Since the All Progressives Congress came into being, some critics and commentators have rung the death knell of ideology. In their renditions, the PDP was supposed to be the conservative party, swarming with cranks and vandals. The other parties like the ACN, ANPP and CPC descended, in varying degrees of DNA, from Karl Marx and Lenin.
This oversimplification came from the news stories of the strange bedfellows of the APC. How could the ACN votaries appear on television with their sworn enemies? Why for instance, would an Amaechi cohabit with an Obasanjo who once proclaimed his stake in the Rivers State governor ambition as being afflicted with K-leg? They also asked: Why, too, would an Asiwaju Tinubu, who shed sweat and career for June 12, romance an IBB who decapitated the best election ever? The same man capped it all with a clear-eyed boast that he was the evil genius. What is Ali Modu Sheriff looking for among progressives, and should the so-called child lover ex-governor roost with the governor of example, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN)?
The illusion derives from a lack of understanding of the evolution of ideology in Nigeria, especially among our political parties. They have a lineal rather than dynamic view of the growth of ideology. We forget that the only parties that have shown ideological fervour were Aminu Kano’s Northern Elements Progressive Union and Awolowo’s Action Group, and both morphed into PRP and UPN in the Second Republic. While the PRP dueled as NEPU reincarnate in the Second Republic, Awolowo had already set the stage in the First Republic as the inaugural premier of the Western Region. He initiated free education and free health care, the pilot schemes in the country, and followed up with integrated rural development and a vast array of infrastructure work. He also embedded the cooperative free enterprise spirit highlighted with the towering heft of the Cocoa House. His doing became the envy of the other regions, if they could not replicate the standard with the discipline and efficiency. That was because Awo had a clear sense of his ideological belief that tilted towards what philosophers call Fabian socialism, which sneers at doctrinaire devotion to cant and canons. Yet, it did not happen like lightning. Even his free education idea, taken for granted today, met brick walls of the soldiers of the past.
In the Second Republic, it was easy to differentiate the UPN from other parties, including the PRP, since the Kano party did not have the discipline that UPN states evinced in executing their goals. Awo had by his singular acts entrenched ideological divide in the country. But it was not because the other parties had ideology in defined sense. Politics was about winning elections and providing leadership based on individual visions rather than a coordinated principle of a group. That was why in the Second Republic, the NPN and Zik’s NPP had little differences. Even the GNPPP also had no special love of ideas.
What we had was Awo with his devotion to his Fabian dreams versus others who merely followed a vague path to progress known for an ill-digested mélange of laissez-faire and feudal predilections. That gave intellectuals the misguided conclusion that any party that did not chime in with Awo was conservative. But Nigerian conservatism propagated itself by a contrast to Awo. They did not want free education, free health care or forays into ambitious infrastructural platforms.
This thinking encouraged IBB to bifurcate the party system with the SDP and NRC. Even then, it became clear that a big mistake had happened. The SDP, while telegraphing its message as the party of the left, threw up men who clearly would not be in the same bed with Awolowo. Big men replaced big ideas as champions of party principles. The result? No ideology.
What we have seen in this republic is that Awo has so overwhelmed our sense of what should happen that what is leftist is difficult to define. Awo may have gone into premature oblivion if the AD did not emerge to continue his work. But it all gained traction in Lagos State, the state of example. All states now want to replicate the example. So, it is not only in the APC states we have free education or free health. What it means is that we are growing ideologically without knowing it.
Yet it can be confusing. Shall we say free health is progressive or free education? Or infrastructural development as progressive or cooperative ideas for subaltern women and the poor? If that is the case, the progressives would say the conservatives have stolen their ideas. Or does it mean that the progressives are winning many hearts and some who are in the PDP are also in some ways progressives at heart? Or is it conservative opportunism?
Governor Amaechi had progressive virtues when he was winning elections against the ACN, and all acknowledged his credentials. In the same way, we can say Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan’s free maternal, child and aged medical care are as progressive as any other. Or can we not say that Godswill Akpabio is a progressive as his free education has virtually eliminated the house boy syndrome and his vast infrastructure work in Akwa Ibom State.
So when the leaders of the APC embraced former foes, it is because ideological divides are getting blurred. What Asiwaju Tinubu and his APC coalition seem to want is a new platform first that would wax with time to an ideological rampart. Whether this succeeds, only time shall tell.
So politics should not always be about closing borders to foes especially in an ideologically inchoate society. In the advanced societies, leaders have shown the ability to bury the hatchet. President Barack Obama’s greatest foe was not his Republican opponent, but Hilary Clinton. Yet, when he won the nomination, he enlisted her support and she became his secretary of state, and a good one at that. President Obama took a cue from his role model Abraham Lincoln, who populated his cabinet with his rivals. In her book, A Team of Rivals, Doris Kearn Goodwin chronicles how Abe Lincoln coalesced the talents of three great foes who wanted his job. They were Edward Bates, who became his attorney general; Salmon P. Chase who became the secretary of treasury; and William H. Seward whom he appointed his secretary of state. Lincoln said he did not want to “waste precious time on recrimination about the past.”
Winston Churchill’s greatest foe was Lord Halifax, and even King George did not want him to be Prime Minister. But the British last lion embraced all and made Halifax his envoy to the United States during the Second World War. The ANC might have broken into smithereens of parties if Mandela ossified his communist credentials as civil war loomed. Ronald Reagan began as a Democrat and ended as a Republican. Obj has never veered left in his life. That will be the miracle of the century. IBB has shown some thawing. For instance, he now accepts state police. Buhari, who hated democracy and free press, nominally accepts these.
Politics is not for idealists. Such men are like American David Henry Thoreau who said joiners are like pigs who come together in a sty to feel warm.
The challenge of the APC is real. We must not remain a country of the ideologically fluid. Conservatives need to define their views in clear terms even as Awo has helped define the progressive agenda. APC and PDP have conservatives who have liberal tendencies and vice versa. But it does not have to be cut and dry. We have social conservatives who are economic liberals and vice versa. Such diversities vitalise and re-pollinate parties and help them redefine their world views as things change. After all, what we call conservative today used to be the Democrats and Lincoln who freed slaves was a Republican. What we need are not harlots but thinking men and women of ideas. It calls not for rigidity but engagement. Countries, parties and individuals evolve. But they should do so credibly.
The parties should be less about strange bed fellows but unions on the make. They should winnow the devotees from the opportunists. That is the challenge before our parties. The formation of the APC is an opportunity to revolutionise opposition but also the party system. Oscar Wilde wrote that “the only duty we owe history is to rewrite it.” Here is an opportunity.