2023, ideology and thematic politics
the The significant year 2023 is still eight months away, but the Nigerian political space is already feeling the weight and heat of electoral matters, especially with several candidates – presidential and gubernatorial – already signaling their intentions to run. At the time of writing, 18 candidates from the All Progressives Congress and the Peoples Democratic Party have already signified their intention to contest the position currently held by President (Major General) Muhammadu Buhari (Retired). This number of candidates, and so many candidates who would join the list, only goes to show how critical the year 2023 has become in the political calculus of Nigeria. And that’s because the last eight years of Buhari’s administration have been difficult and confusing, especially in terms of security and governance.
Given the current reality with critical development indices, the crisis of the Nigerian state and the future of the Nigerian project of national integration has become somewhat more complex in measures that will be more demanding for future leaders. Under the onslaught of Boko Haram insurgents and banditry associated with Fulani herdsmen, the security problem has worsened, with kidnappings, banditry and crime becoming rampant across the country. The difficult security situation is further compounded by governance issues, from poverty and unemployment to industrial unrest and runaway inflation. Fortunately, or unfortunately, those who want Buhari’s seat will also soon begin campaigning on the ability to restore the current administration’s political deficits around security and governance. And Nigerians are expected to make a tough choice at the polls in 2023.
For me, the most critical absence in the political storm that is brewing for 2023 is the absence of any ideological framework around which to hang the struggles and electoral campaigns of the parties that emerge and present candidates at the presidential and governorate levels. In other words, the two political parties – APC and PDP – are both distinguished by their glaring lack of an ideological basis around which important issues, from security and the economy to public service reform and unemployment , can be clearly articulated in the form of campaign manifestos. As part of its political development after independence, Nigeria adopted presidentialism from the political experience of the United States of America. The concept of presidentialism in the United States has given rise to two ideologically rooted parties, the Republican and Democratic parties. All of the important issues in the American political space – from same-sex marriage to racism – are determined on the spectrum of liberalism and conservatism around which both parties revolve. And it is the backbone that testifies to the political dynamics that support good governance.
Good or bad governance is determined by the kind of politics the political class plays with the lives of its citizens. The goal of all political parties everywhere is to compete for power as a means to an end, which is the determination of the development trajectory that the ideology championed by the party will take for the country. An ideology then becomes a vision of politics attached to development. So, while Republicans favor the free market approach to health care that excludes government intervention in health care delivery, Democrats are lining up behind universal health coverage and the single-payer system. Thus, when ideological political parties take control of political power, there is already a plan of policies and actions to be carried out on behalf of the citizens. This is what is happening in the United States of America. This is also what is happening in Great Britain, and even in Europe. This is a far cry from the distraught politics unfolding in Nigeria where the political class is devoid of ideologies that determine what to do on important issues.
We can then begin to ask the fundamental question that should circumscribe our reflection on 2023: the relationship between ideological and thematic politics and good governance; and why the future of Nigeria is highly dependent on the ideology we need to run the Nigerian state and make development happen for the people. In 2015, PMB took power on a brand of integrity and an unchallenged agenda for change – the no-nonsense air of a never-smiling president who will discipline the place and restore safety of life and property. The closer we get to 2023, the more we realize that the incumbent’s ethnicity, religion and power remain the critical factors that would determine who becomes president in 2023. And the laughter seems to come at the expense of me and everyone who expect the Nigerian political climate to be ripe for thematic political engagement between political parties. This is the lesson I learned from a conversation with a gubernatorial candidate in the 2019 election. I bristled in my analysis of how his embrace of strategic communications could serve as a platform for a commitment rooted in an ideology. He laughed at me! His response: People are not concerned with politics based on the issues on the campaign ground. All that matters is “the infrastructure of the stomach”!
And yet, this is not how the Nigerian state and its politics were envisioned and inaugurated. Nigeria’s nation-building and political development trajectory began most significantly with the best political motive. The pre-independence campaign was energized by nationalist movements rooted in ideology. For example, the Anglo-Nigerian Defense Pact became the source of fierce ideological opposition motivated by Pan-Africanism and the Non-Aligned Movement. These were the type of ideological contests around which political parties, especially under the First Republic, were known. Indeed, nationalists were faced with the prospect of a nation that had just emerged from the bosom of colonialism. It is in this context that we can understand the thesis of Nigeria as a mere geographical expression of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, and the ideological recommendation of the diarchy of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe. No one would forget the political rivalry between the Action Group, the Northern People’s Congress and the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (as well as the reincarnation of the rivalry between the NPN and the UPN). Or Mallam Aminu Kano’s People’s Redemption Party. Nigeria’s return to democratic rule, signaled by the June 12 Saga, also signaled the ideological scope that Nigerians could follow in monitoring political developments in Nigeria.
The question now is: where did all this go? Where did we miss it? What happened to the type of political contestations that animated political engagement from the post-independence period until the First and Second Republics? This is a fundamental question which becomes all the more insistent in the context of a brazen takeover of the existing political parties without the complement of an ideology which constitutes a model for ordering the future of Nigeria. And if political parties do not have a sense of history, that is, the ideology that shapes the political development of a state for better or for worse, how then can they be placed in the seat of power to lead the most populous black nation on the planet? How can national development and national integration happen in Nigeria if ethnic chauvinists, religious fundamentalists and greedy politicians are the ones who are the choice of whom to vote? Truth be told, neither the APC nor the PDP have the organizing frameworks to shape the future of the Nigerian state, especially in terms of political education, mass mobilization, aggregation of interests and delimitation of the national discourse on the future of Nigeria. This is why the stupidity of switching sides has become such a normal game for politicians.
In 2023, Nigeria would be spending another eight years of its future on a collection of political office holders who have no sense of political history, ideological commitment or a vision of where Nigeria should go. . The political space will soon be flooded with obscene money taken from the common treasury and deployed to seal critical voices, especially from the youth who should be strict in demanding vision, plans and ideology. But once the money changes hands, unscrupulous politicians are already allowed to ransack Nigerian treasuries for their personal and selfish ends. And 2023 to 2026, and perhaps beyond, would have become a wasted effort to shore up Nigeria’s future. If this scenario is possible, why aren’t we asking the right questions about 2023? Why don’t we already signal the fundamental importance of ideologically rooted and issue-based politics as a benchmark around which we can begin to engage with all the political parties that are already jostling for political power? Why are individuals more important than the critical questions we should ask ourselves?
- Olaopa is a professor at NIPSS, Kuru, Jos, Plateau State..
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