Why Nigeria Needs a Third Force – THISDAY Newspapers
Simon Kolawolelive! In Waziri Adio’s article, “Is Nigeria Due for Another Electoral Upset?” (THISDAY, January 16, 2022), he made a strong and neat argument on the near-impossibility of an upset in the 2023 presidential election. By upset, he meant a third force — rather than the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) — upstaging the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC). His argument is hinged on several factors, some of which are: the fact that time is running out for the construction of a formidable nationwide vote-winning structure by the would-be third-force candidates; the enormous war chest needed for a presidential run; and the reluctance of the typical voter to bet on candidates with slim chances. After digesting the article, I was almost giving up hope on the leeway for an electoral upset but for his critical caveat: “You need a formidable political machine or movement capable of taking advantage of the obvious weakness of the established order, capitalising on the widespread discontent, and matching the status quo in grit and wiles for votes in the nooks and crannies of the country.” I have deliberately excised the remaining sentence (“I am yet to figure out such a force or machine on the scene about a year to the next elections”) because it will not serve my purpose today. I want to pursue an argument that we need badly a third force for whatever it is worth. To be sure, history does not favour a third force in politics, much less in Nigeria. In most countries, there are usually two parties controlling the game, with a third force putting up a dark horse display once in a blue moon. In Ghana, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC) are the dominant parties. In South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) is fully in control with the Democratic Alliance a very distant second. The Conservatives and Labour regularly exchange the baton in the UK. The Democrats and the Republicans own US politics. In Nigeria, the PDP and APC (in different shapes and sizes) have been dominating the terrain in the fourth republic. If I know all these facts, why then am I canvassing a third force? I need to make myself very clear. One, it is going to be extremely difficult to displace the ruling party. We are discussing Third World politics where the state machinery is regularly deployed for political manoeuvres. It took 12 years for the opposition to gain power in Nigeria. It had never even happened before. It was a major upset in 2015. Therefore, the APC will not give up power without putting up a massive fight. Add that to the fact that APC has 21 out of the 36 governors. We know governors are the most powerful bloc. They control most of the field commanders and the war chest. That is what we mean by “structure”. Two, conventional wisdom is that if any party is going to displace the APC, it has to be the PDP because of its history, experience and structure. PDP controlled power for 16 years, at a point threatening to rule Nigeria for 60 years non-stop. The natural alternative, as it should be, is the PDP. But a party that once controlled 31 states is now a pathetic shadow of itself with so many egos clashing on a daily basis. I concede that politicians would always want to control a party’s structure in order to be relevant, to be able to call the shots. But you can see the lack of tact and maturity in the leadership. The legal tussles and media wars are no doubt jeopardising the party’s chances. This is why I think we need a third force. However, my concept of third force is slightly different from the conventional one. We see third force typically as a “third political party” that will cause an electoral upset. Why not? It could indeed be a party that will come from nowhere and disrupt the flow of things — as the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) did in the south-east in 2003 and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) in far northern states in 2011. CPC and a faction of APGA are now part of APC. We should also remember that Dr Segun Mimiko became governor of Ondo state on the ticket of the Labour Party (LP) in 2007. But my perception is a bit extended beyond this. While a third force can be a “third party”, it can also be a movement — a “third way”, if you like. There are many Nigerians who do not belong to either PDP or APC, so they are not limited by rigid political affiliations. I think they are in the majority. Globally, most voters are not registered party members. Some vote according to the traditions, sympathies, ideologies and sentiments they identify with, not because they are card-carrying members of a party. Some others vote on a case-by-case basis, with no particular loyalty. They look at the candidates or the issues per time. That is why power regularly changes hands in some countries. It is not that party members defected. This third force I am thinking of, therefore, can be a “third party” or a “third way”. Both are desirable because it has become glaring to us now that APC and PDP are conjoined in the head and are behaving like Siamese twins. This should not be a surprise. The gap between the two parties is not as long as a bridge. In fact, someone can eat breakfast in APC at 7am, cross over to PDP for lunch and is back in time to APC for dinner. Many commentators say it is because of lack of distinct ideology but I think it is also lack of principles. The archetypal Nigerian politician does not want to be in the kitchen sweating it out and preparing the food. He or she is rather looking for where food is ready. Ordinarily, APC and PDP should be competing for our votes by trying to outperform each other at all levels of government. This healthy competition should make the voters spoilt for choice. If APC is in power and does not deliver the goods, it should be afraid that voters may choose PDP the next time. The possibility of alternation of power should make the parties sit up, knowing that they can be thrown out. This is one of the beauties of democracy. But it would appear APC and PDP — because they look and behave so much alike — do not care too much about the likely reaction of the voters. They think their parties are safe in their territories. They are not always right, as we saw in 2015. We can learn from 2015. The ruling party, which called itself the “largest party in Africa” (its Siamese sibling has now proudly taken over the title) lost for the first time since 1999. This is where my idea of a third force, or third way, comes in. Although many factors and forces pushed PDP out of power, we cannot deny the role of the “third force”: Nigerians were generally tired of the status quo. They were tired of amateurism in government. They were tired of the open show of corruption. They were tired of the insecurity across the land. They wanted a change. APC appeared on the scene at the right time, said the right thing and coined the right slogans