DOES anyone else share my view that neither Nigerian leaders nor Nigerian political parties have a clearly articulated ideology regarding the country’s political direction? I say this because of the frequency with which Nigerian leaders switch political parties and party loyalty. Recently, five of the so-called aggrieved governors (G-7) of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) joined the All People’s Congress, APC. In a multi-party democratic system like Nigeria’s, frequent party switching is either an indication that the parties have no underlying ideology, or that the political goals of party members are merely self-serving. Whichever the case, it isn’t good for Nigeria, and it undermines the democratic process.
Political parties without underlying ideologies, like the ones we have in Nigeria, do not give rational voters the tools they need to make informed political decisions. Since the ancient Greeks started practicing democracy, there was a fundamental concern that rational voters should make informed decisions. That was why Pericles won enduring majorities within the citizens’ assembly. His political ideology was that lower class citizens should be included in the political process. Pericles believed that getting the masses involved in the political process was the best way to achieve the common good. That was the principle behind his political movement. His steadfast principle endeared him to the masses.
Since Pericles, modern democratic societies have organised political parties by bringing together people with common underlying ideologies about how society should be organised in order to achieve the common good. Consider the United States’ Republican Party. The underlying ideology has been for smaller government and conservative stands on issues. They believe the federal government should play a minor role in people’s lives. The majority of them favour lower taxes and less government spending on social programmes. They also believe in less government intervention in business and the economy. From Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt, from William H. Taft to Gerald R. Ford, and from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush, the Republican ideology has remained steadfast. It served as the guiding political principle that bound these presidents together.
Consider also the United States’ Democratic Party. The party’s underlying ideology has been for bigger government and liberal stands on issues. Unlike Republicans, Democrats believe that the federal government should play a bigger roles in people’s lives. Most Democrats favour higher taxes for big corporations and more government spending on social programmes. They also believe in more government regulations in business and the economy. From Andrew Jackson to John F. Kennedy, and from Lyndon B. Johnson to Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the Democratic ideology has served to shape many of the policy choices that defined their presidencies.
Here is the achy comparison to the political situation in Nigeria. George W. Bush was the governor of Texas from 1995 to 2000. He was the 43rd President of the United States from 2001 to 2009. He is a Republican. His father, George H. Bush, the 41st President of the United States from 1989 to 1993, is also a Republican. Before becoming President, he was the Vice President of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Bill Clinton was the Governor of Arkansas from 1979 to 1992; he served two five year terms as Governor of Arkansas. He became the 42nd President of the United States and served from 1993 to 2001. He is a Democrat. Barack Obama is currently serving as the 44th President of the United States. Before becoming President in 2004, Barack Obama was a Senator from Illinois.
Interestingly, there are no constitutional or legal barriers preventing these politicians from switching political parties. The reason they did not switch is because there is an underlying ideology that ties them to their political parties. It is an ideology they believe in. That is not to say that these political parties are not invulnerable to internal party disagreements. When John McCain lost to Barack Obama, the Republican Party went through a period of internal conflict.
Now imagine that the politicians I mentioned switched parties at some point in their careers. It would have been a career ending move. Even a mere switch in social issues prompts the anger of American voters. When Mitt Romney changed his position on abortion, Americans saw him as a flip-flopper, and it was one of the reasons why he lost the election.
Besides collective party ideology, great leaders are known to have profound ideas regarding how society can be organised for the common good. Take Nelson Mandela as an example; he believes that South Africa’s greatness can only be achieved when South African comes together regardless of colour or creed. That is his ideology.
In advocating for this ideology he said, “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
It is troubling that even in this time of constitutional and economic crisis, Nigerian leaders are unable to articulate ideas that will give Nigerians hope for a better nation. In the absence of clearly articulated ideological beliefs about how to make society better, political parties become a group of cabals seeking opportunities to loot, just as they now appear to be doing in Nigeria.
*Mr. Odunze, a political analyst, wrote from Boston, MA, USA.