Looking at the state of affairs in Nigerian political system and its democratic transition, the most arguable and widely challenging issue of its political discourse has remained the derivative factors, and strands of the political ideology of the key major political parties in the country. For example; PDP, APC, APUGA, ADC, and SDP. But in this article emphasis would be laid on the principles and belief system of most political elements and the democratic society.

Following these very crucial debates, and finding the best way forward, I am taking time-out to look at the actual meaning and modern trends of political ideology, while at the same time making key reference points with my findings to what is obtainable within our political system.

To start with it is important to have an open minded view on the subject matter, considering the fact that ideology is central to any political formation, with a direct or indirect democracy around the world.  Every political party in modern politics is supposedly formed or established on one form of ideology or the other, reflecting the mind of the individual or group of individuals that have decided to come together with a common belief, under one platform. The party membership and followership tends to be based on the set patties beliefs, values and principles, these could be found in most cases in developed countries with much more consolidated democracies, such as in Europe and America. Ideology represents a typically crucial element of political parties and their activities.

 It is a set of ideas about politics, all of which are related to one another and that modify and support each other. Though relatively enduring, it is yet a dynamic phenomenon, capable of being modified by new issues. It was in this light that Philips W. Shively (1997) defines an ideology as “a continually developing, organized set of ideas about politics that helps us to make sense of the myriad of political questions that face use”. For Okudiba Nnoli, ideology typifies “a systematized and interconnected set of ideas about the socio-economic and political organization of society as a whole” (Nnoli, 2003: 178).

The concept of ideology is, historically, deeply rooted in political theory. As a concept, it was coined by the late eighteenth century French philosopher, Destutt de Tracy (1754 – 1836). According to Nnoli (2003:177), Destutt de Tracy used it to describe a new scientific discipline that systematically studies ideas, emotions and sensations – the science of ideas. This conception has since changed and ideology has come to embody the ideas themselves. As a result of the changes, ideology has come to be presented as a subject representing two contradictory realities – the good and the bad, the former depicting ideology as “a system of thought that animates social or political action”, and the latter as a “misleading, illusory or one-sided criticism or condemnation” (cf Nnoli, 2003:178-79).

 This was the kind of debate that dominated political discourse in the mid- nineteenth century. For instance, in their: The German Ideology, Marx and Engels (1960) took a swipe at Hegel and his-co-travellers, describing them as ideologists of the bourgeois system, not articulate about the material conditions of social and political life. Yet, they went ahead to articulate another conception of ideology based on class analysis as a device for articulating the conflicting interests of different social classes (Nnoli, 2003:178).

It is a well-known issue and an on-going discussion among many academies, political critics and social commentators, of the state of Africa or Nigerian political culture, and its political ideological strands, which has been a real source of  instability in its political life. Though the country over the years has undergone a series of political intersections and democratic dysfunctions in its 60 years of political independence since 1960. Nigeria has moved from a unitary,parliamentary system government  in 1960- 1966;  and after a short break of military rule, of 12 years, it then moved back to a civilian rule of a presidential system of government in 1979,  this process was then interjected again by a second military rule, from 1984-1998, and finally returned back to a civilian rule, the fourth republic presidential system of government, in 1999 which has remained till date. The strong issue here for much further consideration is the fact that as much as the systems of governance were changing, not very much change was recorded with regards to the actors’ political cultures, or ideological perceptions, in relations to the social dynamics.

The common view of a political culture of a people includes their  acceptance of democracy as the best form of political interaction and practice, respect for other people’s views on political matters, respecting other people’s views to have right to belong to any political party of their choice, by believing in a process of choosing those that would form governments at all levels, subscribing to total respect and regards of any government in power, and finally finding the will power of choice.

 By considering the various stages of the countries democratic transitions and political inter-changes, one would easily observe the trends on which each stages of the transitional civil governance had shaped the thinking and behaviour of the actors and participants of each era, which of cause were based on different terms of political principles, ideologies and cultures. Before going into further details on the political or social changes of the country’s political thoughts and actions. It is important to define some key factors.


An ideology is defined as a “Set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved”. Erikson and Tedin (2003).

Ideology is also defined as “The shared framework of mental models that groups of individuals possess that provide both an interpretation of the environment and a prescription as to how that environment should be structured”. Denzau & North (1994/2000).

