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2019: The ‘Third Force’ fever

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There is a whiff of excitement in the air regarding the likelihood of a major (third) force to contend with, come 2019 presidential election. Following this column’s overview of the current political situation, see, “2019: The leadership vacuum”, The PUNCH, January 9, 2018, where a critical appraisal of the current All Progressives Congress government was rendered, including the possibility and chances of an insurgent operation from a yet unknown major force. Events have since moved from a mere conjecture to the tantalising possibility of a shake-up in our political calculus on a scale not imagined even one month ago.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, echoing the sentiment expressed in The PUNCH appraisal, threw a grenade into the APC dinner gathering last week, and got the party apparatchik chocking on their salad and Italian wine as they scampered around looking for a way to douse the fire. In his “letter”, Obasanjo wrote, urging President Buhari to “dismount” from the horse he was riding purportedly on the way to a second term in office. In addition, the “third force” has since revealed itself as the Nigeria Intervention Movement, described by its founders as a coalition of non-partisan political association, determined to “rescue” Nigeria from its present malaise. Names of prominent political activists, politicians and trade unionists are being bandied about as members of the new coalition, but will the kite fly? More crucially, should President Muhammadu Buhari be having sleepless nights?

 First of all, the APC propaganda machine did a fantastic job of rebutting, as opposed to rubbishing Obasanjo’s critique of their administration. They did a line by line refutation of his allegations with an array of “killer facts” of their own. They pushed back assiduously and methodically. It was a masterstroke, which has taken the sting out of Obasanjo’s potentially poisonous bite. If there was ever any doubt about the party’s ability to go toe-to-toe with an opponent in an election year, on the propaganda front, their handling of Obasanjo’s intervention has removed that. The party now needs to have a major policy triumph; not a litany of administrative successes, but one over-arching dragon the Buhari administration has successfully slain. Merged with an efficient and effective propaganda team, the party would be unassailable at the next election. Here is why.

The APC as it appears, today, is in deep trouble. Despite the miniscule increase in the Gross Domestic Product recently, the economy remains sluggish with high levels of unemployment and rising inflation. The huge infrastructure funding gap and over-reliance on imports make any talk of recovery empty rhetoric. So, is the party vulnerable? Very much so, and they know it too. The next question then is, are Nigerians ready to turn back to the only viable alternative, the Peoples Democratic Party? This is highly unlikely – for now. This is precisely where the putative “third force” could emerge to wrest power away from the incumbent. Were that to happen though, it would be equivalent to a political earthquake in this country. There is discontent; widespread discontent with the current administration, but that has yet to translate into a tectonic shift away from the APC. It is not unusual for a government that rode to power on the crest of a popular wave for “change” to come unstuck mid-term. A reshuffle plus a burst of flashy policy ideas are usually the antidote to such a negative poll ratings. I have no doubt the administration will attend to that soonest.

Obasanjo went through a laundry list of policy shortcomings of the current administration including ethnic capture of strategic government institutions, failure to protect the lives and property of citizens equally, inability to galvanise the populace for economic recovery, selective use of intelligence services, opposition to the idea of “restructuring” Nigeria, etc. The new political group would wish to capitalise on all these, no doubt. But, here is the rub: The reasons being canvassed as going against Buhari’s second term in office are precisely the reasons why the APC’s northern constituency will support him again, and again. They not only see him as a political figure, they also see him almost as a demi-god, who has not put a foot wrong thus far. Buhari is to the North, what Awolowo was to the Western Region of yesteryears. The electorate in the North see and revere Buhari as a Fulani first and foremost, and a Nigerian second. Through him, (and barring unforeseen cataclysmic political events), the APC have effectively got the bulk of the northern vote sewn up for 2019.

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