The presidential elections in Nigeria has come and gone. As a significant majority of the electorate expected, it was a two-party race notwithstanding the fact that there were over 70 registered political parties contesting the presidential elections. The supposed ‘third force’ challenge to the ruling parties was next to non-existent in the larger scheme of things with the presidential candidate Fela Durotoye of the Alliance for a new Nigeria (ANN),; Kingsley Moghalu of the Young People’s party (YPP), and Omoyele Sowore of the African Action Congress (AAC), gathering less than 2% of the total number of votes cast. A honest observer of the political trend will by no means have been surprised.
WHY WAS THE CHALLENGE OF THE ‘THIRD FORCE’ DEAD ON ARRIVAL?
- In reality, there was no third force. The supposed ideological divisions between each candidate could not be reconciled to produce a consensus candidate. The fact that all the principal actors in the ‘third force’ were united in recognizing failures in existing leadership while having similar reform proposals. A mini-election was conducted to choose a consensus candidate from a group of parties including the ANN and the YPP. The announcement that Fela Durotoye emerged as the consensus candidate was rejected by Kingsley Moghalu who contested on his own candidacy. Even the chair of the PACT elections, Mrs Obiageli Ezekwesili initially presented herself as a candidate on the platform of the Allied Congress party of Nigeria (ACPN), before withdrawing her candidacy weeks to the presidential elections in highly controversial circumstances.
- Even if a consensus candidate had been adopted to represent all other parties excluding the two ruling parties, the timing of the emergence of the third force was highly problematic. Nigeria is a country of over 200 million people. Educating the people on the need to consider an alternative to the status quo is a truly Herculean task which should have commenced long before these ‘alternative’ candidates did. A challenge to the status quo requires a fundamental reorientation of members of civil society. It could never have been achieved in a year especially bearing in mind the deep-rooted ethnic and religious divisions in the Nigerian society as a whole.
- Some of the strategies adopted by the ‘alternative candidates’ were highly questionable; Fela Durotoye for instance was making keynote speeches in the United Kingdom regarding his vision of a new Nigeria to a group of individuals not likely to play a significant role in the electoral process by virtue of their location. Kingsley Moghalu was granting interviews on Sky News, a British news network that had virtually no bearing on the outcome of the Nigerian election. There have been conversations around electoral reform, whereby voting is extended to Nigerians in Diaspora. These moves in my view were disconnected from the relevant electorate and showed a lack of understanding of the political terrain in Nigeria.
WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
The presidential elections have been concluded. In the absence of any unforeseen circumstance, President Muhammad Buhari of the All People’s Congress (APC) will occupy the office of the President for the next four years with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) maintaining its status as the primary opposition party. Some lessons can be learnt by the alternative candidates here:
- Elections in Nigeria are not determined by the pages of newspapers, neither are they won on social media or through intellectual debate. Unseating the ruling parties will not happen if those who are trying to do so only introduce themselves to the people a year to elections. People will not vote for somebody they do not know. Surveys conducted by election monitoring bodies indicated that a greater proportion of the politically-sensitive electorate were not aware of the existence of 47 out of the 73 parties presenting presidential candidates including the ANN and the YPP.
- The primary concern of the electorate is the provision and satisfaction of basic needs. Intellectual discussions that do not translate into basic needs being satisfied are useless to the electorate. People will only start taking a third force seriously when the third force shows itself as being sensitive to satisfying their needs.
- Influence has nothing to do with the position you occupy. The presidency is just one position and, in many ways, the president is just a figurehead of a political movement controlled by so many others. As a matter of fact, it can be argued that the principal actors in the Nigerian political arena do not currently occupy any political office. A view of influence solely through the lens of a particular office is a myopic one.
IS THERE ANY HOPE FOR A THIRD FORCE IN 2023?
The answer to this is highly dependent on the willingness of individuals to pursue a common goal: creating a system that maximises the natural and Human Resources available in Nigeria to ensure proper societal development. In doing this, unity of purpose cannot be overemphasized. The electorate needs to know that there is an alternative to what is currently available and this knowledge should be exerted through action rather than word-based manifestos. The tone for 2023 should be set now. There is currently a great disconnect between the elected officials and the electorate. This is a gap that can be filled by the ‘third force’ if it is recognized as such. Let a team set up by the third force start fulfilling campaign promises that are left unfulfilled by the ruling parties. The advantage of a highly cerebral, private sector oriented, innovation driven and idealistic third force is their link with major players in domestic and international socio-economic investment including multi-national corporations and international organisations. This is seen in the global shift towards a Public, private partnership (PPP). These connections can be used to generate the necessary financial and human resource capacity to significantly impact neglected areas of the socio-economic space. They can also work with religious organizations, traditional rulers, educational institutions and other members of civil society.
Paradoxically, the best hope for a third force is in the expected ineptitude or nonchalance of the ruling parties towards the socio-economic problems crippling the electorate. In the absence of a radical change of approach, the ruling parties will likely do little to solve existing problems and will only attend to issues that safeguard their economic or political interests. Knowing this, the ‘third force’ should start putting strategies in place to ‘cover the field’ and present themselves to the people as problem solvers by actually solving problems. Target the most impoverished areas and start using available resources to not only help them with basic needs but empower them to make informed choices concerning their future. Representatives of the ‘third force’ should be represented across the six geo-political zones in Nigeria, sensitizing the electorate as to the importance of making the right electoral choices. Various ‘citizen empowerment’ measures should also be adopted and implemented, at least to the extent as can be afforded by the current socio-economic climate. This may not necessarily be sufficient to dislodge the current powers, but it makes sure that when elections are around the corner, there is a recognisable ‘third force’. At the moment, discontent with the state of affairs is fairly disjointed and incoherent and the ruling parties fully capitalize on this fact to ensure that every point in time, the electorate is forced to choose between ‘the devil and the deep blue sea’. The preeminent task of the ‘third force’ is to help the electorate see that they are not stuck with these choices. Whether this can be done in four years remains to be seen.
By Lekan Fife Ogunde