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Politics and Ideology 101

Published by The Nation on Sun, 02 Aug 2020


Baba Lekki fields questions at Okons investitureBy Tatalo AlamuThere can be no politics without an ideology however rudimentary or elementary. Ideology, or a coherent set of ideas, drives politics even in its most simplified form. In Politics and Ideology class, you are taught that even the denial of ideology is an ideological stance often masking collusion and complicity with the status quo.The bane of contemporary politics in Nigeria is its lack of ideological clarity. Ordinarily, politics should be driven by ideas and ideals. In the absence of these clear cut ideas and ideals, the contest for political supremacy becomes a special power project and the parties themselves mere platforms for capturing power.There is an ideological meltdown in our contemporary politics. There is now little or nothing remaining to distinguish between the two major parties. They are peopled by the same type of people and the same worldview .One appears to be what the Germans call the doppleganger of the other and its great mirror-image. But in the politics of mirrors, even the mirror itself can be tampered with.This observation is not made in condemnation but in fidelity to truth and objectivity. Only by the most generous leap of faith can we describe our major parties as authentic vehicles for genuine national aspirations. As a matter of fact as things stand, they have become veritable obstacles to the development of a pan-Nigerian consciousness.However when you constantly short change others, you are likely to end up short changing yourself. In the absence of issue-driven politics, the populace lapse into apathy, frustration and indignation which fuel communal violence, criminality and a widespread hostility to politics and politicians.As we can see, the attenuation of developmental ideology in politics has severe consequences. First it leads to a devaluation of politics itself as the prime vehicle for ordering the goals of society and shaping the history of humanity.Second, it opens the back door to some lower forms of human existence by encouraging ethnic exclusivity or tribal exceptionalism, primitive bonding and a relapse to the predatory world of the hunter-gatherer. In the absence of social and political justice and the institutional framework undergirding it, human beings tend to retreat to the safety of primordial identities and clan politics.There are many African countries, far more blessed with visionary leadership, that have left behind them this jungle of prehistoric existence. Leopold Senghor of Senegal was a minority Christian in a predominantly Muslim country. But through heroic and sterling leadership, he was able to forge an authentic country from disparate ethnic entities.When the former president of Senegal after two-terms of fourteen years attempted another term in office, the entire country rose as one single unified voice to send him packing. Nothing has been heard from the deluded old man ever since. The political graveyard is indeed filled with the bones of indispensable men, as Charles de Gaulle famously observed.Sometimes it is the heroic struggle of the people themselves that creates a country out of an amorphous mass. As the name implies, South Africa was never conceived or created as a country with a unified identity. It was the epic struggle of the indigenous people against Dutch settlers and of the native people and the Dutch settlers against British colonists with an Indian subaltern class thrown in which created a rainbow country.A country is defined in dynamic action rather than by political conception or colonial fiat. Having settled the question of authentic nationhood, the political elites, rather than being embroiled in ethnic gaming and separatist sabre-rattling, can then devote their time and attention to social justice and the amelioration of the plight of the desperate populace. This is either through radical intervention or conservative tiptoeing.Watching Brazils former president, Luiz Lula da Silva, a.k.a Lula, field question on global television this past week is quite revealing of the intra-elite tensions and unresolved conflicts that can beset a country with a history of slavery and colonization. With its vast multi-racial underclass, its teeming mass of former Black slaves, its impoverished indigenous populace and its privileged and pampered white settler class, Brazil is a deeply divided country.Lulas main regret was that he could not secure another term in office to finish what he started before the conservative faction of the political elite took their country back. In what is regarded as a modern miracle of social engineering, the former shoe-maker and dedicated socialist lifted more than forty million of his compatriots from the trough of poverty. The only other feat to rival this in modern times is the relentless poverty alleviation scheme of Chinese state capitalism.But what is interesting and should