Over the past few months, the most repeated word in the political lexicon in Nigeria has been the Third Force. The concept arose because Nigeria has now moved from a one-party to a two-party dominant system currently occupied by the ruling APC and the former ruling PDP. The Third Force is therefore the political party that will break into the gang of two displacing one of them, and in its eyes take over power in 2019 or 2023 on the assumption Nigerians are fed up with both parties. The Third Force is a concept invented by WhatsApp groups, thousands of which have been lamenting bad leadership and castigating the ineptness of our leaders. WhatsApp has become a major institution in Nigerian society and among its numerous uses is a platform for lamentation but also for the distribution of fake news and hate speech.
Last year, at least three lamentation groups made the transition to convening physical meetings and eventually transited into organisations that took the decision to act rather than just remain as lamentation groups. It was during these transitional meetings that the idea coming together to establish a Third Force in Nigerian politics emerged. I was a participant in one of the groups that came to be known as the Nigerian Intervention Movement (NIM), which was the first to use the label Third Force. We had met with Olisa Agbakoba, Pat Utomi, Issa Aremu, Jaleel Tafawa Balewa, Rabiu Isiaka Rabiu, Donald Duke, Wale Okuniyi and others to reflect on the state of national politics and the imperative of galvanising civic action for good governance. Subsequently, the objective of the group changed to the pursuit of power and I withdrew from participating in NIM activities. Unfortunately, I have seen my name splashed all over the place as one of the leaders of NIM Third Force, I am not and they should desist from using my name. Many others including Ayo Obe, Oby Ezekwesili, Isiaka Rabiu and Najatu Mohammed have also complained about their names being issued as leaders of the movement without their accord. I hope they will stop using people’s names without permission.
Another group that originated from WhatsApp is the Revive Nigeria Group under the leadership of Aisha Waziri Umar composed largely of young people who have not been previously politically active and wishing to become change agents. Datti Baba Ahmed also leads a third group. It was in the context of this search for a better political future that Olusegun Obasanjo emerged and basically stole the concept of Third Force from the people who had been midwifing it. His approach is different, collect corrupt old politicians from both the APC and PDP who have a problem with their party leadership or have no political future in their parties and get them together to place whoever he chooses as our next president. His Third Force therefore has no new ideas of actors. His strategic plan is a got a high number of serving governors to join him with stolen money from their States to make a takeover bid for political power. Obasanjo is deeply rooted in the politics of the past and his ambition remains to continue his role as the biggest godfather of Nigerian politics.
As we move towards political party primaries starting in August this year, the political class is posing some probing questions. The first one is what has happened to the political coalition that brought Buhari to power? To what extent does Buhari still maintains the fanatical support he had in his core northern base? Does Tinubu still control the South West political machine and if he does, would he be prepared to deploy it to get Buhari re-elected? Does Tinubu have a Plan B and is that why Buhari is trying to appease him by asking him to seek solutions to APC’s problems? PDP appears to believe that the possibilities of shifting coalitions are real and is therefore hoping that it could emerge as the only credible alternative to Buhari’s APC that can guarantee the political class the type of goodies it provided during its 16 years in power. Is PDP hoping to benefit from the present conflicts in the North Central zone that is pushing their voters to mobilise against Buhari? The most important question that would arise in that context is whether the Nigerian voters’ would accept to vote for the PDP knowing as they do how the party ruled and ruined the country. It is these questions that create conditions for some people to believe that there is a real possibility for a third force as Nigerians have become disappointed by the performance of both the PDP and APC. The key question then becomes could a third force galvanise sufficient resources to be a real threat to the two big parties?
As the debate and mobilization for a Third Force grows, it is important that we do not forget that the greatest challenge facing Nigerian democracy is the absence of a real and functional party system. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) recently declared that at least 18 of the registered political parties in Nigeria are operating with invalid national executive committees whose tenures had expired or were not reflective of the federal character as required by the Constitution. It would be recalled that Sections 222(a-f) and 223 (1&2) of our Constitution stipulates clearly that registered political parties must have a functional national headquarters address in Abuja. Furthermore, members of the national executive committees of the parties must not only reflect federal character but also have tenures that are renewed at intervals not exceeding four years. The Attahiru Jega INEC had de-registered a number of parties for not adhering to these constitutional requirements and for not winning seats in any elections but the courts have always been lenient and permitted parties to continue to have legal existence even when they do not meet the constitutional requirements. The Mahmoud Yakubu INEC has given the defaulting parties a 90-day ultimatum to abide by the law or face sanctions.
The legal conformity of our parties to the Constitution is in reality the least of their problems. Nigerian political parties have no ideology or programmatic vision, and even more important, they have no members who participate in party activities because they believe their parties have something to offer their country. Depending on their financial capacity, most parties source for and pay crowds to provide participants for their activities. It is for this reason that often, the same persons would be seen attending the activities of different parties. As elections approach, crowds line up to attend congresses and primaries for a fee. Although most parties have no real members, more are being registered. Recently, 21 new parties have been registered bring the total number of parties to 68. Meanwhile, INEC has explained that the applications of 90 other political associations for registration are now being processed. With elections round the corner, political entrepreneurs are busy registering new parties to cater for desperate politicians who will lose out in the forthcoming party primaries and would be willing to pay huge amounts of money to get a platform to contest in the elections. The idea of a Third Force in Nigerian politics can become real only if they are able to address this question of membership. Ordinary people most join, control and dictate the activities of political parties so that they become real civic organisations that own themselves and are not therefore the properties of godfathers such as Olusegun Obasanjo.
We must not forget that politics has become explosive in Nigeria today because Nigeria is in great difficulty. By the end of 2017, the misery associated with the economic crisis has accelerated the social decomposition of society and anarchic responses as the youth engage in self help projects based on kidnapping, cattle rustling and rural banditry. The killing spree associated with violent conflicts between herdsmen and farmers continues to spread and deepen. The violence has been accompanied by the lingering Boko Haram crisis and the revival of militancy in the Nigeria Delta, this has created a massive security challenge that our military and police forces have been unable to address adequately. Many Nigerians are today reminding President Buhari about his promises on improving security.
As the political class accelerates its activities in the coming weeks and months, the Nigerian voter is clearly in a painful process of decision-making. The Buhari Administration has not delivered sufficiently on their promise of improved security, more jobs and a successful war against corruption. They would therefore have great difficulties campaigning for re-election. The PDP would not find it easier to campaign as memories about their 16-year bad governance remain strong in the popular imagination. The Third Force would have great difficulty consolidating itself because the history of Nigerian elections has been binary and people may be forced to decide on the principle of the least terrible option rather than a choice they really believe in.