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Nigeria’s Game of ‘Throne’: Can the Third Force fly?

John Dryden, one of the greatest English poets, wrote what is regarded as one of the finest political satires in his famous poem, ‘Absalom and Achitophel.’ Through the employment of a huge dose of Biblical and religious allusions, the satiric verse lampoons the needless turmoil into which England was thrown over a succession debacle and the intrigues that attended the political fireworks.

In the creative output, Dryden does not disguise his preference for the retention of status quo ante in diametric opposition to the clamour for a change in the political order. But critical in his versified observation is the submission that politics generally breeds division, generates hate and tension not just among the self-seeking political class but also among the citizenry as well as in the body politic.

Political events in most countries around the world, even in climes where monarchy, a traditional succession system firmly rooted in the Theory of Divine Rights of king reigns, have since made Dryden’s observation to ring true. Not a few chroniclers of political developments since late 16th century when the poem was written will agree that as it was in Dryden’s era, it is now and will perhaps forever be. It is against the foregoing that the discourse gradually suffusing the political firmament of Nigeria is being dissected in some quarters.

 

In the beginning was party spirit/discipline…

At the dawn of the current Fourth Republic in 1999, the country’s political tendencies congregated in three political parties, namely the Peoples Democratic Party, the All Peoples Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD). The PDP recorded what could be described as a pan-Nigeria success by winning elections largely in the North, South-South and the South-East zones, the AD, peopled by chieftains of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO), which routed the late General Sani Abacha military junta, made the South-West an impregnable fortress for those described as conservative elements who massed in the PDP. The APP won the northern states not swept by the PDP.

As the democratic experiment began to take shape and the country moved from one election period to another, competition for control of power levers in the parties grew fierce and lethal. Many leaders in the parties lost their relevance and positions to the state governorswho, out of desire to either perpetuate themselves or ‘bench’ the elders and leaders, used their good offices to draw the majority of the party members to themselves, leaving the leaders shorn of disciples. Unlike in the First and Second Republics when individuals who ran the parties were real party men, the governors and the president installed their puppets in key party positions. Internal democracy gave way to the murderous move for party control. The phenomenon of godfatherism grew and became entrenched and the parties imploded and later exploded. Only PDP, which was kept in power by the fact of its control of central governments and majority of the states managed to survive early death.

From the ashes of the smaller parties have come various other parties. The political space became expanded on the strength of the loud argument for plurality of political views. But the resultant multiplicity of parties has not stopped the parties from bleeding from injuries either internally or externally inflicted on them.

At a stage, the popularity and exploits of the All Progressive Grand Alliance in the North-East, Labour and Accord parties in some states in the South-West sparked a debate about the need for what is labelled a Third Force, in its biological conception as a political platform of like-minds averse to the politics of those in the parties in government; a party of ideological purists not ‘contaminated’ by the bug in the big parties.

Observers agree that the alliance successfully forged in a fiery furnace of sort by leaders of smaller opposition parties in September 2013, leading to the establishment of the governing All Progressives Congress (APC), was a big leap in the country’s democratic growth and a lesson to the ruling parties that the citizenry cannot be taken for granted, as well as a source of encouragement for today’s opposition parties that all hope is not lost.

For PDP which dominated the political landscape for 16 years at the centre, the centre can no longer hold since it lost the central government to the APC. The supremacy battle among its chieftains appears to have reduced the party, which once prided itself as the biggest in Africa, to a house in disarray. The two factions in the party, Senator Ali Modu Sheriff-led faction and Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led faction are locked in a battle of wits which is said to have an external dimension. With the PDP aching in many joints, many of its leaders and members are standing aloof and others are moving to the ruling APC.

