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PoliThinks: A Soft Introduction to Political Ideology

Political activities, policies, and programs of the government are often seen and evaluated through the prism of political ideologies, an important set of tenets missing in the country's political set up.

How do you make choices in life if you do not have a frame of reference? Your response to events around you will most likely reflect your outlook to life. Political power is possessed for the purpose of leading people to a desired destination. In the process, materials and resources are managed in such a way as to be able to reach such destination. However, while two people may agree on a particular destination, they may disagree on how to reach such destination. For example, if the destination of a country is increased productivity, the disagreement about how to get to such destination may come from those who would want the government to play an active role in the economy, and those who would want the private sector to play the leading role in the quest for more productivity.

The two ways – more government and less government – of reaching the country’s desired destination brings us to the ideological divides that characterize politics. Before explaining the most prominent political ideologies, I would like to define what ideology really is. The ideology a person holds is basically how the person thinks about the world and their role in it. Thus, political parties, who have the mandate of the people to run the affairs of state, must be identified by how they see the world and their role in it. This ultimately defines their programs and policies while in power. A clear distinction of what outlook political parties have about the world will help potential voters decide who deserves his or her mandate. According to Robert Erikson and Kent Tedin in American Public Opinion Political ideology is a “set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved.”

According to American author and historian James Carroll, the functions of political ideology in a political party can be to explain how economic and political conditions are the way they are; evaluate social conditions using certain standards; orientate the holders of such ideologies about their identities and how they should relate to the wider world; and direct its followers to political programs they should take part in and how they should.

In the United States, political ideologies are usually defined largely with the left-wing or right-wing divide. Those who are right leaning often hold conservative ideologies, while those on the left often hold liberal/progressive ideologies. There are moderates who hold both liberal and conservative ideologies. Typically, those who hold liberal ideologies vote the Democratic party while those who hold conservative ideologies vote the Republican party. Political activities, policies, and programs of the government are often seen and evaluated through the prism of these ideologies. For example, the Supreme court in United States recently overturned the 49 years old Roe V Wade ruling that granted women the right to abortion. Those who celebrated the overturning of the ruling were largely conservatives, while those who bemoaned it were liberals. Issues in the United States such as healthcare provision, government spending, and so on, are often debated from these political ideological standpoints.

In Nigeria, it is often said that politics, political participation and political parties are not defined by any clear ideological leanings. According to Shola Omotola in Nigerian Parties and Political Ideologies: “despite all pretences to the contrary through their manifestos, as much as the superficial classifications as the “left” and “right”, “progressive” and “conservative”, Nigerian parties seem to be bereft of clear ideological commitments

Why are Nigerian political parties bereft of political ideologies? According to Omotola, it could be as a result of the shallow nature of the democratic roots of these political parties, and the dominance of money, ethnicity, and religion in political discourse in the country.

In the past, political parties had some semblance of ideological dispositions. For example, while the Action Group (AG) which was formed in 1951 was more progressive and welfarist in nature, the Northern People’s Congress (NPC), formed in 1949, was more conservative in nature. “Even at that, it may be difficult to delineate the very ideological orientation of these parties. They, however, share a common feature of ethno-regional ideology, seeking to capture and consolidate power in their respective spheres of influence/region” Omotola states.

As members of the various political parties in the country engage themselves towards the 2023 general elections, it will be noticed that discussions have not been borne out of clear-cut political ideologies, but ethnicity, religion and money. It is also observed that politicians change political parties at will. The lack of proper political ideology may be the reason there is usually so much tension surrounding elections in Nigeria – especially tensions of the ethno-religious type.

To reverse this trend, legislations may be needed to make those in political parties conduct themselves and their activities properly. Laws against cross-carpeting (especially for political office holders) may force politicians to think properly about joining political parties who share their values. Political parties in themselves will endear themselves – beyond ethno-religious sentiments – to potential converts through their philosophies about the role of the state in the socio-economic life of the people.

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