serve as a lesson to the developing world is the fact that rather than being bitter about his personal fate or bemoaning the ouster of his ruling party Lula was acutely aware of the historic bifurcation of the political consciousness of the Brazilian elite which predisposes them to oscillate between rearguard conservative politics and transformative radicalism.This same split consciousness or ideological polarization is evident among the elites of most Latin American countries, particularly in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Colombia where periods of conservative visioning are usually followed by interludes of visionary radicalism only for the people to tire of breakneck transformation.The historical evolution of modern western societies is also marked by this oscillating swing between socialist transformation and liberal conservatism. Modern Britain has swung between Labours socialist engineering and the surefooted conservatism of the Tory party. The same thing can be said of USA, France, Germany, Spain and post-Garibaldi Italy.It is this ideological oscillation or what Karl Polanyi has described as the Double Movement that has characterized political developments in liberal democracies since the Second World War. It is a dialectical tug of war in which forces for the marketization of the economy find their vision stoutly opposed by those who seek to rein in the market forces in order to protect the populace against the vagaries of the market.Such is the elite cohesion and shared assumptions about the destiny of the nation in these countries that whatever their fundamental disagreements about how to take the country to the next level, they do not go about undermining the supremacy of the state or disrupting the harmony of the society.Indeed, opposition parties tend to build on the achievements of their rivals rather than seek to destroy them. No Tory government would have attempted to dismantle the great Welfarist system put in place by the post-War Labour government, just as it would have been unthinkable for the succeeding Republican Party to undo Lyndon Baines Johnsons Great Society Project.Africaand Nigeriasproblems would have greatly diminished if its post-colonial politics were to be structured around ideological contestation rather than primordial identity politics where ethnic grandstanding is the order of the day. But we are dealing with deeply fractured societies in which the political elites are bitterly polarized across ethnic, religious and cultural divides.These are nations yet to coalesce around an existential ideal and with political elites so fractious that getting them to agree on anything is a virtually impossible task. In such circumstances much depends on rigorous pacting before some substantial elite consensus about power-sharing can be arrived at.This is what is known in other climes as consociational politics, an attempt to bridge ethnic, religious and geopolitical cleavages in order to arrive at an acceptable and equitable power-sharing formula. Without this, the nation is permanently on tenterhooks with strident calls for its dissolution by irate stakeholders who see no further sense or reason in prolonging its misery.Nigerias two post-military democratic experimentations have been marked by sustained negotiations among the political elites. The first one lasted four years between 1979 and 1983 while the second has lasted twenty one years. Consequent upon the tragic annulment of the presidential election of June 12, 1993, the attempt by the military to broker peace and cobble together a winning coalition led to the successful birthing of the PDP government which ruled for sixteen years.In 2015 this dominant coagulation of hegemonic forces supervised and nurtured by the old military oligarchy came spectacularly unstuck against more potent political forces spearheaded by the man who had maintained a messianic grip on the north and the emergent political major domo of the volatile and combustible western region. It was the first time in the post-independence history of the nation that an opposition group had trumped the hegemonic bloc at its own game.Six years after and five years into governance, the coalition is still holding, but the ideological vacuum that first surfaced after the coalitions greatest triumph has now returned to haunt it. Pundits have always predicted that this was the surest route to political paralysis among contending possibilities.It is against this backdrop of relentless intrigues and cloak and dagger politics that the uproar generated by Mallam Mamman Dauras recent call for the abrogation of the zoning formula and what is known as turn by turn presidency should be situated.In a long career spanning bureaucracy, journalism, business and politics, the Daura-born man of timber and calibre has managed to insinuate himself into the crevices of national political consciousness as an influential member of a shadowy cabal of power brokers. But more important in this dispensation, the octogenarian older