Going by the two definitions above, if one accepts that ideology is shared; that  it helps to interpret the social order; and that it normatively specifies good and proper ways of addressing life’s problems, then it is easy to understand how ideology reflects and reinforce what psychologists might refer to as relational, epistemic and existential needs or motives.

Re-affirming my view point from the above, I would like to express a little further on the five key principles that would help to understand the importance of ideology in party politics.


  1. Elective Affinity: The forces of mutual attraction involving the structure and contents of belief systems and the motives of their adherents.
  2. Relational Motives: The desire to affiliate and establish interpersonal relationships needed for personal or social identification, solidarity with others, and shared reality.
  3. Epistemic Motives: The drive to reduce uncertainty, complexity, or ambiguity, cognitive preference for certainty, structure, order and or closure.
  4. Existential Motive: The drive to manage threatening circumstances, a personal search for security, self-esteem, and meaning of life.
  5. System Justification: The motivation to defend, bolster and justify the status quo; tendency to view current social arrangements as fair, legitimate, and desirable.

Ideologies also endeavour to describe or interpret the world order as it is, through the process of assertions or assumptions about human nature, historical events, present realities and future possibilities. To envision the world order as it is, certainly specifies an acceptable means of attaining social, economic and political ideals. This to a certain extent shows that different ideologies represent socially shared but competing philosophies of life, and how it should be lived and governed.

Looking at the above argument its invariably clear that there is a huge misconception of what political engagement is in its conceptual and practical terms, or its functionality in view of the high level of disconnection among politicians and the polity; considering the case of those who tend to cross-carpet at random with absolute rascality. It is a very common Philomena even in the western developed democracies for party elected officers or politicians to defect or cross-carpet from one party to the other but mostly based on ideological differences or disagreements; thus, in the case of African politicians, most especially Nigerian elected officers or party members tend to do such base on selfish interest, personal egoism, and individualism.

There are two key major political parties in Nigeria; one is the party in government, while the other stands as the opposition party. For a striving democracy and a revolving society to grow politically it ought to have ideologically and philosophically driven political parties on different straight lines of the debate or spectrum. The case of Nigerian party politics is quite different, here you have two major parties with or without ideologies are socially and economically driven by men who taste after political power.


  1. Conservatism/Capitalism: This is a system of government where the existing institutions are maintained, emphasizing free-enterprise and minimal government intervention; it could also be referred to a “Right-Wing” thinking political system approach in which the principle means of production and distribution are in private hands or individuals.
  2. Liberalism/Egalitarianism: This is referred to as a representative government, with a strong belief in liberty and freedom; free speech, abolition of class privilege and state protection of the citizen. A government system that beliefs in an equal society were all citizens has equal rights and life privileges.
  3. Socialism/Populism: This is a government system, with a strong belief and drive that is based on the principle means of production, distribution and exchange being in common or collective ownership; in order words it is seeing as a political system of thinking that demands the redistribution of resources, political power and economic ownership to the “Common People”.

Using the above stated ideological trends, one could invariably identify with two key dimensional approaches to political thinking, which are very noticeable in many developed democracies in Europe and America. For instance, taking the case of Britain, where they have a political system drawn in the line two ideological approach, the Right/Centre- Right and the Left/Centre- Left, also similar debate occurs around Europe with the issues of the Far-Right and the Far-Left across many countries. But in the case of African politics it’s very difficult to determine the ideological trend, though in south Africa it could be said that there are some traces of dimensional challenges between socialism and conservatism.

in the case of Nigerian politics, historically since independence;  Nigerian’s experience with political parties dates back to the colonial era, and the contemporary incidences of Intra and Inter-party squabbles associated with party politics, is nothing but a throw-back to the past which is replete with schisms, bickering, backbiting, intrigues violence, packing and sacking of party members; the present is therefore, the reflection of the past, showing that the same present may not be totally  different from the past, and the future not likely to be clearly demarcated from the present. (Agbaje, 2003). During the first, second and third republics most of the key political systems were formed base on the two strands of political ideological trends, that were the core beliefs of the nationalist leaders, such as; Azikwe, Awolowo, Tafawa-Balawa, Ahumadu Bello and Enest Okoli.

