Is Political Third Force A Mirage?

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Ojo Maduekwe write that so long as political parties won’t unite to challenge the All Progressives Congress and Peoples Democratic Party dominance, the emergence of a viable political third force may remain a fantasy

Nigeria has 91 political parties. Of this number, 23 are new, recently registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in August 2018. Most of these parties are only operational on paper, yet boasts of popularity that can only be imagined.

During interviews they claim to be the third or fourth most popular party after the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), yet majority of them have never won elective positions into any of the three tiers of government.

Some of the parties even go to the length of self-deceit and thinking they can stand shoulders high with the likes of PDP and APC in a political contest, even when the reality is that they don’t have the needed political structure and finances to win major elections.

At the heat of the controversy generated by the Nigeria Elections Debate Group (NEDG) to invite only five political parties to debate ahead of the 2019 general election, the presidential candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP), Tope Fasua, said the ANRP was one of the top four political parties Nigerians wanted at the debates.

Also peeved by the debate organisers for not inviting its candidate, the African Action Congress (AAC) in a statement by Malcolm Fabiyi, Director-General of the TakeItBack Movement / Sowore 2019 Campaign, claimed it was “one of the three largest parties in Nigeria.”

Then the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) also, in a statement by its National Director of Publicity, Ifeanacho Oguejiofor, said it was the “third largest political party” in Nigeria, with a serving governor and “numerous members in the state and national legislative assemblies”.

However, information gleaned from an Independent National Electoral, INEC, publication signed by Mrs. O. O. Babalola, a director has

revealed that the People’s Trust (PT) political party, which is fielding Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim as its presidential candidate, has emerged top amongst the recently registered political parties fielding candidates for the presidential and national assembly elections. From the ‘Summary of Submission of Form CF002 for Presidential and National Assembly Elections’ issued by INEC, the PT is presenting 194 candidates. The breakdown shows that the party has one presidential candidate and one candidate for the office of the vice president. There are 52 senatorial candidates and 140 aspirants for the House of Representatives respectively running on its platform. Following the PT closely are the Justice Must Prevail Party (JMPP), 182, Mega Party of Nigeria (MPN) 176, the Action Democratic Party (ADP), 136, the Zenith Labour Party (ZLP), 115 and the Advanced Congress of Democrats (ACD), 106. Nigeria’s senate is populated by 109 members, comprising equal representation of three senators from the 36 states of the federation and one senator representing the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), while the House of Representatives has 360 members.

At the bottom of the ladder are the New Generation Party (NGP) and the People’s Democratic Movement (PDM) that both have one contender each for the House of Representatives. The Modern Democratic Party (MDP) and the Youth Party (YP) have two nominees each for the House of Representatives.

Four of the 89 political parties vying for various offices only have candidates for the position of president and vice president. They are the People’s Coalition Party (PCP), We The Peoples of Nigeria (WTPN), AUN and the Reform and Advance Party (RAP). Other parties whose total number of candidates for the 2019 presidential and national assembly elections in are in the single digit bracket are the Save Nigeria Congress (SNC) which is fielding five candidates, the Change Nigeria Party (CNP) with seven contenders and the Liberation Movement (LM), presenting nine runners. A total of 6,510 contestants have thus far being registered for the elections, comprising 4496 for the house of representatives, 1856 for senate and 79 apiece for president and vice presidential positions.

Dr. Abiodun Adeniyi, Senior Lecturer, Mass Communication at the Baze University, Abuja believes the issue of a political third force in this dispensation is very fluid and should be addressed in categories, though, according to him, the PT appears to have an edge over all other newly registered political parties. He said there cannot be an absolute understanding of what constitutes a political third force. “Nevertheless, it underlines the factor of political character. It also depends on the time of our history you are referring to and what your yardstick is. Because it could well be argued that, there was a third force in the first and second republics. In those republics, the processes were natural, but could not unfortunately grow. In the botched Third Republic, it was decreed by the military that a third force should not be in place. Perhaps, the story would have been different. In our present circumstance as well, we may not absolutely deny the forces represented by candidates like Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, Kingsley Moghalu, Oby Ezekwesili, Omoyele Sowore, amongst others. Olawepo-Hashim has particularly being celebrated as the Third Force candidate. These features cannot be undermined on the altar of a nebulous construction of a two-party system.”

According to Adeniyi, the emerging forces can be represented from two perspectives. “The first is the trend of the youthful and somewhat much more urbane, contemporary candidatures of Olawepo-Hashim, Ezekwesili, Moghalu, Sowore, and Fela Durotoye, and some others. These ones are relatively young, vibrant, and forward looking, besides fact that they represent the growing trend of youth leadership that is gaining grounds in sections of the world. Their coming out is sending a message to the older, traditional and more entrenched club of leaders that the future is going to change. The second trend, I can see are the equally educated, informed and futuristic set of leaders. They are older, and obviously belong to a former generation, given their past exposures. I will put Profs. Jerry Gana and Yemi Osibajo in this class. Then add some former governors like Donald Duke and Orji Uzor Kalu and you will not be wrong. We can therefore look at the emerging political trends from the angle of the individuals or from the trend they represent.”

