In April of this year, I was a guest on a youth political radio show where the topic of debate was if there were enough opportunities for young people to participate in Nigeria’s political process. It was just a few weeks after the ruling Peoples’ Democratic Party had held its national convention where it elected its national officers, including a 60-year old man as the National Youth Leader. Predictably, that singular action of the party was still a raging topic at that time and the butt of endless jokes. Predictably too, I brought it up as evidence of the fact that young people aged 35 and below, were not involved in the political process of our country.
My fellow guest on the show happened to be a local youth leader of the PDP and I watched in pain at how he struggled to defend his party’s election of a 60-year old at its National Youth Leader. He was short of a good defence for his party’s action and after plenty mumbling, he gave examples of other young PDP members in government as his evidence that there were opportunities for young people.
A few days ago, I was following a debate on Twitter between a member of the PDP, on one side, and a few others, on the other side, on whether there is any justification in the Federal Government’s allocation of N2.2bn to build a Presidential Banquet Hall on top of allocating N1bn to feed the families of the President and the Vice President. The PDP member gave reasons, which in my opinion and those of many others did not hold water: that the banquet hall construction would create jobs, that it will boost the building construction industry, that Nigeria deserved a more befitting Presidential Banquet Hall and this was it, etc.
In both of these situations, one common fact I noticed was that deep down, it seemed that these party members were not in full support of the actions of their party and the government it has formed. However, they dare not say that out publicly lest they be tagged rogues and accused of causing party divisions.
This is one of the biggest problems in Nigerian political parties, and not restricted to the PDP alone, that they do not tolerate internal criticism and divergence of opinions in their fold. How many ACN members have come out to criticize the fact that their party is fast becoming a one-party or about the preference of imposing candidates rather than have them go through a primary? How many CPC members have voiced out their disapproval with the way the founder of the party insisted on his preferred governorship candidates last year despite their losing at the primaries, an action which caused the party at least four governorship seats?
Such thinking among the parties that all members must follow the same course and must agree with whatever decisions their party takes is symptomatic of dictatorship. There is no way a group of people will always agree with every decision taken by its leadership, most especially in groups as large as political parties. Hence, members must feel free to be able to voice out their criticisms without the fear of victimization or harassment.
But a deeper cause of this lack of space for divergence of opinions is because these parties lack an ideology of any sort. The existence of an ideology for an organization provides a framework upon which ideas are built. Hence, all criticism of party and government policies come are within this framework.
For example, in the aftermath of the 2012 US elections, many prominent Republicans have been questioning the major policies of the party such as their stance on tax reform, same-sex marriage, immigration, etc. this is because they see this as one of the major reasons their party not only lost the party, but might lose subsequent ones unless there is a rethink of their policies.
However, in Nigeria, due to the lack of an ideology, our politics is entirely dependent on personalities, egos and sentiments such as those of religion, ethnicity and place of origin. Hence, any criticism of the party or a government by a member is seen by the establishment as a threat. The critic is either reined in or chased out of the party. This tactic has effectively muzzled the party members to never criticize in public.
It has practically become a commandment: “Thou Shalt Not Criticize Thy Party.”
Unless political parties learn to allow internal debate and criticism, there is no way that the Nigerian democracy and political process as a whole.
Even beyond that, there should be a search for ideology upon which these parties can advocate how they can make a better life for Nigerians, economically and socially.
After all, politics is meant to be a debate about ideas. Elections are merely to prove whose idea is most acceptable.