 There was this dichotomy between the Far-right conservatives of the North; the Far-left socialist of the South; the Centre-right Neo-Conservatives. The first republic had the NPC of Alh.  Abubakar Tafawa-Balawa/Ahumadu Bello was a Far-right conservative ideological driven platform; the NCNC by Dr Azikwe/M.I.Okpara was a Centre-right Conservative party; and the AG of Chief Obafemi Awolowo/Akintola was a Far-left Socialist party in the first republic there were series of cross-carpeting, mergers and broken marriages between parties of different political ideologies; the second republic had similar scenarios with slight differences in party names, but sustained ideological directions, such as; the  NPN of Alh. Shahu Sahgari/Chief Akinloye, which was also a Centralist-Conservative party; the NPP of Dr Azikwe/Ajasin was still a Neo-liberal Conservative party  and UPN of Chief Obafemi Awolowo/Chief Bola Ige was a reformed Neo-liberal Socialist party;  the second republic; then the SPD of Alh. Baba-Gana Kingbe  and the NRC of Chief Tom Ikimi of the aborted third republic.


  • The Leftist/Liberal thinkers: these are people or politicians and political parties that have a conscious belief in the freedom of speech and the right to dissent; a classless society with a systemic process for redistribution of wealth through a welfare state system, with a core value to brotherhood. Liberalism as a Leftist thinking is a political ideology with the core trend of equality of opportunity which is very essential, and to achieve this end, believe that every act of discriminatory practices must be eliminated, as well advocates vigorously for public policies that help to reduce or eliminate inequalities.
  • ●        The Rightist/Conservative: these are people or politicians and political parties that believe in the core values of preserving order through an evolving authority and the continuation of the existing social order, with the right to private ownership. The conservatives believe and maintain the position that people need strong leadership institutions, firm laws and strict moral codes; they most often base their claims on the teachings of religious and traditional morality, and tend to underestimate the rational social theories propounded by secular philosophers, economists, and outstanding intellectuals.

It is important here to see and understand that one of the greatest problem facing most political party structure and politicians capacity building in Nigerian politics is the lack of consistency and sustainability of core values and beliefs; as such the level of carpet crossing at a ridiculous,  abandoned recklessness, by politicians who have no feeling or quest for political knowledge but the boring hunger for political power and relevance, which has delimited the bases of a proper political culture in the society.

We have seen in recent times the rate at which politicians, party members are moving from one political party to another, as if travelling from one town to another without due regards to community cultural and traditional values.


A political culture is a set of attitudes and practices held by a people that shapes their political behaviour. It includes moral judgments, political myths, beliefs, and ideas about what makes for a good society. A political culture is a reflection of a government, but it also incorporates elements of history and tradition that may predate the current regime. Political cultures matter because they shape a population’s political perceptions and actions. Governments can help shape political culture and public opinion through education, public events, and commemoration of the past. Political cultures vary greatly from state to state and sometimes even within a state. Generally speaking, however, political culture remains more or less the same over time.


Even in all developed democracies political culture varies from place to place, such as in America or Europe;  For much of the twentieth century,  the American southern politicians were reputed to be slow-acting and polite, whereas northern politicians were seen as efficient but abrupt and sometimes rude.; so also are the British politicians with similar geo-political aliment. The case is not very much different in Nigeria considering South/North political divide which in clear terms are musty based on power struggle, legitimacy and supremacy, rather than cultural-ideology thinking. We keep hearing things like the North oligarch is born to rule, while the South would have to fight for its turn, well these are highly misconceive narratives and or perception.


Political culture is connected to notions of citizenship because political culture frequently includes an idea of what makes people good citizens. A citizen is a legal member of a political community, with certain rights and obligations. Because each country has its own requirements for citizenship and attendant rights, the definition of “citizen” varies around the world.  And in Nigeria never the case should not be an otherwise, every person should be accorded an equal political citizenship to part-take in all forms of political activities and public engagement.


