By OBINNA EZUGWU
It’s been a busy week for political actors in Nigeria. The primaries of the two big political parties, the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) have produced elated winners who now look forward to completing their victories in the main election next year.
But the primaries have also produced losers, sometimes in very controversial circumstances, a number of whom have begun to seek alternative platforms to realize their ambitions; what could yet crystallize into some sort third force going into 2023.
It had emerged last week, for instance, that Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former governor of Lagos and one of the front line presidential aspirants in the APC, was to dump the party to pursue his presidential ambition in either the Social Democratic Party (SDP) or the African Democratic Congress (ADC). This, as it became increasingly clear that the leadership of the ruling party was determined to ensure that he didn’t emerge candidate.
Revelations had emerged on Friday that the ruling party granted Goodluck Jonathan, a former Nigerian president who handed over to President Muhammadu Buhari as incumbent PDP candidate in 2015, and who had obtained the new ruling party’s presidential forms in an interesting twist, a waiver to participate in its presidential primary originally scheduled for Sunday, with strong indications emerging to the effect that he would be adopted as consensus candidate.
Jonathan, who relinquished power to Buhari without a fight, had maintained very cordial relationship with the president, and his being eligible for only one term of four years is an attractive prospect for the north which would be eager to return to power should it be inevitable to relinquish same to the south next year.
Several party sources confirmed to Business Hallmark that the former president was finally given the waiver he needed to be part of APC primary process, amid speculations that the Aso Rock cabal led by President Buhari’s influential nephew, Mamman Daura, had thrown its weight behind him.
Amid the speculations on Friday, a federal high court in Yenagoa, the capital of his home state of Bayelsa, presided over by Justice Isa Hamma Dashen, cleared former president to contest for president in 2023, putting to bed the controversy over his eligibility for the contest.
The prospect of a Jonathan candidacy is one that is sure to anger the Tinubu camp. Worse still, it became more obvious last week that Rotimi Amaechi, former governor of Rivers State and Ahmad Lawan, senate president, were more likely than Tinubu to emerge candidate, with rumours already sweeping across the social media that the former Lagos governor had been screened out from the race altogether.
Lawan, a late entrant into the presidential race, it’s been said, was drafted by the north to be candidate should the PDP produce a northern candidate.
Amid the politicking on Friday, a close associate of the former governor disclosed that he was already on his way out of the APC, and was considering SDP as an alternative platform for his ambition.
“I can tell you that Tinubu is leaving APC,” the aide who craved anonymity had declared. “It’s obvious that they don’t want him there. A party he helped to build, but let’s see what happens this weekend.”
However, perhaps getting a wind of his impending exit, and potentially other big wigs from its ranks, the APC, early Saturday morning, opted to once again, postpone its special convention for the presidential primary.
Felix Morka, the party’s national publicity secretary, who made the disclosure in a terse statement issued at 12:58 am on Saturday, said presidential primary had been moved “from Sunday, 29 – Monday, 30 May, 2020 to Monday, 6 – Wednesday, 8 June, 2022.”
According to him, the postponement followed the extension of the deadline for the submission of the list of candidates by political parties by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The real reason for the decision, according to several sources, is to put final touches on a potential consensus arrangement, to be announced at such a time that it would have been late for the losers to opt for other parties.
The decision may indeed stall Tinubu’s rumoured plans to dump the ruling party, but other aspirants have begun to make their moves.
On Wednesday, former Anambra State governor and presidential hopeful, Mr. Peter Obi, announced his exit from the PDP, ahead of its presidential primary at the weekend. And on Friday, he formally declared for the Labour Party, after discussions with Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso’s New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP), failed to bear fruits, with the former Kano State governor gearing up to run on the party’s platform.
“I have chosen a route that I consider to be in line with our aspirations and my mantra of taking the country from consumption to production; and that is the Labour Party which is synonymous with the people, workers, development, production, securing and uniting Nigerians as one family,” Obi had said of his decision to join Labour on Friday. “I invite all Nigerians to join me in taking back our country. Be assured that I’ll never let you down.”
