NIGERIA – DEMOCRACY AND POLITICS WITHOUT IDEOLOGY
Nigeriaworld.com Feature Article
By Dr. David Ogula
Though many believe that bad leadership is the source of Nigeria’s development crisis, the convergence of an unholy obsession with money and the lack of an organized ideological political base . . . is a bigger problem. As Nigerians head to the polls February 16, 2019, one only hopes that they will cast their ballots, guided by the desire to elect those most likely to pull them and the country out of the destructive cycle of greed, corruption, and the “chop I chop” political culture.
Nigerians will head to the polls in February 2019 for the Presidential and the National Assembly elections. For some, the debilitating chaos surrounding elections in Nigeria’s fledgling democracy induces a general sense of apathy or disengagement. Others involuntarily glide along oblivious of their role in a democracy. Disheartened by countless undelivered promises, turning a blind eye becomes a welcome reactive response to mollify the burning anguish. However, being one of a generation that was failed and has failed the succeeding generation, sheltering in silence can only be interpreted as a timid endorsement of the status quo.
Articulating a reasoned perspective on the defects of politics in Nigeria, regardless of timing, is likely to be drowned in the hardened sentiments of individual and group interests. But one issue that needs to be highlighted is the absence of ideological premises in the political process. Politics in most thriving democracies is driven by well-defined ideologies. In western democracies, political views fall within the spectrum of conservative or liberal ideologies. Depending on the strength of the beliefs in the ideological scale, political parties may be further categorized as either the ‘right’ (standard conservatism) or the ‘left’ (standard liberalism/progressivism), while the political extremes are labeled far-right/ultra-right, far-left/ultra-left or something in between such as center-right, center-left or moderate.
To some extent, ideology-driven politics was evident in Africa during the cold war when the world was polarized by free market capitalist ideologies in the west and communist-socialist ideologies in the east. African countries aligned with the west, east or maintained a non-align stance. Nigeria under General Obasanjo, as military Head of State, identified with non-aligned nations and pursued what was then described as a mixed economy. Other African countries such as Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Angola adopted some form of socialism. Then, at the end of the cold war, ideological politics in Africa vanished, allowing the underbelly of tribal politics to resurface with vitriol.
Today, striking political dramas are unfolding in the world dominated by ideology-based political parties: Conservative, Labor, Co-operative, Liberal Democrats, and the Democratic Unionists in the UK; the Christian Democratic Union, Christian Social Union, Social Democrats, Alternative for Germany, and Free Democrats in Germany; the Socialist Party, Popular Republican Movement, Radical Socialist Party, Conservatives, and the Communist Party in France; the Democratic Party and Republican Party in the US. Conservative, liberal and hard right groups have also emerged in Poland and other East European countries. Where the left and the right once squared off along economic lines, new battles over the environment and cultural identity has taken center stage. Right-wing populist ideas are also rising in most western democracies along with increasing polarization around globalization versus nationality. Nevertheless, sparring among politicians takes place on the battleground of ideas, where they pander to segments of the electorate – working class, middle class, etc. Ultimately, the desires of the electorate dictate the outcome of elections in the democratic process.
By contrast politics in Nigeria is rooted in the unrestrained pursuit of power and money. The political class, lacking conviction or an ideological foundation seek political office as the easiest path to wealth. Some political parties, despite their pretentious proclamations are founded based on tribal affinity. The manifestos of such parties merely mask the parochial and manipulative schemes of the central actors to promote tribal interests, but whose main objective is to line their pockets. The rest of the electorate participate in the political system driven by their instinct for survival, the “politics of stomach infrastructure”, or the vague hope of a better life. Sadly, neither the electorate nor the politicians have defined what a better life is – something a majority of the population will never experience in their lifetime. The social and intellectual elite class most of whom tacitly embrace elitist liberalism, masks their weakness, fiercely debating the inadequacies of the system behind closed doors. Those brave enough to voice dissent publicly are marginalized or violently silenced.
As we have witnessed repeatedly in Nigeria and it’s still palpable in the upcoming elections, opportunist disguised as politicians, hover like vultures waiting to snatch whatever comes within their reach. The explosive spread of these opportunists and the general “oga chop I chop” mentality, highlights a major barrier to building a strong vibrant democracy. Though many believe that bad leadership is the source of Nigeria’s development crisis, the convergence of an unholy obsession with money and the lack of an organized ideological political base such as those found in mature democracies is a bigger problem.
Nigerians are once again preparing to go to the polls, raving about the literacy or illiteracy of political figures, tribalism, true federalism, restructuring, marginalization, who has the ‘right to rule’, and whatever they can throw into the political gumbo that feeds their primal emotions. The population slides along buoyed by an infinite reservoir of hope that allows them to endure unspeakable hardship. But hope and over elasticity have become adaptation mechanisms that perpetuate the demise of ordinary citizens, whereas politicians laugh all the way to their banks, luxury villas, and foreign hideouts. Until political activity is organized around defined ideologies, principles, and convictions, establishing a truly democratic system will remain an elusive goal.
As Nigerians head to the polls February 16, 2019, one only hopes that they will cast their ballots, guided by the desire to elect those most likely to pull them and the country out of the destructive cycle of greed, corruption, and the “chop I chop” political culture.