How far can a third force go?

Professor Alaba Ogunsanwo

MOSES ALAO, in this report, raises the questions about how far the pro-realignment forces can go ahead of the landmark 2019 general election.


As the talks about alignment and realignment of political forces in the country or the likely emergence of a third force continues to dominate the polity, there have been several questions regarding how far the new alignment of forces can go in achieving the huge task of challenging the entrenched powers in the two major political parties. Can the third force garner the needed support across the country early enough to be a major player in the politics of 2019? Can it acquire the needed political structures needed to become a truly national party and where will the support base be located? These and many others are the key questions likely to arise as the country inches closer into 2017.

But watchers of political developments in the country have maintained that there is more to the issue of a third force than just some “disgruntled political elements” leaving their former base to form a new party, noting that the issues of ideology and the need to dislodge the already entrenched structures of the two major parties remain paramount.

Nigeria’s political discourse since the current democratic experiment began has centred on the fact that political parties in the country have no ideological underpinning, leading to most of them being only different in terms of membership and not in ideals. From politicians to scholars, there has been back and forth arguments regarding the degeneration of Nigeria’s political party system from the glorious ideological-based politics of the 60s when the Action Group, Northern People’s Congress, National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons and others and the 70s when the Unity Party of Nigeria and National Party of Nigeria gave Nigerians viable choices.


Third force, mere noisemaking—Ogunsanwo

With the talk of a third force, however, the major question has been whether the new alignment will be based on ideology or any strong leaning or on the mutual vexation of some powerful individuals in the ruling party and the desperation of others who want to reclaim power in 2019. A former Nigerian Ambassador to Belgium, Professor Cornelius Alaba Ogunsanwo, while speaking with Sunday Tribune maintained that without ideology, any talk of a third force is mere noise-making.

“You cannot plant oranges and expect to harvest apples. These politicians belong to the same stock. The fact that they can move in and out of parties; today they are in party A, tomorrow they are in party B, means essentially that there is nothing holding them together in terms of ideology. They are being pulled apart by contests for all kind of things. You will recall the national chairman of the ruling APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun once telling PDP stalwarts to abandon a sinking ship; that the PDP was dying. Because he was aware then that the PDP was in control of the Federal Government for many years and on that basis, had access to the resources of the state the way that other parties were jealous. Now, the APC is in charge of the looting centre, so it was like telling the PDP people that ‘you are wasting your time, your ship is of yesterday; it is sinking. Come and join us, we are all the same. If your interest is in the looting of the centre, come and join us.’ In that kind of political environment, there is not much to be expected, third force or no third force,” Professor Ogunsanwo said.

The retired diplomat, who is also a university lecturer, further noted that the pertinent question that needed to be asked was where the third force would come from. “Is it not going to come from these same politicians? Who is putting up that third force? Third force for what? Where will the resources be coming from? Is it not from the resources from the national treasury and what we have at the state levels? So I don’t expect that anything meaningful will come out from any third force that arises whether from the PDP or APC, can you see any difference in terms of the economic programmes? Can you see any difference in the economic programmes being run before and the one being run now? The only difference among all these political parties is in terms of personalities,” Ogunsanwo stated.

Another key issue that has been viewed as quite imperative in the discourse about the emergence of a third force is that of political structures. Though the victory of the APC in the last presidential election has been described by many as historic and epochal, given the fact that the party came into being only two years earlier, political observers noted that the entrenchment of the PDP structure could have thrown spanner in the efforts of the mega party if it had not been able to get the support of key aggrieved figures in the PDP, who ditched the party after irreconcilable differences.

With the PDP having been in existence and having controlled government in more than 95 per cent of the 36 states of the federation as well as the centre, the party had been able to build what political observers have described as a strong structure that cut across the 774 local governments in the country, a structure which has remained despite the many crises rocking the party. While the APC might take the glory for defeating the PDP, it cannot boast of having a similar structure, analysts maintained, noting that any new alignment or third force would have an uphill task in overriding these two major structures unless it is able to secure the support of at least 30 per cent from each of the major parties.

The questions, therefore, are whether the likely third force could successfully play the same card of poaching important members of the two major parties and whether such move would work this time round, with the major actors in the new PDP who joined forces with the APC having been given different treatments when the party eventually captured power. A look at the results of the last presidential election in which the APC defeated PDP with 2,571,759 votes showed that the two parties had a near equal strength in more many of the states, a development which analysts noted will be key in deciding the success or failure of any future realignment of forces, as it might take the complete annihilation of one of the two major parties for a third force to be able to make inroad into these states.

Commenting on whether a new political order could go far enough to cut across the country, the 2015 senatorial candidate of the PDP in Osun Central, Chief Oluwole Aina, maintained that “it is left to be seen how a third force or fourth force can spring up and reach out to the entire country like the PDP.”

He said: “The PDP has its problems and the leadership has been doing all it can to resolve them, so the talk of PDP dying is mere wishful thinking. Everyone can see the brewing crisis in the APC too, though this it is not strange to some of us; we saw it coming. But can we say that the ongoing war of attrition in the party will be enough to give any third force the leverage ahead of 2016? But is the answer to Nigeria’s problem is even in what you call a third force? No. I think what we need in this country is patriotism. It is high time politicians knew that it is not about their interests but the interests of Nigeria and Nigerians. If we all recognise this fact, politicians will stop jumping around like prostitutes whenever they face roadblocks in achieving their selfish and parochial interests.

So, if you say a third force is coming up, can I ask you why and from where? Have politicians learnt a lesson to make service to the people their goals or some people are jumping ships because they feel sidelined? In any case, we will see how a new political order will penetrate the North. As it is today, in the North; PDP is still very popular in the North. The problem PDP had in 2015 was due to the conspiracy and propaganda against the person of former President Goodluck Jonathan. How will that third force fare in the South-East and South-South where PDP is still very strong? What will be the lot of the third force in the South-West where people have seen through the deceit of APC and have seen that the PDP is better by far?,” Aina queried.

Though the popular position is that time is of great essence in politics like other aspects of life, political observers have maintained that it might be too early to predict what could happen in 2019 with regard to whether a third force might fail or succeed, noting that with the nature of politics in Nigeria and the fact that the APC could unseat PDP at the centre after 16 years, just anything can happen ahead of 2019.