Whose third force?

As the leading political parties battle with internal crises, KUNLE ODEREMI examines the deft moves by some politicians to forge new alliances.

In most political circles in the country today, the dominant issue is about the 2019 general election. Majority of the power blocs and their gladiators are preoccupied with plotting the graph ahead of the next political transition programme. As of September 21 this year, one leading political gladiators claimed the next election was about two years and eight days away to corroborate the ongoing arithmetic of the 2019 politics. In the opinion of some Nigerians, all the ongoing deft moves aptly underscore the words of an Irish playwright, James Freeman Clarke that “The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election, while the statesman thinks about the next generation.” This is because the Nigerian politicians seem are increasingly becoming more concerned about the next political dispensation despite the anguish and pain majority of Nigerians are going through now.

In his contribution to the Journal of History and World of Diplomatic Studies, entitled The Politics of Alliance Government in Nigeria, 1954 – 1957, EO Ojo wrote on issues that tend to make political alliances a common feature in the politics of a country. One of them is the Majority- Minority Question. His words:  “The formation of alliances is one of the permanent features of the politics in most multi-ethnic states. This is because, more often than not, ethnicity and competition for the control of the ‘structural frame’ and ‘system of rewards’ always prevent the existence of nation-wide or country-wide political associations and the emergence of nationally acknowledged political leaders.

“Yet, in order to guard against the domination of the ‘minorities’ by the ‘majorities’, the constitutions of most federal and non-federal multi-ethnic states often stipulate that the central governments of such states must be formed by the parties or candidates with the overall majority of either parliamentary seats or total votes cast in general elections. Since this is always difficult to achieve, particularly in Nigeria where appeals to ethnic sentiments are almost always a predominant issue in electioneering campaigns, the formation of alliance-governments become inevitable. In the formation of these alliances, however, a lot of political manoeuvrings often take place.”


Historical perspective

The quest for power has led to different forces trying to coalesce. One of the remarkable alliances was witnessed in the First Republic through the machination of the Northern Peoples Congress (NPC) in conjunction with its allies in the defunct Western Region. The NPC forged an alliance called the Nigeria National Alliance (NNA) with the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP). The NPC was led by the Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello. Apart from being the dominant party in the North, it controlled the central government then under late Tafawa Balewa.  The NPC alliance came on the heels of the decision of the other political leaders to form a coalition, the United Progressive Grand Alliance (UPGA). The alliance included the Action Group, National Council of Nigerian Citizens, led by Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, United Middle Belt Congress under the leadership of late J.S. Tarka, and the Northern Elements Progressive Union led by late Mallam Aminu Kano.   It was at the height of the battle for the soul of the region following leadership crisis in the Action Group.

Some political forces tried to raise the ante of political alliance in the Second Republic, with the NPN government going into alliance with the then Nigerian Peoples Party (NPP) under late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe. The Unity Party of Nigeria (UPN) became the main opposition party. The marriage of convenience between the NPN and the NPP went sour, thus talks about for an alliance between UPN and NPP at the threshold of the 1983 elections to challenge NPN. But the coalition hit the brick wall because of the inability of a few hawks in the alliance to abandon their narrow interest in the overall goal of the alliance.  In short, collapse of the Progressive Parties Alliance (PPA) designed to exit the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) from power at the centre wasw blamed on the lack of compromise, coupled with external intrusion into the affairs of NPP and the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) founded by Aminu Kano..

Some political leaders took the initiative on alliances further in the current Republic as the countdown to the 2003 presidential poll peaked. Gladiators of the All Peoples Party (APP) and the Alliance for Democracy (AD) came up with a joint presidential ticket. With Chief Olu Falae of the Ad as the standard bearer and late Alhaji Umaru Shinkafi (APP) as running mate, the alliance successfully took its campaign across the country. But, the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was able to secure a second term in office as president at the end of the election. Nonetheless, the protagonists of a grand alliance capable of winning the presidency did not relent, as they became most vociferous in the buildup to the 2015 elections. They took advantage of the widening gulf among critical stakeholders in PDP, occasioned by seething anger and frustration over lack of internal democracy and impunity in the party. Opposition leaders in the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and a splinter group of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) coalesced into the All Progressives Congress (APC) that created a political upset via the 2015 elections.

