Before the Presidential and National Assembly polls in the 2019 general elections, there was an expectation that a ‘third force party’ would emerge to challenge the dominance of the two main political parties in Nigeria.
Since the 2015 general elections, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) have held virtually all the elective positions in Nigeria.
Apart from Anambra State that is held by the All Progressive Grand Alliance (APGA), the other 35 states are controlled by the APC and PDP. The two parties also hold all but a few seats in the National and State Houses of Assembly.
Before the APC emerged in 2014 from a fusion of three major opposition parties and a wing of APGA, the PDP was the colossus and had won all the general elections with increasing margins since 1999. The APC eventually displaced the PDP in 2015 by winning the general elections, including the presidency and majority of seats in the National Assembly. The party also won most of the state governorship seats.
It was clear from that backdrop that the 2019 elections would be a return match between the APC and the PDP.
But some analysists saw a new structure tapping into the growing disenchantment with the political establishment in Nigeria represented by the two parties and make a strong showing, if not altogether displacing the two.
Dream of a Third Force
The hope of a third force was initially buoyed by the entrance into partisan politics of some young persons with name recognition in many parts of the country and especially on the social media.
But rather than band together to build a structure on which to support one of them for the presidency and others for lower offices, they all threw their hats into the ring as individual contestants for the top job.
Fela Durotoye ran on the platform of Alliance for New Nigeria (ANN); Oby Ezekwesili under Allied Congress Party of Nigeria (ACPN), Kingsley Moghalu under Young Progressives Party (YPP), Donald Duke under the Social Democratic Party (SDP) and Omoyele Sowore under the African Action Congress (AAC).
The so-called new breed politicians made a feeble attempt to unite their forces as Presidential Aspirants Coming Together (PACT) and produce a consensus candidate. But it was too little too late.
A few days to the presidential poll, Mrs Ezekwesili surprisingly withdrew from the race, essentially over internal tremors in her party. But she immediately announced she was concentrating on helping the new breed unite under a platform and behind a consensus candidate. But she made no headway and soon disappeared from the radar.
Mr Durotoye eventually emerged as the consensus candidate of the PACT after a contentious exercise. But other aspirants, such as Mr Moghalu and Mr Sowore, backed out of the arrangement and continued to pursue their presidential aspirations.
There was also the Nigeria Intervention Movement (NIM), a pro-democracy movement also known as The Nigerian Third Force Movement.
It too failed to produce a consensus presidential candidate and later adopted Atiku Abubakar of the PDP, a day before the poll was originally scheduled to hold on February 16 before the last minute postponement of the election by a week.
So why did the third force fail?
One fact that should be acknowledged is that the third force proponents did not have the structure and funds to oust both the APC and PDP.
To win elections in Nigeria, there are important factors to be put into consideration such as strong grassroots mobilisation and funding.
Some political experts weighed in on why the third force failed to fly.
Solomon Ayegba, a professor in political science from the Obafemi Awolowo University Ife, told PREMIUM TIMES that the policy that guards the formation of a political party is ‘too loose.’
But he believes that the proliferation of parties is healthy for the democratic system in the country.
”The problem that we have in Nigeria in terms of party politics is the regulation of registering political parties is too loose, it is not something watertight.
”All you require is that you just have a national spread and what is national spread is not strictly defined, and what that means is that if you can identify that, you have at least an individual in each local government area in Nigeria,” he said.
He said the ‘fringe political parties are good for the Nigerian democracy.
”But they necessarily need not to be a national party. If for example, AAA can be a party within a particular state or region there is nothing wrong with that. In advanced democracies that is what they have.
”One of the challenges that we have is the legal framework that makes registration of political party as easy as anything and gives room for people that have nothing to offer to contest elections,” he added.
Tunde Ajileye, a partner for SBM intelligence, said the Third Force should have built a coalition.
“Nigerian presidential politics requires a broad coalition. None of them built such a broad coalition,” Mr Ajileye said.
“This was evident in their parties hardly having candidates fielded in local elections like Senate and House of Reps or their parties not having agents at polling units on election day. It was clear to the electorate they were not in it to win it,” he added.
Another political analyst, Devoe Okorie, also advised proponents of the ‘Third Force’ to work better on grassroots mobilisation.
He also advised them to avoid the overreliance on social media.
“One of the first unseen factors is that they lack the know-how knowledge on how politics works in Nigeria. Many people take it for granted that because you have a wide reach on social media, then it equates to the kind of people we have on the ground,” he said.
He also spoke on ‘grassroots’ dynamics.
”So even if they came together, they would not have made any difference. For presidential elections, if you do not have the grassroots dynamics, your party would not do much,” he said.
Chiagozie Udeh, a political analyst, also advised the candidates to have a united collation in future.
”Of course, it is not rocket science that if you want to have a united opposition, you should form a collation. The collation should be the smaller parties with the main opposition party to unseat the government.
”There has to be a stronger force. You do not need to have people with divided intentions. You need a united force to move the challenge,” he added.
Why we failed- Sowore
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr Sowore, he lamented that various issues marred the presidential election.
He alleged that the Nigerian military used drones to disenfranchise the electorate.
”The elections were not free and fair. And that has been established by all voters across the country,” he said.
”In my village, military men came and were shooting at the drone that was used in monitoring the election; they are still in possession of the drone till today.
”There were voter suppression, intimidation. There were outright rigging and allocation of votes. It cannot determine the credibility of the election when those parameters are not wrong. So that’s the truth.
”Whatever figure they have out there does not represent the aspirations of our people,” he said.
He also spoke on his campaigns.
”We travelled around Nigeria, up to 34 states. I did town hall meetings; I went back. I did rallies. Most of the candidates only went once or twice to the villages, the cities, towns in Nigeria. And I even travelled outside the country to meet people. It (campaign) was pretty strong.”
”We have a party to build, a lot of work to do. I am not ruling it out, but the focus now is to make the party stronger and fight to expand the democratic space in Nigeria. Our democracy is dying.
”You see what they are doing with elections. It has become a criminal process, and we have to take the country back and put in place a truly democratic process where people are allowed to vote, and their votes count,” he said.