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2023 poll: Ideas and manifestoes

By Kayode Komolafe

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

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