James Carville, the presidential advisor to former President Bill Clinton coined the phrase: “It’s the economy, stupid” as a slogan for Clinton’s 1992 run at the White House. The phrase was intended to separate his candidate from incumbent George H.W. Bush who had watched the American economy drift into a recession. The effective campaign eventually led to Bill Clinton’s inauguration as president underscoring the fact that people care far more about economic issues – and by extension, the ideology that drives it. If there’s one thing people of different political persuasions agree on is the importance of the economy in general and how it affects their standard of living.
I was in secondary school when the 1979 elections were held; even though I was not of voting age then I clearly understood what the issues were because I was already well informed. I started reading Time, Newsweek, The Economist, Drum, Spear and other magazines and newspapers when I was in primary four! I still have a copy of October 26, 1970 edition of Newsweek magazine which has the African-American political activist Angela Davis on its cover. For the records, Davis is a political activist, academic, and author. She emerged as a prominent counterculture activist and radical in the 1960s as a leader of the Communist Party USA, and had close relations with the Black Panther Party and the Civil Rights Movement.
I also understood the issues in 1979 because I was a beneficiary. But before delving into the issues, a brief overview about ideology will suffice. Often the term “ideology” is seen as referring simply to a system of ideas and beliefs. However, it is also closely tied to the concept of power and the definition provided by the British sociologist Anthony Giddens captured it as “shared ideas or beliefs which serve to justify the interests of dominant groups.” Its relationship to power is that it legitimises the differential power that groups hold.
It should therefore not be surprising that most governments and people approach politics through the prism of ideology. A person’s idea or belief varies from the other’s but in politics; ideas are related to one another as well as modify and support each other. While individual ideology centres on self, political ideology provides a justification for the general needs of the people.
Political ideology therefore serves good purposes when it is favourable to the generality of the people. Ideologies are developed and maintained because of their usefulness to individuals and the public in responding to events. Political parties and societies work on ideologies that fit their particular and general needs. To this end, ideologies are not just created for those who hold them; they are made to help us make sense out of politics. Where ideology is lacking anything goes – like our present politics clearly shows.
In the American political system, there are two main ideologies – liberalism and conservatism. These have real influence in American politics and have both positive and negative reactions, but put together, they provide suitable ideologies that make America to be ahead of other nations. When Americans see that the country is becoming “too liberal” allowing almost everything, they switch gear as was the case with the 2016 elections that brought in Trump. Or when it becomes “too conservative” by trampling on minorities rights they’ll go liberal. This allows for a critical balance.
This is why political parties that seek power formulate a set of ideas believing that such ideas will be favourable and helpful to all and provide the needed succour and dividends of good governance. No responsible government would wish to come up with abysmal ideologies. Basically, uncomfortable and selfish ideologies such as those that encourage people to disrespect law and order or do not protect human rights, for example, cannot be useful to the people.
From the general point of view therefore, an ideology should help us to make reasonable and quick decisions that will answer the varied political questions that bother us. Careful observations have shown that present day Nigerians politicians do not have ideologies. From their performances at all levels, it has been clearly seen that they have little or nothing to offer the country except their personal aggrandisement. They are not bothered about fellow Nigerians’ welfare, the widening inequality gap between the poor and the rich; the erosion of the middle class and they look the other way as their “countrymen” are killed etc.
Nigerian politicians are not inclined to use their power and of the government they control to make conditions favourable for people. They “shy” away from new thinking and ideologies that can place the country on a par with advanced nations.
Responsible politicians and leaders must be more inclined generally to use the power of the government to achieve a diverse set of things they view as good for the people, use government regulation to protect the environment, and ensure safety and economic viability of all the sectors amongst other noble initiatives. Considering the worsening experiences we are going through now as a nation, guiding ideologies are more fundamental now than ever. Ideologies can help make sense of the myriad of political questions that faces people. In politics, we must be concerned to convince others that a policy we make is the right one and we must have personal and general reasons for making such policies.
It is instructive that barely a year to a crucial and defining presidential election the big issues are sadly not on the table. The discussions are hardly about a clash of strategies on economic and social development. Forces are aligning and re-aligning, but hardly is any grand vision being enunciated. A third force is said to be coming on stage. Will there be a distinctively third vision for the people to embrace? You hear of possible presidential candidates including the incumbent president, but nobody tells you about their ideas of development.
Back to 1979; prior to that year, Alhaji Shehu Shagari emerged as the presidential candidate of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN). The stature of Chief Obafemi Awolowo was conspicuous in the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN). The indefatigable and charismatic Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was unmistakable one of the most prominent faces of Nigeria Peoples Party (NPP). The Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) was undoubtedly associated with the populist pedigree of Mallam Aminu Kano. The Great Nigeria Peoples Party (GNPP) radiated the aura of Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim. Even Waziri Ibrahim’s slogan of “politics without bitterness” was widely received.
So, in secondary school I knew the ideologies of the five political parties then. In Ibadan where I schooled, I clearly remembered the UPN’s “four cardinal programmes” of “free education,” “free health services,” “full employment” and “integrated rural development.” Yes, this made Awolowo’s party win overwhelmingly in Yorubaland. But if you asked the rural folks in the south-west they would also tell you that beyond Awolowo being Yoruba they were also voting for the education of their children, jobs and the development of their area. They need not come to the “big city” to witness this development.
As part of the promise of “free education”, we were given free textbooks and lunch in secondary school. The UPN made good their election promises. Mind you, there was also no discrimination because I need not be an “indigene” of Oyo state to enjoy the free education. A similar thing could be said of the voters in Kano and Kaduna who might be poor but were evidently imbued with high level of consciousness as they were convinced that a party led by Aminu Kano could implement socially beneficial programmes. In retrospect, it is a huge irony of Nigeria’s political history that the politics of that era was considered backward by some analysts.
What about the NPN? The party campaigned on the policy platform of “national unity, “qualitative education,” “green revolution,” “mass housing,” amongst others. It is however its mass housing programme that was visible. Across all the local government areas of the country, the party built low cost housing estates that are still standing in most of the country even though Papa Awo considered them not fit for human habitation. Thousands of families still live in them to date.
So, we need ideologically driven politics as 2019 fast approaches.
Source: The Nation Newspaper