The Greek philosopher Aristotle was probably the first person to puzzle over what makes someone a citizen in his treatise Politics (c. 335–323 BC). He reasoned that living in a particular place does not automatically make a person a citizen because; in his day (as in ours) resident aliens and immigrants often lived in a country without becoming citizens. In the end, Aristotle defined a citizen as one who shares in the offices and power of a regime (even if only in a small way). So, a tyranny has one citizen, whereas a democracy has many citizens. Hope that those determining our present citizenship would take note of this kindled definition, while striving to up-hold the spirit of our daring democracy.


A good citizen lives up to the expectations of the authority and embodies much of what a particular political culture considers important. A Nigerian who lives an exemplary life but who does not work to help his immediate community or larger society, will probably be seen as a good and upright person, but not as a real good citizen. Instead, we expect good citizens to help others and to make the community a better place through active participation in public life. In the case of Nigeria there are many good citizens, of whom the cobweb of political disenfranchisement would not be their participation in public life.

  • Vote in elections
  • Obey all local, state, and federal laws
  • Pay taxes
  • Be informed about political issues
  • Volunteer to help less fortunate people
  • Demonstrate patriotism by respecting the flag, singing the national anthem, and knowing the Pledge of Allegiance
  • Recycle to sustain the climate
  • Help the community when needed


Political culture changes over time, but these changes often happen slowly. People frequently become set in their ways and refuse to alter their attitudes on significant issues. Sometimes it can take generations for major shifts to occur in a nation’s political culture. Based on this fact, it is very obvious that by looking at the moving trends on Nigerian democratic transition, there have been dramatic changes influenced by certain paradigm shifts of some political elements from a particular era. Taking for example; the political culture of the first republic differs from that of the second republic, and must recently that of the fourth republic. The attitude and behaviour of key actors and citizen participation is drawing on different lines of perception.

Political Culture and Nation-Building

Political culture refers to what people believe and feel about government, and how they think people should act towards it.  To understand the relationship of a government to its people, and how those people are going to act toward that government and others, it is necessary to study what those people believe about themselves and the government.   Daniel Elazar, from whom much of the information below has been taken,  has defined it as:  “the particular pattern of orientation to political action in which each political system is embedded.”  A more simple definition is:   “Attitudes, values, beliefs, and orientations that individuals in a society hold regarding their political system.”

Moral Political Culture

In this culture type society is held to be more important than the individual. Individualism is not submerged in any way, but the group recognizes the need of individuals to assign value to the group. Government tends to be seen as a positive force. This emphasizes the commonwealth conception as the basis for democratic government.  Politics is considered one of the great activities of man in the search for the “good society.”  Good government is measured by the degree to which it promotes the public good.  Issues have an important place in the moralistic style of politics.  Politicians are expected not to profit from political activity.   Serving the community is the core of the political relationship even at the expense of individual loyalties and political friendships.  In practice this often results in more amateur participation in politics than in the other political cultures. 

Individual Political Culture

 In areas with this type of political culture, government is seen as having a very practical orientation. Government is instituted for largely utilitarian reasons.  It need not have any direct concern with questions of the “good society.”  Emphasis on limiting community/government intervention into private activities.  Government should be largely restricted to those areas which encourage private initiative.  Private concerns are more important than public concerns here. To a significant degree there is cynicism about government.   Dirty politics tends to be accepted as a fact. The key to understanding this type is that people accept dirty politics as the way things are and should be.

Traditional Political Culture

 Social and family ties are prominent where this type of political culture is found. This often means that some families run the government and others have little to say about it. This reflects an older attitude that embraces a hierarchical society as part of the natural order of things.  Government is seen as an actor with a positive role in the community, but the role is largely limited to securing the maintenance of the existing social order.  Political leaders play a largely conservative and custodial role rather than being innovative.  Otherwise, limited government is viewed as best because that is all that is required to meet the needs of those in power.

Political culture, as we tend to understand it is in fact what drives civil obedience, respect for law and order and, above all, the general belief and agreement that when people of different ideas, economic necessities, social and political differences come together, they must have the cause to disagree and at the same time know how to agree after disagreeing. As  the common saying goes in political circle that in Politics there is no “Permanent Friend or Permanent Foe”  It is for this very reason that there are existence of opposition either individual, group of individuals or political institutions, in a country,  state,  or community, must be seen as an integral component of a political culture with a political system. So therefore, no person should be denied the absolute right and liberty to join or belong to any political party of one’s choice in accordance with the detects of one’s belief without being subjected to harassment, discrimination or injustice.

