Parties sans ideologies

INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmood Yakubu

Stale news. Eighty-one political parties have filed applications before INEC seeking to be registered as political parties. The more the merrier, right? Arguably.We should be jumping for joy, right? Well, it is inadvisable for those in my age bracket to jump. We grin in the somnolent feeling that we are making real progress in watering the sapling of our democracy.

Political pluralism is one of the sacred cardinal principles of democracy. Arguably, the more political parties, the more pluralistic the system; the more pluralistic the system, the greater the freedom to roam among the political parties in search of the jokers among the serious.

It is not difficult to see why the political party field is teaming with aspiring new political parties. After all, it is no secret that the 2019 general elections are a couple of years away. INEC has already issued the time table. This is the time to horse trade and re-align political interests ahead of the elections. It is the nature of the game.

New political parties are always welcome to the crowded field, especially by those whose political ideology blows in the wind. Still, new political parties have the chance to (a) become the much sought after beautiful brides to be wooed by the existing political parties a la the great Zik or (b) make a fool of themselves with a brief appearance on the political scene only to end up on the shelf of history.

Al right, this is democracy. The law permits everyone who wishes to form a political party to do so. The right of the individual politician to carve out his own political stage on which he may be the bit player, is a given. Mushroom political parties are usually the comic aside in serious politicking. They bay at the moon.

Let us get this straight. The burgeoning political parties have nothing to do with the genuine promotion of political pluralism. They are positively deleterious to political pluralism, whatever might be their nuisance value. My take is that their emergence is evidence of the poor appreciation by the politicians of the cocktail of challenges we face in nurturing our democracy and making sense of a) the way we play politics; b) the nature of our party politics; c) and the fact that the bickering among the politicians is not democracy in action. It is primitive politics in action.

This country does not need a multiplicity of political parties in the name of democracy. What we need are two strong national political parties able to accommodate all ideologies on the political spectrum. Our tortuous political history shows that we have always had the tendency to coalesce around the two-party system. General Ibrahim Babangida understood this. In his transition to civil rule programme, he formally and legally imposed the two-party system on the country with one party a little to the left and the other a little to the right. He thus put the lid on the multiplicity of political parties.

The Social Democratic Party, SDP, was a little to the left to accommodate leftist politicians; the National Republican Convention, NRC, was a little to the right and thus arguably the party of right-leaning politicians. What he did defied the conventional birth of political parties. The politicians were simply ordered to join one or the other of the two parties. It was a military order. No one needed to be persuaded that the order must be obeyed. I think his understanding of the nature of our party politics was sound but his military method was politically defective.

The world has moved on. The one-party system has since become blasé. The two-party system is now the in-thing the world over. Our gravitation towards the two-party system has always been fraught with ego problems among our politicians. I think politicians have the biggest egos in the world. If we ever get there, to our political Eldorado, that is, it would be a long walk through the mountains, the valleys and the thickets of ego, large, medium and small.

Getting there is one of our biggest political challenges today. But I am afraid the leaders of APC and PDP do not seem to appreciate the role of their political parties in taking us there. The toeing and froing of politicians from one failed political party to the political party the gods favoured in one election circle is evidence of the instability in our political party system. But it can be arrested – if the political leaders appreciate the place of party politics in governance and democracy. A political party system that does nothing more noble than fostering bread and butter politics, now cynically referred to as stomach infrastructure, can only talk of good governance as mere abstract propaganda.

As I see it, one immediate challenge our political parties face is the critical issue of ideologies. It is amazing that we have come this far without political ideologies. Political parties are fuelled by ideologies. They drive party programmes and national development. Political parties make sales pitch on what they stand for. Their ideologies either draw us to them or repel us from them. We join political parties without knowing what they stand for because, and I say this with a heavy heart, they stand for nothing other than the ambition to grab the levellers of political power and thus determine who gets what in sharing stomach infrastructural facilities.

I have tried to remember the last time I read a party manifesto. I have repeatedly drawn a blank. People – the presidents and state governors – are elected on the platform of political parties. Their duty is to implement the party manifesto in order to win the support of the people at each round of the electoral circle. The last time we saw this happen was in the Second Republic. The UPN was a very good example. Its state governors assiduously implemented the party manifesto in education, industrial development, energy and employment.

That kind of disciplined approach to national development driven by a political party is now trapped in the maws of our history. In our current situation, the political parties are not even in control of their elected officials. State governors decide what to do, even if doing runs counter to the interests of their political parties. Legislators do what they like without sparing a thought for the fate of their political parties in the next round of elections.

I think the time has come for us to demand to know what our political parties stand for. What does APC stand for in our national development paradigm? What does PDP stand for and how does it relate this to its dream of a better country and better people?

We, the people, must interrogate them. It is important for us to know what they stand for. Only so can we know or appreciate their present and future plans for our national development. The business of a political party is not just to win elections. Its primary responsibility is to help define national development and point the country in the direction it should go.

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