October 1, 2022


I reckon that the possible rearrangement of the political climate occasioned by the third force in Nigeria will eventually lead to the death of the third force or the end of one of the existing two parties, or a realignment of the structures of all existing parties. But the elite stranglehold on party politics and the entrenched attitude of godfatherism, impunity, lack of ideology, politics of self-interest, intrigues and manoeuvrings will still be dominant.
The political evolution of party systems in the world follows a binary trajectory. We see this political evolutionary trend in most democracies where, although multiple parties exist, two dominant parties emerge within the political space, and compete as alternate power wielders that form either the government or the opposition at the centre. These two parties appear either to be subsuming other minor parties or controlling a more significant part of the electorate through a broader appeal.
Advanced democracies have shown that party systems often evolve with a natural affinity for binary options. Everywhere globally, electorates (educated or not) seem lazy to contemplate and analyse multiple possibilities, and they prefer to make decisions on the basis of two defined options, either A or B.
Most matured and stable democracies of the world have binary party options. The Labour versus Conservative parties in the U.K. and the US has the Democrats versus Republicans. Kenya has two grand alliances or coalitions – the Azimio la Umoja Coalition and Kenya Kwanza, and two major political parties, the Orange Democratic Party of Kenya (ODM), whose leader is Hon Raila Odinga and the United Democratic Alliance, whose leader is Hon Dr William Ruto. Nigeria, at various times, has followed this trajectory of binary party options: the National Republican Convention (NRC) and Social Democratic Party (SDP) in 1991-1992; Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and All People’s Party (APP), 1999-2003; and All Progressives Congress (APC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), (2014 till date.
The attraction to binary party system options in most democracies stems from its merits in the democratic experience. Primarily, it reasonably discourages discrimination against minorities and encourages integration in the political ecosystem. The two-party system hardly allows for ethnic colouration of the parties, since people from various ethnic groups, religions and ideologies pull together in the party.
Besides, it moderates animosities and ethnic jingoism. Also, the fact that these two parties have relatively  equal strength is good for competition. Competition for power is foundational to democracy, and it is anchored in the belief that with stiff competition, good leaders emerge who meet the aspirations of the electorate, without which they lose power in the next circle of elections. 
This also has its demerits. In less matured democracies, it sometimes leaves the electorate with only two options, with no other option viable in the power struggle, and this is even worse when it turns out that the two parties are flip sides of the same coin and there is no credible alternative to them. The two parties can become oligarchies, controlled by a tiny clique of the political elite to the exclusion of others. This anomaly is our situation in Nigeria now. A coterie of well-resourced political elite, who do not bother much about the alternative views and interests of others outside the mainstream, controls the two major parties.
As more persons are getting disgruntled with Nigeria’s political system and political developments, the prospect of a third political force is gathering momentum. A sizable political force is beginning to form with the hope of upsetting the system and creating a new order. Like in other climes, a third force is usually a protest movement, people who are disgruntled and aggrieved coming together, not on the basis of ideological considerations or a shared vision. But in the Nigerian case, these dissatisfied and discontented people from the two-party systems are conjoining with outside voices within the periphery of the political space to orchestrate a third force movement to challenge the existing political orthodoxy.
…as much as people want the third force, political exigencies and realities may not allow it to change the political or developmental landscape but it can be likened to the changing of furniture of elite dominance in the house. The third force is being engineered by fragments of the existing parties, with engrained political attitudes and the same culture that created the two-party system failures and impunities.
The current tidal movement resembling a third force may rise from one of either the Labour Party, the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the Social Democratic Party (SDP), African Democratic Congress (ADC), New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP) or the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) coalition. This groundswell of fringe parties is beginning to form a third force. Some consider it late, but I am afraid I must disagree with them. There are many reasons why a third force may spring up now and have credible chances of surviving and affecting the political landscape.
The first reason is that many politicians with grassroots support but who are not favoured by the leadership of the two major parties, are frustrated and looking for viable and credible alternative platforms. Besides, there is a general perception that the two major political parties have failed Nigerians in core development programmes, and people are fed up with what they consider as party shenanigans, and the disconnect with grassroots politics and electorates.
The economic hardship is hitting hard, and the people are blaming the two major parties for the situation, given that both have ruled the country at various times without improving the standard of living of people. So, the ground is fertile for a clamour for a third force, but whether the movement is sufficient to create a political storm is yet to be seen. Again, the viability of a third force will depend on the internal capacity of the two major parties to self-repair after their presidential primaries.
The possibility of a third force phenomenon gives some Nigerians hope. At least it widens the scope of options for more credible and viable candidates for election, especially given the general feeling that some candidates in the two major parties are not credible enough for the electorate to choose from, but are beinf forced on them by the parties.
Also, some of the electorates who are disgruntled with the two main parties and would not have participated in the electoral system, have an option of an alternative platform to engage in the elections, which may give their votes meaning and not leave them with a sense of wasted votes on parties that cannot win elections. These voters hope that the third force will be different and meet their expectations. Therefore, a third force will benefit the Nigerian people as it will widen the options and deepen competition with the outcome of a better deal for Nigerians.
Unfortunately, as much as people want the third force, political exigencies and realities may not allow it to change the political or developmental landscape but it can be likened to the changing of furniture of elite dominance in the house. The third force is being engineered by fragments of the existing parties, with engrained political attitudes and the same culture that created the two-party system failures and impunities. It is the same unrepentant elite whose major push for a third force is to have a platform to grab power because they have not been allowed such in the two major parties.
The litmus test is this: Is there a politician in the third force who, if given a platform in the two main parties to get power, will decline this? So, the third force is neither ideological nor a movement to change the existing political sphere, but a new platform to contest for power by the same politicians disgruntled with the system that did not allow them a platform for power in the two main political parties.
The next few months will clearly show the blueprint of the new party systems and players in the political firmament. The role of the third force will be apparent. Historically, we know that third forces either create a political storm in a teacup and eventually disappear after elections or grow to become alternative forces that replace one of the big two as the opposition force, or in rare cases, they win elections and form governments.
Besides, the third force will have to overcome barriers to the movement. The first barrier is time, as the 2023 general election is just seven months away. What time does the third force have to build itself and mount a credible challenge to the big two and the status quo? The emergence of APC before the 2015 general election came early enough to allow its constituents time to consolidate.
Moreover, APC came as a second force and not a third force. Even then, it took time to form a nationwide structure capable of winning elections in Nigeria. This third force has only about seven months to position itself well for the elections. Although this is possible to achieve, it will be a mean fit to accomplish.


