Without political ideologies, elections are mere waste of time
An election is a contest of ideologies among various parties who seek to effect changes in government. For us, elections are a do-or-die affair. Since the return of democracy in 1999, our elections have always been about demagoguery, godfatherism and profligate spending. The just-concluded “dollarised” primaries serve as proof of this reality.
Now that the primaries are over, it is expected that 2023 hopefuls will commence their campaigns and rallies full throttle. We should expect them to release their poetically-crafted manifestoes in the coming weeks in hopes of winning over a disgruntled electorate. Money will be spent on posters containing bullet points and listicles of what they promise to do if elected. Primetime television and radio programmes will be heavily punctuated with campaign jingles sung in local and English languages. Campaign advertorials will compete with news reports for limited pages in newspapers and periodicals. You know the usual.
This is a path we’ve journeyed many times in our chequered history as a country. If anything is instructive from past electioneering and campaigns, it is that there is hardly anything that differentiates our parties other than their brash logos and self-deluding slogans. Yet again, they will all promise to fix bad roads, boost agriculture, tackle insecurity, and do so many other things we’ve heard a million times over. They promise the same thing every four years but the problems have stayed the same.
This lack of ideology in our politics has led to an amorphous structure which makes parties open to every Tom, Dick and Harry even if it means they are—as we like to say—defecting from another party because of their vested interest to attain power at all cost. But it is important for parties to be ideologically driven instead of merely being aspirationally driven. Having an ideology makes you fecund with ideas (no pun intended) through a particular worldview. It helps you theorise and proffer solutions to societal problems based on a set of core values.
If you pay attention to their campaign rhetoric, you’ll notice that they hardly detail how they will solve all the problems they promise to solve. All they ever do is promise without an action plan. We being the gullible people that we are fall for this every time. If our parties were founded on ideologies, they would not just proffer solutions to our many extant socioeconomic problems; they would offer various strategies on how these solutions would be actualised.
This is why election debates are never a determinant of how well politicians perform at the polls. Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), during the two times he was elected never participated in any debates. Money, godfatherism and ethnoreligious affiliation are some of the factors that determine who wins elections in Nigeria. Debates in fact are a waste of time as far as we are concerned.
In the United States, the country that inspired our presidential system of government, we know that there is more to the Republican Party and the Democratic Party than their names and logos. The Republican Party is driven by right-wing conservative values. They want a smaller government and lower taxes. They advocate for the free market. Given their conservative values, they oppose abortion rights. They do not see climate change as an existential crisis. And they strongly oppose any attempt to restrict their right to bear arms which is backed by the Second Amendment.
The Democrats on the other hand are driven by left-wing progressive values. They want a bigger government and higher taxes. They support minority rights. It was during Barack Obama, a Democrat, that America legalised gay rights. They also support abortion and women’s rights. Joe Biden has the most diverse cabinet in American history in terms of gender, race and sexual orientation. Democrats are anti-Second Amendment. Unlike the Republicans, Democrats are not as hostile to immigration or at least pretend not to oppose it. Democrats are more likely to pay attention to inequality and inequity than their Republican counterparts. And of course, Democrats believe climate change is an existential crisis.
Given these astounding differences, it’s almost impossible to see how a Democrat would wake up one morning and decide to switch to the Republican Party, unlike the frequent party-switching that takes place in Nigeria. When Bernie Sanders failed the second time to win the Democratic ticket in 2020 allegedly because the Democratic National Committee skewed the primary in favour of Joe Biden, Donald Trump jokingly threw an open invitation to him to join the Republican Party. Everyone knew that was an impossibility. Had it been in Nigeria, however, he definitely would have jumped ship immediately.
As a Nigerian, I know the difference between the ideologies of the Democratic and Republican parties. Sadly, I do not know the difference between those of the Peoples Democratic Party and All Progressives Congress. To put it differently, what is democratic about the PDP and what is progressive about the APC? During the 16-year rule of the PDP, we saw how godfatherism and corruption trumped democratic values. As the Buhari’s regime expires next year, we are yet to enjoy any progressive policies. If truly the APC were progressive, attention would be paid to minority issues, especially at such a time there is unprecedented ethnic and religious tension going on. If the APC were progressive, its 2023 ticket would be zoned to the South-East in the spirit of equity and fairness. I could be mistaken though. Perhaps, the APC has a different reading on what it means to be progressive. But whatever it is, I know it isn’t different from the “democratic” values of the PDP.
Because the Nigerian electorate cares less about ideas, it becomes easy to manipulate them and buy their votes with N1000 and a few cups of rice. A former governor invented the apt and humorous phrase, Stomach Infrastructure, to describe how he wooed voters with food items and cash gifts. Of course, vote-buying has been an age-long practise in Nigeria. What Ekiti State’s former governor, Ayodele Fayose, did was to give it an apt description. While his wit and linguistic creative inventiveness will not be forgotten in a hurry, the shameless abandon with which he bragged about his stomach infrastructure reflects a dangerous reality in our electioneering process. This is what you get when parties only exist to win elections. The resort to dirty means to attain power.
Demagoguery thrives in the absence of political ideology. And demagoguery only produces inept and dangerous leaders. It is our duty as the electorate to scrutinise the aspirants of various political parties when they come begging for votes. We need to ask them the tough questions and probe what exactly informs the basis of their manifestoes. It is important we ask for their ideological persuasion. Their blueprint must be well enunciated and they must be able to convince us beyond every reasonable doubt that they are deserving of our votes. And they must not shy away from debating their ideas.
Democracy should be a marketplace of ideas and not the pervasion we have in Nigeria. The rationale behind a multiparty system is to give voters a set of options to choose from. Each option is supposed to represent a set of core values. And whoever wins should be based on how well they were able to convince the electorate with their ideas and not their money.
- Olayemi, the host of the Disaffected Nigerian YouTube channel, writes from Lagos and can be reached via [email protected]