199 views | Sanusi Muhammad | June 10, 2020

Several political commentators on the Nigerian brand of politics have treated the traditional political ideologies of communism, socialism and conservatism as an invalid and irrelevant basis for political activity. To some political analysts, it is not even a relevant explanatory tool of political activity. The relationship between traditional political ideologies and contemporary Nigerian politics has often produced interesting intellectual debates. The rejectionists basically advanced the view that political activities in Nigeria are concerned mostly with politics of development devoid of the luxury of ideological wrangling. In other words, that the overwhelming conditions of underdevelopment and other socio-economic factors render irrelevant the use of traditional ideological concepts of socialism, communism, conservatism as useful platforms or explanatory tools of political activities in a country such as Nigeria. To such thinkers, these concepts are simply foreign theories developed in advanced socio-economic, political cultures. Rather nationalism, patriotism, progressivism, Pan Africanism etc are some of the rival concepts that occupy positions of pre-eminence in their political debates.

No idea deserves to be dismissed. Non-ideological political thinking has strong intellectual roots. Rationalism, rather than ideology is the important element in conservative’s description of political activity, i.e. politics is simply the application of common-sense solutions to common problems. On the other hand, the socialist concept of false consciousness would adequately explain the rejection of the relevance of ideologies to politics. To be exact, those who reject the relevance of ideology simply exist under conditions in which they have either falsely conceived the existing socio-economic and political conditions or are simply unable to synthesize such conditions. Certainly, though rarely overtly expressed, contemporary Nigerian politics contain expressions of an ideological nature, i.e. political orientations one may classify as manifestations of the traditional ideologies of socialism, Marxism, conservatism etc. interestingly, one can sometimes discern apparent ideological rhetoric from politicians and public office holders such as Trade and Professional Union leaders but hardly articulated as a firm basis for political action.

It is quite absurd to believe that political actors do not hold a set of ideas or principles in terms of how society and the economy is organized, which is what ideology is basically about. True democratic politics are organized on the lines of dividing individuals and groups according to their socio-economic beliefs. It is only natural and inevitable that at some point, politics will be conducted on the basis of what truly divides politicians – ideological orientations. Nigeria is currently drifting blindly with hardly any defined political direction but nearly saw the light at the end of the tunnel during the reign of Military President, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida’s unending transition programme. Interestingly, Gen. Babangida’s Armed Forces Ruling Council (AFRC), the then highest decision-making body in the country acknowledged that politics had hitherto been conducted on a distorted and artificial basis, and resultantly created two political parties “one to the right and the other to the left” indicating the necessity for ideological platforms. This would have led to the emergence of political arguments in its true and natural form. The name of one of the parties, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) was indicative of the fact that certain ideological political orientations were envisaged. Unfortunately, this significant historical development was nipped in the bud and Nigeria lost the opportunity to advance their gain.

 Today, Nigeria is governed by a Federal constitutional arrangement that has apparently made no difference to the tribal or geo-political structure of politics. There is an executive presidential system, patterned on the American model; a Senate based on the equality of the states, a House of Representatives based on the population of states; 36 supposedly autonomous states that replaced the regions. Nigeria is still a Federation but in practice resembles unitary state and the control of the centre is still a national political preoccupation. Recent events including current voting patterns and utterances of leading politicians; ethnic agitations and militancy would convince any honest observer that ethnicity and geopolitical considerations are still major factors in the country’s politics and can only lead to one outcome- more ethnic chauvinism and conflagration as exemplified by former governor of Plateau State, Jonah David Jang.

Suffice it to 1960 when the colonial authorities finally and formally handed over political authority to the indigenous elite is a good starting point to look at Nigeria’s ideological history. Prior to that, total control of the country and its economy was exercised by British administrators who saw it fit to impose their socio-economic, political ideas on a barely literate population. As such, the British emphasis on the capitalist system of economic management and liberal democratic ideals were transferred to a country that did not share the same historical experiences that created the systems. Invariably, the country started off on a predetermined footing without any input from the indigenous politicians. The practice of democracy in the country reflected the skills of a novice and the management of the economy was, to put it bluntly, reckless. The politics of the first republic has already been well documented as above. Suffice to say that the first republic witnessed the conduct of politics in a crude and rudimentary form. The political elite that emerged in the immediate post-colonial era predictably conducted themselves as can be expected of an apprentice in a professional trade, learning the trade as they moved along. The politics of today is neither different and can actually be said to have deteriorated significantly, particularly in the area of management of the national economy and security. Large scale corruption has magnified the problem many times over.

The tense political situation immediately after independence came to a head on January 15, 1966, barely six years after independence. Five young military officers for the first time fired the opening shots of military intervention in Nigerian politics, an act which became a regular feature of the country’s politics until 1999. The would-be revolution of the young officers was silenced by the timely intervention of their superior officers headed by Gen. Johnson Thomas Umunakwe Aguiyi Ironsi. The superior officers were by no means revolutionaries but thoroughbred men groomed in the British tradition and therefore were not expected to change a system handed over to them to protect. The first military intervention at least succeeded in ending the turbulent politics of the first republic and with it ended the first experiment in a mass democracy, ideological wrangling has never been one of them. The post-colonial elite were homogenous in one sense-in their class identity and in their agreement to maintaining the capitalist cum-conservative order.

The end of the first republic and the ascendancy military rule did not, of course, solve the underlying socio-economic and political problems. Rather, it brought into sharp focus, indeed exacerbated the nation’s multiple problems. The military inevitably can take credit for some of the obvious changes in our political system. The first of these changes concerns the abolition of the regional structure of government and tribally based political parties which presumably reinforced the ethnic divisions of the country and facilitated the domination of minority ethnic groups. The abolition of the regions and the creation of states structure, as recent political events have shown, did not eliminate the basic political problems of the country. It in fact reinforced and to some degree exacerbated the sense of separateness. Regional and ethnic loyalties, allocation of federal revenue, location of federal establishments, the zoning of political offices arguments, fear of marginalization and domination etc are few of the negative political considerations that are taking a more serious dimension in contemporary Nigerian politics. In other words, the country has never advanced in its political thinking since the British handed over to the indigenous politicians in 1960. The political problems of 1960-1966 were visible in 1979-1983 when the country made a second attempt at mass democracy and were also visible in 1989 when another attempt was made.

Until in May 1999, an ex-military General Chief Olusegun Obasanjo assumed leadership of a supposedly civil democratic government. Although he strived to rescue a terribly battered nation, only an optimist would have expected anything different from the past. Today Nigeria is worse off in terms of civil democratic political culture. The economy is struggling with collapsing manufacturing enterprises and other productive sectors; unemployment and resultant social disorder are on the increase and prompts the regular question of when will the so-called dividends of democracy be accessed. The state of the nation including increasing dangerous levels of insurgency, banditry, kidnapping, rape and unabated corrupt practices gives rise to serious concerns. The current state of the nation simply confirms that all is not well with the country and that our approaches and ideas are either ineffective or misguided or simply wrong. Therefore, there is an urgent need for a fundamental departure from the present for the country to progress and 2023 should serve as the launching pad.

Muhammad is a commentator on national issues      

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