A few weeks ago, President Muhammadu Buhari made the following observation in Owerri, Imo state: “In terms of time and resources, this administration has done extremely well. I have to say it because those who are supposed to say are not saying it. I don’t know why.”
Incidentally, Buhari was in Owerri to commission some projects executed by the government of Governor Hope Uzodinma of Imo State. Remarkably, the President referred to, among other things, the infrastructural projects of his administration such as roads, bridges and railways. The Second Niger Bridge was conspicuous in the list of projects credited to the Buhari administration on that occasion in the southeast. Buhari didn’t mention the names of “those who are supposed to say” something about his administration’s programmes. Apart from the ministers who are the officers in charge of executing the programmes, it should be the business of Buhari’s party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), to explain and defend the implementation of the programmes.
What Buhari said in Owerri is a consequence of the typical dissonance between the party and the candidate during campaigns on the formulation and implementation of policies and programmes. Given a synchrony of purpose between the administration and the party in power, there should be no such expression of regret by a president.
It is, however, not surprising that the President made the statement. From its inception, the APC has not been held together by any ideological glue. The party seems to exist for virtually electoral purpose. Take a sample. Not a few leaders of the party initially derided the idea of the social investment which has turned out to be a signature policy of the Buhari administration. Some dismissed it as “unproductive” and that it could engender laziness. For some APC elements, the programme was reminiscent of “the poverty alleviation” programme in which billions of naira were sunk with no significant impact during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The Buhari social investment programme has not been sufficiently articulated. Hence, critics see it as an opaque policy. Yet for a party that should be socio-democratic in orientation, an efficiently run social investment should be a prominent feature of its policy agenda.
The articulation of the manifestoes of a presidential or gubernatorial candidate could be more effective during campaigns if the programmes were owned by the political party and not just the candidate. Party leaders and members should be educated on the basic ideas underlying the policies and programmes being sold to the electorate. There should be clarity of purpose on the basic idea. In fact, it is this basic idea that is the common thing that party leaders ought to share in giving direction to their organisation as it seeks power.
However the relegation of the concept of the political party in this political dispensation has made matters more problematic. The practice in Nigeria upends what should be the ideal in a multi-party democracy. The political parties have virtually no input into the conceptualisation of policies which their candidates are expected to implement if they win elections. Political parties are not identified by the strategies of development which they passionately defend. Instead political parties tag along with their candidates on matters of policies and programmes in the course of campaigns for election.
For instance, the economy is an issue for the 2023 election. The principles informing the policy choices of each presidential candidate should be visible in the various agendas being unfolded. The role of government in economic management is a matter of principle that should be settled in putting together the manifestoes.
The electoral process in particular and indeed democratic practice in general are more than balloting. The casting of ballot is a stage that should be necessarily preceded by a thorough popularisation of the party policies and programmes. A 19th Century editor of London newspaper The Economist, Walter Bagehot, described democracy as “government by discussion.” This description accentuates the importance of reason in the democratic process.
For instance if the thoughts behind the preferred approach in formulating economic policies were discussed by party members before the election, it would be expected that the party would defend the implementation of the policies. It is not enough for the experts who put together the drafts of the competing manifestoes to say that it does not matter if the origins of the ideas informing the policy options could be traced to the left, right or centre in ideological terms.
Indeed, ideas have different loci in the ideological spectrum. Raising or cutting taxes is a deeply ideological question even among liberals. By the way, the denial of the ideological origin of an idea is in itself ideological. Although the “practical” politicians are wont to scoff at the suggestion of ideological politics, yet the fact is that the absence of ideology partly explains the political underdevelopment of the country and hence poor governance. If you don’t like left or right politics you are bound to be saddled with north or south options in balloting. If the agenda of a party and its candidate is not to be examined for its social democratic or neo-liberal content, the election would be reduced to a contest between a Christian and a Muslim. Yet the ethnicity, region or religion of a president or a governor is not the determinant of the workability of security policies or socio-economic programmes. Part of the problems of the polity is the lack of popular participation as reflected, at least , in low voter turnouts in the previous elections. Well, the prognosis for next year’s election is brighter because of the of the upsurge in the registration of voters especially young people. It would be a good development if the trend of voter apathy could be reversed in the 2023 elections.
Perhaps, the examination of the ideas informing the policy choices could be a good preface to the discussion of the manifesto of each candidate. With a clear understanding of the ideas forming the basis a policy, the criticism of the president or the governor when he gets into power would be better informed. The yardstick for measuring success in the course of implementation would be well defined.
Can the campaigns towards the 2023 election be a turning point in which the political landscape is delineated by the philosophy underpinning the manifesto of each political party?
Time will tell, as they say.
Kayode Komolafe is a journalist based in Lagos