The second barrier is the financial muscle to fight elections in Nigeria. There is an excessive monetisation of the political space, and elections cost so much in Nigeria. We play money politics in the country, and how will the third force raise the war chest to mount a challenge to the big two? The two big parties will outspend and dominate the media and public spheres to the detriment of the third force.
The third barrier is the difficulty of the third force to have the national spread and organisation it needs to create political structures to compete in the 2023 election. This problem is made worse by the brief time left for all parties to conduct their primaries and submit lists of candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The next few months will clearly show the blueprint of the new party systems and players in the political firmament. The role of the third force will be apparent. Historically, we know that third forces either create a political storm in a teacup and eventually disappear after elections or grow to become alternative forces that replace one of the big two as the opposition force, or in rare cases, they win elections and form governments.
This last situation happens when it is a proper movement that blows away the political firmament through mass action that changes the status quo. Will this be the case in the novel third force in Nigeria? I doubt it. But it is not impossible. It is more a function of people’s reaction and acceptance of the third force and a movement for political change than what members of the third force do.
I reckon that the possible rearrangement of the political climate occasioned by the third force in Nigeria will eventually lead to the death of the third force or the end of one of the existing two parties, or a realignment of the structures of all existing parties. But the elite stranglehold on party politics and the entrenched attitude of godfatherism, impunity, lack of ideology, politics of self-interest, intrigues and manoeuvrings will still be dominant. The electoral pattern that will emerge after the 2023 general elections will not engineer a sea-change, but it may sow the seeds of electoral alignment and realignment that will birth a new political order outside one of the dominant APC or PDP. In the absence of ideological appeal of the new coalition, the third force is likely to remain an ideal whose time is yet to come. This is the evolutionary nature of the two-party system in Nigeria.
Dakuku Peterside is a policy and leadership expert. 
 
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