Political parties are a crucial element of the democratization process of developing countries as well as prospering developed democracies. They hold the government administration accountable controlling the political representation, structuring electoral choices and voters’ interests. Ideology lies in the roots of a political party, identifying the values not only of the party itself, but of the group of society that elects it. It serves like a prescriptive guideline of interests and pursues that may sometimes twist reality, blinding a society tempted by utopian models. Although ideology is the core of every party created, nowadays its significance is either diminished and useless, or used as a curtain, covering real perspectives of candidates and political organizations and corporations. Through a careful examination of the ideological movement in time in Nigeria, France, USA and Russia, the essay is going to evaluate and justify whether the significance of ideology in those countries is still as valuable as it was before or it is merely ‘nonsense upon stilts’.
Party ideology is a set of political ideas representing the immediate connection of government and electorate bound by a concept for conflict prevention and state welfare. It was first regarded as the science of studying political theory by the French philosopher Tracy (Nnoli, 2003: 177), but due to social and political changes it soon embodied the set of ideas, not the science (Omotola, 2009: 616). Ideology is merely known to have a positive and negative aspect regarding the people who stand behind the ideas – ‘the former depicting ideology as “a system of thought that animates social or political action”‘ (Omotola, 2009: 616) and the latter was regarded as misleading and illusionary. Following through the development of party ideology in Nigeria, political parties in the First and Second Republics abide by the same ideologies. The Northern People Congress (NPC) was a predecessor of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the western Action Group (AG) and the Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) replacing the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) and the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroon (NCNC) respectively.
As a direct effect of colonization, although they set out an ideological model embracing conservatism and socialism, the parties in the First Republic and those throughout the history of Nigeria, ‘were less concerned with the development of Nigeria as a whole than with the well-being of their home region’s clients’ (Joseph, Taylor and Agbaje, 1996: 322). On the other hand, during the same period – the 1960s – ‘ideology, not party, is the premier psychological anchor of the French voter’ (Lewis-Beck and Chlarson, 1995:491). Another thing that is common for all Nigerian parties is that most of them represent a specific ethnic or regional group and therefore people are tend to ‘perceive politics as a desperate zero-sum struggle (winner-take-all) for access to state resources’ (Joseph, Taylor and Agbaje, 1996: 322), ‘seeking to capture and consolidate power in their respective spheres of influence/region’ (Omotola, 2009: 622). The party makes the government and the core of a political party lays its ideology which serves as ready guidelines in times of crisis and political change, ‘a powerful instrument to conflict management’ and ‘popular mobilization and legitimization’ (Omotola, 2009: 614). Since Nigeria has no democratic roots, the ideology that marks the beginning of the democratization period of that developing country, has suffered through abuse, manipulation and self-centred ethnic engagement.
The First Republic was governed by the conservative NPC and the socialist NCNC, where the combination of left-right ideology was found incompatible as well as in the Second Republic, because they both failed to bring Nigeria further in the democratization spectrum. Despite the ‘chains’ that were put on Nigerian political parties (the ban on particularistic parties), the leading ideology of all remains based on religion, language, ethnic affiliation. As far as the latter is concerned, ideas and values are clear, but what remains on the political arena is vague and most certainly not favouring democratic development and political ideological stance. Regardless of its efforts to strengthen objectives and create strategies to differentiate parties more than on ethnical origin, the new ‘old’ political parties’ manifestos were ‘essentially the same in content’ (Simbine, 2002:2005: 23). Up until 2010, there were many African multiparty systems, but it was, however, decided that a ban should be introduced on particularistic or ethnic parties (Basedau and Moroff, 2011: 206). This can be regarded as a step forward to the democratization of Nigeria, but a step backwards towards the cohesion of inner-related conflicts. Party elites, both military and political, may still marginalize cultural minorities and opposition, ‘becoming subject to conflict themselves’ (Randall, 2008: 246).