The emergence of a third force which OBJ heralded in his recent famous letter to PMB is ordinarily a good development for Nigeria’s polity. For now, OBJ recommends that it remains a movement, a coalition of Nigerians who dislike both APC and PDP or who do not trust that any can save Nigeria from its present dysfunction and descent to anarchy. Or maybe they do not see any good candidate emerge from these parties in 2019. Or could it be a movement of people who want political power but cannot find any space in APC or PDP? Or is it just a movement to ensure PMB does not try 2019 and that if he insists, then the coalition will ensure he does not succeed? For me the idea is good but for it to succeed the motives must be altruistic, not parochial, not selfish.
In most nations of the world with two strong parties, there is always a third significant party where those who lose out in the two parties find shelter. It is also a place where those who do not agree with the philosophies of the two leading parties find accommodation. At times, it is a mid-way home for those whose minds are not made up on which of the two leading parties or their candidates to support. In the USA, the two dominant parties are the Democratic and Republican parties. But we have the Independent and Libertarian parties which act as the third force.
Similarly in the UK we have the Conservative and the Labour Parties as the two dominant parties while the Liberal Democrats serves as the third force. In Germany, the Christian Democratic Party (CDU) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) dominate the political space while the Alliance for Germany (AfD) serves as the third force. These third force parties hardly win the Presidency or major elections. Their major place is always to sway support from one of the major parties to another. In some climes like Germany and the UK this third force can align with one of the two major parties to form the government especially if the third force party has won significant seats in the legislature.
But the Nigerian third force which I believe is a most welcome development has many challenges and contradictions which may make its mission very difficult if not impossible. The first is: what is the third force or the Coalition for Nigeria? Is it a movement as is being canvassed by OBJ or is it a political party in formation? OBJ who just registered as a member in Ogun State last week following the national launch in Abuja earlier in the week insists it must remain a movement and must not become a political party, otherwise he would resign. For me that is the first major challenge that could render the force ineffective in achieving its stated goal of redeeming Nigeria from APC and PDP.
This movement hopefully will be organized as an NGO with board of Trustees or will it be just a free flowing coalition of members and interest groups who share the ideals of the movement without rigid structures? How will this kind of organization garner the force to change the status quo? I think if I am asked, the best option is to form a political party to truly compete for power. As is often said, power is never given; it is taken, not by wishes, dreams, flowery speeches or grandstanding. A mass movement can only get power through mass revolution as happened in the Arab Spring. If the mission of this third force is not to lead a mass revolution against the status quo in Nigeria, then it had better become a political party to contest for political power.
Secondly who will fund the movement and or the party when it eventually becomes one as some of the proponents have indicated, in contradiction to OBJ’s design? We who live in this country know what it takes to win a local government Chairman’s seat, not to talk of the presidency and what is more to displace an incumbent president with cult following from the North. The movement or party will, of necessity, need tons of cash to organize and to campaign and win an election. The time left between now and the elections next February seems too short to raise that kind of money. From the look of the front line leaders of this movement, none presents with deep pocket. With OBJ’s proverbial stinginess, inconceivable that he will release that kind of money assuming he has it.
The third challenge is: What is the character and political value of the leaders of the new movement? Looking at the faces and voices at the launch last week in Abuja, one could identify two known politicians- Col Olagunsoye Oyinlola and Mr Donald Duke. Oyinlola was a military administrator in Lagos, was civilian Governor of Osun state, was a staunch member of PDP, in fact secretary of the party at some time, then changed, joined the NEW PDP that fused with other parties to form APC, which in essence was an alliance. Now, he is seeking a new alliance. Does he present the new face that will attract strong following and evoke confidence in something new and revolutionary that many Nigerians yearn for? Can people trust him to stay long with this alliance before he seeks another?
Donald Duke, former governor of Cross River state, is a fine politician who indeed should represent the new face of Nigeria’s politics. But we all know that he has harboured presidential ambition and may be, this is the opportunity to give vent or new impetus to this ambition. Without this movement becoming a party, it will be very difficult for him to realize this ambition. He knows more than me that you need solid political structures across the nation and heavy financial chest to win the presidency in the best of times. Now, these are not the best of times, so the odds are heavier.
I saw Olisa Agbakoba in the crowd and I have heard his voice, but he is essentially a professional, great civil liberty advocate but a new-entrant to ‘Naija politics, which is a distinct brand. Though I did not see them in the Abuja event as shown on TV, I have heard other names like my brother Pat Utomi and my sister Oby Ezekwesili as belonging to this movement. These are great Nigerians with large following on twitter and Facebook. They indeed represent the new face that Nigeria badly needs. But do they have the political weight in the ‘Naija context’? Do they have the financial resources? Tough questions!
We all know that most of the elites who speak the language that this genre speaks do not vote. Many of the real voters in Nigeria are not on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. They dwell in the cash and carry political market. Ask Chukwuma Soludo, he has been to this market sometime in the past. Can they change and listen to rhyme and logic? Yes they can. But one year is too short to achieve the conversion.
The fourth challenge is the anti-third force virus that will emerge or may have already emerged. We are not aware that Olagunsoye Oyinlola has resigned from APC, nor Donald Duke from PDP. That they appeared on the podium on the day of the launch of the movement immediately marks them down as enemies of their parties. If they held offices in their respective parties, it means they have already forfeited the positions. If they were looking forward to any it means such expectations are over and if they were doing contracts, it will be assumed that such contracts have been terminated as such would no longer be funded. No one funds his political adversary, no not in Nigeria! Perhaps that is why we did not see more faces of many politicians in office at the launch because of the fear of reprisal. I guess that many are secret members bidding their time to see how the movement garners steam or watch it transform into a formidable and election-winning party before they come out fully to identify.
My point is that this movement is good for Nigeria. We certainly do need a third force or third strong party so that we are not often left with choosing between the devil and the deep blue sea. Currently the third biggest party in Nigeria-APGA- is essentially a regional party. If it could become a national party as ACN did, it may have played the role of being the third force. Therefore, now a critical need exists, more so in creating opportunities for the younger and fresher faces. But it has a lot of challenges to face and many hurdles to cross before it can achieve its mission. Its mission must be altruistic not narrow political interest framed as national interest. It must adopt a structure that will enable it endure and deliver on its vision. It must be prepared to go the long haul as 2019 is just by the corner.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR