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Again ‘Third Force’ coalition tests the waters ahead 2023

By Muyiwa Adeyemi (Politics Editor), Seye Olumide (Lagos), Seun Akingboye (Akure), Ayodele Afolabi (Ado Ekiti), Rotimi Agboluaje (Ibadan), Timothy Agbor (Osogbo), Adamu Abuh and Tina Abeku (Abuja)
28 September 2021   |   2:58 am
Some are of the opinion that the country needs a new direction to tackle social, economic and political challenges bedevilling the country, which they blame on bad leadership.

Prof. Atahiru Jega

Some are of the opinion that the country needs a new direction to tackle social, economic and political challenges bedevilling the country, which they blame on bad leadership. But many received the idea of resuscitating the Third Force as announced by the movers of Rescue Nigeria Projects (RNP), which promises to solve the leadership crisis, with mixed feelings.

The failure of the two dominant parties – the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to meet the expectations of Nigerians have spurred many to look forward to an alternative party that has the capacity to lead people and effect changes.

To the critics of the existing political structure, both APC and PDP are Siamese twins with common features, but without ideological underpinnings, the reason it is easy for their members to cross the aisle seamlessly and shamefully, without any consequence.

Third Force or farce?
THE idea of a Third Force was first reinforced by former President Olusegun Obasanjo in one of his letters to President Muhammadu Buhari before the 2019 general elections, where he condemned both the APC and PDP and called for a “coalition of the concerned and the willing – ready for positive and drastic change, progress and involvement” as an alternative.

Shortly after the letter, many parties tried to coalesce but there was no bonding of strong political parties to challenge the hegemony of APC and PDP.

Olisa Agbakoba announced The Nigerian Intervention Movement (NIM), which consisted of politicians like former Central Bank Governor (CBN) and current governorship candidate of a faction of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), in the November 6 governorship election in Anambra State, Charles Soludo, former Cross River State Governor, Donald Duke, Professor Pat Utomi and former Education Minister, Dr Oby Ezekwesili. The coalition made a limited impact as some of the actors pursued their ambitions from different platforms.

Fela Durotoye contested for the presidential election under the platform of Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN); Ezekwesili under Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Kingsley Moghalu under Young Progressives Party (YPP), Donald Duke under Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Omoyele Sowore under the African Action Congress (AAC).

A few days after the presidential poll, Dr Ezekwesili withdrew from the race, essentially over an internal crisis in her party to support a consensus candidate among the new breed politicians.

Analysts are of the opinion that the idea of Third Force failed in 2019 because its proponents did not have the structure and funds to oust both the APC and PDP.

Is RNP the real force?
DESPITE the failure of the Third Force to produce desired results in 2019, the prevailing situation in the country and dwindling goodwill of the major parties must have propelled the proponents RNP to come up with the new movement.

Founders of RNP include former Chairman of Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Prof. Attahiru Jega; political economist, Prof. Pat Utomi; former Governor of Kwara State, Ahmed Abdulfatai; and former Governor of Cross River State, Donald Duke.

Others include Prof. Tunde Adeniran, Senator Lee Maeba, Usman Bugaje, Amb. Nkoyo Toyo, Yomi Awoniyi, Dr. Rose Idi Danladi and Dr. Sadiq Gombe.

While introducing the movement to Nigerians, Abdulfatai lamented the state of the nation, noting that the high level of nepotism and lack of inclusiveness gave rise to agitations from different ethnic groups. He recalled that in 2015, Nigerians embraced change, adding that “today, that change appears to be what we didn’t expect, as insecurity has taken over the nation.

He said, “It is based on this that we decided to set up this RNP. We want to salvage this country and see how we can fix the mess. We want to set a template and key criteria that leaders must have before they can attain any political position.”

On his part, Adeniran said he foresaw disaster, hence the move to rescue the nation. He said: “You only rescue when there is a disaster, and when you fail to rescue during a disaster, it is more dangerous. We have a disaster on our hands and we need to rescue the country. We need to look back and see how we got here. We know where Nigeria was before now. We know the task is not going to be easy, but we have to determine how to rescue the nation.”

