Why the Third Force failed to make impact in 2019 polls —Fasua, ANRP presidential candidate

Mr. Tope Fasua, economist and development expert is the National Chairman of Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) and its presidential candidate in the February 23 elections. In this interview with Group Politics Editor, Taiwo Adisa, he gives reasons for the failure of the Third Force movement in the elections and problems of Nigerian politics. Excerpts:

During the last presidential election, we had about 73 candidates. But eventually, you saw that only two scored more than 50 per cent of the votes. Why did the much-hyped Third Force collapse? Was it that some of the aspirants were just testing the waters of politics?

Some were testing the waters and some were very serious about their quest. As a matter of fact, the two candidates of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) got 97 per cent of the votes. Only three per cent went to the other people.

You can also say that that has always been the case, because in 2015, the next party after APC and PDP was African Peoples Alliance (APA), which scored about 51,000 votes. This time, it was a little bit better. We had a party that scored a hundred and something thousand. People said they were lucky because they were almost a clone of PDP.

Some people actually gave it a very good shot, they tried their best. It’s so unfortunate that what we had was a sort of vendetta-driven voting because some people were hell bent on Muhammadu Buhari must return.

Some were hell bent on keeping Atiku Abubakar away. Some were hell bent on keeping Buhari away. People didn’t want to hear anything. All the ideas and great ideas that were espoused by some of these people, myself inclusive, did not seem to count for much. It’s so unfortunate, but that’s how we see it.

It needs to be said also that, at least now having been on the field, we can tell how the ruling parties and those who have the power go to any length to write votes where they could write votes and create the reality that they want people to see. That was what happened in a number of states in this country.

In 2015, Goodluck Jonathan was there. Of course, Buhari was a force and he is still a force. To an extent, the leading parties also have this idea of grooming illiterate people who cannot think through the entire gamut of democracy, in order to look at issues.

So, what happened in 2015 was that people were tired of Jonathan. The social media was tired of Jonathan. Intellectuals were also tired of Jonathan. They said let’s give Buhari opportunity. But even at that instance, we saw that there were still instances where votes were rigged. For example, in Kano in 2015, in one day, they managed to count about 2.1 million votes. In the same election in Lagos, you couldn’t count 1.4 million votes in three days. They have Kano, Sokoto, Maiduguri on lockdown in 2019, just as they had it on lockdown in 2015. Also, they need to thank Jonathan for being democratic enough to say no matter what, I’m ready to go. But this time, these guys are not very magnanimous.

In 2015, part of what happened also was that in Jonathan’s stronghold of South-East and South-South, they also wrote votes to see how they could catch up with Buhari. It’s just that it was no longer possible. You would see in places like Rivers, 1.5 million and Delta 1.4 million. But you can see what has happened in 2019. The incumbent party ensured that it was not possible in those areas. But in areas where they have a stronghold, they allowed such.

So, you can see 2.1 million votes in Maiduguri, 2.2 million votes in Kaduna, 2.4 million votes in Kano and two million votes in Sokoto. The reality of what has happened right now is that in no state in the South did we have even one million votes. Even in Lagos, between Babajide Sanwo-Olu and Jimi Agbaje, they didn’t have one million votes. Between Atiku and Buhari, they didn’t have one million votes, which is a very terrible thing.

The way I’m looking at it, you need to start making friends with the northerners, because it’s looking a southerner can never emerge as president of the country once the northerners say no. So, you have to beg them to step down for you sometimes. If somebody like Nasir el-Rufai decides that he is running for president in 2023 and he can go round and say vote for your Muslim brother, vote for your northern brother, I’m doing this and that for you, you would be shocked that nobody in the South would be able to defeat him. We couldn’t find two million votes in the entire South-East and this is what one Kano could get.

 

But the issues you have raised, as germane as they are, should not account for the inability of the Third Force to make any impact on the election. How do you see that?

I’ve actually been lecturing people on this matter. What happened is that a certain set of people who had not been in government, who were known as intellectuals but had not stepped out in this number before decided to do so. In the 80s, we had people like Tunji Braithwaite. Later on, we had people like Gani Fawehinmi, but not in this number.

In 2015, we had a few people like Godson Okoye. But these people that we know as intellectuals like (Omoyele) Sowore, coming all the way from that radical media approach, we hadn’t seen the like before. So, it’s commendable because at the end of the day, those people I mentioned to you: Kingsley Moghalu, Sowore, Fela Durotoye and Oby Ezekwesili, came in, though she dropped out on her own volition. We had people like Chike Ukegbu who came from the Diaspora. 2019 is the year of the presidential candidates. It’s the year we felt that we could step out and get this thing done. That’s the first thing.

In 2023, we can now say ‘let it be the year of coming together.’ You cannot come together without the people understanding what you have in store for this country. If I was a socialist, you cannot tell me to come together with a capitalist. These were all part of the issues.

Mind you, everybody had about 90 days to run campaign. Apart from issues of merging, intellectual and ideological outlooks, it takes a lot to be able to come together. Someone said one should be careful who one bows to, because one does not know who they bow to. So, you don’t know who is taking instructions from where. You have to be extremely careful because politics is politics.

Indeed, we did try to come together through this thing called PAC and it didn’t work. Why didn’t it work? I made it clear to them, because I was one of them; the only way this thing would work is if we are totally transparent about it. It was as if I was seeing a vision. If we put everything we do right there on the internet for everybody to see and we are working gradually and all of that and we begin to have open debate, this is the only way this thing will work. Let’s, at least, tell Nigerians what we have for them.

At that point, someone said we should just decide amongst ourselves. When I realised that the preponderant opinion was that we should decide among ourselves because we were not more than 11 or 12, I knew that it was going to run into trouble. I was thinking and hoping that if we had accepted those debates and so on, perhaps, we would have found a situation where we begin to generate the buzz.