Nigerian political history without any exceptions form the periods of Military coups, to the era of all forms of reversed civilian rules there have been all sorts of power oppression, subjection-orders, political opposition intimidation and suppression, the attribution of impunity-for-impunity in the name of Anti-graft or corruption fighting, and unprecedented level of injustice within the justice system at the expense of the countries highly priced democracy.

It is important here to know that many countries of the world have developed political cultures with which they are known and appreciated, as either a developed or developing democracy For example, the strength of American or British democracy is based on the political culture of the Americans or the British conceptual believes, which is sustained on strong subscription to principled ideas of a free society where politics is played without rancour or bickering.

In developed democracies, there is a form of  political culture which measures that there must be a clear-cut separation between religion and government; that the judiciary must be seen to be independent, unbiased in its adjudication of legal and constitutional justice; that the body of civil and public servants must not discriminate against anybody on ground of political or civil society affiliation; that members of political parties should subscribe to the programmes and manifestos of their parties, but more than that, the ideologies of such political parties must be clearly stated and open to the citizens understanding .

But in the case of Nigeria, there is huge argument and various postulation on the fact that the ethnic compositions of the Nigerian nation-state is too diverse and too divergent, and as such the complex nature of its political orientations, It is on this that there are monumental suspicion, rivalry and endless struggle for political power, subversion and economic domination, among the three largest ethnic groups – Hausa, Igbo and Yoruba.

This has been severally demonstrated in various form through the political dispensations, with the Northern Oligarchy claiming right to political power, dominance and force, which at one point or the other has seen huge threat to unity and peace of the nationhood, during the 1979, 1983 and must recently the 2011 and 2015 general elections, there is a renewed tension on the present democratic trend of a political culture of “Born to Rule” believe and attitude by growing Northern elites. The south though, hugely divided between the Yorubas and Igbos, are struggling to keep pace with this changing political culture phenomenon of the North which is highly based on religious fundamentalism  and Islamic extremism . The South-west political culture is strongly woven around its socio-cultural elements and the ideas of socio-economic strands or principles , which in various occasions has put the region in a position of political brokers or power determinants, thus there are also the issues of socio-religious and ethnic asymmetric believes which gives room to divided interest . While the South-east is very much deep in its republican self-interventionist nature, egocentric individualism and broken ethnic nationalistic believes, has left the region becoming a working field of political trading by batter for political inclusiveness and survival.

 If there are any striking differences that divide the people as a nation-state, the emergence of a political culture as phenomenal  has not been  feasible enough, within the political mind-field over the years to make any significant change on the belief and behaviour of both the actors and participants. Though, Nigerian political space and its intended cultural fascist are wholly controlled and sustained by the so-called political elites, who in their various enclaves or strong-holds determine the outcomes of any political or electoral activities in such areas of absolute control.

The principle of “Patrimonialism” has in many ways influenced the thinking and behaviour of Nigerian political actors, as sustained by the political elites and their cronies, through the clientele and patronal culture. As such trying to identify the nature of Nigerian political culture is very easy in view of its negative expressions and actions within the polity.  For example, looking  at some  fundamental factors such as; Election Rigging, The lack of internal democracy within political parties, The mixed grill of political partisan memberships, The compromising scale corruption on electoral  processes, The monumental citizens’ apathy in civil participation, A massive political ignorance among the huge adult-youth in the society,  The spasmodic and inconsistent  electoral Acts amendment processes and complexity of interpretations,  The act of Impunity-for-Impunity, A distorted legislature at all levels,  A failing judicial system,  and an executive government that negates the rule of law.  It is very obvious that with all this so-mentioned Anti-culture and deprived political system, the Nigerian political life deserves more, imperatively from its political classes and the citizenry at large. 

Political culture in all developed democracies encompasses the following factors: constitutional foundation, separation of powers, checks and balances, elements of political principles, and total submission to Rule of Law.

