Does political ideology exist in Nigeria?

Former Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar; Former Head of State, General Yakubu Gowon; President-Elect, General Muhammadu Buhari; President Goodluck Jonathan; Former President Olusegun Obasanjo; Former Prersident Shehu Shagari and Former Head of State, General Badamasi Babangida in a group photograph with members of the National Council of State at the State House, Abuja. Photo by Abayomi Adeshida 12/05/2015

Since the return of democracy to Nigeria in 1999, the country has been ruled by four Presidents, and with elections approaching in 2023, Nigeria is set to elect a fifth successive President in a democratic hand-over, a success for the fragile democracy in Nigeria’s history and Sub-Saharan Africa.

However, the talk of successful political transition has also represented the question of what politics means to Nigerians after 20 years. This sparked a huge online discussion over the week, where people wondered if Nigerian political parties represented ideologies, or they more likely reflected the character of whoever led the party.

Encyclopedia Britannica, explains ideology as “a form of social or political philosophy in which practical elements are as prominent as theoretical ones. It is a system of ideas that aspires both to explain the world and to change it.”

Political Ideologies shape a major aspect of running a country, the economy, as well as foreign policy, as was seen it the way the United States of America and the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) behaved during the Cold War (1947-1991). With the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the former communist “Visegrad Bloc” subsequently joining the European Union, and becoming free-market agents, capitalism’s victory was pretty much signaled.

There also exist other “third-way” options and “tweaks” to political ideologies which include cases ranging from Social Democracy in Scandinavia which mixes free-market ideologies with welfare policies preached by socialism enthusiasts, to China’s post-Deng Xiaoping and the other Communist Market reforms like the “Doi Moi” model in Vietnam, which has made Vietnam a major exporter of manufactured goods and services worth $280 billion as at 2019.

Nigeria’s has been ruled by two parties since 1999 – the People’s Democratic Party from 1999-2015, and the All Progressive Congress from 2015 – date. While the PDP’s tenure was seen as a more nationalist approach to nation-building, the party will always be linked with market reforms in Nigeria, from telecoms to power, while APC came with a different approach towards governance, promising to fight corruption and implement welfare strategies from a school feeding programme to mass job schemes like the N-Power and many others, which should lay a basic foundation on political ideologies in Nigeria so far.

The economic performances could also be a model of judging ideological differences in Nigeria, as Nairametrics in May, compared the average performances of all the last few democratic presidents.

Olusegun Obasanjo, 1999-2007 ( 6.95%)

Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, 2008-2010 (7.98%)

Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, 2011-2015 (4.80%)

Muhammadu Buhari, 2015-2020 (0.31%)

One factor that was clear in the Misery Index report is that the misery level has worsened under President Muhamadu Buhari administration which has overseen two recessions (one caused by the COVID-19 pandemic).

Tunde Ajileye, partner at socioeconomic research firm, SBM Intel told Nairametrics that in Nigeria, by the virtue of how they were formed, the bigger political parties are unlikely to have strong political ideologies, however, ideologies could be seen in the individual interests of the Presidents.

“Explicit political ideologies, you would only find in parties like Gani’s National Conscience Party or the early incarnations of the Labour Party. By the virtue of how they were formed, the bigger political parties are unlikely to have strong political ideologies.

“For the presidents, yes. Obasanjo’s ideology is clear, as is Buhari’s,” he said.

Speaking on why politicians switch parties, Ajileye said that because of the desperation to get into power and keep power. “People switch parties mainly because they can, and because they will use any vehicle to get into power. How do we know the parties have different ideologies? You find the same politician behaving differently when he is in a different party. It means there is something about the party he is in that constrains him,” he said.

Ajileye however believes restructuring will not bring a more stable ideological political system, citing that “ideology stems from beliefs and nothing stops those from emerging pre-restructing.”


Ideologies exist in Nigeria, but so far it has been the mood of the leader which is translated through the party’s views on economic, social and cultural policies, which is a good thing and as much, a bad thing. However, ideology is not as important as having competent state capacity in restructuring which goes beyond ideological stance and more into building competent institutions that cannot be hijacked by politicians.

Nigerian political parties can adopt the East-Asian pragmatic approach of Lee Kwan yew, Deng Xiaoping, which sees recent nation-states evolve as they grow on the human development index (HDI) level and attempt to meet the sustainable development targets.

Rebroadcasted:Okwosi Esther

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