Zaid O Olanrewaju
Zaid O. Olanrewaju

The hidden difference

NEWS DIGEST–The plethora of political parties in Nigeria leaves you to wonder the way forward, as you ponder the ideological difference between party A and party B in Nigeria.
Nevertheless, I am looking for the difference in the land from the accused to the accuser. I remember when I was young in Lagos, Nigeria, when the shout of UPN, “up Awo”, or NPN, “one nation”, used to rend the air, depending on what part of the city you found yourself. As young kids, we listened to our older ones singing the popular rhyme “Awolowo lo leko ofe, oju ti Shagari”, which translates into English as “Awolowo brings free education and shame to Shagari”.
Along the line came the era of the Social Democratic Party, SDP, and National Republican Convention, NRC, as part of a two political party system thrust upon the nation by Professor Humphrey Nwosu, during the Babangida era. At that time, it was assumed that the SDP was made up of progressives and the NRC was a haven for conservatives.
My first conscious involvement in politics of Nigeria was during the Gen. Abacha era politics of Democratic Party of Nigeria, DPN, United Nigeria Congress Party, UNCP, National Democratic Coalition NADECO, and National Centre Party of Nigeria, NCPN. I cut my teeth in the rough field of grassroots politics at mini ward level, where one gets to meet the average Nigerian on the street.
These included everyday traders, farmers, civil servants and job seekers. They are a group of people who never rely on news from the media, but by information rallied down the party structure chain. In most cases, the information these people receive are fabricated stories often spiced up or toned down to suit the so-called political leader.
Rolling forward in time, we got the Fourth Republic, a gift from another General, Abdul Salaam Abubakar . It is on record that this is the most fanciful and most structured political era in the nation’s history; we must have witnessed the creation, transformation and emergence of nothing less than 30 political parties. The political parties vary widely in their names and composition: The Alliance for Democracy, AD, a metamorphosis of the NADECO, a broken-off faction of which became the Action Congress of Nigeria, ACN; The People’s Progressive Party, PDP, made up of stalwarts of the G-34 group (Both the PDP and ACN have laid claim on the Labour Party, LP, as their pseudo party); The National Conscience Party of late Gani Fawehinmi; the Chief Ojukwu-led All Progressive Grand Alliance to mention a few.
My journeys around the world in the last decade have made me realise and appreciate the oddity and uniqueness of the Nigerian political landscape, especially my time in and travels around India, where there is a multi-party system, albeit with a predominance of small regional party clusters. I vividly remember the time we spent over meals in Mughal Darbar, Jayanagar in Bangalore discussing and debating the political structures of our different countries. We had students from India, Ivory Coast, Sudan and I from Nigeria. There is a group of parties in India called State parties, whose only concern was for the state where they were registered, and the six national parties that cut across a minimum of three states of the vast country, as stipulated by the Election Commission of India. The major national parties were Sonia Ghandi’s India National Congress INC, the BJP, Bharatiya Janata Party, the CPI, Communist Party of India, and CPI (Communist Party of India) Marxist.
In the United Kingdom where I reside, three parties out of the fourteen dominate with three other fringe parties, namely the Conservative and Unionist Party, Liberal Democrats and Labour Party making up the major parties, whereas the fringe parties include the Scottish National Party, the UK Independence Party and the Green Party of England and Wales.
The political structure in Luxembourg, one of my main holiday destinations, reflects the party structure in Europe where there are major strong political parties and numerous fairly strong political parties. This makes it nearly impossible for any party to rule without coalition, just like in India. In Luxembourg, there are the Alternative Democratic Reform Party, which is nationalist and conservative in operation, the Christian Social People’s Party which is a Christian party, the Democratic Party which is a liberal democratic group, the Greens that practice green politics, the outright Left party who are democratic with socialist ideology and the Luxembourg Socialist Workers Party, who also have a socialist agenda.
The main reasoning for this litany is the fact that one thing is common to all political parties in all the nations I have cited above, with the exemption of Nigeria: all other democracies are comprised of political parties which are founded on clear and identifiable principles or ideologies. M.K.O Abiola said “when the head of a fish is rotten, then the whole fish becomes rotten”. Nigeria’s present political system has no ideological foundation. Very few participants in the politics of the nation have a clear basis for seeking elective post other than the desire to hold public post or, in most instances, to seek their own share of the national cake using a Nigerian parlance.
This is a reversal to the popular saying by JF Kennedy’s headmaster ‘ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country’. Every Nigerian, be it Ojo, Abba, Orji, Shola, Umar, is interested in how they can profit from public office or post, hence the popular saying “it’s our time”. You will find a politician changing political party numerous times just to have his time. He will redraft his speech again and again to suit the sentiments of the day. This is not uncommon to every Nigerian but it is more visible and glaring with politicians. Our journalists, civil servants, unionists and artists are all involved in this national disgrace.
In the United Kingdom, Conservatives are known for centre right ideology, the Lib Dems are synonymous with their radical and social progressive stand, and the Labour Party are a big centre left social democratic party –a splinter faction of the Lib Dems that over time became a power house. Parties like the SNP are known to be social democrats who favour Scottish Independence, unlike the Green party that are a green republican party. Politically you are known to be a blue, red or yellow, which distinguishes the predominant colour of your party.
Likewise in India the regional parties have agendas focused to and modelled for their own region or state while the national parties have defined focus. The Communist Party of India is a far left political party from which the Communist Party of India (Marxist) traces its 1964 origin. The Bharatiya Janata Party, BJP, is officially known in philosophy and ideology to represent integral humanism based on Hindu nationalism and conservatism with a right lean, while the Indian National Congress Party is recognised for its centre left wing liberal philosophy.
The political party of the day in a nation drives the internal and international agenda of a nation , manages, explores, plans and makes decisions about its resources. In the case where the politics of a nation lacks an identifiable philosophy, things fall apart and the centre stops holding. The lack of political ideology in Nigerian politics has become more glaring in the current fourth republic, which is a sad development. It now a common sight to see Mr Z in AD today, PDP tomorrow, ACN day after tomorrow and back in PDP on Sunday. Once you fail to win on a ticket, you move to the next party where there is a chance. This is the genesis of my write up: it arose from a discussion with friends at famous Nigerian bar in Birmingham, UK. A number of my fellow beer parlour analysts and politicians on that day were quite happy and filled with euphoria at the formation of the new party in Nigeria called APC.
I asked for the philosophy and ideology of the new party, but unfortunately no one could provide an answer to my question apart from the fact that it would wrestle power from the ruling PDP. Ask any Nigerian from the South West what the difference between the PDP and ACN is, and now they will sigh at the shout of fresh air. Politically, every party in Nigeria lacks identity unlike the past republic when people like Awolowo and Ojukwu were known for their outright regional parties.
To think that there will be any change in Nigeria without a change in political structure is far from reality. There is a need for party affiliation to be based ideology, belief and philosophy, until this is possible, there will be no credible and reliable option for Nigerians. This is the only condition that will make political parties to have a manifesto. I apportion no fault to any group of the population, but a general blame to every Nigerian. Until we make our political alignment based on ideology, believe and philosophy rather than personal gain, I say let’s keep going around in circles.