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Third force: Understanding what lies beneath


Ever since year 2018 political lexicon received third force as a unique entry through former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s statement on the way out (or towards 2019), the polity has been abuzz, with many trying hard to fathom the possible ramifications and implications of the development. Although the former President maintains that his pet political projects would remain a political movement that would not transmute to a political party, the behind activities of the promoters suggest that something practical is on the plate.

Former President Obasanjo must have noted as countless others that one calendar year (February 2018 to February 2019) is not enough to midwife a political party for the purposes of making serious impact in the presidential election. Conversely, the former President may have, with the benefit of hindsight, especially experience with his disputed third term gambit, become wary of the implication of his return to partisan politics and possible failure in the presidential election on his clout cum public standing.

Consequently, he must have decided for the novel idea of a political action group that dangles between mass mobilization of docile citizenry for electoral participation and conscience of the nation. That must be why he declared that the moment the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM) becomes a political party, he would divest his membership (perhaps in another card tearing session).

Although CNM may not be a political party, discreet searches reveal that the navigator in chief has been involved in back channel scouting for eligible and credible presidential aspirants to accentuate his design for a new leadership paradigm for the country.Given that trajectory, it becomes auspicious to evaluate the possible challenges that could stand in the path of the CNM, which the former President described as the authentic thirdforce.

Which Third Force?
GIVEN public acknowledgment of the presentation of third force in the polity as the way out of the perceived undulating lack of direction by both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the question of which group constitutes the appropriate third force has become an issue.
While sources within the APC allege that a great number of card carrying members are set to leave the party to join hands in the formation of a third force, a group recently came up with claims that the idea of a third force is original to it and not Chief Obasanjo.

At a press conference in Abuja shortly after the launch of Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), which Obasanjo was later to describe as the authentic third force, leaders of Coalition Nigeria (CN), accused the former president of cloning their idea and running with it as the basis to launch CNM.Denying that CN had anything to do with Obasanjo, the national coordinator of CN, Sabo Odeh, contended that while they were interested in building national consensus for nation building, Obasanjo’s CNM came up as a platform for failed politicians to launch themselves back to reckoning.

Odeh stressed that CN was determined to pursue “noble objectives,” adding that it has within its ranks credible citizens that would drive the Nigeria Project without biases due to class, religious, political or ethnic considerations. Also joining the debate on the authentic third force, national chairman of United Progressive Party (UPP), Chief Chekwas Okorie, told The Guardian that prior to the launch of the CNM, some political parties, including UPP have been meeting to form the much expected third force.

Okorie added that some politicians that did not want to fall in with President Muhammdu Buhari’s group of former members of Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) started planning for a third force when they realised the implausibility of joining PDP.He said: “Third force is what we have been promoting, especially after the Anambra governorship poll. We had to drum up the issue of third force. In fact, there is no alternative to it. An effective third force cannot be a gathering of strange bedfellows, but must be political parties that have the same things in terms of political ideologies and inclination in terms of their manifesto and agenda.

“But what you are seeing now is that people are jumping into this third force thing now that Obasanjo has made it popular by his support of it. And now you are going to see several variants of third force until you get the one that Nigerians can rely on.

“A third force is a political movement that will bring about changes right from the state Assemblies to the presidency of Nigeria. And so, it must be anchored on a political party that has the required social contract that will guide its election or selection of the party’s candidates all the way from state assemblies.”

There were also allegations that Obasanjo beat the gun to announce CNM in a bid to take the wind off the sails of the Nigeria Intervention Movement (NIM) facilitated by former national president of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA), Chief Olisah Agbakoba, Abdul Jelil Tafawa Balewa, Donald Duke among others. How far would the perceived division within the fold of third force affect the capacity of CNM to take Nigeria “from where we are to where we ought to be?” How much poaching does Obasanjo want to carry out from APC and PDP, where he has a lot of allies? Will his action become suspect and cause confusion within the polity as 2019 draws near?

Choice Of Party/Candidates
RESPONDING to reservations expressed by critics of the third force, Dr. Obasanjo had stressed that he does not have a preferred candidate. But it was reliably gathered that the former President reached out to a one term presidential aspirant from the north central geopolitical zone known for his simplicity and modesty, dangling support.It was also gathered that when the man vacillated in giving his word, the former President also reached out to a retired military officer from Kaduna State to anchor the new movement away from the oldies. The retired soldier was said to have drawn attention to the aspiration of a former governor of his state, Senator Ahmed Makarfi.

It was at this point that emissaries were sent to Makarfi to scale down on his consultations so as to pave the way for the former ranking officer to consider the proposition to contest the presidency in 2019.However, when contacted Senator Makarfi said, “Nobody is pressuring me to do anything.” But even as CNM continues its membership recruitment and search for flag bearers, one other issue that is bound to dog its efforts is the choice of political platform to support. The idea of picking up an existing political platform to rally round was said to have been arrived at when it became obvious to the promoters of third force that process of registering and marketing a new political party could not be achieved within six months.

Funding, Bonding And Structural Issues
SHOULD CNM or whichever third force, succeed in picking one platform from among the plethora of parties recognised by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), how is it going to tackle the issue of funding?

Recent experience starting from the 2015 general election through Ondo, Edo and Anambra States’ governorship elections, reveal that elections in Nigeria have become very capital intensive. And although INEC has subtly hinted at the extant provisions about campaign funding and the cost ceiling for elective offices, exorcising the spectre of money politics does not seem feasible.

Funding apart, how far could the members of third force bond with officials and members of the chosen platform within the next six months when it is expected that political activities would heighten? Nothing tests the cohesion of political parties as party primary elections.

What becomes of sour losers in the event that the outcomes of such primary polls do not favour them? What role would CNM or third force play in the emergence of candidates? If by consensus, what manifesto would the candidate implement assuming s/he triumphs in the main election? Could it be then that Obasanjo and his proponents of third force want to experiment with the feasibility of an independent candidate by ultra means?

Then in the event that such a presidential or governorship candidate wins the election, what considerations would determine his/her selection of cabinet members? Would that not amount to a return to the sole administrator posture adopted by President Buhari in 2015?

Amid all those staggering challenges, how far would the leadership structure of the chosen platform go to moderate governance and policy choices of the president or governor?

In this article:
Olusegun Obasanjo
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