By Omoniyi Salaudeen
Overtly and covertly, the race to the 2019 general elections has begun in earnest. Even President Muhammadu Buhari, who had all along maintained a tacit silence on his much touted re-election bid, has finally declared his intention to run again for the exalted office on the platform of his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC). And on the other hand, the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which until recently had been enmeshed in prolonged leadership tussle is already angling to takeover power from the APC-led government. In between these two dominant power rivals are 66 other minor political parties which have their presence on the nation’s political firmament. Out of this lot, only the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) has its own sphere of influence in the South-east, especially in Anambra State and would want to expand its frontiers in the next general elections. And, of course, others are also not lying low!
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), last week, pepped-up the power game with the release of guidelines for the next general elections. According to the Chairman of the Commission, Prof Mahmood Yakubu, the Presidential and National Assembly elections are expected to hold on February 16, 2019, while the governorship and state legislative elections will hold on March 2, 2019. In the same vein, the campaigns of political parties for Presidential and National Assembly elections would begin by November 18, 2018, while that of governorship and House of Assembly is scheduled for December 1, 2018.
While ordinarily, the presidential contest is expected to be a straight fight between the APC and its ardent opposition political party, PDP, some concerned stakeholders are rooting for the emergence of a Third Force that would take over the mantle of leadership and lead the country back to its pride of place. According to the proponents of this idea, the motivation for the demand for a Third Force derives mainly from the seeming lackluster attitude of the Buhari administration to the rising level of discontent, insecurity, economic hardship as well as deliberate suppression of the clamour for restructuring, occasioned by separatist agitations threatening the unity of the country.
In the opinion of Senator Femi Okurounmu, a notable Yoruba leader of thought, both the APC and PDP have failed the country for refusing to carry out a restructure of the country. He, therefore, suggested the formation of a new political party by people of like minds who share common belief on the issue of restructuring. His words: “Restructuring has now become a political issue. And the way to achieve political issue is through party politics. If people want to achieve restructuring and the existing political parties are not willing to address it, then there must be a new political platform that is committed to achieving restructuring and also committed to gaining power on the basis of controlling majority of the people who want restructuring. This is a challenge to all Nigerians. Those of us who want restructuring we must now establish political platform centred on restructuring and then align with the people to win power. If those who want restructuring win power, then the coast is clear for restructuring. But if we just keep agitating, it won’t lead us anywhere because the two leading political parties in Nigeria-APC and PDP-are not ready to see the country restructured.”
Another key Actor in the scheming for a Third Force, Chief Chekwas Okorie, disclosed that alliance discussions among like minds had reached an advanced stage and that the name of the new group would be unfolded by March. “I am one of the major promoters of the concept of the Third Force. And UPP will play a key role as a critical factor in the alliance of forces. It will be a gathering of political parties that are truly progressives. A lot of meetings have been going on already. Latest by March, the nature of the Third Force would have been made public. What I cannot say for now is whether it is going to be a merger of political parties; which is unlikely, or an alliance of political parties which is more likely. Whichever form it takes, we will present a common candidate with the parties taking full control of the areas of their interest. It can come in different names. It can come in the name of coalition, accord or alliance. It is going to be an arrangement for different parties to come together to form a government at the centre. That way, the government will not be all powerful. The government cannot degenerate to a dictatorship because of its common ownership. Also, you have a National Assembly that is not overwhelmingly controlled by one particular party where anything goes.”
Expressing optimism about the success of the alliance, he added: “If you look through our history, that is the only thing that has worked. The First Republic was a government formed by a coalition of NCNC and NPC. The Second Republic was also a government formed between NPN and NPP. We are looking at the success recorded in the past as a result of alignment of forces.”
According to Okorie, the alliance talk has already gained acceptability among the Hausa, the Kanuri and the aggrieved people of the Middle Belt. Beyond politics, the common bond of unity among the diverse interest groups, he says, is the issue of restructuring. “APC was formed by the merger of three parties, but immediately it came to power, it was appropriated by the CPC which was the smallest of the three. The CPC appropriated APC government and the Fulani took control completely. I can tell you that Hausa and the Kanuri are key players in the formation of Third Force. They have come to terms with the fact that they have always been used and dumped by the Fulani. And the middle Belt people have also keyed into restructuring which is one of the things the Third Force will have in common. Every party in the Third Force must believe in the restructuring of Nigeria, must believe in devolution of power, must believe in state police and community policing for the purposes of internal security,” he declared.
The big question now is: How will the forces involved in the alliance talk coalesce and garner enough strength to unseat a sitting government? For now, there is no strong indication that the idea may come handy. One, the exact number of political parties in the new arrangement is yet unknown. Secondly, many of the so-called political parties only exist in name. They had hardly made any appreciable showing in the previous elections, which is why only the PDP and APC have continued to dominate the political space. According to the INEC, if the 22 newly registered political parties recently presented certificates of registration are added to the existing one, the total number of parties in Nigeria would be 68. These are All Blending Party, All Grassroots Alliance, Alliance for New Nigeria, Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party, Coalition for Change and Freedom and Justice Party. Others are Grassroots Development Party of Nigeria, Justice Must Prevail Party, Legacy Party of Nigeria, Mass Action Joint Alliance, Modern Democratic Party, National Interest Party, National Rescue Mission and New Progressive Mission, New Progressive Movement, Nigeria Democratic Congress Party, People’s Alliance for National Development and Liberty, People’s Trust and Providence People’s Congress to mention but a few.
Also on the list are Re-Build Nigeria Party, Restoration Party of Nigeria and Sustainable National Party. Virtually all the political parties have one thing in common: the credo of a new Nigeria. But the idea sounds more of rhetoric than a reality. For they all lack the necessary formidable structure to actualise the tall ambition. It, therefore, goes without saying that the idea of a Third Force may less likely to go far, if the permutation by the proponents is to align with some of these parties.
However, despite the obvious challenge, Okorie maintained that the time had come for a change of status quo. “We didn’t just wake up yesterday. We have been talking. By the last quarter of last year, the idea had been discussed in several meetings. As we speak, discussions are ongoing. Why it is going to be easy is that the intricacies of merger will not be involved. The parties are going to retain their identity. It is only in a clear two-party state like America that you may not have a coalition government. And in such circumstance, you see how the senate and the Representatives counter balance each other. The way Nigeria is today, the environment is ripe for coalition to come back and unite our country. Today, the country is so divided with various tendencies agitating for separation. But if we allow self determination within the context of Nigeria, then you now begin to see how coalition and alliance will succeed,” he posited.
Nigerians are waiting to see the end result of the new political evolution. A former minister of education, Oby Ezekwesili, also shared the same view, saying there is a need for a Third Force to seize power from the ruling APC.