SERIOUS talks about formation of a Third Force to checkmate the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ahead of the 2019 general election peaked about one and half years to the polls. The primary motive of the initiators was to create a formidable platform capable of dislodging the dominant parties since Nigeria returned to civil rule on May 29, 1999 towards ending an era of ‘all motion, no movement.’
The enthusiasm trigged by the mission was evident in the gusto the initiators exhibited following the birth of the Nigeria Intervention Movement (NIM), a broad-based pressure group comprising eminent citizens, leaders of thought, professionals, pro-democracy and rights activists. Frenetic preparations for the Third Force agenda manifested in high-level consultations, meetings and discourse that produced a constitutional framework. This was preceded by the setting up of various committees to facilitate the establishment of structures at ward, local, state, and federal levels. The formal announcement of the election timetable became the necessary impetus to drive the whole processes to the next level.
So, Lagos and Abuja became the epicenter of the consultations among leaders of the movement and its allies, which the promoters claimed included 35 registered political parties.
Co-chaired by a former national president of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Chief Olisa Agbakoba and Dr Abdul Jelil-Tafawa Balewa, the NIM could boast of other ideologues and professionals like Dr Oby Ezekwesili, Professor Wole Soyinka, Colonel Umar Kangiwa, Professor Pat Utomi, Comrade Osagie Obayuwana, Dr Femi Aborishade, Mallam Naseer Kura, Alhaji Shetimma Yerima, among other eminent pro-democracy and labour activists.
Coincidentally, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was also forging another movement with shared vision and mission and even near nomenclature. Similarly, there was no true synergy among the legacy parties and groups until the tail end of the campaigns. While the adoption of African Democratic Congress (ADC) as the platform Chief Obasanjo’s CUPP coalition had collaborated with the PDP, there was no serious harmonisation of agenda between the protagonists of Third Force and the PDP/CUPP until at the threshold of the election.
Obasanjo had birthed the CUPP with the aim of displacing APC from power. But some have expressed serious doubts of CUPP as a platform to dislodge the APC from power, hence, the advocacy by some experts of merger of many opposition parties in order to get an equally large political organisation that would match APC and PDP’s reach and make the required impact across the length and breadth of the country. The precursor of CUPP was the Coalition for New Nigeria Movement (CNM), which adopted ADC as the political platform for the 2019 elections, with a former military administrator of Lagos State, and former Osun State governor, Prince Olagunsoye Oyinlola, as a co-convener of CNM.
According to Oyinlola, “the decision to move in to African Democratic Congress, therefore, is an appreciation of the progressive essence of the party and its untainted existence on the terrain of our nation’s politics. While I, on behalf of the leadership and the over three million members of the CNM, congratulate ADC as the vehicle for national reinvention, I urge us to know that the task ahead is an arduous one that needs further strengthening of the forces of change. What I am saying is that we should be open to new engagements and alliances being forged and crystallising across the country.”
He added: “You will all recall that in January this year, the Coalition for Nigeria Movement was formed by some of us across the country as a political platform to create a new generation of leaders for our country. Between that time and today, a lot of grounds have been covered in achieving the set goals. One of such is what we are doing here today – the formal fusing of our movement into the African Democratic Congress. Beyond what we are doing here today, we put our countrymen and women, old and young, on notice that they should expect more from us; that they should expect deepened political engagements across platforms in the coming days and weeks.
“In other words, this is just the first in a multi layered action plan to give back the country to its much deprived people. As we stated in January during the launch of the CNM, we are taking on this task not minding the inconveniences and other expected and unexpected consequences of our efforts at reinventing the country.”
Registered in 2006, the ADC stood for elections in 2007 with Professor Pat Utomi, an economist, as its presidential candidate, polling about 50,000 votes. The party also participated in the 2011 and 2015 elections. In a speech he titled: My treatise for future of democracy and development in Nigeria, Obasanjo had stated: “Let me start by welcoming and commending the emergence of a renewed and reinvigorated African Democratic Congress (ADC) as a political party. Since the inception of Coalition for Nigeria Movement, CNM, many of the sixty-eight registered political parties had contacted and consulted with the movement on coming together and working together. The leadership of the movement, after detailed examination, wide consultation and bearing in mind its orientation, policies and direction, has agreed to adopt ADC as its platform to work with others for bringing about desirable change in the Nigeria polity and governance.” It would be recalled that Obasanjo had, in his original letter said amongst others, “I have had occasion in the past to say that the two main political parties – APC and PDP – were wobbling. I must reiterate that nothing has happened to convince me otherwise. If anything, I am reinforced in my conviction… We have only one choice left to take us out of Egypt to the Promised Land. And that is the coalition of the concerned and the willing – ready for positive and drastic change, progress and involvement.”
In the second letter, he said emphatically that he would remain a member of the coalition for as long as it has not transmuted to a political party. He had said: “I am happy to be a member of the Coalition for Nigeria Movement. The movement is a pressure point towards good governance. This is the commencement for our popular and grassroots association. Of course, the membership will be free to collectively decide on whether CNM becomes a political party. If the Movement decides to transform itself and go into partisan politics, I will cease to be a member.”
