By Emma Emeozor
A lecturer, Department of Political Science, University of Lagos, Dr Ferdinand Ottoh in this interview examines the implications of forming and registering political parties without ideological base. He believes that Nigeria is politically ripe enough to produce ideology based political parties. He says ideology determines the manifesto of a political party.
The presidential election holds on February 25, 2023. Would you say Nigerians are prepared for the election?
It is the political parties that should be asked if they are ready for the elections because Nigerians are already waiting for them. Nigerians are ready but I don’t think the political parties are ready because up till now, they are not able to articulate their ideology and even manifestoes to the understanding of the masses, which, of course, is very laughable and a sign of lack of seriousness.
Before political parties start registration for elections, their ideology and manifestoes must be ready. The manifesto is not about the candidates, rather, it is about the programme action of the parties. So, which ever candidate emerges from the primaries follows the manifesto of his or her party.
Any addition which a candidate wants to add to the manifesto is irrelevant. And I think the reason we have this type of situation in Nigeria, is because the political parties don’t have ideology.
Because if they do, the electorate should know, for example, the ideology of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) which guides its manifesto, the ideology of the All Progressive Congress (APC), which also guides its manifesto and same for the other parties. So, if I believe that PDP is in line with my own philosophy of life, then, I can join PDP, but if I feel that it is APC, then, I can join APC.
Of course, any candidate that emerges at the end of the primaries will accept and promote the party’s ideology and manifesto because the ideology of a political party should be the same for all.
So, the poverty of ideology which political parties in Nigeria suffer is part of the reason they cannot easily present to the electorate a concise manifesto that can enable them (the people) understand their programme. This, also, explains why some candidates tell the public that they know what to do when they get into office. This is a demonstration of lack of seriousness about governance.
Are you talking about ‘left’ and ‘right’ ideological leanings as practised by advanced democracies?
This is exactly what I am trying to say. I don’t even know which their ‘left’ is and which is their ‘right’, whether they are capitalists or socialists, whether they are conservatives or liberals. I can’t really say. APC pretends to be progressive and claims to be an off shoot of Awoism, looking at the history of its formation from the Alliance for Democracy (AD) and so on. Who among those members and in even the APC as a party, can you really say has followed the Awoism ideology – socialism or democratic socialism as the case may be?
Is PDP a capitalist party (or something else)? Are they (members of PDP) really professing it? It has always been an issue in Nigeria’s political process that the political parties don’t have ideology. In the first republic, granted yes, we can look at the leaders of the three major parties: Northern People’s Congress (NPC), Action Group (AG) and National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC). Awolowo maintained socialist ideology, Zik anchored his party on welfarist ideology and of course, NPC was a pure conservative party. So, you can see the way they operate.
In the second republic, the political parties that we had – UPN (Awolowo), NPP (Azikiwe) and NPN seen by many as an offshoot of NPC (Augustine Akinloye), to a large extent still followed the same ideological line articulated in the first republic. The exception was the Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP.)
In 1987 when former military leader, Ibrahim Babangida, was trying to introduce a new political order, one of the things that his reform addressed was the issue of ideology.
That was what brought about the announcement of a ‘little to the left, and ‘a little to the right’, with the National Republican Convention (NRC) seen as the rightist bloc and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) as the leftist bloc. But from 1999 till date, there had been no talk about ideology based political parties.
These are the critical issues, and that is why politicians can wake up anytime and move from one party to another, driven by personal interest. As we talk now (and very soon), we will begin to hear more of defections, because this term has come into the Nigerian political lexicon, moving from one party to the other, which should not be the practice.
How do you mean?
In the advanced democracies, political leaders stabilise their parties; for example, Americans know that they have two dominant parties – the Republican and the Democratic. Therefore, by the time a citizen reaches the voting age, he or she must have evaluated the activities of the Democrats and the Republicans respectively to determine which of them tally with his or her ideological conviction. An American father may be a Republican but the son or daughter may choose to be a Democrat, this is how it is done.
