Nigeria: Time to Identify Aspirants With Ideas
About 11 months to elections, it is not too early to expect that by now those who aspire to be Nigeria’s president should be identified with their passion for some ideas.
With the announcement of the electoral time-table, the issues of the elections ought to be crystalizing by now. Elsewhere, political debates of issues in the build-up towards party primaries could be as vigorous as the debates among candidates. What is dominating discussions now in Nigeria, however, is the regional or ethnic origins and the religious affiliations of the aspirants seeking to fly their respective party flags. The current debates are about which region or zone should “produce” the candidates for the presidential election.
Well, the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) cannot do more than officially setting the time-table. Unofficially, beyond the political parties democratic forces should push to the fore the issues of the elections to be addressed by politicians as aspirants. These issues would be more vigorously addressed later by candidates flying the party flags. The latter task is beyond the remit of INEC’s Chairman Professor Mahmoud Yakubu and his colleagues. That is why other unofficial institutions of democracy should pay attention to it.
For a nation grappling with a multi-dimensional crisis the content of politics should be fuller than what is currently on display. There are legion issues of the election beyond zoning of political offices which are not getting the required attention.
As concomitants with the big names on parade, big ideas should be contending in the public sphere to resolve the big issues plaguing this land.
Aspirants should not only be identified as northerners or southerners; they should also be identified as being in favour of greater kinetic approach to insecurity or in support of negotiation with terrorists or both approaches.
For clarity, the legitimacy of the present geo-political calculations is never in doubt. The reality of the challenges of nation-building has made the jostling for the Number One position by politicians from the various zones unavoidable in the circumstance. Such calculations have become a necessary subjective factor of national integration. It would, therefore, be sheer idealism to ignore the regional, zonal, ethnic, and religious considerations in the political evolution of Nigeria. The universal logic of diversity supports it.
However, the task for now and in the future is how to wean the polity off a narrow view of things and largely empty permutations of the ruling class.
Besides, the constituency of members of the political elite who could honestly claim to speak for Nigeria (and not regions or ethnic groups) is depressingly shrinking fast. At the other polar end, the political calculus of ethnicity and regionalism is increasingly being embraced by the majority of members of the political elite to fill the vacuum created their lack of rigorous ideas for development. Such is the nature of the dominant politics in the country. It is amazing that the political elite seems oblivious of the limitation of this sort of politics in the context of the developmental needs of the overwhelming majority of the people.
Yet, among other things it would take the factor a formidable popular-democratic force of Nigerian nationalists, who are politically relevant, to render regionalism and ethnicity irrelevant in elections. Unfortunately, that may not happen soon. But it is a possibility.
On the issue of national integration, the political elite is hardly consistent. Those who professed the primacy of “zoning” in the 2015 elections are today preaching “meritocracy.” It is even more problematic when ethnic and regional champions canvass “national interest” and “merit” when their opposite numbers in other zones insist on “power rotation.”
More fundamentally is the question: of what material significance is the “power rotation” to the poor people in each region or zone? Since 1999, there has been no evidence that the material condition of the majority of the people in the zone that “produced” a president has improved relative to the condition of the people of the zones “marginalised” by the dynamics of “power rotation.”
Whose power is it, anyway? Definitely it is not people power.
The crisis of governance ravaging the land is not in the least mitigated by “power rotation.” The condition of public education and healthcare delivery cannot be said to have improved in any zone or region better than the other because of “power rotation.” Yet the politicians invoke the name of the people as they insist on “power rotation.”
In other words, they substitute their class interests for the basic interests of the people. Out of false consciousness, some of the people line up behind the gladiators in their battle for “power rotation.”
If “power rotation” is actually in the interest of the people in a zone, the northwest zone ought to be the most secure and prosperous zone and Katsina state, the home state of President Muhammadu Buhari, ought to be the safest and most developed state. But is well known that this is not the case today just as the Obasanjo presidency did not put Ogun state on the top of the development league and the Jonathan presidency never transformed Bayelsa state. That is not to talk of the zones that “produced” these presidents.
Those who bang the table on the “equity and justice of power rotation,” do not talk about the socio-economic injustice inflicted daily on the poor people in all zones and regions and of all faiths.
Perhaps, part of the explanations for why things have remained the way they are in the last 23 years of Nigeria’s experiment with liberal democracy is that the last six presidential elections and most of the governorship elections were hardly fought on issues. Politicians aspired to positions largely because it was the turn of their zones. They got party tickets and as candidates they were mostly not associated with any concept of how to solve the problems of underdevelopment in a wholistic manner. The needed concept is deeper than the management of random and incongruous projects.
At the root of this malaise is the fact that political parties are not defined by the strategies of development on the basis of which they could mobilise the people. If a political party has an ideology informing its programmes and policies, any aspirant wishing to be its candidate in an election must first subscribe to that guiding ideology. The manifesto of a candidate must be in synchrony with the ideology of the party. Otherwise, a candidate has no business seeking the party ticket in the first place. That is why it is unhelpful to the nation’s political development that that the big and small parties alike have not been holding policy conferences in which members would debate the ideologies of their parties. Conventions are only held to choose party officers and then to nominate candidates for elections.
With the politics of ideas, debates would be better structured because the issues to be tackled would be clearly identified. There will also be greater harmony in the political process.
For instance, if some aspirants share the same passion about certain ideas to solve economic problems it would be more logical for one to step down for the other during contest than to invoke zonal or regional reasons. The propinquity of ideas about development is a more rational thing to give as a reason than geo-political concession during primaries.
At the party level it is also explicable for parties to form electoral alliances on the basis of ideological proximity. This would be a marked departure from the shenanigans of “a coalition of parties” endorsing a candidate at the eve of elections without giving solid reasons.
For example, if some parties have basically neo-liberal strategies on the economy, it would be justifiable for them to join forces to fight elections on the basis of policy harmonisation. At the opposite end, social democratic parties could also forge a basis for electoral cooperation because of similar programmes. Politicians involved in the efforts to coalesce for elections would be pushing some ideas and not just hankering for posts. During the Second Republic, the victorious Shehu Shagari’s National Party of Nigeria (NPN) called for the formation of a national government. Obafemi Awolowo’s Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) gave as a condition for participation the adoption of its programme on education, healthcare, job creation and rural development. This was, of course, not acceptable to the ruling party. But it showed that there was once principle in Nigeria’s politics.
It is time the issues of the 2023 elections were clearly defined. Beyond their ethnic or regional origins , aspirants and candidates should articulate their ideas to solve the problems.