism and religion were not the only issues of the 2015 elections. Beyond the turn-by -turn considerations, issues of governance dominated the campaigns.
For instance, there were voters who preferred Buhari to Jonathan because they were convinced that the former would stem the rising tide of insecurity in the nation at the time.
As a result, the opposition parties and indeed critics in general could today justifiably hold the APC to its promise as its record in the last seven years is severely scrutinised. At least, the spokesmen and defenders of the party and the government elected on its platform have been put in a position to explain its performance on the basis of programmes.
If issues were not raised and the campaign was solely based on the ethnicity, region or religion of the candidates, there would be no basis for a critical assessment and the defence of governance in the last seven years today.
Now, the serious debate of issues (as opposed to ethnic and religious labelling mixed with insults and curses) depends on the ideas informing the programmes and policies which different parties are selling to the electorate.
Ideas are squarely in the realm of ideology. And the centrality of ideology to politics is indisputable.
So, if you remove ideology from politics what is left is a hollow ritual of ascension to power by contending forces in the polity.
The contests among aspirants for the tickets of their respective parties have not been about ideology.
It would seem, therefore, an indulgence in idealism to be busy with a reflection on party ideology in a week of realpolitik in which the 17 presidential candidates are struggling to beat the deadline set by the Independent Electoral Commission (INEC) for them to name their running mates. Whereas zonal and religious factors would reign supreme in the crucial decisions of this week, party ideology would hardly be part of the calculations.
Yet, it is important to put ideology to the fore in Nigerian politics because workable ideas are sorely needed to tackle the various problems.
Nigerian politics suffers from the poverty of the political resources provided by ideology. This poverty of ideas is manifested in the non-organic nature of the parties. The politicians themselves dramatise this absurd situation by the manner in which they move in and out of political parties. They have no qualms about the unprincipled political behaviour at all.
The movement across political parties is so easy because of the patent absence of ideological boundaries. That is why a convinced conservative politician such as Senator Abdulahi Adamu could become the chairman of a progressive party and no one sees any contradiction in it. As a former secretary of the Board of Trustees of the PDP, Adamu could become the APC chairman without any ideological question whatsoever.
In this game of partisan migration, a politician could gleefully announce his exit from his political party and then register as a member of two or more parties; thereafter the politician could return to the original party. And this happens without any expressed ideological differences with the party. The politician doesn’t feel obliged to explain his position to his public.
More often than not, politicians walk away from political parties because of the failure or lack of the prospect to secure party tickets to contest elections. For instance, a question could be asked: what ideological differences do Senator Rabiu Kwankwaso and Mr. Peter Obi have with PDP as constituted at present? The two prominent politicians separately called it quits with PDP when it became unlikely that either of them could emerge as the presidential candidate of the party. Kwankwaso left the PDP for the APC having become governor and minister on the platform of the PDP. He contested the APC presidential primary election in 2015 and lost, but he was later elected senator on the party’s platform. Thereafter, Kwankwaso returned to his original party in this republic, the PDP. He has now founded a new party, the Nigerian New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), of which he is today the presidential candidate. The Herculean task now is how to turn NNPP into a truly national platform like the PDP. Even at that, the NNPP is not ideologically distinguishable from the PDP or APC, two of the former parties of Kwankwaso.
Similarly, Obi was elected governor on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA). He later abandoned this platform for the PDP and ran as the running mate to Vice President Atiku Abubakar on the platform of the PDP in the 2019 elections. At a time he was considered a probable candidate of the PDP in some informed quarters, Obi suddenly announced his exit from the party. He has joined the Labour Party (LP) for the sole purpose of securing the party’s presidential ticket. The projection is that Obi may soon realise that joining the LP might be different from moving in and out of PDP. The LP is a party sponsored labour centres which minimally subscribe to a sort of social democratic ideology. For instance, beyond his professed commitment to the liberalisation of sectors of the economy for increased productivity, Obi may have to adopt the Workers’ Charter of Demands as the genuine basis for a productive economy underlined by distributive justice. His neo-liberal impulse may have to be tempered in the discussion of policies. To plan for a political economy based on social justice, which is the goal of any labour party anywhere in the world, the matter goes beyond crunching of figures and engaging in statistical games.
The stories of Kwankwaso and Obi are sketched in the foregoing as examples of migrations in the political landscape without ideological compass. It is important to mention the names of Kwankwaso and Obi because they are politicians of consequence in the build-up towards 2023. That is why it should rankle those who care about the nation’s democratic development that politicians such Kwankwaso and Obi are not paying attention to the ideological content of their politics.
Last year, former Speaker of the British Parliament John Bercow left the Conservative for the opposition Labour Party. He gave the public a justification for the movement. According to him, the Conservative Party under the leadership of Boris Johnson had become “reactionary, populist, nationalistic and sometimes even xenophobic.” He said he was attracted by the Labour Party’s ideology of “equality, social justice and internationalism.” Running election on the platform of the Labour Party was not his sole reason for joining the party as it is the political culture in Nigeria. Hardly has any Nigerian politician given a weighty ideological reason for leaving one party for another in this Fourth Republic. The usual fault identified in the parties is the mode of nominating candidates for elections.
Since the “collapse of communism” in the old Soviet Union eastern Europe, it has become a pastime of public intellectuals here to proclaim the “end of ideology” as neo-liberals are wont to do elsewhere. Ironically, this position itself is deeply ideological. It is because the neo-liberals cannot defend the outcomes of their ideological postulations that they claim to be pragramatic and non-ideological. For instance, neo-liberals cannot own up to the increasing inequality that is one of the outcomes of the ideology behind globalisation. This much was evident at the last World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, where there were reflections on the possible “end of globalisation.”
Contrary to the branding of ideology as the preoccupation of the Left, the reality is that policies in different climes and by different governments are informed by conservative, liberal or radical ideologies depending on which political force is controlling power.
Each of the ideological options has its own consequences. Doubtless, some ideas informed certain policy steps taken in the past in the management of the Nigerian political economy. The purveyors of those ideas are now disowning them because of the unpleasant outcomes. The various soul-depressing indices of the economy are the results of those decisions or lack of policies.
All told, the quality of elections would be enhanced if politics had some ideological content. Political parties and politicians seeking power on their platforms should be identified with definite ideas behind policy choices.
In this respect, ideology becomes a resource for mobilising the people in tackling issues of underdevelopment and promoting the cause of progress.
But when politicians live in denial of ideology, regionalism and religion become the dominant factors of politics.