By Onyedika Agbedo
In spite of the claims by some political parties in the country, including the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), as progressive entities, many Nigerians are of the view that the country currently lacks progressive political individuals and groupings.
Many of those who spoke with Sunday Sun on the concept of progressivism against the backdrop of the current happenings in the country’s landscape explained that a progressive politician or political party is one that pursues the collective interest and welfare of the society against self or group interest, insisting that such was lacking in the polity at the moment.
According to Wikipedia, the contemporary common political conception of progressivism in the culture of the Western world emerged from the vast social changes brought about by industrialisation in the Western world in the late 19th century, particularly out of the view that progress was being stifled by vast economic inequality between the rich and the poor; minimally regulated laissez-faire capitalism with monopolistic corporations; and intense and often violent conflict between workers and capitalists, thus claiming that measures were needed to address these problems.
The explanations of some eminent Nigerians who were approached by Sunday Sun to place the concept in perspective in relation to Nigeria’s political experience was in tandem with Wikipedia’s definition, but they maintained that Nigeria was yet such to produce a political party or politician that can truly lay claim to progressivism. Below are their views on the concept:
Alhaji Tanko Yakasai:
Prominent politician and elder statesman; former adviser to President Shehu Shagari (1979-1983) on National Assembly matters: There are two sets of definitions of a progressive. One is the universal definition and I give that first. You know, human society started as a communal society. Then it moved to a feudal society and to industrial society. All these are defined by the relationship between the means of production. The industrial society, like the one we have today, is divided into two – capitalist society and socialist society. Now, going back to the beginning, the feudal society is more progressive than the communal society. So, a promoter of feudal society at that time could be called a progressive compared to a promoter of communal society. Then a promoter of capitalist society is a progressive compared to a promoter of feudal society. And a promoter of socialist society is a progressive compared to a promoter of capitalist society. The highest level is the promoter of communist society, which is higher than the promoter of socialist society.
Now, we have a Nigerian definition of progressivism. From the First Republic to date, a progressive in Nigeria is defined as any politician who comes from the South-west with a background in the Action Group (AG) or its successor organisations. This is a claim because there is nothing to differentiate an AG man from an NPC, NCNC, NEPU or APC man. Each time political associations change in Nigeria, the successor of the AG be it UPN, AD, ACN or APC, they all call themselves progressives. But there is nothing differentiating a member of the APC from a member of the PDP. Their relationship with the means of production is the same. They are all capitalists; they are all landlords; they are all owners of the latest property or industry. So, to be honest, of all the groups that we have in Nigeria today, nobody can call him/herself a progressive in the real sense of it because they are the same thing.
Therefore, there is no progressive political party in the country today. None of the present political parties is fighting for a different system of government other than a capitalist system. We don’t have a socialist party of Nigeria not to talk of a communist party of Nigeria. There is nothing differentiating say Bola Tinubu from Atiku Abubakar and Andy Ubah. They are the same thing. Anybody who is a member of APC, PDP, SDP and all the registered political parties in the country that call himself a progressive is only trying to fool the masses. It is pure opportunism meant to win the support of the masses who are suffering, and who believe that those who call themselves progressives will solve their problems.
Alhaji Buba Galadima:
Former National Secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), one of the legacy parties that formed the APC: My definition of a progressive is somebody who places the welfare of the ordinary person, in this instance, the ordinary Nigerian above his personal, tribal, ethnic, group or sectional interest. We have individuals who lay claim to progressivism but there is no political grouping with a progressive ideology in the country for now. Even the APC that claims to be a progressive party is not one. How are they? Many of them use public offices to enrich themselves. It is only a rhetoric and propaganda that many of them use to shortchange Nigerians. We are yet to get leaders who are progressives because we have now tried virtually most people and we see them in their true colours when they get public positions. Once they get into public positions, they will start looking for their wives, brothers and sisters and put them in positions that they do not merit.
Senator Adeseye Ogunlewe:
Former Minister of Works: It is very convenient for the APC to refer to the party as a progressive party. But the composition of the membership does not reflect the ideals of a progressive union. How can the CPC that is now part of APC be a progressive party? That is why you cannot see any initiative that conforms to the ideals of progressivism that we know in Nigeria. The progressives have been the advocates of restructuring and true federalism. They have been at the forefront of the struggle for years including during the MKO Abiola period and up till now. But they are now mixed up with conservatives in the CPC. So, it is very difficult for them to actualise what they have been fighting for all these years – improvement of the welfare of the masses. This includes poverty reduction, employment for the youths and free compulsory primary education. How can a progressive party live with 10 million Nigerian children out of school, 75 per cent illiteracy level and 65 per cent poverty level?
So, there is no progressive party in the country at the moment. Nobody or political party is exhibiting the tenets of progressivism anymore. The progressive is for the masses but we are running an elitist organisation. The progressive is all out for the greatest good for the greatest number. But that is not what we have in Nigeria today. What we have today is the greatest good for smaller number. There is poverty in the country and people are suffering. A progressive government does not allow that to happen.