to mobilise the popular sentiments. What then? While it may be extremely difficult for a “third party” to win power in 2023 because of the complex nature of electoral politics (including notably the need to build a vote-winning machinery and a heavy war chest), the “third way” movement is still alive and active. There are millions of Nigerians who do not owe an allegiance to APC or PDP. There are millions of Nigerians who are still not pleased with the state of the nation and are ready to cast their votes for the candidate they think would make a big difference in their lives, no matter the parties they belong. It does not take an eternity to mobilise these sentiments. We all saw what happened in 2015. Now, this is where I am going: the knowledge that there is a mass movement of Nigerians out there, which I call the “third force” or “third way”, should propel APC and PDP to consider the quality of candidates they will field in 2023. If Nigerians are fully persuaded that one candidate is better than the other, I can see the 2015 spirit coming back to play. Although many people eventually regretted voting for APC because they are unhappy with the performance of President Muhammadu Buhari in office, the basic principle has been established: that if these “freelance” voters believe one party is fielding a better candidate, they can be mobilised to join other forces in voting him or her into office. I am not completely dismissing the idea that the “third force” can be a party if certain things fall in place. One, there must be a coalition of powerful political heavyweights who have the structures and the wherewithal to win elections. And there are only two places we can hope that these heavyweights will come from: the same APC and PDP. There will, expectedly, be fall-outs in those parties after their presidential primaries. I see some of them pulling out or resorting to anti-party manoeuvres because of the outcome of the primaries. This rebellion, if well-harvested, can provide a pool of heavyweights who can give the third force a realistic election-winning structure. Two, the heavyweight political forces can team up the “third way” movement to back the preferred candidate of a “third party”. One big challenge would be how to get the movement to work with the political heavyweights without being judgmental. For sure, the political heavyweights are not going to be saints; we can only hope that they would be motivated by the need for a new kind of leadership for Nigeria. If people who want a new kind of Nigeria can be backed by those who have the structure to make it happen, why can’t they work together? It happened in 2015 and the fact that some people are disappointed with the outcome does not mean it cannot happen again. Three, there must be a “new wave” candidate who would be the flagbearer of the “third party”. That is the biggest challenge. The new electoral act, along with the election timetable released by INEC, will make things quite difficult. Anyone who wants to run in the 2023 presidential election has to participate in party primaries which must be concluded by June 3, 2022. If Nigerians are going to rally round a third party, at least they should have an idea of the candidate by now. This is one of the points in Adio’s article. There is work to do and if we cannot see anything clearly now, we should not expect a miracle. By this time in 2014, the APC was already consolidating and strategising for 2015. In conclusion, I admit that the possibility of a “third party” producing the president is extremely low, but we should not rule out the chances of a “third way” playing a critical role in electing the next president — either by supporting the stronger candidate between APC and PDP, as they have done before to good effect, or by supporting a “new wave” candidate by collaborating with dissident heavyweights to back a “third party”. Whatever the case, we need another way of playing politics. We need a force, or a movement, to put APC and PDP on their toes so that they can get serious with the quality of candidates they want to present in 2023. We need a healthy political competition.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS… JUDICIAL ABRACADABRA In an unprecedented judgment, a federal high court sitting in Umuahia, Abia state, on Friday gave legislative powers to the attorney-general of the federation (AGF). In a case regarding the Electoral Act requirement for political appointees to resign 30 days to party primaries, the judge asked the AGF to amend the law by deleting the clause. Nowhere in the world does the attorney-general have such powers. A judge can declare a law illegal but to ask the AGF to amend it by deleting a clause is unprecedented. I hope the National Judicial Council (NJC) will look into this. By the time our politicians are done with the judiciary, we may have nothing left of the temple of justice. Terrifying. SLAPDASH INAUGURATION The slapping saga between Mrs Bianca Ojukwu and Mrs Ebelechukwu Obiano dominated news on Thursday, overshadowing the little matter of Prof Chukwuma Soludo’s inauguration as the governor of Anambra state. The subject became the predicate. For Ndi Anambra, that was a slap in the face. Soludo represents a brand of leaders that many Nigerians want in power: an accomplished intellectual with a proven record in public service. There are many of them in our midst who do not have the privilege of being in the driving seat. That is why I am on my knees praying that Soludo will succeed. All he needs to make a difference is to focus on the most important things. Possibilities. HARSH TIMES When it rains, it pours. As Nigerians were still battling the methanol-induced petrol scarcity, aviation fuel decided to become elusive and expensive, resulting in fare hikes and fears of grounding flights altogether. Meanwhile, the Russia-Ukraine war has impacted on crude oil prices, pushing up the prices of diesel and gas. In Nigeria, the national grid — the highway through which electricity is transported from generating plants to distribution companies — recorded a couple of collapses, thereby plunging the nation into darkness. The bad news, though, is that most of Nigeria’s problems will remain even after the Russia-invoked crisis is over. Tighten your seat belts please. Turbulence. RIP EMEKA OBASI The last time I saw Prince Emeka Obasi, publisher of Hallmark newspapers and former Abia state commissioner of information, we spent about two hours together discussing Nigeria’s problems. It was at his Ikeja GRA residence. He was unwell and was constantly receiving oxygen from a concentrator, but that had taken nothing away from his energy. He had sought medical help home and abroad without getting any definite diagnosis. That was quite scary. He was a very proud Igbo man with an incredible commitment to the Nigerian project. He was a man of wits. I was devastated to learn of his death. In the end, he only left ahead of the rest of us. We all owe death a debt. Adieu.