This, That Or The Other

Analysing The Illusion Of Political Ideologies In Nigeria

by Emmanuel Joseph

This, That Or The Other

The notion of binary thinking - ‘binary’ from the base computer language made up of only ones and zeroes - is founded on the human tendency to group things in two (often) opposing categories: male and female, good and bad, democrat and republican, you get the drift. In the course of our daily lives, this categorisation system like the computing system the phrase is borrowed from, allows for choice optimisation in a manner that saves energy: in the case of computers, processing power, and in the case of humans, brain function.

It is always easier to consider things in twos because it is much easier to build a narrative between two perspectives, especially when they are opposed to each other. We see this in movies; there is always the protagonist and the antagonist. We see this even in war; there is always the side of justice and the side of evil, as there is the victor and the vanquished. In spirituality, this is represented as God and the devil, yin and yang, light and darkness. In politics, we have many versions of this too, largely depending on the country you put under the microscope. In America, you have the republican and democratic parties generally representing liberal and conservative politics, and in Nigeria you have the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) generally representing, well…alphabets.

Writers like the linguist innovator Noam Chomsky and the Pulitzer Prize - winning journalist Chris Hedges discuss the decay of American politics into what they describe as an “oligarchic democracy” where both ruling parties, while presenting to be ideologically different, work in the service of corporations to service what they call a “corporate state”. They are both of the opinion that until the arrival of a trusted candidate, voters should always vote third party or independent candidates if they wish to topple the current system.

In Nigeria, for the longest time, after the military era, the People’s Democratic Party reigned supreme with a kind of dominance that appeared almost unbreakable, and then the All Progressives Congress arrived. By no stretch of the imagination can APC be referred to a new party, as it contains too many ex-PDP members to claim any ideological shift. What it has succeeded in doing, however, is to create the illusion of choice; an illusion so strong that even with the presence of “alternatives” (at least other individuals worth our consideration), the common man only thinks about the battle to be between a binary option – Buhari or Atiku.

Nigeria’s Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka, has publicly endorsed Kingsley Moghalu and called on voters to escape the mental trap that directs us to choose only between the frying pan and fire, or the devil we have tested and the one we (sort of) know. For all the intelligence he probably applied in making his decision, the idea that any vote outside the two most popular parties is a wasted vote is still clear. A similar sentiment was raised in American when Howard Schultz, ex-CEO of Starbucks, announced that he was considering running for the presidency as an independent candidate. Word around the Internet was that hs entry into the presidential race would be ruining the chances of a united democratic party, by splitting the votes and giving a united republican party the power it needs to re-elect Trump.

Perhaps there is truth to the idea that the majority remain in the palms of the popular parties, often serviced by a trickle-down system with union leaders and other community influencers eating large, while the grassroot members end up with bags of rice or small wads of cash. The sheer number of voters in this uneducated and politically ignorant class has informed the shrinking middle class that their votes are largely a flash in the pan, making little or no difference at all. This means that most people planning to vote third party candidates are left to feel like they are wasting their votes and would be better positioned to make a difference if they instead played within the system to either vote the two dominant parties in the land.

In an attempt to break the current stranglehold, pro-cessationists like Nnamdi Kanu are capitalising on the emotional currency of tribal identity to break off a portion of voters without having to educate them on politics. This political move is particularly interesting, because it opens the door to a new type of politics, largely dependent on pulling emotional strings often with a demagogue in the center while things fall apart. The question of whether this model will take over the current model of merely appealing to the sense of reason is yet to be seen, but one thing is for sure, which is the fact that something has to be done to break the cycle of politics that we are used to, wherein we keep recycling leaders from decades before most people able to operate the Instagram app were born.

At this point, the current system simply cannot work and only deepens the roots of an already powerful oligarchic political class. If we must continue with binary options, perhaps it is time to lump PDP and APC together as one party and then introduce a third party to play the role of rival. Is a third-party vote a waste of franchise or perhaps an act of revolution? We will find out, soon enough.