For a long time I have been critical of the Nigerian political landscape’s lack of ideological characterisation. I have complained that our political parties are all the same regardless of the name they are called. And the ease with which politician cross carpet to other parties is evidence of the lack of ideological coherence in any of the parties. Implied in this critical thesis is that there is no point engaging with any of them as they are all same. But I have been thinking lately and I now believe the political ideological construct in Nigeria is actually not as much of the problem as I had believed. I now believe that it is impossible to have an ideologically-driven polity without an ideologically-driven or classified citizenry.
Nigerians are not ideologues in the main. Most want the basic essentials of life; Security, Jobs, Infrastructure, Economic development, good Education, and so on. But I found that Nigerians are not really fussed on how these goals are achieved. They just want them done. Nigerians are not yet at that level of political sophistication; where they will choose based on political ideology, who can better deliver the essentials of life they seek. They have been worn down, exhausted and frustrated by decades of bad and corrupt political reality, that they will be happy for anyone, any party to deliver the goods, regardless of its political ideology. It is therefore unrealistic to expect the political parties in Nigeria to be divided along ideological lines as that does not reflect the priorities and existential expectations of the people.
My thoughts have been focused on this issue in recent weeks with the mergers of political parties going on in Nigeria and high profile defections from one party to another. Some have criticized the mergers and defections as showing lack of “principle” by the political players. But what principle are people talking about? When all the parties lack any coherent principles, then it is safe to conclude that you can only clone a pig out of a pig. It is true when people say all the parties are more or less the same. A confluence of power seekers who will do anything, say anything and join anything that will give them power or allow them to retain the power they already have.
Nigerians in diaspora are particularly guilty as I was, of expecting the Western level sophistication in out polity. They expect to see parties forming based on ideological divide that will give people clear options. But for now, Nigerian are not really ideological people. They know what they want from government, but are not really prescriptive on how it is done by the government. If you have been starved for weeks; you will not be in the mood to dictate how your food is cooked. You just want food period. Nigerian just want a government that will deliver, period. Whatever political label or ideology a party espouse will not matter as long as it delivers on the people’s priorities.
So our political collage will continue to be bland, colourless and ideology-free for some time to come. And that may not be a bad idea. Democracy, like capitalism is self-adaptive and can mean different things in different places. Even the old Greeks that created the concept of democracy initially believed that leaders were born not made. The ancient Greeks had set characteristics that if you are born with, then you are a leader. Pointed nose, Blue eyes, Light skin etc are for them at that time pointers to a born leader. But we all know how racist and discriminatory such narrow definition now is in a modern society. My point is that even the creators of the democratic model did not expect a uniform look and feel. They had to adapt and change too.
So let us stop obsessing or viewing our political parties and its actors from an ideological prism. Let us adopt a simple test: What have they done (or will do) to improve the lives of the people and develop the nation. Ideological cohesion will come later. We are pragmatists in Nigeria and many do not believe there is only one way to do things in the political sphere. In fact many do not have the passion to pursue a single political ideologue, if their interest is not fully protected.
Illiteracy and Poverty has made political ideology a luxury for most Nigerians. Ideological pursuit requires you to do what you believe is right, even if you don’t personally benefit from it. It requires working for the collective good even if that means subordinating your personal interest. Nigerian are not at that junction yet. Personal/tribal Interest seems to trump all other considerations. And people will move to any political invention that seems to advance that personal interest regardless of ideology or worldview of the party.
Political parties in any nation cannot develop more than its people’s ability to engage with it. So let us all focus on a set of simple tests for our political parties that reflects the priorities of the people and not be distracted that they lack coherent ideology or seem doctrinally indistinguishable from each other. That will allow us to focus on what matters and put pressure on the politicians to deliver; rather than engaging in futile debates about ideology.
Finally, there was a piece in Vanguard newspaper this past week on an interview with the former South African President, Mbeki on his views about Nigeria. A portion of the article stated: “Making democracy work… requires informed and active citizens who understand how to voice their interests, act collectively and hold public officials accountable. Democracy’s credibility and sustainability depends, to an important degree, on how it works in practice, and on what it delivers. Bad governments thrive in Nigeria, or elsewhere for that matter, because “the leadership does not feel pressure from the people. It therefore follows that if Nigerians desire the dividends of democracy, they will have to fight for it. They must decide whether to continue with the way they are being governed or become active in demanding transparency and accountability from government. Democracy’s efficacy and legitimacy are predicated on an informed citizenry; without active and knowledgeable citizens, democratic representation remains empty; without vigilant, informed citizens, there is no check on potential tyranny”.
So it is the people that will dictate when the nation is ready for ideologically driven polity. Right now, we should all focus more on intent and actions of our leaders; and demand result, regardless of ideology. At least we hope we can start from there.