But the problem here with regards to the present political structure and institutions is that Nigeria is highly fragmented and polarized politically, most of the politicians who have inflamed the flames of ethnic, religious, and regional hatred culture, have also failed to address the country’s real socio-economic and socio-cultural crisis which has created a huge gap between the rich politicians and the growing poor masses, developing what I call “Cultural Poverty”. Therefore, it would be just a matter of time, and purpose until the violence that had been primarily orchestrated by the political elites started breaking out spontaneously among an increasingly embittered poverty ridden people, such as is unfolding at the moment in many parts of the country, from the overflow of political and electoral activities, with its unintended outcomes 

Party is a body of men united, for promoting by their joint endeavours the national interest, upon some particular principle in which they all agreed. Edmund Burke 1770


The political party has been turned into a business organization where the pecuniary interests of the leadership are dominant; but they are able to access political power and keep it because of their ability to manipulate the citizenry”. The leadership problem has been a perennial issue with the PDP since inception with countless number of chairmen exiting the position in questionable manners culminating in internal wrangling. Recently, the squabble between the PDP and the so called “NEW PDP” attests to this which bothers neither on party accountability to people nor faulting the governance style but on occupying strategic positions within the party hierarchy. The fractionalization of APP, APGA and CPC calls for worry. It was AD and ANPP merger in 1999 to face the PDP. The foundation being laid now is almost an APC mega arrangement to confront the monstrous PDP. Nigerians immediate reprieve for the socio-economic squalor they found themselves is hinged on the growing popularity of the APC. However, the purported rescue mission of the APC is debatable. The recruits into the party’s fold are politicians of diverse origins, who were suspicious of each other before now, mainly coming from the much criticized PDP. The furore generated by the defection of some governors in and out of PDP, 37 members of the House of Representatives, former vice president Atiku and others is no eureka. The uniting intention and ulterior motive may be their undoing. The question now is: Will it not be old wine in a new bottle? The belief of the electorate in these emerging structures will be put to test in less than 6 weeks. The outcome of the process will usher in another chapter in Nigeria’s democratic drive.


Thus far, our review has focused on the dimensional structure and discursive contents of left-right ideology as well as its motivational antecedents or functional substructure. However, much evidence suggests that acquisition of the discursive superstructure which requires both exposure to the ideological menu communicated by institutional elites as well as the ability and motivation to absorb the messages has important downstream social and political consequences.

       Effects on the Evaluations of Issues, Parties, Candidates, and Other Attitude Objects

Perhaps the most obvious consequence of ideological orientation is its influence on political attitudes and behaviours such as voting. Many studies have shown that those who identify as liberal tend to adopt issue positions that are conventionally recognized as left-of centre, evaluate liberal political figures more favourably, and vote for candidates of the left, whereas those who identify as conservative tend to adopt positions that are right-of-centre, evaluate conservative political figures more favourably, and vote for candidates on the right. In fact, ideology and partisanship (which typically has an ideological thrust) are among the strongest and most consistent predictors of political preferences.

Moreover, left-right differences in evaluative preferences emerge in many areas outside the realm of formal politics. For instance,  I found that self-identified liberals were significantly more favourable concerning foreign films, big cities, poetry, tattoos, and foreign travel, whereas conservatives were more favourable concerning fraternities and sororities, sport utility vehicles, drinking alcohol, and watching television . Findings such as these strengthen the case that ideological divides are, among other things, personality divides, but the direction of causality is still unknown. We suspect that ideological identifications both reflect and reinforce social and personal preferences, styles, and activities, but this is speculative and requires empirical confrontation using experimental and longitudinal research designs. At a higher level of abstraction, ideology also predicts citizens’ general value orientations, with leftists exhibiting greater egalitarianism and openness to change than rightists.

Ideology as a System-Justifying Device

It should be clear by now that we regard ideology as not merely an organizing device or a shortcut for making heuristic judgments about various political objects; it is also a device for explaining and even rationalizing the way things are or, alternatively, how things should be different than they are. Thus, political ideologies typically make at least tacit reference to some social system, either as an affirmation or a rejection of it. The power of ideology to explain and justify discrepancies between the current social order and some alternative not only maintains support for the status quo, but also serves for its adherents the palliative function of alleviating dissonance or discomfort associated with the awareness of systemic injustice or inequality.  Sighted from Political Ideology: Its Structures, Functions and Elective Affinities. (J.T. Jost, C.M. Federico, and J.L. Napier. 2009).

Godson Azu is UK based political strategist , campaigner, author and publisher. Can be reached at