The inability of PDP leaders to overcome the immediate shock arising from the defeat triggered public discourse on the imperative of a third force in the political circle. Rather than put its house in order and act as main opposition PDP has been mired in a harvest of crisis bothering on who controls the lever. Various moves to reconcile the two factions suffered setbacks thereby the skeptism among some party members over the latest report of a reapproachment between the factions. A number of them have been linked to the ongoing consultations on the formation of a third Force that could act as a buffer, as the march towards the next political dispensation gathers momentum. While they have so far succeeded in forming a coalition at some levels, the PDP elements in some zones have only regrouped with intent to forge alliance with aggrieved members of other parties such as APC at the most auspicious period. Whereas some have tabled the possibility of the emerging groups forming a party that will apply for official registration, others involved in the initiative are sounding a serious warning against such idea. The advocates of a full-fledged new party premise their arguments on the concept of third force that will not share any semblance with either PDP or APC; creation of a distinct identity, and a clear-cut blueprint meant to address core challenges confronting the country.  Conversely, the antagonists of a new party anchored their position of the period of gestation of such party; enormity of resources that will be required to create structures and nurture them, as well as achieve national spread given the vast geographical nature of Nigeria. Most importantly, they assume that the possibility of such party scaling the hurdle of registration is remote as the authorities may be averse to the new project and frustrate move.


The Accord option

In the midst of these two schools of thought has emerged what some proponents of a Third Force have described as the Accord Option. The concept is on the historical fact about the emergence of the Accord Party. it was among the second generation of political parties that came upstream during the administration of former President Obasanjo. A land mark judgment of the Supreme Court in a case filed by the late legal icon and rights activist, Chief Gani Fawehinmi, in respect of party registration had further opened up the political space.  Consequently, the National Conscience Party (NCP)founded by Fawehinmi since the military era, way joined by  the Accord Party among many other parties, which faced imminent deregistration by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). The general belief in most political camps is that the top echelon of the power architecture in the country then used fronts to register about six of such parties, including Accord. It soon became the veritable platform for some political gladiators at the dawn of the 2011 general election, who were able to make a serious incursion into the political arena in some constituencies in the Southern part of the country. The Labour Party also created a major political upset in some places, winning governorship and National assembly seats. So, the proponents of the Accord option believed it would be politically wise, cost-effective and convenient for the like-minds linked to the Third Force project to adopt one of the existing parties as a spring board at the right time after the ongoing consultations among stakeholders.


Knotty issues

While the appropriate option to be adopted remains in the front burner, two other issues have resurfaced lately in the quest for the fresh alliance and realignment of forces by diverse power blocs and interests. Some of the promoters insist that the stakeholders need to be in haste at building a third force so as not to make the mistakes that aborted similar exercises in the First and Third Republic. According to them, it is important to do the needful so that the issue of power sharing even at interim capacity does not throw spanner into the works of the emerging coalitions. Their position is that once there are indications that certain positions have gone to certain individuals or areas could be interpreted that the overall purpose of guaranteeing inclusiveness has been defeated.  Besides, some have cautioned that the seeming official ambivalence to constituting the Boards of federal agencies and parastatals has implications for the promoters of a Third Force. Their belief is that once the issue of interim officers is announced, the board appointments could become a bait to lure some or prospective influential members of the coalition cum alliance.

The governorship elections coming up in Edo and Ondo states this year, as well as the ones slated for Osun and Ekiti states constitute another worry for the promoters of a third force. Some are concerned that there is absolutely no signal where the loyalty of emerging groups lies in the two major elections to be conducted between now and November 26 this year. The battle remains between the APC and the PDP in both Edo and Ondo states. Though many of the advocates of a third force agree on the need for caution in taking a decision on all the elections, they strongly belief that the process in forging the alliance has to  be fast-tracked, in order to gain some ground and leverage on those qualities that distinguish those behind the scene in the whole project.

Senate Majority Leader, Ali Ndume and a former governor of Oyo State, Alhaji Rashid Ladoja appear to be on the same page in the debate over the necessity or otherwise of third force. For Ndume, what the country needs is quality leadership, signposted by integrity, transparency and accountability while Ladoja, who is unarguably the main pillar in Accord thinks those behind such idea could come up with the concept after the 2019 elections.

At the moment, there are 36 registered parties in the country. A total of 25 political associations are believed to have indicated interest to be registered as parties in the current dispensation. Is the collective interest of proponents of the third force embedded in any of the associations? Will the wish of the advocates of the ‘Accord option’ prevail?