Labour, which has been attracting interest since Obi’s decision to join it, was yet to welcome another big wig in Dr. Alex Otti, former bank CEO who is aspiring for governorship of Abia State.
”Today, we are a step closer to achieving the total liberation of our state,” Otti, who is widely considered to be the rightful winner of the state’s governorship election in 2015 said on Friday.
“The courage and conviction that have sustained this struggle, and our move into the Labour Party, will further ensure that we win the mandate of our people, once again, come 2023.”
Otti, who originally aspired to the governorship under the APC, had on Wednesday announced his decision to pull out of the party ahead of its primary election that eventually produced Ikechi Emenike as candidate.
In a statement by his special adviser on media and publicity, Ferdinand Ekeoma, Otti had alleged that his withdrawal from the governorship primaries stemmed from the fact that the outcome of the election was already predetermined.
Same Friday, senate minority leader, Enyinnaya Abaribe who had also aspired to Abia governorship under the PDP but had decided to drop out of the race after being schemed out by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, ahead of the party’s primary that produced Eleazar Ikonne, announced that he had joined the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) on whose platform he would now run for senate.
The defections are notably coming amid high level consultations by seven political parties to join forces ahead of the 2023 polls, to put up a stronger fight against the APC and PDP.
“It would be interesting to see what will come out of the alignments and realignments,” said Chidi Anthony, an Abuja based lawyer and political analyst.
“Perhaps they might be able to come up with a strong third force that could potentially win elections in a number of states, even if not the presidential election. But I also think it might be a little too late.”
Indeed, last week, Ms Bello Bilikis, spokesperson for the National Consultative Front (NCFront), a platform that has been at the forefront of galvanising a third force, announced that six parties, including NNPP, African Democratic Congress (ADC), Social Democratic Party (SDP), Allied Peoples Movement (APM), People’s Redemption Party (PRP), Labour Party (LP) and National Rescue Movement (NRM), have signed up for an alliance.
She said it took 15 months of deliberations and agreements, for the Allied Political Parties and the National Consultative Front, comprising of 6 parties, to decide to join forces with the Labour Party to present a joint Presidential Candidate for the 2023 polls.
According to her, the formal endorsement of the Labour Party by the ‘3rd Force’ Movement arose from recent meetings and activities of separate political commissions of the NLC and the TUC with their allies like the Femi Falana-led The Political Alternative Movement (TPAM) and the Civil Society, towards repositioning the Labour Party as an “alternative platform for rescuing Nigeria ahead of the 2023 general elections.”
She further noted, in a communique on Monday, that Prof Attahiru Jega of the People’s Redemption Party (PRP), Professor Pat Utomi of the Labour Party and Senator Saidu Dansadau of the National Rescue Movement, are also on board with the arrangement and have been instructed to build a Mega Electoral Alliance and also adopt of a single line of candidates among the seven allied parties involved in the ‘3rd Force’ alliance talks for the 2023 elections.
“With the novel synergy between the Labour Party and the NCFront, the convening platform of the 3rd Force Movement, which is also today the largest political mass movement in the country, Nigerians can be rest assured that the glorious future we all desire for our dear country, is now achievable by 2023, especially with the brewing implosion hovering over the ruling cartel of APC and PDP, which will soon burst into unpreventable disintegration after their party primaries,” the communique partly read.
“To this end, an inclusive Consensus Technical Committee to screen presidential candidates and other candidates of ‘3rd Force’ allied Parties towards the adoption of a single line of candidates across all 2023 elections, is expected to be set up next month after the conclusion of all party primaries.”
Furthermore, Ms Bilikis noted in the brief that the ‘3rd Force’ Mega Electoral Pact for the 2023 elections is proposed around agreement on Labour Charter of Demand, EndSARS Youths’ Demands and Constitutional Referendum for Nigeria, among others to be agreed as terms of the Alliance for the 2023 elections.
According to her, the ‘3rd Force’ Coalition Leaders and Parties are expected to jointly address the nation sometime this week in a bid to announce the new agenda to save Nigeria from imminent collapse and anarchy foisted by the ruling parties in Nigeria.
With more defections expected in the coming days, the ranks of the “third force” may yet swell and potentially become a force going into 2023.