relation of the president has emerged as the nations first nephew whose word is almost law.No one is sure whether this is some elaborate bluff and bluster, a testy kite-flying , a red herring thrown into the mix or even an explosive combination of all three. The politically weak and strategically obtuse for whom the message is meant are already shouting foul from the rooftop while others with political nous and cujones are maintaining a discreet and tactical silence, even as they quietly hedge their bet.On the face of it, Mallam Daura may be heroically pitching for true merit and meritocracy against the mediocrity and mendacity of zoning which has critically impaired the nations development. But coming at a point when the north is about to exhaust the maximum two terms allocated to it under the zoning formula, it could also be a rearguard affirmation and revalidation of primordial identity politics and the most scandalous instance of nepotistic governance it has birthed in the post-independence history of Nigeria.The most objective way of viewing this is to subject Mallam Mamman Daura and the tendency he represents to searching historical scrutiny. First, while playing politics with appointments and preferment, they have held formal politics and party-growing and nurturing in utter contempt. What is important is to milk the party cow without caring a hoot whether the cow survives the ordeal.Second, and in fairness to them, they have never been apostles and advocates of consociational politics and elite pacting in a badly fissured polity. In 2003 against the run of play and in flagrant disregard of Obasanjos right of first refusal, they pushed the Daura-born general into the ring against his old commander in chief with disastrous results.They repeated the same thing in 2007 and 2011 against the mood of the nation. Having exhausted their national stock of goodwill, one will not be surprised if they try their luck again against the pan-Nigerian commonwealth come 2023. Left with only the ideology of ethnic supremacy, with their man gradually fading and their talisman obviously waning, they will find themselves pitted against the spirit of the nation they have abjured and desecrated for so long.Baba Lekki fields questions at Okons investitureTs we were crawling into bed, the full investiture of Okon Anthony Okon as the Babajiro of Yanmuyanmu took place at a colourful ceremony at Orile Yanmuyanmu on the ancient route to the old capital of Oyo Empire. Dressed in traditional regalia and adorned with the ancient Akoko leaf, the impossible boy was quite a sight to behold. An elated and tipsy Okon took a look at snooper and yelled: Oga, se you sabi say I don become your oga now'An embarrassed and crestfallen snooper quickly disappeared into the crowd before the mad boy could compel his master to pay him traditional homage. God forbid this desecration and abomination. Rather than prostrating for Okon, snooper would be willing to join his ancestors. If this was what things have turned into, the country has truly gone to the dogs.As snooper was ruminating in humiliation, Okon suddenly mounted the rostrum to give his acceptance speech. After thanking his childhood crony, the Oniyanmu for the honour, Okon suddenly launched into a tirade against leading traditional rulers in the country for selling their souls for a mess of pottage. Their palaces, the mad boy thundered, will be converted to museums of atrocity for future generations to behold.By this time, the inevitable Baba Lekki had miraculously surfaced by Okons side, heckling the hecklers and cheering Okon on in his social abomination. He was impressive in his native Kembe and traditional Abetiaja cap. As the stale palm wine and prohibited weeds burgled his brains, he became more and more offensive and abusive of authority. The crazy old man began singing in drunken revelry.A moye yi jeIwonna, iwonpapa iwonnaA moye yi jeIwonna iwonpapa iwonnaAt this point, two heedless and feckless reporters from a local newspaper approached the old man.How do you see todays investiture sir' they asked him.I dont see nothing. This is bourgeois jiggery-pokery laced with feudal phantasmagoria, the old man shot back in perfect English.What' the two chaps exclaimed almost at the same time. Thinking that they had a perfect copy, they quickly turned the argument into politics.Sir, the senate has just announced a ten per-cent cut in salary, one of them noted warily.I see. What is their cut'the old man shot back again.I said ten per-cent sir, noted the reporter.No, no, no! It doesnt work like that. Mr Reporter, you are a fool. The question is how much cut the crooks took before agreeing to a cut in salary. They must put all the figures on the table, otherwise they are just using Abus money to entertain Abu, the old man snarled with much vitriol as he began to crawl away. By the way, I dont want to see myself in your bourgeois rag sheet, you hear' he screamed at the boys.(First published in May, 2009.}
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