Nigeria must restructure to get out of this situation. There are 68 items in the Exclusive legislative list and 38 items in the Concurrent list. It should be the reverse. The smaller list should be for the Federal Government while the larger list should be for states and local councils. This is what a progressive government must do; that is power to the people. Let the people enjoy governance. Most people live in local council areas. Unless there is complete autonomy for local government administration, Nigeria can never develop. The progressive must allow the people to run their local councils. That is what the progressive should look up to – government of the people, by the people and for the people. That is what a progressive government is.
Chief Chekwas Okorie:
National Chairman of the United Progressives Party (UPP) and 2015 presidential candidate of the party: A progressive is somebody who undertakes social, economic, and in some cases, political reforms that will alter the status quo to move the society or that individual forward. In the case of a political party, therefore, a party is not progressive by the name it attaches to itself, it only becomes a progressive party by its actions. Therefore, if a party claims to be progressive, then there must be definite reforms that will not remind the people of where they are coming from. So, if a progressive party promises a change, it must be a change for the better with progressive ideas. But if that change is only limited to rhetoric, but not something that can be felt, seen or even touched, it doesn’t make the person or party pronouncing it a progressive.
Coming to our situation in Nigeria because that is the relevance of the discussion, people who follow my interventions and contributions since the APC was formed know that I have consistently maintained that the APC and PDP are two sides of the same coin; and that like kettle and pot, one will call the other black. I have been proved right in that regard. There is nothing different between the two political parties at all. So, there is nothing progressive about the APC, nothing at all. Both the PDP and the APC are neck deep in retrogressive and conservative political ideologies. Therefore, Nigeria is yet to really see a progressive political party. So, the search continues.
Chief Maxi Okwu:
Former National Chairman and 2007 presidential candidate of Citizen’s Popular Party (CPP): The claims to progressivism in Nigeria dates back to the First Republic. The Action Group (AG), which was not part of the central government then took on a progressive toga. The AG was in opposition to the NCNC/NPC alliance. But when the UPGA alliance came up, it also wore the toga of progressivism. In the Second Republic, the NPN took up the status quo. Those against it, led by the AG and latter on the PRP and GNPP were taken as the progressives. Later, when the Progressive Parties Alliance (PPA) came up (PPA/PPP), they were the progressives fighting the status quo, that is the government at the centre. We left that and got into the Third Republic, that is, the ill-fated Gen. Ibrahim Babangida transition and we saw the SDP being regarded as the progressives while the NRC was regarded as the status quo. That is the history and it continues.
But at the moment, the progressives in my view are those who are not in favour of the status quo, and have progressive agenda which includes restructuring, fiscal federalism, social justice and so on. This agenda are populist and centred on the people.
So, when the ANPP, ACN, CPC and a faction of APGA merged to form the APC, they acquired the name progressives. But as you can see, they are not progressives. And the reason is that the APC is a mixture of both progressives and arch-conservatives. The CPC broke away from ANPP, which was a conservative party. Therefore, they are core conservatives. The only people who have a small claim to progressivism are some elements in the ACN.
But the truth in Nigeria today is that there is a high rate of mobility in the political space. People defect from party to party with the slightest provocation. Can such people lay claim to progressivism? The APC today is not a progressive party; that is why they are about to split along the lines of the legacy parties that produced it. So, Nigeria is still in search of a genuinely progressive political party. But I think it will come. There will be alignments and re-alignments with the challenges of the PDP and the internal struggle now going on in the APC.
Chief Charles Udo Udeogaranya:
National Leader, Better Nigeria 2019 movement: Political progressives are members of a political class that clamour for change and in our Nigerian context, the defunct NPP led by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, UPN led by Chief Obafemi Awolowo, GNPP led by Alhaji Waziri Ibrahim and PRP led by Alhaji Aminu Kano formed the first progressive coalition against the ruling NPN led by then President Shehu Shagari and clamoured for “CHANGE 83”.
The current ruling political class of the APC clamoured for “Change 15”, but it is now clear to most Nigerians that the change they are offering after acquiring power is worse off instead of better off.
But the greatest tragedy of Nigerian democracy is that the ruling APC’s body language and their course of rulership do not allow the opposition to thrive.
Former president Goodluck Jonathan in his speech on the occasion to mark the 110th birthday of the Rt. Hon. Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, noted that “as a government, we have always been guided by Zik’s advice that ‘unless an opposition as a shadow cabinet… exists, democracy becomes a sham. Failure to tolerate the existence of an opposition party would be disastrous to the existence of democracy. It is the easiest invitation to dictatorship and we should eschew autocracy in any form”.
I appeal to members of the APC to underscore that change is constant and in 2019, Nigerians expect a change for better and that is why our movement Better Nigeria 2019 is gaining momentum.
Mr Yinka Odumakin:
National Publicity Secretary of Yoruba socio-cultural group, Afenifere: A progressive is someone who plays the kind of politics that advances the welfare of the greatest number of people in a society; and it shows by his deeds and examples. His actions must show that he is truly committed to public good and that he is not in politics to protect his self interests. So, a progressive politician is one who seeks for the overall good of the society, who works for the good of others instead of working for him/herself. He pursues the welfare and well being of the entire citizenry instead of pursuing his own good to the detriment of others.
At the moment we don’t have a progressive political party in the country. The party we have are just vehicles through which politicians win elections. And if you see the way people defect from one party to the other in this country, you will just know that there is no ideology behind the formation of political parties in this country. It is just about seeking power; no more no less.