Political AffairsStrategic Opinions

Voices of history (1) By Dan Agbese

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I have argued a zillion times in this column that the absence of an ideology in our political parties continues to cast a blind spell on the country. Our political leaders at national and sub-national levels catch at the straws of cosmetics that pass for radical changes in how we do things and how to move the country forward consistent with the global and modern concept of development.

 The absence of an ideology is something to be remedied to make the political parties the agents of national development. An ideology is not a high-sounding posture a la leftist politics of the cold war era but a statement of intent by a political party and its commitment to its conception of the path of national development politically, socially, and economically. 

            We recognise, of course, that since the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of Russia and its former satellite states from the stifling cold of communism, the world has undergone a sea change. The great wall of ideological divide between communism and capitalism has come down. Hordes of Russian oligarchs now savour the sweet taste of free enterprise and wealth in the capitalistic system. Sloganeering has ceased to be a loud voice. But this has in no way affected the core communist ideology as a system of economic management and human development. 

            It is worth recalling that in the second republic, we knew what at least two of the major parties, NPN and UPN, stood for ideologically in their respective concept of national development. UPN stood for free education at all levels; NPN stood for agriculture as the mainstay of the national economy and made green revolution the face of its ideology. Their ideologies fostered a healthy competition between them and helped to drive our national development towards a determined end.

            Compared that era with the current era; the thinking era and the soul-destroying era of mediocrity. The second republic era was an era in which the political parties were in the driving seat of our national direction and development. The current era is an arid era in which the political parties are merely used as means of capturing and holding on to power. The problem, and it is no small problem, is that not many of our rulers in the executive branch came into office intellectually and emotionally prepared for leadership. 

The current party structure in which the president and the state governors are the national and state leaders of their parties has done away with the supervisory authority once exercised by the national and state chairmen of the political parties. We are thus cursed with a poor sense of national direction. The president and the state governors alone determine and foist on the nation their personal concept of development. The result, of course, is a nation forced to float on the whims and caprices of its leaders. 

It turns out that while the political parties have no ideologies, Nigeria has a surfeit of national ideologies. I recently came across this huge surprise when I leafed through the 718-page book, The Great Debate, published by the Daily Times of Nigeria Limited in 1977. The book, edited by Dr Walter Ofonagoro, et al, is a compilation of contributions to the draft constitution by the Constitution Drafting Committee, CDC, headed by the late F.R.A. Williams. The draft constitution excited great national interest. For the first time in our national history, Nigerians were given the opportunity to freely contribute to the shaping of a new constitution, the supreme law in the land. 

Ideology featured in the great debate. The great Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, waded in here to set the records straight about its place in our nation. His fifteen and a quarter page lecture was titled: Who says Nigeria has no ideology? He then set out first to chide those who wanted a new ideology for the country and educate those who were ignorant of where the nation stood ideologically; secondly, he submitted copious evidence to show that the problem was not the absence of ideology per se but that the plethora of ideologies were pulling in different directions. 

Zik was a voluble man. I cannot pretend to capture the various kennels of his informed and portentous debate here. I will use some of his views to buttress my own argument that the absence of ideologies in the political parties is deleterious to our political health and ruinous to our efforts in nation-building. Like the scholar he was, he began by asking the question: “What is an ideology?” He then went on to “offer three explanations, among others. First it (ideology) is a systematic body of concepts about human life or culture. Secondly, it is a manner of thinking characteristic of an individual or a group. Thirdly, it implies the integrated assertions, theories and aims that constitute a sociological programme.”

Take a breath. In enlisting the great man in support of my position, I got much more than I bargained for. But I find it enlightening. So, let me serve you a few more Zikist morsels on ideology. Flowing from his “explanations,” he wrote: “In other words, the complex of philosophical abstractions and sociological realities which express Nigerian epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, and eschatology constitute Nigerian ideology or what should be identified as Nigerianism” (emphasis added).

The great man then arrived at the proposition, to wit, “That Nigeria has ideologies, particularly in the fields of politics, sociology, economics, jurisprudence, philosophy, and religion, among many other disciplines.” Our a) “Nigerian political ideology is democratic; b) Nigerian social ideology is altruistic; c) Nigerian economic ideology is welfarist in its purest form; d) Nigerian religious ideology is animistic.” Few nations are as blessed as we are with such a plethora of ideologies. 

As Zik saw it, we have two main challenges. The first is “reorientation…to adopt them (the plethora of ideologies) to contemporary concepts and criteria.” The second is for us to forge an ideological system neither beholden to the Western model nor the Eastern model, that meets our peculiar needs for national development. Our unique system, “…is to be a system which will ensure not only general economic equilibrium but also social equilibrium.”

I have reached out for voices in history for two good reasons. One, to hear once more the voices of men and women as well as leaders who engaged one another in a discourse towards a collective response to our national problems. Two, to show that the age of national discourse encouraged us to think more seriously about our nation and its place in the world. We had men and leaders who gave constant thoughts to what is best for our country and offered their weighty views on what would give the citizens the leap of faith and the nation a sense of direction. They encouraged us to be part of finding solutions to our national problems. We have lost the age of profundity; we are in the age of mediocrity and the warehousing of political power. You may not agree with Zik’s argument, but you cannot deny that he gave some very serious thoughts to how we could forge a unique national ideology that is even superior to party ideologies. His voice still rises from the grave, offering us words of wisdom and challenging our current crop of political leaders to do more than seek power for its own sake. Nations are built by leaders who constantly think of their nations as greater nations. It cannot be a source of national pride that we watch our nation regressing in every aspect of our national development while other nations forge ahead of us.

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