My early contact with democracy and its norms, apart from what I read in the books, was during the short-lived second Republic in Nigeria. In 1979, I was slightly below the voting age, but I was reasonably informed about what was going on. More so, as a student of Government, we learn about various forms and types of government. I was usually intrigued then by the principles of separation of power, based on Montesquieu’s political philosophy. He, Montesquieu had said that “When the legislative and executive powers are united in the same person, or the same body of magistrates, there can be no liberty; because apprehensions may arise, lest the same monarch or senate should enact tyrannical laws, to execute them in a tyrannical manner.” So, for me, separation of powers is the fulcrum of good governance.
Before the second Republic was aborted in 1983, being my first time voting in an election, I have been further exposed to Karl Marx’s writings and the philosophy of class struggle. Of course, it resonates with me, as I have considerable knowledge about what was going on in Africa in terms of the rising and fall of many empires. There was also the naïve understanding of ideological leaning amongst the political parties in Nigeria then. National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was seen as ultra-conservatives by its admirers, and reactionary and feudalistic by others. I belonged to the latter. Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), my obvious choice was clad in the garment of progressives, or sometimes welfarist, especially with its cardinal program of free education, others considered it a sectional party. Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) and its breakaway faction Great Nigerian Peoples Party (GNPP), were mere floaters with no ideological leaning. Though, NPP claimed to be the “beautiful political bride” that was available for the highest bidder. The Kano based Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) known in the local parlance as Talakawa (masses or poor people) party was pro-Marxist, at least on paper. And lastly was the ‘cockroaches chasers’ party otherwise known as Nigerian Advance Party (NAP), which may hopefully appeal to environmentalists.
With this background, therefore, I had always thought that progressives are left of the center, while conservatives are right of the center. In 1993, the self-styled “Evil genius,” General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (IBB), toyed with ‘political philosophy’ of “a little to the right, a little to the left,” upon which Military induced two parties were formed. Therefore, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and its counterpart Nigerian Redemption Party (NRC), which was derogatory, called “Egbe eleye” (based on its symbol of a bird), meaning “witch party” were intended to be centrist in focus. There was no clarity about either in terms of political philosophy. There were mere platforms to contest elections as a process of the military exiting the political arena.
However, on my emigration to Canada, I met on the ground was then called progressive conservatives. My immediate reaction was that how can you combine UPN and NPN at the same party? As times progressed, I came to realize that my understanding had to do with the delineation that existed in my subconscious of what constituted progressives and conservatives. In retrospect, NPN was more feudalistic than conservative. It may not be fair, therefore, to lump all old orders into the gambit of conservatives. In the same manner, today, neither Action Peoples Congress (APC) or People Democratic Party (PDP) can be categorized on any known ideological philosophy. As it stands now, APC is more fascistic in operation and disposition. It would even be charitable to consider them feudalistic, though the Northern elements in the party remain feudalistic. Again, since there is hardly any significant difference between the two, APC and PDP, not with the “free entry and free exit” amongst members, the same description aptly applies to both. No doubt, both the “progressiveness” of the now-extinct Awoist clan, have been submerged by ultra oligarchy tendency of the leading South-Western political hierarchy.
In the Western and taunted advanced democracy, the clear divide between the left and the right is well pronounced. While anything liberal is considered leftist, the conservatives are considered rightists in disposition and coloration. Beyond this simple categorization, the liberals pride themselves as more accommodating and, therefore, believe in the freedom of choice as the central tenets of governance. This is further strengthened by their borrowed garb in the form of social welfare. Though it is ironic that they also now seek the imposition of the minority will on the majority. The fact remains that they are scarcely tolerant of objections to their held views by others. They forced it down the throat of others what they believe in.
Conservatives, on the other hand, are quick to play the religious and capitalism cards as the thrust of their own identity. They tilt more towards wealth growth through entrepreneurship and pretend not to have any understanding of the exploitative tendency of even the most decent capitalists. With the emphasis on job creation through incentives to businesses and their owners, with the intention that may reciprocate the gestures by reducing unemployment through dual means of hiring more hands and not laying off the existing workers. They hardly pretend to favor any form of what they considered “excessive welfare” that may make people less productive and become more dependent.
With the event that occurred in the United States of America (USA) last week, the delineation of the extremism of leaning may become more pronounced in the years to come. As the self-proclaimed as the “father” of modern democracy, if it will not contribute to its eventual contradiction is a phenomenon that is worth watching for.
Democracy is becoming a struggle between capitalism and ‘reincarnated’ socialism. Though it will be tough for Western countries politicians of the left-leaning to openly accept their leaning towards socialism, let alone its extreme version of communism, the right-wingers are not mindful of labeling them Marxist if only to give them “bad name” in the political arena. With the obliteration of the former USSR as champions of communism and the end to the cold war, it is becoming imperatives that there will be challenges in effectively categorizing the two extremes outside the basic economic order of capitalism and communism. Yet, in order not to be boxed into the corner of wanting to revive the otherwise dead communism, it will be difficult for the ultra-leftists in their claim to liberalism to accept any form of affinity, no matter how remote to socialism, let alone communism.
Except there is a consensus that democracy is firmly rooted in the economic philosophy of capitalism, of which there could be variants, then we should be prepared for two extremes disposition that is predicated on two distinct economic orders, which we may tentatively label capitalism and socialism/communism. From what we learned in fashion, it is not impossible that the chair may still rotate 360 degrees from where we left off initially. Will economic philosophy become the defining agenda of democratic leaning in the nearest future? Will democracy spill along economic divides as its main thrust? Let us be on the lookout