Painting a picture of what a true political third force should look like, Dr. Asukwo Mendie Archibong, Presidential Candidate of the Nigeria for Democracy political party (NFD) said, the people who comprise such a political group must have the interest of the nation at heart. He gave further criteria, “they must be willing to sacrifice for the nation. They must be intrinsically honest. They type of people who do not see politics as a do-or-die affair.”

Previously a self-effacing individual, the NFD presidential candidate argued that more educated Nigerians need to come out of their comfort zone to take an interest in the political process and governance to enable the emergence of a true third force.  He said members of the NFD have a genuine desire to effect changes in the country.”

Again, as the February 16 date for the presidential election draws closer, Nigerians, like it happened in 2015, are torn between making the choice of what has been termed two evils: the APC’s candidate and incumbent president, Muhammadu Buhari and PDP’s Atiku Abubakar.

For a time it was thought that a third choice would be thrown in the mix to neutralise this dominance by both Buhari and Atiku. In the first quarter of 2018 the idea of having a third force party that would stand up to the status quo was thrown around by notable political figures and headed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo.

As it was conceived by Obasanjo, the third force proponents converged under the banner of the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), and were made up of a loose membership of people interested in the development of Nigeria. They planned on transforming into a political party.

The idea behind the CNM, as laid down by Obasanjo, was to have a political party grounded in the grassroots, with the youths who make up more than 65 percent of Nigeria’s population retaining a 30 percent stake in all its organs, while women would have 30 percent stake as well.

Many of the recently registered political parties with young presidential candidates gunning for the number one seat were inspired by this idea of replacing the old guards in politics with young minds and fresh ideas but failed to live by Obasanjo’s most important condition: Unite.

This factor was emphasised by Adeniyi. He noted that a third force envisages the possibility of another group or groups challenging the dominance of the notable two. “The third force is the alternate force separate from the well-known forces. Call it a C force and you would be right, but note that the C force can also grow to be an A or a B force, just as the B force became an A force in 2015.”

In the thinking of Idumonza Isidahomen, a senatorial candidate of the Social Democratic Party (SDP) in Edo State, his party has already emerged as the political third force. His position also favours an amalgamation of these political parties, “Structurally, an overwhelming percentage of these parties would be classified in the lower-middle tiers on the Nigerian political echelon. Regardless, a summation of these tributaries into a centralised political movement would be the most efficient definition of a Third Force. The possibility of a political harmonization is exciting to the imagination and may, perhaps, throw open the challenge at the federal epicenter and subsequently squeeze Nigeria out of this prevailing sociopolitical quagmire that has been promoted by the respective governments of the PDP and APC. However, Nigeria is still a distrusting society with an avalanche of vested interest in the power play. Designing a blueprint that underscores a common denominator and still factors individual interests of these political parties in the food chain, maybe the apparent impediment in the emergence of a Third Force.”

The former president said that the third force “cannot do it alone” and would have to “join others” to defeat the APC and PDP. From the selfish manner the remaining parties have conducted their affairs, it appears their only interest is in seeing their party logo on the ballot paper.

When one traces the history of the proliferation of political parties in Nigeria, the idea of doing it solo won’t come as a surprise.

Until about eight years ago, the federal government was still paying subventions to registered parties. This easy money meant that aside seeing their logos on ballot papers, most of the registered political parties were seasonal parties, appearing every four years.

A policy that was introduced at the start of the current democratic dispensation in 1998 and was intended to assist the parties function optimally and increase political parties amongst the citizens began to be abused by leadership of the different political parties.

It became a trend for political jobbers to register a political party, then wait for election to receive subvention from the government. Once that was done, they take the money and make no efforts to win. Political parties, for these people, was purely a platform for making easy money.

Not much has changed though. Presently, some parties organise online and offline fundraisers, while others are alleged to endorse bigger candidates of the APC and PDP in exchange for money.

“Often bigger parties like APC and PDP induce smaller parties to work with them,” according to the Akwa Ibom Governorship Candidate of the ANRP, Mr. Iboro Otu.

Otu believes the third force should not be seen as a one party, arguing that “The Third Force can only be possible through inter-party coalition; political parties and ideas coming together because of a shared purpose… the space is too crowded; no single party will be strong enough to dislodge PDP or APC without a broad-based coalition.”

Presidential candidate of the Nigeria for Democracy (NFD), Dr. Mendie Archibong, sees nothing wrong with the proliferation of parties. According to him, “We are witnessing the growth and strengthening of the democratic institution in Nigeria. The number of political parties should not be the main concern, rather, let’s be concerned about the ideology of the political parties and the quality of the persons in these parties.”

Archibong believes that for democracy to thrive, political participation “by all viable and duly registered political parties” was important. “Eventually some of the less than viable parties will fall off and the viable and strong ones…will be left occupying the appropriate political space.”

The primary reason why several observers were receptive of a third force was because it was envisioned to serve as a unifier, giving every Nigerian irrespective of ethnicity and religion a sense of belonging. Members of the third force were expected to put country before tribe and religion.