I was pestering them on that openness and they said they didn’t like it; they were going to decide in two weeks time; if we didn’t like it that, we should leave. And I left. They went ahead; only seven people voted; four for Durotoye and three for Moghalu and that became non-binding, so to say.

 

Are you hopeful that kind of alliance can come through in the future?

The only way any alliance will work is total transparency. Don’t try to shaft each other. If people are trying to shaft each other and play politics the way politics is played, by being smart, it will not work. You have to be totally transparent; put all your cards on the table and be ready to accept whatever the final result is.

The other aspect of coming together, which I have spoken about, is whether it is desirable to come together. You know in the animal kingdom, if the lions want to hunt and it is the migration season, what they do is they try to separate one. When you separate one, you take him down. They are usually confused when so many of them are rushing. But when they separate one, you can easily blackmail them, if it was in politics.

For example, someone like Moghalu was very strong; he was trying his best. I wouldn’t have minded if a Moghalu emerged. But it would be very easy for them to take him down. If the status quo was really scared and you gave them only one person and before you know, that person runs into an accident, what do you do? Or whether real or imagined, someone cooks up a figure, even if he had impeccable records, you just see a letterhead comes out and some sort of transaction and his signature is there. Somebody had probably forged it. It comes out on social media to bring him down.

Mind you, the big parties never came for debates. If you look at the debates, the first one was the one that Channels and the BON messed up because they built it totally around the APC and PDP and then, grudgingly included three other parties. You cannot predetermine in a democracy. So, at the end of the day, those major parties disappointed them. They ended up with three people. In 2011, we had 11 people debating under Jonathan that we lampooned, castigated and called names. We now found a scenario where things had gone from bad to worse.

The other debate we had at the TVC, it was myself, Sowore, Kingsley, Donald Duke, Sani and one more person. I think we were six. If all of these people had come out to be one person, that means we will have one person on the rostrum. Atiku and Buhari would not have come to the debate.

So, that we had strong debate was because there were many people on the table.

Nigerians should not be irritated by the number of parties and candidates. Against the enormities of crisis in Nigeria, it’s better you live with that irritation. Let’s try and solve those problems. Out of 73 candidates for Presidency, about 53 stepped down. About 20 stepped down for Buhari two days before and about 40 had stepped down for Atiku sometime back in their Conference of United Political Parties (CUPP). At the end of the day, we were not up to 20 who were really serious and who did not step down for anybody.

 

Looking at the scenario around the elections, what are the electoral reform procedures that you want put in place, in view of the allegation that you made that some parties were able to write results?

Electronic voting will be good, but it has its own drawbacks, because not everybody will be literate enough. Mind you, the people that have been running this country over time have ensured the creation of enough illiterates. Such a thing will not work in this country. Even if we weren’t illiterates, electronic elections can be manipulated. We will need a lot of demonstration and a lot of explanation to show us that we can assure data integrity. I think we need to begin to move towards electronics, whether we like it or not. That’s one of the things that will militate against some of these things.

However, any system can be messed up, so long as there is intention to mess up the system. So long as the politicians are bent on ensuring that things don’t work, things will not work.

 

One of the problems of the 2019 elections is also the issue of vote buying. Will you say the smaller parties were out muscled?

Of course, that’s where we were rigged out. We know the people who bought votes. The smaller parties were trying to survive. All these big parties, PDP especially, have collected hundreds of billions of naira from INEC over a period of almost 15 years before the practice of funding parties was scrapped. As a matter of fact, it was in the Constitution that the parties will/shall be funded. Then, they changed it to ‘may’ and they used the Electoral Act under the same PDP to say that they will no longer fund parties.

So, we had gone to pick up the license of political parties, despite that we knew we would not be funded.

The issue of vote buying does not concern us at all, because that’s one of the ways in which we were rigged out. The PDP and the APC, having been government for 20 years, ensured that they impoverished our people to the extent that N500 is a lot of money for a lot of people. When you have ensured that, you can now come with the money, which is the same tax payers’ money. Nobody will set up a company and be using his money to buy votes. So, you can see that there was no level playing field. These people have that advantage over us, having access to money.

Somebody was suggesting in our meeting today that we should have a law where people would not use private jets. I don’t think using government’s jets and resources to host political rallies as a governor of a state will ever end. Even if you are able to say today that Buhari should stop using jets, they would still find a way of bringing money out. They would ensure that some of their friends to whom they have given contracts would bring out the money. So, where are you going to get the money from? The discussion about Nigeria’s political future has not started.

 

As national chairman of your party, ANRP, and its presidential candidate, what do you see as the future of that party? Do you foresee yourself merging with the bigger parties?

We don’t mind, so long as the ideologies are similar. We don’t mind merger; we don’t mind coalition. We don’t mind working with people. The good thing about us is that the party is run on integrity, perhaps, more than any party in this country. About three weeks ago, we had a large executive council meeting. Many parties are finding it difficult to have executive council meetings. Even some of the small parties are in court. Many of them are removing chairmen and all that. We had expanded executive council meetings where we invited as many people as contested for elections to come and tell us what their issues are. We sent out some questionnaires to all members of the party to get feedback from them on what the issues are and what we think we can do better.

I personally believe that we are going to be able to maintain our call up until 2023 when new players will come. I told my party people that I’m a onetime contestant. I knew that it was going to be very difficult for us to win certainly the Presidency. But I needed to set that precedence and that example. Personally, I ensured that anybody that wanted to contest election at any level could contest even for the Presidency with me. One person showed up, but he did not pay our nomination fee. He later declared for Atiku and all of that.

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