The need for ide­ol­ogy-based pol­i­tics

Weekly Trust - - Weekend Magazine - with MD Aminu,

Elec­tion­eer­ing cam­paigns play a cen­tral role in all mul­ti­party democ­ra­cies. Cam­paigns are im­por­tant in bring­ing out the ide­o­log­i­cal po­si­tions of politi­cians run­ning for dif­fer­ent of­fices in the land. In the 1976 Carter-Ford tele­vised de­bates in the United States, for in­stance, it was found that de­bates pro­duced an in­creased po­lit­i­cal aware­ness in the minds of the elec­torate be­fore the elec­tions were con­ducted. Such de­bates al­low ci­ti­zens to have a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of both the per­son­al­i­ties and the is­sues in­volved.

On the per­son­al­ity level, the elec­torate can judge can­di­date per­for­mance, com­pe­tence and at­tributes; while on the level of is­sues, the elec­torate can as­sess how well as­pir­ing lead­ers un­der­stand con­tem­po­rary is­sues and poli­cies bor­der­ing on present­day chal­lenges. Although po­lit­i­cal de­bates could have ex­isted for a very long time, nonethe­less, the first tele­vised pre-elec­tion de­bate was in­sti­tuted by the Nixon-Kennedy cam­paigns of 1960 in the United States, and this was since adopted by al­most all Western democ­ra­cies. One thing is cer­tain-the pres­ence of the mass me­dia in the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem makes it the most re­li­able method by which ver­bal be­hav­iour of can­di­dates are doc­u­mented so that their deeds in of­fice can be used to eas­ily hold them to ac­count.

Since the “man­date the­ory” of mul­ti­party democ­ra­cies hinges on the idea that the elec­torate choose po­lit­i­cal par­ties based on al­ter­na­tives, the de­mand on if prom­ises are ful­filled by politi­cians is key in eval­u­at­ing the value of the demo­cratic process. This calls for the need to elect the right peo­ple for the right pub­lic of­fices, all the time. There are sev­eral rea­sons for which a can­di­date can be elected to po­lit­i­cal of­fice, and since lead­er­ship re­quires mak­ing the most dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions, it can­not be de­nied that mod­ern democ­ra­cies can only func­tion ef­fec­tively if per­sons man­ag­ing the high­est of­fices in the land have the ca­pac­ity for crit­i­cal thought to en­able them to take the most dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions on gov­er­nance.

In cor­re­lat­ing the ca­pac­ity for ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship vis-àvis the abil­ity to make dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions, Ger­man gen­eral, Kurt von Ham­mer­stein-Equord, was at­trib­uted with the fol­low­ing words: “I di­vide my of­fi­cers into four groups. There are clever, dili­gent, stupid, and lazy of­fi­cers. Usu­ally two char­ac­ter­is­tics are com­bined. Some are clever and dili­gent-their place is the Gen­eral Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy-they make up 90 per­cent of ev­ery army and are suited to rou­tine du­ties. Any­one who is both clever and lazy is qual­i­fied for the high­est lead­er­ship du­ties, be­cause he pos­sesses the in­tel­lec­tual clar­ity and the com­po­sure nec­es­sary for dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions. One must beware of any­one who is stupid and dili­gent-he must not be en­trusted with any re­spon­si­bil­ity be­cause he will al­ways cause only mis­chief.”

Nige­ria could be a per­fect ex­am­ple that ex­plains the in­abil­ity of a peo­ple to forge ahead due to the ab­sence of clever lead­er­ship en­dur­ing for sev­eral decades. In a re­cently tele­vised press brief­ing, Nigerian politi­cian, Dr. Datti Baba-Ahmed, de­scribed Nige­ria’s Pres­i­dent Muham­madu Buhari’s pop­u­lar­ity as a po­lit­i­cal ac­cep­tance that was built and sus­tained not based on mean­ing­ful ideas but on “stark il­lit­er­acy” and “out­right mad­ness.” While Baba-Ahmed’s words may not be po­lit­i­cally right as it could be too dif­fi­cult to en­dure for those who care to be ap­pre­hended by it, per­haps due to nar­row lo­cal con­cerns; his words, nonethe­less, re­lates per­fectly to the more gen­eral and wider is­sues defin­ing the sit­u­a­tion Nige­ria is cur­rently fac­ing. The main mes­sage of Baba-Ahmed’s the­sis is on the eeri­ness of vot­ing a per­son into the high­est of­fice in the land not based on his com­pe­tence driven by ex­cel­lent in­tel­lec­tual clar­ity, but on a sup­posed per­sonal in­tegrity.

Even though the per­sonal in­tegrity of a leader is im­por­tant, al­lo­cat­ing ab­so­lute power to a per­son based on that at­tribute alone is prob­lem­atic, and it could only be es­sen­tial if that in­tegrity is com­ple­mented by a thor­ough and me­thod­i­cal un­der­stand­ing of the teething trou­bles within the Nigerian dis­tinct polity. For Nige­ria to work for all Nige­ri­ans, it is im­por­tant to con­struct mech­a­nisms to check the in­tel­li­gence of our lead­ers in the sense of how well they un­der­stand the cur­rent de­vel­op­ments and the present and fu­ture chal­lenges, be­fore we give them our votes. In any event, it should be stressed that the per­sonal in­tegrity of a leader should only be sig­nif­i­cant as a com­ple­men­tary item for the leader’s abil­ity to cause the de­sired out­come through pro­duc­tive use of re­sources.

It should be stated that even in fore­most democ­ra­cies such as the United States, the ex­tent of ide­o­log­i­cal aware­ness is de­bated to es­tab­lish if the “ide­ol­ogy glass” (to lend the coinage of Columbia Uni­ver­sity pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal science, Kath­leen Knight) is half full or half empty. Hav­ing stud­ied the 1980 pres­i­den­tial votes in the United States within what she termed the “lev­els of con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion”, Knight con­cluded that a sub­stan­tial im­pact on a can­di­date choice is cre­ated when ide­o­log­i­cal sen­ti­ment is sup­ported by a so­phis­ti­ca­tion enough to merit cat­e­go­riza­tion as an “ideologue.” This doc­tri­naire sup­port of a po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy for na­tion build­ing in the con­tem­po­rary world is miss­ing in the Nigerian polity. The miss­ing ide­ol­ogy has led to the ig­nor­ing of the nor­ma­tive foun­da­tions of demo­cratic man­dates; thus, the de­mand that can­di­dates for po­lit­i­cal of­fices are com­pe­tent or not does not even arise in ma­jor par­ty­po­lit­i­cal dis­courses.

Since there are no set cri­te­ria (such as the of­fi­cial com­ple­tion of a course or the con­fer­ring of a ti­tle by known prac­ti­tion­ers as we have it in our dif­fer­ent fields of spe­cial­iza­tion) as re­quire­ments to be met for hold­ing po­lit­i­cal of­fices, the Nigerian vot­ers seem to be very com­fort­able with peo­ple of least com­pe­tence amongst them to emerge as their lead­ers. But in a demo­cratic set­ting, the cri­te­ria for of­fice is not made def­i­nite so that the vot­ers can think; so that they can re­al­ize that they are not lim­ited by a pre­de­ter­mined bound­ary for a rea­son to al­low them to elect the best amongst them­selves; to have lead­ers who can for­mu­late the best an­swers to their prob­lems. The cur­rent re­al­ity of the Nigerian polity pre­vents any at­tempt to at­tain a fairer, more egal­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety.

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