New political coalition will rescue Nigeria, says Osuntokun
Former Managing Director of News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) and one time presidential adviser, Akin Osuntokun, is one of the promoters of the new political coalition in Nigeria’s political firmament. In this interview with NIYI BELLO (Political Editor) and SEYE OLUMIDE, he speaks on the imperative of a Third Force in rescuing the country from the clutches of destructive politics.
Can the Third Force fly?
What do you mean? It is already flying. It has already taken off.
The reason for that question is because the Third Force should be something new and shouldn’t be associated with either the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) or the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). But what we are seeing is typical of the two parties?
This is typical Nigeria. Which English translation of Third Force means something new apart from the APC and PDP? That is your own definition of it. A Third Force would definitely have frustrated and disappointed members from the two major parties. It will also involve people who had hope in the ruling party and President Muhammadu Buhari but are now disappointed with the way government is being run. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo was part of those who invested trust and hope in the APC before now. So that alone contradicts what you are saying. If he is now floating or supporting Third Force, that means he was part of those who supported Buhari and APC to win the 2015 election and the reason the idea of Third Force has come on board is the disappointment and the terrible experience of the Nigerian people with the APC and PDP. People lost confidence in the manner the two parties rule the country and the loss of that confidence is gradually or has led to frustration and it may lead to hopelessness. So we have to find a way of channeling that frustration and the anger in such a way that it will not affect the country. We have seen the context of the civil democratic groups but there is another option and we are not by any means stuck with the APC or PDP because that itself is dangerous for the society. If we do, it may be difficult for us to know because we are stuck with it. So, the Third Force is not about dazzling over definition but it was just that we have two dominant parties before but the idea is to have another one.
Does this not look like putting old wine in new bottle?
If the old wine is still good why not put it in new bottle? Don’t be too bothered with appearances; it is the substance that matters. I have explained to you the main motivator of the Third Force and by the way, other people are coming up with their own idea besides that of Obasanjo. The argument of putting old wine in new bottle is trivial. We are not talking about fashion but the survival of a nation. What you call it is irrelevant. It is what we set out to do that matters. Remember Machiavelli said the end justifies the means. If you are going to achieve a noble ambition, how you go about it doesn’t matter so long it is legal and constitutional.
Forget about name-calling but what matters is how the idea of a Third Force has been able to capture the feelings of frustrations and hopelessness that have become pervasive in the land and how to channel it in a positive manner that we are in a contest of civil democratic rule, which gives us the liberty to form another platform on which we can then confront those two entities that have disappointed us and take over government to do what we believe would grow and develop the country. Democracy itself is largely a matter of trial and error until you perfect it. Democracy is very untidy, chaotic and sometime destructive.
But Chief Obasanjo said in his statement that he would not subscribe to the coalition turning into a political party and that the moment it turns to that he would step aside. How do you then get into office without forming a political platform?
Obasanjo is not synonymous with the coalition. He is just lending his weight and whatever assets he has to get it going. Partisanship by definition is exclusive. We are precluding some people from joining wither by partisanship or by sectionalism but as it is now it allows all comers so far you believe in the idea of Pan Nigeria and dedicated to the objectives of bringing about the formation of a new government. If it stabilizes sufficiently and well grounded it is almost inevitable that a new party will arise from there. In the history of the world, you have a party and a movement behind it but we will not call it that. If you look at the Conservative Party in London, the Queen and the aristocracy are conservatives but they are not members of any party because they were supposed to be none partisan. The coalition will remain and those who want to evolve from there to use it as a base to form a political party are free. It will become a very strong base from which you derive a party.
But the point Obasanjo was making is this, which is salient; he has attained a position in Nigeria that he should not be thinking exclusively, he should not be subjected to partisan definition. He is a statesman and he sees himself as such. A statesman is often without partisan affiliation. But that does not mean that if he sees things going wrong that he would not weigh in. Like he is doing now by pointing to a direction. A direction he has pointed to at this time is that let all of us who share Pan Nigerian notion of good governance and disappointed with this administration, come together. The process of birthing a party takes much more than establishing a movement. So we will start with a broad based non-partisan point and then it can evolve to a party.
But some Nigerians are saying instead of forming another party; why not strengthen our two-party system like it is done in America? Why not team up with the opposition to achieve your aims and objectives?
It is only a military dictatorship that can impose any definite form of multi-party system. It works for them in America because it was the way they have evolved. America has many peculiarities and it is especially shaped by its history, which we cannot replicate here. Even though they are democrat and republican the constitution still allows for other parties and to contest as an independent candidate. Ross Peros did it in 1996 and won as much as 20 percent of the votes. That is an independent candidate so that is in US where two-party system has evolved over the years and has been able to accommodate pluralistic views sufficiently but that does not mean Nigeria must willy-nilly follow that direction.
If you look at the two parties in Nigeria, to me what finally nailed the coffin of the PDP was what it did with its December 9, 2017 National Convention. If you are looking for a viable competitive party that wants to foster a sense of nationhood, you don’t do what the PDP did at the convention. All of a sudden the party woke up and threw away what would strengthen it and attract more people. What kind of party does that? If I am unable to answer these questions I believe there was illogicality in what the party did and I cannot see it coming out of it between now and the next general election.
Are we likely to witness a repeat of what happened at the emergence of the APC in 2014?
That is exactly what I am saying. There is turbulence within the two major political parties and it is moving towards what we call irreconcilable intra-party differences. To say Nigeria is a young democracy is not an overstatement. For instance a party like APC is less than three years old. Would you say that is enough time to call that a political party? It was an alliance that came together to defeat erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP. That is the much you can say about it. We have seen more of the differences among the APC’s actors than commonalities, which you have seen.
Take President Buhari for instance, he is fond of talking about national unity. The president of Nigeria owes that to this nation and that he is to contribute to the national unity but in what ways are his actions corroborated someone who wants the national unity of this nation since he assumed office in the last three years?
While blaming Buhari what about the alleged cabal around him?
What is my business with the cabal, am I the one who appointed the cabal around him? It got so bad that even his wife, Aisha had to cry out. Nigerians elected Buhari and not a cabal. That is part of his miss-governance.
What if he is reelected in 2019?
That’s a difficult scenario to contemplate in the first place. I don’t see that on the horizon and if it is going to happen, it is going to be accompanied by mammoth political crisis all over the place. People are sufficiently injured and aggravated that they will react in an unexpected manner. If that happened, then Nigeria is heading towards a perfect storm. It would be difficult for me to envisage a scenario in which President Buhari would win in a free and fair election in 2019. These are the kinds of things that would come to play in my imagining such a scenario to take place over so many injuries and frustration. It may lead the country into permanent crisis, which we don’t pray for. Anyway that is my own projection because I am not God. But giving what we have now going by the way President Buhari has conducted himself and the way he is still conducting himself and with the level of bitterness all over the place against him, it is difficult to imagine him being reelected as a product of peaceful election.
What if the President decides to restructure the country?
That’s a political dummy. APC is just trying to use that to buy time to muddle the water. The only thing that I see is that the party controls all the security apparatus even INEC and also have all the money. But the truth is that 80 percent of the money the party is likely going to commit to the election will end up in the pockets of the party’s leadership. And I believe people will also take their money but will not vote for them. I also believe that the last type of laxity in the last election whereby in Kano State 2.8 million voters were accredited and exactly that number voted would not be allowed this time. That is impossible.
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