On the return from a self-exile abroad occasioned by military brutality against pro-democracy and human rights activists, a foremost nationalist, late Pa Anthony Enahoro in 2000, was unequivocal about the weaknesses of the political parties that ushered in civil rule in Nigeria. A veteran of major bitter and prolonged political struggle, he pooh-poohed based on clear-cut standards of global practice, especially in advanced democracies, which Nigeria draws inspiration from on participatory democracy. His words: “As to joining one of the existing political parties, I regret that in spite of the presence of some relations and friends in all the three parties, and without intending any offence or disparagement to them in any way, I have to say that I do not find the parties sufficiently appealing ideologically, structurally or by conduct to justify my joining them in their present circumstances.”
Enahoro stuck to his promise of non-alignment politically until his last moment on earth on December 16, 2010, even though his co-travellers in the pro-democracy struggle became key power brokers and actors in the political arena. But just as he predicted, the parties began to manifest vestiges of structural defects he talked about, occasionally resulting in implosion, near combustion and fatalism. The conflict of interest among the key stakeholders have continued in spite of the alliances, realignment and even merger about 17 years after the country restore civilian government on May 29, 1999.
The concept of third force is not novel, as it presupposes the existence of two major political parties, as obtained in most advanced democracies like the United States, India and the United Kingdom. The idea is all about the formation of a distinct political grouping which would be devoid of the perceived foibles and weak-points of the two that have gained ground but which are considered to have deviated from the norms and values of a political party. The third force is expected to be a departure or paradigm shift from what has become messy affair. It must have something different to offer as opposed to impunity. For instance, such force must have the capacity and ability to have an equal power in the legislature, so that power equation can be significantly altered.
Having suffered its first major electoral upset in 16 years, governing PDP has remained on the cliffhanger because of internal haemorrhage. Its crash from an Olympian height elicited accusations and counter-accusations with the key power groups desperate to control the soul of the party. The raging battle, which is being fought in different fronts, has created crevices for real and imaginary adversaries to burrow into the walls of the PDP. The lack of compromise by some party buffs has engendered loss of confidence and of uncertainty among some staunch members, who are said to be among the arrowheads of the initiative of a third force, in collaboration with members of other political parties, including the governing APC. Though the idea is yet to fully crystallise on if the movement will transform to a new political party, it has been established that it is more pronounced among leaders of the two parties from the South-West and the Northern part of the country, who either fell out with other party leaders or were disenchanted with the status quo. In the last few months, the centrifugal and centripetal forces have intensified their battle for supremacy in the two parties at different levels, with shades of incompatibility among the main gladiators in the ruling APC edge. The dynamics of cohesion and harmony in PDP have also come under serious threat, as group interest, loyalty, godfatherism, regional dichotomy as old and news power blocs engage in serious battle for the control of PDP.
Almost decapitated in the North during the 2015 elections, the PDP is still in search of a pathfinder to guide it in the mission for self-discovery. With only two of the 19 states under its control, the party needs extra energy and resources to bounce back. But while some of its main backers, among them former top military brass with an immense war chest are reportedly working underground to reflate the party, some are backing the pursuit of a third force that would comprise politicians from all shades of persuasion, background and zones. The bug of the third force is also said have caught up with some loyalists of a former vice president of the country, Abubakar and many APC members of PDP extraction. They are said to form the nucleus of a movement propagating the idea of the third force in certain political circles across the three zones in the North.
Somehow, the South-South of the country has remained a political hotbed, with the PDP and APC stakeholder locked in intense battles of supremacy. The governors elected on PDP platform constitute the buffer for the party, without undermining former President Goodluck Jonathan as the veritable staying power of the part in the region. The political sagacity of five of the governors from the region appears to have staved off any serious incursion from the proponents of a third force. The power of incumbency, coupled with the massive support of the people has also strengthened the resolve of the governors to checkmate other hitherto power brokers from the area from making any serious political incursion.
Nonetheless, the forces loyal to a former governor of Rivers State and now Minister of Transport, Chief Rotimi Amaechi, have been unrelenting in their doggedness of equal claim to ownership of the political space in the region. On the whole, many observers say the current political configuration of the South-South has a lot of implications, one of which is that it has become the backbone of the PDP, as only Edo State has a governor elected on the ticket of APC. The rest are PDP. Similarly, the current political structure of the area has implication for the unending different forms of agitations among the people of the Niger Delta region. The restiveness among the youth and armed militancy in the midst of crackdown pose a great danger to the politics and economy of the region.
For the South-East, aside Imo (APC) and Anambra (APGA), the remaining three states in the zone are also under PDP. However, it is one of the zones that has witnessed major and continued political realignments by leading politicians after the 2015 elections. A former Senate President, Senator Ken Nnamani, Chief Jim Nwobodo, Dr Chinmaroke Nnamani, among others, have defected to APC. The exit of those political titans has not substantially denied PDP of equally political juggernauts, among them the current deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu. Many observers have raised teasers on how sellable the third force project to the zone.
From all indications, the driving force of the quest for a third force seems to be some key political actors in the South-West, who are seen as determining the direction of victory during national elections. The preponderance of them are from the APC, PDP, Labour Party and the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), who have a score to settle with either the establishment after collaborating to secure victory for the governing party, or who in the case of PDP, are fed with the culture of impunity that led the party to an unmitigated disaster in the 2015 general election. For the latter, some aggrieved PDP members believe they could no longer co-habit with governors elected on its platform because they see themselves as powers brokers and godfathers, whose authority and powers must not be questioned. Ironically, some promoters of the third force claim to have the tacit support of the governors for the movement, especially against the backdrop of the factionalisation in PDP.