For the RNP national coordinator, Usman Bugaje, the movement was founded on the premise that the challenges bedevilling the country were largely derived from poor leadership.

Although, the political agenda of the RNP is yet to be known to the people, there are discussions about the timing and capacity of its founders to challenge APC and PDP in the 2023 general elections.

Can RNP displace APC/PDP hegemony?
ENDING the political dominance of APC and PDP is the major preoccupation of the founders of the RNP who have openly expressed their disappointment at the manner the two parties have misruled Nigeria.

Speaking on the need to encourage founders of RNP, a political analyst, Mr Kola Ogunleye who believed that Nigerians should look beyond APC and PDP for solutions to myriads of challenges facing the country, urged the electorate to give the new initiative a benefit of doubt in “our quest to find solutions to leadership problem in Nigeria.

He said, “First, I think the idea of the Third Force is very good. With the anomalous behaviour of the existing two dominant political parties, I have always believed that something needs to happen within the political firmament of Nigeria. The two parties are misbehaving seriously; the ruling party is nothing when we are talking in terms of democratic dividend. PDP misbehaved and was voted out, APC is behaving like a superstar now without any sign of learning anything from PDP.

So if APC and PDP could not deliver on the expectations of Nigerians, we need to come together and join forces with other initiatives.

“Yes, I know that attempt to have a Third Force in 2019 did not work out, but I have a feeling that the lessons learnt in the last election cycle will assist on the strategy and operation of this new party. I do not agree with those dismissing the idea as a failed experiment. I have a feeling that they will move toward a new narrative within the Nigerian political system. The existing political parties were not found on any ideology, some other people must come up with fresh thinking and fresh idea, the new ideological direction for the Nigerian nation that can actually deliver the masses of our people who are suffering from the trio of hunger, poverty and disease?

But a Kano-based political activist and chieftain of Labour Party (LP), Isa Tijani has described RNP as a political initiative without the capability to displace APC and PDP, noting that the new group lacks the financial muscle to endear itself to the Nigerian electorate ahead of the 2023 general elections.

He said: “I am sure they cannot unseat APC and PDP. The problem of the electorate is that they find it difficult to accept a new party. The one they know and accept is the old ones, so I don’t see a new party making headway. The consciousness and awareness of the need to try a new alternative are very low. They believe new parties cannot make it because of the level of corruption and rigging that characterise our electoral system, so they chose to stay with old parties.

“The reason may not be far from the fact that most people that join political parties do so for financial reward or expect to gain political favour. The concern is how to capture political power and not party building. It is difficult since party matters are not like before, in those days, parties are formed on ideology basis and fight for emancipation. Today you see a politician winning a seat under a political party without even knowing the manifesto of the party.”

For a former lecturer and political analyst, Mr. Angel Folorunso, “One of the critical features of politics resides in the capacity of the people of the same ideological bent to associate. The emergence of the Third Force is not a new thing in Nigeria. People look up to other ideologically committed parties to give them servant leadership and security, which the existing parties have failed to do. There is nothing special about the proponents of the political movement given the level of the systemic rot that has ravaged the country. There’s the likelihood of stillbirth if their aim is to contest and win elections without strategic planning required to form a political party at this eleventh hour, without a deep pocket as the case may be.

“Infiltrating their ranks by the current political poachers and leaders with money but little electoral value in future elections may constrain the seeming laudable programme of the new political movement. Monetised politics is another problem they may face. Some strong members of the movement with electoral value will be wooed by either APC or PDP with slush funds to dump their ambition using the bandwagon factor. 

“The voters who have been impoverished will fall for crumbs on the table of the moneybags through buying and selling of votes. The new movement will fail to realise its ambition without building grassroots support. If its aim is to gun for presidential election without support base of the grassroots, it will fail on the eve of elections. There may be an issue of undemocratic forces injecting viruses into the new political movement to scuttle their ambition by the power that is. Coercive instruments of the State may be deployed against the new movement whenever it tries to show some strength. The badly shaped polity without being restructured will supply incentives to the development of negative capabilities and confusion.

