Liberal Signpost: Who are Liberals – By Charles-Bruno OkpurukaArticles, Charles-Bruno Okpuruka, Columnists, NNP Columnists Wednesday, April 27th, 2011
By Charles-Bruno Okpuruka, Toronto, Canada – April 27, 2011 – The Nigerian general elections hopefully, will come to a close this week with the conduct of the gubernatorial and state assembly elections. The avalanche of positive endorsements on its conduct from every quarter across the globe is indicative of the maturity of Nigeria’s democracy. All credits therefore, must go to Prof Jega and his INEC for gifting Nigeria with a hugely successful election devoid of the wide scale irregularities of the past. Still, he has left a standard that cannot not be debased (in fact all that is left is to source means and ways of improving on the benchmark he has put in place) as Nigeria moves on with its political life. I wish to congratulate all Nigerians who queued for long hours under Africa’s tropical sun to ensure that their political opinions became relevant in these elections. Equally worthy of commendation were diaspora Nigerians who abandoned their daily toils overseas and flew all the distance to vote, trusting that the liberation of fatherland from the clutches of political-jingoists streaming all over Nigeria, is a risk worthy of undertaking.
With the winding down of these elections, a new page is turned locally. It is the page on the impending federal elections in Canada. For most of us Nigerian-Canadians, it should be an election that draws our attention. Canada is one nation that has sheltered us away from the ineptitudes and decadence of present day Nigeria. Furthermore, it remains exemplary as a country built on strong foundations of pure democratic principles. It has provided us with so much – the reason we all sing OH! CANADA. But, it is for the most part, a nation that has a lot to offer Nigeria as it strengthens its democracy, makes to advance its bureaucracy, agriculture, infrastructure, defense and security, communication and all that goes with modernity. So, Canada is waiting for us Nigerian-Canadians to walk up to it, get engaged politically and prop it to fulfill these promises. Unfortunately, that has not happened. In fact our inability to gather towards any of the major ideological persuasions is central to the difficulties we encounter pursuing things that ordinarily are pieces of cake to other ethnicities and sub-groups within the Canadian society.
As we strive to remedy on this, multiplicity of thoughts or philosophies which can only leave us more advantaged ought to be embraced and encouraged. I say this aware of the diversity of Canada’s political turf which is apportioned into the LEFT, RIGHT, FAR LEFT, SEPERATISTS, and the ENVIRONMENTALISTS, creating varying options for which some of us Nigerians can be aggregated and subsumed as we make to be identified in a political sense. But, such engagements must be beneficial, by every measure, to Nigerian-Canadians as a collective or it becomes a waste. In addition, there is an issue I get amused about. This issue has something to do with our comprehension of these ideologies and their implications or applications to our very existence in Canada. I find it problematic or somewhat bemusing that some of us are bereft of any understanding of the differences between these ideologies or what they really portend. And, it is a syndrome that has nothing to do with the quantity of our education (we already have more than enough PhDs in our community) but has a lot to do with the political culture we inherited and transferred to Canada from Nigeria —a culture that is without political philosophy, but is loaded with the politics of sectionalism, ethnicism and religious divisions.
We are often overwhelmed with rants of Progressives (a reference to Liberalism) in South Western Nigeria and Republicanism (denoting Conservatism) in South Eastern Nigeria. These rants are further extended across all of Southern Nigeria up to the North Central. Yet, in practice, the huge influence that monarchs exert in decision making processes of the South Westerners negates this supposed Progressive inclination. Similarly, one can argue that the South Easterners are anything else but Conservatives if one takes into account the democratic nature of their society which relegates the influence of monarchs in their society. The closest one gets to have a society with a discernible ideology in Nigeria is in the Far North. Theirs is a monolithic society with institutionalized monarchies laced with theocracy— a combination that conjures up Conservatism. Yet, in practice, what they have seems neither populist nor nationalist since it panders to narrowed specific spaces rather than being more integrative. Consequently, it falters in front of the ideological test. This argument is true for the rest of the sections of the country. So, when one breaks up this egg that is the Nigerian political space, the content becomes a confused polity swamped by ethnic, sectional, and religious fundamentalists masquerading as political ideologues. Regrettably, it predicates the character traits of some of us Nigerians and the mindset we transferred into the Canadian political space. The very evidence of this is the current carnage in some parts of Nigeria following the immediate past presidential polls. To learn that those who play this type of politics are the very educated and elite of Nigeria is rather pathetic.
I have seen a few Nigerians claim Liberalism or Conservatism; yet, lack the coherence of interpreting these ideologies. When an explanation is sought on why they lean on any which political party, their response usually is a bellow of pejoratively benign polemics that can only leave the founders of these ideologies quaking in their graves in protestation. Nothing in the Conservative party suggests that frugality is the alter ego of Conservatism—not even the resonance of the word conservative. In fact the reverse is the case if we contextualize George W. Bush’s and Stephen Harper’s squander mania —the Iraq war excesses and the G20 & G-8 $1.2 billion dollar profligacy. Similarly, one cannot profess Liberalism and be indicted for propagating a spend thrift culture. Beyond these, a whole lot is inherent in these two divisions that is left out; and, even so much in them sets them at miles distance and at opposite ends of each other—the reason I think this conversation is important in our community.
I got doses of this display of ignorance from an acquaintance that verbally attacked me a few weeks ago for professing liberalism. It was a conversation so steeped that I had little chance to interject and enunciate some of the issues embedded in these ideologies and how they truly affect him. My hope was that, at least, we could have had a healthy, edifying, conversation. But, in the usual Nigerian fashion, he seized the stage and would not let go any opportunity for a dissimilar view point. I write this piece with him in mind and with the hope that this medium provides an opportunity for me to offer him my response. But, I thought it could draw us (Nigerians) into a dialogue about our political future in Canada and how we align ideologically.