But for the governing APC, which had hitherto been thought to be a peaceful assembly of ‘progressives’, the recent developments in the party might have confirmed the concerns raised in some quarters that the legacy parties that coalesced into APC are incompatible partners that may not blend together as one. The power tussle in the party is such that has made many of its key leaders to fit into Dryden’s description: “That kingly power, thus ebbing out, might be drawn to the dregs of a democracy. Him he attempts, with studied arts to please, and sheds his venom…”

Four different camps seem to have emerged in the ruling APC. There is the camp of the Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki, the biggest beneficiary from the New PDP camp which teamed up with the APC to install the current government. His trial over the forgery of Senate Rules Book and inaccurate assets declaration are said to have a direct bearing with his speculated presidential ambition in 2019. Saraki himself declared that he dropped his presidential ambition when General Muhammadu Buhari announced his intention to vie for the slot in 2015.

The second is the group loyal to a former Lagos State governor, Senator Bola Tinubu, whose contribution to the success of the merger has been described as invaluable. His recent statement in which he called for the resignation of the national chairman of the APC, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun, over his role in the Ondo State governorship election primary, was

President Muhammadu Buhari, Senator Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar
President Muhammadu Buhari, Senator Bola Tinubu and Atiku Abubakar

an outward expression of bottled up anger. He had earlier in the year called for the resignation or sack of Dr Ibe Kachikwu, Minister of State for Petroleum and former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), because of the seeming intractability of the fuel supply crisis. The Tinubu camp is said to rue the shutting out of the former Lagos State governor from the reportedly agreed power-sharing arrangement, with almost all his nominees for appointive positions having been jettisoned.

There is also the camp of the former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, which has also stood aloof from developments in the party in recent times. When he was said to have deliberately absented himself from the launch of a book on President Buhari, Atiku replied through his spokesperson, Paul Ibe, that invitation for the event was given to the former vice-president after the event had already got underway. A group called The Patriot, which has been meeting in virtually all states, has been linked to the Turaki Adamawa. Atiku has met with a couple of leaders from across the country, including former governor of Oyo State, Senator Rashidi Ladoja, whose Accord Party yesterday concluded a congresses preparatory to the 2019 elections

The last and ostensibly the biggest faction in APC is the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) wing which represents the core of the party. With patronage in the hands of Buhari, it has been easy for loyalists and disciples of leaders of other camps to jump ship and gravitate towards the power nucleus, leaving their former bosses to lick their wounds.

There are elements in the PDP that are championing the revival of the party, while there is another group that wants the party to be a part of the larger alliance currently going on in the country, just as a group believes in the change of the name of the party and reform it.

Although promoters of the third force agenda are said to be in the PDP, APC and other parties, the Tinubu camp is said to be opposed to the plan but interested in reviving the AD, the platform on which Tinubu rose to limelight in the current Republic. The APC chieftain is said to have held a series of meetings with the Afenifere leaders.

One of the leaders of Afenifere, Sir Olaniwun Ajayi, said he did not know about the “gimmick and contrivances” going on, but told Sunday Tribune what transpired between them and Tinubu. “I don’t know what they are doing, but we would like to build up, as much as possible, a sort of unity among Yoruba people. We are trying get in touch with the governors because hitherto, they are not easily approachable. We are trying to meet them to see if we can get them to sit down with us and chart a way forward that will bring peace, unity and progress to the Yoruba nation.

“But the problem is still there. We are trying to meet them and if they will answer to our call, then we can discuss. All that we are about is not to play any leading role in the politics of the South-West but to make sure that things are properly set as we had during the First Republic and something that will make our people happy and satisfied. Most of the politicians we have today are self-serving politician and that is the thing we are trying to cure.”

On whether the revival of AD will be part of the agenda to discuss when the Afenifere leaders meet the governors, Sir Ajayi said, “I don’t think we have gone that far. We are yet to meet with the governors. I don’t know if it will be part of the discussion. Afenifere will decide the agenda. In our attempt to get all the governors, we have had a meeting with the governor of Lagos and Tinubu. That is how far we have gone.”

What about the third force plan? Will they buy into it? He responded thus: “As far as we are concerned, Third Force or whatever force, all we are about is to establish the ideal and philosophy we inherited [from Chief Obafemi Awolowo]. We are not interested in all the gimmicks and all sort of contrivances that are going on now. We want to ensure that the ideal we inherited as Yoruba race is re-established,” the octogenarian said.