If the movement can build the party from the grassroots with modest funding and sustainable membership mobilisation across the social strata, a contest for parliamentary, gubernatorial elections, with weak showing in the presidential campaign, things may work out well post-2023 general elections all things being equal.

“The beneficiaries of the fallout from terrorism and banditry may block the chances of the formation of any third political force except for the restructuring of the sinking republic of Nigeria. There’s need to grapple with the reality of the self-determination groups with their globally recognised campaigns for redrawing of the Nigerian borders”.

A labour activist, Mr. Andrew Emelize, said: “With a terribly divided country, it is extremely difficult to have similar public opinions on public issues. More so, the idea of a united Nigeria is gradually eroding, therefore, the notion of a rescue mission will definitely be interpreted from the different divides that have emasculated present-day Nigeria. 

“For those who still believe in one Nigeria, the third force could be a welcome idea and all things are possible. However, the question remains that, what third force?  Is it a continuity of the forces, repacking themselves? What radical departure from the former?  One can also ask that is the force given and how well is the third force a product of the grassroots and not of the elites?

“To some, Nigeria is a write-off and they will not want to believe that anything good can come out of Nigeria. To this category of people, they see Nigeria as a scam, existing only for the interest of a few predatory opportunists. These categories of citizens nonetheless see 2023 elections as diversionary tactics away from addressing fundamental issues of Nigeria statehood. Hence a divided Nigeria will make more sense for them than the proposal of a third force.

“In all, my take is that political apathy reigns supreme in Nigeria and the mass majority have lost confidence in the ruling elites, politicians can no longer be trusted and anything beyond the popular mass of the working people and deprived citizens organising themselves to take power in their own interest will amount to begging the question”.

To Dr. Steve Lafenwa of Political Science Department, University of Ibadan (UI), “The third force is not the solution that we need now. So far the political elites who are actors in this political dispensation are going to be members, I would not be surprised if the Third Force go the way of PDP and APC. 

“The systemic problem identified by international observers and election monitors are still there: negative use of money, monetisation of political offices, vote-buying and selling, lack of internal democracy within the parties, party-switching without vacating the post, democracy by court orders, poverty and using state resources to fund personal projects and so on. Until the present political system is changed via comprehensive constitutional review, electoral law enforcement, meaningful political dialogue, I don’t think the third force would serve its expected purpose”.

Responding to The Guardian questions on RNP, Adeniran who gave insight into the essence of the initiative said Nigerians should look beyond 2023, but see the new initiative as a movement to save Nigeria from disintegration and total collapse. He said: “Third Force? Well, it’s okay if that is what you choose to call it. Those behind the movement see the RNP as the emerging real force to get Nigeria out of the woods. 

“In September last year, I made it clear that I was disengaging from partisan politics. I also stressed that as an irrepressible patriot I remain committed to my belief that democracy could only be consolidated in Nigeria through a liberating and uplifting ideology that serves as a guide for action and democratic institutions with their supporting structures, especially a workable Constitution, collaboration with conscientious civil society organisations and inspiring moral values. I also warned against getting fully into a reverse wave and stressed the need to confront the provocative picture of democracy in our fatherland.   

“The prospects were becoming deem, with the gains of the past being eroded as the driving factors are weakened and opportunities for change sabotaged. I cannot say that because I am now a non-partisan person I see the Nigeria House collapsing, with insecurity everywhere and severely diminishing opportunities for production either on the farms or in the industries and stand idly by or join compatriots with similar ideological orientation and rescue our dear country? 

“We have equally concerned Nigerians whose values, capacity and sense of justice, equity and patriotism are selfless and ennobling. That’s why I am part of the Rescue Team”.

The former minister however said everything must not begin or end with 2023 said: “I don’t know why many Nigerians, especially our journalists, feel that everything must begin and end with calculations toward the 2023 Presidential election. For now, our main preoccupation is to reconcile and reunite our country and mobilise Nigerians for genuine transformation and development’’.