The crack in APC at the centre over leadership and appointments after the general election has also served as the gun powder for some of its leaders in the South-West. The ranks of members of the state chapters of the legacy parties in the APC are split down the line. Those party members that initially belonged to the defunct Congress for Progressives Change; Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the All Nigeria Peoples Congress (ANPP) sing discordant tunes, hold parallel meetings and use their caucuses to lobby the centre on behalf of their members like in other zones. Some of these tendencies encouraged the movement for a third forces, as the members now regular meetings and send high-powered delegations to influential politicians from the zone. In fact, it was leant that one of such teams briefed the members of the movement on Tuesday this week at meeting in Ibadan on the outcome of such a visit to an influential member of the APC.
While the proponents of the force are intensifying their efforts on the project, the issue remains a source of division among the elite, especially members of the political class. Those who believe it is a necessity argue that the existing major parties are not capable of providing true leadership and culture of discipline and participatory democracy. One of the eminent persons that belong to this school of thought is a former Nigerian High Commissioner in Canada and one-time Secretary to the Ekiti State Government (SSG), Ambassador Dare Bejide. His words: “The two major parties are extremely weak to perform their functions. While the ruling party, that is, the APC is bedeviled with internal combustion predicated on lack of internal cohesion, the opposition PDP is yet to recover from self-inflicted agony arising from lack of internal democracy and widespread impunity. As of today, the two parties have put their supporters and followers in a serious agony as they are not sure of the direction of the parties and this makes the possibility of a third force imminent. Nigerians are generally tired of the existing political lethargy and are warming up for an all-inclusive political realignment that is capable of resolving the current economic debacle.”
A legal practitioner and former member of the House of Representatives, Honourable Femi Kehinde was emphatic that the necessity of a third force is a foregone conclusion because of some tendencies that have plagued the existing political parties. He said: “I envisage a formation of a mixed grill of political tendencies as envisaged by the late sage, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, in December 1983, at the last Convention of the Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN), when he talked of the coalition of the ‘thesis and hypothesis to form a synthesis’ a power bloc.” He adds further: “The emergence of a third force or new configuration of tendencies is a sine qua non (necessity) in our political evolution, if democracy would have meaning or flavor. As a result of serious infractions, in our present political parties, lack of internal democracy, hijack of parties by political barons and power brokers, inclusive of people in high political offices, the present big parties may no longer endure. There may be an exodus to such a new party or tendencies to at least give hope and succour to people, who believe in giving the Nigerian democracy a facelift and new meaning.”
Immediate past publicity secretary of the Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and spokesman of northern delegates to the 2014 National Conference, Anthony N Z Sani, however, differed with Kehinde, situating the issue in a number of contexts. “Those who advocate a third force as a result of the crises in the major political parties ignore the fact that crises in parties are natural concomitant in party democracy. Consider how we started from 1999 with just about five parties which multiplied to over 50 by the last count. Very few have found traction. Except for the PDP, most of the first five registered political parties are not reckoned with in the political space. But today, we have only two major political parties, namely, PDP and APC, which resulted from mergers of other political parties. You may wish to note that even the PDP lasted that long because of attraction of power by a ruling party. Yet, it had its own share of internal crises that helped in emboldening the emergence of APC.
Also, consider the crises in the Republican Party in America, whose leaders regard their own nominee, Donald Trump, as an outsider acting iconoclast, hence their reluctance to endorse him for the elections coming up on November 8, 2016. And so, given the fact that political party is not an individual enterprise but a collective mission that comes with group goal, group cohesion and even group conspiracy, and the fact that politics goes beyond ideals to include about who gets what, why, where, how and when, there would always be problems from the very art of governance of balancing competing demands. And that is why it would be too much to expect political parties managed by human beings of diverse druthers to be free of crises fueled by different interests.”
Sani said that there used to be agitations for single tenure that was spurred by “the fear that it would be impossible to defeat an incumbent. Some of us did not buy the idea of single tenure and suggested retention of the two terms which must not be consecutive as is practised by Chile and Uruguay. But, as soon as the opposition APC defeated an incumbent PDP, the clamour for single tenure became irrelevant. That is why I do not believe in the need for any third force by fiat. I believe the dynamics of democracy will result in two dominant political parties, while there would always be smaller political parties for expression of dissents. We must note that democracy may differ in forms, but when it comes to its three basic elements of justice, liberty and common decency, democracy is the same and universal.”
The position of the ACF chief was in sync with that of Chief Lanre Banjo, a radical politician and associate of the late legal icon, Chief Gani Fawehinmi (SAN). He was hard on those behind the idea of a third force, because of the retrogressive political behaviour of some leading politicians. He warned: “Any third force in the political space peopled with the concoction of selfish, covetous, egocentric and quasi-progressive Nigerians would not bring the desired change.
“Many Nigerians in the public today do not engage in labour of love for the citizens, that is why their names are not dropped in the basket of adorables like Awo.”
He maintained that the internal “crisis, contradictions and conspiracy in all the major parties result from sick mindset, selfishness, and unwillingness of the so-called political leaders to do what is right in Nigeria, coupled with their intransigence to listen to the voice of reason and wisdom. Nothing will work unless it pleases their selfish end. This alone will tear these parties and any third force apart and cause them to implode.”
Indeed, the debate over the necessity or otherwise may have just begun. Given the rising tempo of horse-trading among political actors across the country, in no time, a clear picture of the movement behind the initiative, real motive and dramatis personae will emerge.