Why this was important is because political party formation and voting patterns in Nigeria before the renewed clamour for a third force majorly assume the colouration of tribe and religion. Observers believe that this divisive characterisation of parties into the tribe and religion of its majority membership is why it’s imperative to have a uniting third force.

A third force was supposed to be inclusive of everyone and ideas, and also assimilate diverse party, individual and societal interests.

On the contrary, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Senatorial Candidate for Edo Central, Mr. Isidahomhen Idumonza, is of the opinion that among the elite class, party formation was not influenced by ethnicity or religion, but rather a selfish drive to accumulate wealth.

“At the top of the food chain, there are never changing cartels that are holding Nigeria plain and bear… The structure that bind the cartel together is relatively detribalised… Those who influence political leadership at the party level and even beyond are rather doubling down on protecting personal interests and expanding their optical empire.”

Otu shares this assertion with Idumonza. According to him, “The major problem of leadership in Nigeria has always been the sharing formula of our resources between godfathers and gladiators. If there’s anything that has destroyed Nigerian politics and leadership, nothing has done it quicker than the politics of godfatherism and personal interest.”

He believes that this can be solved by the newer and smaller political parties. “The newer parties have an edge in mitigating this by drafting constitutions that would make godfatherism difficult.”

Senior Lecturer in Mass Communication at the Baze University in Abuja, Dr. Abiodun Adeniyi, also shares same opinion as Otu that the smaller and newer political parties have an advantage over the APC and PDP.

Tracing the history of two-party system in Nigeria to the military regime of Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida, when we had the National Republican Convention (NRC) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), Adeniyi said he believes the APC and PDP can go the way of NRC and SDP.

“That system partly collapsed because it was not organic, besides the fact that the midwife was not sincere. What we seem to be having now is an unconscious variant, which might also mutate at some point into something else. I do not also believe the present arrangement can be cast in stone, because one of the so-called behemoths is a merger, which sends an instruction on the possibilities of other mergers that could dislodge the seemingly dominant two,” Adeniyi postulates.

At the moment it appears the idea of a third force capable of upstaging the ruling APC and main opposition PDP is a work in progress. Not everyone think the third force would emerge as a singular party like the APC did prior to the 2015 general election that brought them to power.

Otu believes that “In order for the new thinking to do away with the old and for the Third Force idea to take hold, there has to be a kind of broad based coalition amongst smaller parties in every state in Nigeria, and this means different parties will emerge as Third Force in different states.”

He also believes that “For a third force to emerge, our electoral institutions and processes have to be fair and simplified. Next would be on the youth population – especially first time voters – to look beyond party and vote in competent individuals.” It remains to see if this can this happen this year.

QUICK FACTS:

* Nigeria has 91 political parties. Of this number, 23 are new, recently registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) in August 2018

* Most of these parties are only operational on paper, yet boasts of popularity that can only be imagined. Majority of them have never won elective positions into any of the three tiers of government

*The two dominant political parties in the current dispensation remain the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition, Peoples Democratic Party

*Information gleaned from an Independent National Electoral, INEC, publication signed by Mrs. O. O. Babalola, a director revealed that the People’s Trust (PT) political party, which is fielding Mr. Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim as its presidential candidate, has emerged top amongst the recently registered political parties fielding candidates for the presidential and national assembly elections

*In our present circumstance as well, we may not absolutely deny the forces represented by candidates like Gbenga Olawepo-Hashim, Kingsley Moghalu, Oby Ezekwesili, Omoyele Sowore, amongst others. Olawepo-Hashim has particularly being celebrated as the Third Force candidate

*The emerging forces can be represented from two perspectives. The first is the trend of the youthful and somewhat much more urbane, contemporary candidatures of Olawepo-Hashim, Ezekwesili, Moghalu, Sowore, and Fela Durotoye, and some others. The second trend is the equally educated, informed and futuristic set of leaders. They are older, and obviously belong to a former generation, given their past exposures. They include the likes of Profs. Jerry Gana and Yemi Osibajo. Then add some former governors like Donald Duke and Orji Uzor Kalu

* In the first quarter of 2018, the idea of having a third force party that would stand up to the status quo was thrown around by notable political figures and headed by former President Olusegun Obasanjo

* The third force proponents converged under the banner of the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), and were made up of a loose membership of people interested in the development of Nigeria. They planned on transforming into a political party

* Many of the recently registered political parties with young presidential candidates gunning for the number one seat were inspired by this idea of replacing the old guards in politics with young minds and fresh ideas but failed to live by Obasanjo’s most important condition: Unite

A policy that was introduced at the start of the current democratic dispensation in 1998 and was intended to assist the parties function optimally and increase political parties amongst the citizens began to be abused by leadership of the different political parties

*Until about eight years ago, the federal government was still paying subventions to registered parties. This easy money meant that aside seeing their logos on ballot papers, most of the registered political parties were seasonal parties, appearing every four years

* It became a trend for political jobbers to register a political party, then wait for election to receive subvention from the government. Once that was done, they take the money and make no efforts to win. Political parties, for these people, was purely a platform for making easy money