There was clear evidence of most of the leaders working at cross purposes. This became more apparent at the threshold of the election when the leaders began to disperse into other parties because of individual political ambitions, primordial issues and factors and conflict of political ideology, as some of their members were liberal conservatives though professing to be of welfarist/progressive inclination.
While a lot of them chose to team up with the PDP, others settled for parties like the SDP, and less formidable parties ahead of the elections, especially after the presidential poll. On June 21, 2018, the NIM leadership had announced that NIM had chosen Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN) as a platform to contest the election, because the party shares its vision and ideology to build a better Nigeria.
According to the leadership, ANN was chosen among more than 17 parties that shared its vision.
Question of structure
Part of the albatross of the movement was its lack of real grassroots hold as the leaders, especially the activists, could not muster the necessary energy and capacity to reenact the synergy that was witnessed during the struggle against military rule that led to civil rule or protests by the organised labour against the establishment, though the quest for a third force was largely promoted on the social media.
Apart from going solo while pretending to be committed to the ideal and mission of the movement, some leaders within the fold with political ambition expended their individual energies in promoting their presidential or senatorial ambitions, just a couple of others were locked in a supremacy battle within their parties over ticket, especially in the SDP. The cases involving Fela Durotoye of the platform of ANN; Oby Ezekwesili under Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Kingsley Moghalu under Young Progressives Party (YPP); Donald Duke under SDP and Omoyele Sowore under the African Action Congress (AAC) were cut in such web of working across purposes.
Only a few of the promoters of the Third Force movement admitted the multiple obstacles that confronted it. They failed to truly admit that it lacked the necessary structure and funds to withstand the dominant parties, as it could not boast of critical logistics despite the claim by a few of its leaders the movement had the numerical strength across the country to face an election. It was debatable if they had ingrained in the subconscious of the Nigerian electorate the identity and vision of the Third Force. There was equally the issue of timing, with some observers saying such movement needed a period of gestation and maturity if the promoters were indeed serious about achieving the overall aim of the Third Force in the political circle.
But, Agbakoba had a slightly different views in an encounter with Sunday Tribune. He believed the movement already had the numerical strength across the country to give the dominant parties and their war horses a run for their money.
“It is not too late unless some people still do not know what NIM is about. It is not a political party. It is simply a movement to show interest in how the elections should go in 2019. Already, we have more than two million members. We are targeting about 30 million, because we have a study of the voting population and we found that about 30 million voters are between the ages of 18 and 40. And these 30 million voters are the people who are mostly affected by bad government policies. They have no jobs; they suffer from unemployment, and they will be very angry. So, our job is very simple: it is to simply reach them, basically by social media and tell them that the only way you can change your situation is to get registered because it not like the Sunday Church that you will be praying to God and yet, you have no Permanent Voter Card (PCV). So, register and have a PVC. If you don’t register, then don’t complain. After you register, vote for whoever you think: whether it is APC, PDP or anybody whoever you think is going to advance your interest to make Nigeria a better place. That’s our simple job. Our job is not to put people in office. We are not made for anything. I’m sure if we have two million members today, in another two, three or five months, it would reach five million people. The fee to sign up is only N200. Go to our website.
“What we are advocating is that once you change your circumstance, you can change the process; that’s all,” he said.
As his group came up with the slogan of the Third Force, Obasanjo initiated the CNM, as another Third Force, just as the stalwarts of the SDP have described it as Third Force. It was apparent there was a missing link in the third force agenda. Agbakoda did not see such a disconnect.
“Your question even makes me happy because it shows the NIM has made term, Third Force to have meaning. Obasanjo has, kind of, come up with Third Force and SDP is Third Force; that’s exactly what we want to hear. Let everybody propagate the word, Third Force. Whether you are a Catholic, Methodist, Baptist or a Presbyterian, you are all Christians.”
He added: “We are all working on the same agenda. The agenda is to challenge APC and PDP. But, we are working on a different platform; some have a political objective like the SDP to sponsor people into offices; and to overrun APC and PDP.
“Whether Obasanjo is pushing his own Third Force, or SDP is pushing its own Third Force or we are pushing our own Third Force, the common agenda is to see that President Buhari is defeated.”
Some of the gladiators and leaders nominated by NIM to drive the final stage of the merger included Dr Agbakoba; Buba Galadima; Rt Hon Ghali Umar Naaba, Mr Donald Duke, Col Umar Dangiwa, Dr Abdujalil Tafawa Balewa, Senator Datti Baba Ahmed, Dr John Darah, Dr Olu Agunloye, Mallam Isa Ozi Salami among other credible leaders of the fresh breed political movement in Nigeria; Agbakoba, Buba Galadima, Ghali Umar Naaba, Col Umar Dagiwa, Tafawa Balewa, Donald Duke, Olu Agunloye, Datti Baba Ahmed others to lead merger process. Some of the fresh and neutral nomenclatures already agreed by parties and stakeholders involved and to be proposed for INEC approval this week includes; Accord of All Democrats (AAD), NIM, Zenith of Nigerian Patriots (ZNP) Alliance of All Progressives (AAP), among others. However, in the case of a likely delay by INEC, the merging parties have already slated two newly registered political parties for adoption at a joint national convention scheduled hold in August 2019.
