Ideological barrenness of political parties in Nigeria
The most important feature of a political party is the existence of an ideology that expresses its vision and mission with respect to the acquisition and utilization of political power for the purpose of governance. It also identifies the values, ethos, myths, symbols, etc, that drive the behavior of its members and mirror its institutional image.
In a democracy, the ultimate goal to which political parties should align is the public good. It is therefore expected that the political ideology of such parties reflects democratic principles, necessary for the delivery of such dividends. It is also expected that a political party appeals to the public to the extent that it serves their yearnings and expectations.
However, in some democratic systems, these expectations are rarely met, considering instances of political parties which, though retaining and enjoying the status of a political party, hardly exhibit its properties, especially the existence and practicing of a clear and distinctive political ideology.
The Nigerian political system falls short of these expectations as political analysts and opinionists decry such trends as: the crisscrossing or oscillation of the partisan landscape by politicians mainly for personal rather than ideological or public interests; the ease with which incumbents abruptly dump platforms upon which they rode to political power into the warm embrace of hitherto rival political parties while retaining their office, surprisingly escorted by the law; debates on public issues between political parties hardly navigating ideological lines but rather veering off at acrimonious tangents devoid of constructive outcomes; the paucity of reliable hard-line politicians who stick to ideologies, thereby exuding public confidence and predictability of intent and behaviour; the sheepish following of political juggernauts rather than ideologies, by party faithful and supporters; political ambitions often culminating in the seizure of political power but not extending most importantly to the delivery of public good; etc. It is this ideological barrenness in terms of practice that mainly informs the popular collective description of politicians and political parties in Nigeria as ‘same people’.
In this same political clime, a political ideology is often mistaken as a manifesto. While the former embodies a political party’s doctrine, the latter is a declaration of strategies for using political authority to allocate and manage resources in order to ultimately deliver public good. A manifesto should therefore mirror an underlying political ideology, both in principle and practice. The danger of a disconnect between both is that laws, policies, programmes, decisions, and actions are often a product of knee-jerk, personal or parochial considerations which are not ideological founded and hardly consistent with democratic fundamentals – little wonder such manifestoes do not sustainably deliver the dividends of democracy to the public.
Related to this disconnect is the challenge of political parties internalizing democratic principles such as equity, fairness, merit, constitutionalism, corporate governance, and the ultimacy of the public good. Whereas expectations from political parties by the public may be high, it will be foolhardy to bank on such an entity that does not significantly practice democratic principles internally to deliver good governance, for the obvious reason that one cannot give what he does not have.
It is therefore not farfetched that lack of internal democracy and operationalized ideologies in political parties leads to such crises as fractionalization of party leadership and membership, litigations by aggrieved members, indiscriminate defection, clash of personal or group interests within, etc, all of which make it difficult for political parties to focus on the ultimate goal of bringing about or ensuring good governance in the polity. While certain conflicts are constructive in achieving partisan and governance goals, it is important to equip the political party system with adequate elasticity such that it does not snap out of the goal area of good governance.
In order to fertilize the political party system in Nigeria for optimum productivity in terms of good governance, it is imperative to put in place controls that will among others, ensure corporate governance in political parties in line with democratic principles and ethics; the alignment of political ideologies to relevant constitutional laws and policies; the alignment of party operations and activities to its ideology; and the ethical conduct of individuals and groups in the system. In achieving this, the strengthening and enforcement of internal and external laws and policies governing political parties in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. Key also is the continuous political socialization of all stakeholders in the political system for adequate understanding and application of the underlying philosophy of political parties for achieving good governance.
The journey of a political party is not one that people of different destinations embark on. To be mutually effective, members must have a shared vision, mission, and values that constitute their political ideology. It may be argued that most political parties have an ideology by virtue of documentation. Yet, an ideology that is not insubstantial force is as good as an idle document or testament. Ideologies provide the basis for a roadmap to good governance and therefore must be put to adequate use at all times for guidance in taking political actions and decisions and evaluating them.
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