One cannot fully appreciate the trajectory of liberalism without revisiting the times of ancient Athens, the emergence of the Athenian POLIS, the concept of ISONOMY, the events surrounding the renaissance, the mutiny of the Bourgeoisies with the peasants in antiquity, and the coming to a head of all these rumblings with the revolutions in France,England and America that produced modern representative government. One thing is common to all of these events; and it is CHANGE. But, it is pertinent to keep in mind that the forces that catalyzed these events were the Bourgeoisies, the same very social forces that created and nurtured Liberalism as we know it today. So, Liberalism represents recurrent change. This virtue in liberalism is the reason for all the advancements that humanity has recorded since the defeat of Aristocratic Europe by the Bourgeoisies. Liberal forces unclogged the paths that led to the transformation of the world through breath taking scientific and technological inventions, the birth of Capitalism, the creation and elevation of the middle class as a dominant collective force — the equilibrium core of the society, the propagation of the Universal Human Rights and its enforcement, and most importantly, the birth of democracy. Yes, they invented the democracy we all cherish across the world and the innovations that has occurred within democracy such as the separation of powers, the types of government i.e. Ministerial or Presidential etc. The world would have stood still as in the dark ages, strewn with Feudal lords and Aristocrats calling the shots if liberal forces had not intervened. The Oikos would have persisted and women would have remained removed from the public sphere. Disenfranchisement of women, the non-propertied, the poor and people without the so-called blue blood (all these were classified as non citizens) would have been sustained. That all of these practices are dead and long forgotten is due to the power of Liberalism.
Historically, Liberalism is the first of all the major ideologies. It will set up the building blocks for other ideologies such as Socialism. Liberalism in a theoretical sense is a little complicated and cannot be reduced to one dimension. It has other faces that need to be appreciated using philosophical, cultural and economic lenses. Liberals believe that the rational individual should be put at the centre of schemes and the world —a liberal element that elevates excellence and meritocracy which drives competitiveness. This is because the power of REASON or RATIONALITY is located in every human being. By this principle, liberals challenges the aristocratic era when the monarchs were the repository of society’s entire can-know and can-do which incubates dictatorship. It challenges the Conservatism’s religiosity, an aristocratic hangs on, and its capacity to offend individual rights – the reason Liberals argue for a clear cut separation of religion from state. We are all witnesses to the dangers of an orchestrated mixing of religion with state functions in Nigeria’s religious politics. Another good example is abortion rights. Why on earth would the government by way of legislation, refuse abortion to a woman whose life hangs on a thread due to a difficult pregnancy even when doctors have prescribed such as the only option to save her life? Liberals argue that it is not the function of government to think for us in a situation like this or on issues that borders on what we do with our lives.
So with Liberals, reason is the fundamental manifestation of nature in human beings and nature is governed by laws which we must obey in order to flourish and be happy. But, it rests upon humans since they have sufficient rationality to explore, exploit and attain the mastery of nature. Here, it informs that humans are authorized to subjugate nature in order to achieve their means of happiness. As, a result, progress is a consequence of the appropriation of rational laws and ignorance can only breed under development and unhappiness. This particular principle underpins the premium liberals across the world pay on education. It equally underscores the innovation and advancement of capitalism, the realization of both the agricultural and industrial revolutions that triggered the massive scientific and technological advancement of the world, the advent of urbanization, industrial cities, global cities and the current modernization over taking the planet.
Liberals understand that all humans are free and equal. That informed the overthrow of aristocrats in ancient Athens and ensured the invention of democracy, the enfranchisement of all, the creation and the structuring of an egalitarian society in Athens. Liberals have sustained this fight—the fight for the equality of all–through the declaration of Universal Human Rights, and the creation of welfare states in most democracies of the west such as Canada. Liberals are reputed for open border policies that encourage and sustain immigration in the west from mostly the global south. But, they insist that government must intervene at all times especially in the markets through varying regulatory tools to prevent the expropriation of the economy by the few. As an example, in Canada, the past liberal regime balanced budgets and created surplus by means of strict fiscal disciplinary oversight on the economy. Its result is the relative stability the Canadian economy enjoys in this torrid time of global recession. This is a fact that eludes some of us Canadians.
But, with the current spate of Harper regime’s financial recklessness (the unwarranted massive investments in military hardware- too much for a peaceful nation, the G20& G8 wastes etc), Canada may soon dissipate this surplus and emulate the pervading declensions of the US economy. Wasn’t it Bill Clinton’s liberal regime that fortified America with balanced budgets and a surplus that helped to drive down unemployment? But, when the conservatives reappeared via George W. Bush, all those gains got dissipated in orgies of extravagance. The rest is now history.
So, from the 18th century onwards, liberals will guide the political and economic CHANGES in the world i.e. industrialization and urbanization. On the political level, liberalism will diminish the brutal nature of state power structured in absolute monarchies and aristocracy. Liberalism was the force that drove the three major revolutions in France, England, and America and birthed the modern representative government—some thing they started with the invention of ancient democracy in Athens. In the light of this, it is safe to argue that liberalism took the world out of the medieval political life to where the world currently sits with representative governments and elections.
In conclusion, I have tried to articulate some of the rudiments and salient elements inherent in the liberal thought. My bias is clear as I have not been as effusive with conservatism as I have been with the liberal ideology. And, I don’t think I have to. In fact, being a core liberal, I believe it’s not in my place to get so involved. Nonetheless, I reserve my utmost respect and tolerance for those who may disagree. Furthermore, such constructive dissent is welcomed especially if it leads us to actively participate in the Canadian political experience.
Coordinator Hon. Andrew Kania Campaign Organization
Federal Liberal Political Association Brampton West.
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