In contrast, in Nigeria, people join political parties without understanding the direction of the party. Many people are compelled to join parties because of ‘stomach infrastructure,’ where they can get bread and butter to eat, but not on the basis of ideological conviction. This is a major problem.
The Labour Party is supposed to be, by implication, an ideological party where the public will know that its members are people who believe in equality, egalitarianism, etc. But this is not the case. Are the presidential candidates of the political parties really people having any ideological orientation?
Peter Obi, for instance was a member of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) from where he moved to the PDP. But when he couldn’t achieve his political ambition there, he defected to the Labour party. Looking at how people are joining the Labour party, what is the basis for their joining the party?
On the other hand, I can’t place the two major parties, PDP and APC, which have been in existence for some years now as to what ideology they represent. Which ideological leaning can you place Atiku or Tinubu? But because we are passing through a process of evolution, let’s continue to manage the situation.
Presently, what is important to us is how the country can hold a credible election and whoever that emerges can manage the economy and yield expected results. It is for this reason, we should begin to look at our economic policy. Today, we can’t place our economic policy in relation to any ideological position.
Under the military, I remember under General Sani Abacha’s regime, he talked about guided deregulation. Note that the key words here are “guided deregulation,” pointing out that Nigeria was moving towards capitalism.
But even in the midst of capitalism, we must guide our policy just like it is done in America. America is a pure capitalist country and there are certain policies of the government that guide its economic activities. Here in Nigeria, our understanding of capitalism is, oh, let free market determine everything, let people do things the way they like. But that is not how it is supposed to be.
This is why some school of thoughts, some economic analysts talk about the removal of oil subsidy. But their position is not based on economic ideology, rather, it is just politics being played out. Those calling for the removal of subsidy argue that it will stop people from stealing our common wealth. Yes, this is true but the proposal is not done on the basis of what the government in power really believes about oil subsidy.
You just drew attention to how people are joining the Labour party. What is your reaction to the ‘Obedient Movement’? What do you think is happening, can this be a sign of a revolution waiting to explode in Nigeria?
I will use the word ‘spirituality’ though spirituality doesn’t actually come into politics. Politics is a game and in a game, all kinds of intrigues come in. When God wants to liberate a nation, it might come in different ways. I’m not a fan of Obi anyway. But what is happening is a new reawakening among the Nigerian voting populace, and I’m referring to the youth. I do hope that this movement will translate to electoral vote because if the momentum is sustained and on the day of election, the youth turn out en masse and vote accordingly, may be, there will be a turn of events, there will be a new history in Nigeria’s political evolution.
But it is not just enough for people to gather in a rally . . . ‘One Million March’, ‘Ten Million March’ and so on . . . whichever way through which the organisers mobilise the participants, let it also translate to true electoral vote.
I use to think that when the movement started . . . because they call it movement and people try to make a distinction between a movement and a political party, it will not be like a political party where after elections end, all issues end. This is because in a movement, the struggle continues even after the elections. So, if we see it as a movement, again, I hope it will really translate to electoral victory and indeed victory for the people.
The other major two parties (PDP and APC) may not be comfortable, yes, because we have had various experiences in this country, especially in terms of the trust of leadership. In political philosophy, we talk of leaders that emerged as a result of their desire to lead or to rule, and leaders that emerged as a result of the desire of the people . . . this is the man or leader we want.
If you read Chunua Achebe’s book, ‘The Man of the People’, you will observe that leaders that emerge in the period of crisis, you can name them – Franklin Roosevelt, Wilson Churchill – these were leaders that emerge at a point in time in their political history and they tried to liberate their people. We have seen it in history all over. But, in Nigeria, political leaders are not emerging because of the desire of the people, rather, it has become turn-by-turn affair.
I recall former President Olusegun Obasanjo once made a very passing statement and I caught that statement. He said that this idea of it is “our turn . . . .” I cannot remember the circumstance that made him to make that statement but I think it was in the period when Buhari started going on medical trips. Nigeria has become a dynasty for some people. And this is very dangerous in the choice of leadership.