To seal the strategic plan of the aligning parties, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) capturing all vital agreements has already earlier been endorsed by all parties and stakeholders involved this historic process, with a strong resolve to surpass the 2013 merger process of the APC which has started crumbling for lack of common ideology and process profundity.
The Peoples Trust (PT), ANN and ADC sealed a strategic alliance called the Alliance for Peoples Trust (APT) at the national convention which took place at the Airport Hotel, Ikeja. The exercise, which was attended by national officers of PT and ANN and witnessed by the INEC, later produced Hon. Olawepo-Hassim as the new APT presidential candidate.
Olawepo, who has already picked the presidential ticket of ANN, emerged as APT standard-bearer. The exercise witnessed the change of the party logo. So, on January 12, in Abuja, Agbakoba apparently let the cat out of the bag as to the blueprint of the activists this time. He told a gathering of PT faithful that the activists of yesteryears had decided to come together once again and fight for the survival of Nigerian democracy the same way they fought the military.
According to Agbakoba, the progressive forces in the country had resolved to deliver the presidential candidate of the party, Olawepo-Hashim at the February 16, 2019 polls and liberate the nation from the antics of the old politicians. According to him, the progressive forces are now united under the umbrella of the PT as the political vehicle and the National Intervention Movement (NIM) as the populists’ campaign platform.
Co-Chairman of the PT, Dr. Tafawa-Balewa, a former presidential hopeful and son of former Nigeria’s Prime Minister, Sir Abubakar Tafawa-Balewa, also shared the optimism of the activists who spoke earlier.
MBF key in
Leaders of the Middle Belt Forum, who announced they were taking home the PT message of a better Nigerian at the meeting included the President of Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Pogu Bitrus; former governor of Kwara State, Chief Cornelius Adebayo; former military governor of Rivers State, Major General Zamani Lekwot (rtd); former deputy governor of Niger State, Nuhu Zagbayi; and retired DIG Porter Dabup.
National Chairman of the PT, Mr. Agbakoba, who declared the rally opened, said that the progressive forces in the country had resolved to deliver the presidential candidate of the party, Olawepo-Hashim at the February 16, 2019 poll. Agbakoba, told the gathering that the progressives had decided to rally against the present set of leaders the same way they rallied against the military during the battle to regain democracy.
Why Third Force agenda failed
One of the leaders of the NIM, Chief Lanre Banjo, said the idea to forge a real third force was to challenge APC and PDP during the last election.
“There is this song we sing in our church that I have built my house on the rock where any storm cannot pull it down. The women in our mosque during worship would say, whatever one does, do it with an unblemished heart. These are the two religions whose practitioners dominate our political and activism space. They only make noise, perhaps, for contract, pittance, survival and no cogent action. The brain behind it was not serious,” he said.
‘Major political leaders demystified’
Speaking in the same vein, Comrade Femi Borishade noted that leaders of major political parties had been demystified.
“All major ruling political parties in Nigeria and their prominent candidates have been totally demystified, including those of them who claim to be men of God. The mass of the Nigerian people have seen through them as characters preoccupied with seeking public office to use it against public interest and to advance their selfish individual and group interests for inordinate power, inordinate influence and illicit wealth.
“In that context, it would have been marvelous for emerging small parties to form electoral alliances at various electoral constituencies in the electoral context to unseat the establishment parties. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The need for such mass-based political parties remains urgent if Nigeria would be pulled back from getting to the precipice of collapse.
“However, the key reason the 2019 electoral contestation was between the two main ruling parties was because of the constitutional requirement of having parties with national structures and spread in the image of Nigeria Police Force, Nigerian Army, NRC, etc. That constitutional requirement must be fought such that parties limited to only one ward, one local government, one state, and so on are allowed to exist. If and when they choose, such parties may form electoral alliances to contest elections on state or national scales.
“In addition, the secret amendment of the Constitution that parties must win a minimum of specified percentage of votes in the presidential election or win certain number of seats in legislative elections must be fought so that such requirements are deleted from the Constitution and parties are allowed to exist to campaign for ideas and policies, whether or not they win elections. The All Progressives Congress (APC) regime has taken Nigeria back in an unprecedented retrogressive manner by the nature of the secret amendments they carried out such that we can say without any fear of contradiction that the Constitution imposed on us by the military in 1999 in the name of Decree No. 24 is far better than what the APC central government has turned it to be, from the point of view of constitutionally backed democratic rights. Where the above mentioned constitutional provisions are not reversed, we can confidently say that power would continue to be rotated between the APC and the PDP at various levels of government. In that context, Nigeria would be faced with the options of continued ruins in social disintegration or enslavement by the two major establishment parties,” he noted.