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Is there hope for the third force? By Dan Agbese

Third force: Peter Obi shook the political establishment in 2022 when he chose to run as presidential candidate of the obscure Labour Party. He captured the imagination

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Peter Obi shook the political establishment in 2022 when he chose to run as presidential candidate of the obscure Labour Party. He captured the imagination of the youths. The Obidient slogan became a new political battle cry in the land. But the crest waves of the slogan failed to catapult him to Aso Rock in the 2023 presidential election. The old war horses saw the danger they faced from him. They rallied their troops and his path to the seat of power was barricaded.

Still, not a few discerning people predicted that Obi represented what had been missing in our national politics – the third force and the possible birth of genuine political pluralism. The two major political parties, APC and PDP, are in truth two faces of a single political party. We had the PDP face from 1999 to 2015. We now have the APC face. When one of them haemorrhages, the other ascends higher and becomes the political powerhouse of the moment. 

The pendulum of political circumstances determines which of the two faces will be the choice of the people. The same people wear refurbished faces and continue to call the shots. When political choices are reduced to either this party or that party, it stifles political pluralism, the soul of democracy.

Our political parties have been incubated in a petri-dish since 1979. They were decreed and we had no choice but to join; thus, each is an amalgam of divergent interests pulling in different directions. We do not have grass roots political parties such as Alhaji Aminu Kano’s NEPU, the party of the talakawa. This is the third force some of us believe we need to drive a political system that derives its relevance from the people and are in the service of the people. When Obi emerged as presidential candidate of the Labour Party, we saw a new face in our national politics altjouh as a former two-term governor of Anambra State and a running to Atiku Abubakar, he is not much of a new face. But we quickly put him in the driving seat of a grassroots political party able to challenge the two behemoths. 

Can Obi pull it off? This is the big question. There is no easy answer to it. Obi knows that as much as the rest of us. The problem with our politicians is that they are sold on political short-termism. If they lose an election, they jump ship and join the winning party in order to remain politically relevant. This takes something away from the fundamental objectives of politics and political power. As I have always said here and elsewhere, the to-ing and fro-ing by the politicians rob the country of political ideologies and reduces politics to the mere quest for political power – the power that passeth all powers. This is a national disgrace. It is at the root of our flawed leadership recruitment process. Political dynasties are now emerging north and south of the country, further complicating the leadership recruitment process. 

Obi can pull it off if he plans long term. He can pull it off if he commits to an ideology that resonates with the electorate. Obident is a slogan, not an ideology. The slogan has disappeared since the conclusion of the presidential election last year. Our political parties have no ideologies anymore because of the circumstances of their birth. None is a champion of the downtrodden. Obi can pull it off if he sees the relevance of his party beyond his personal political interests and commits to building a political party with enough room to accommodate other people’s rights and ambitions. In other words, he can lead the party but must not necessarily be its perpetual presidential candidate to the exclusion of other members of the party. 

It is not going to be easy. No one said it would. But no one said it is impossible. If Obi wishes to be the third force in our national politics, this is the time for him to put his shoulder to the plough. Nigerians want to see something vastly different in our national politics. They want to see political parties that speak for and represent the people. Chief Ayo Adebanjo believed then that “It is only Peter Obi that can rule independently without the influence of those criminals in the government. Tinubu will only give continuity to Buhari’s incompetence.”  

            Obi could not have expected to dislodge APC. He had neither the war chest nor the followership that would help him drive that change then. His apparent attraction for the people was that the people saw him as challenging the great political parties. Still, the man can make a difference by turning the Labour Party into a party of ideas. A third force will expand the people’s options for choosing their leaders at all levels of government. 

Obi holds the best hope for the emergence of the third force. But there is much to be done before that can happen. Our moneyed politics is a problem. Still, this is the time for him to tell us what he stands for in his quest for the highest political office in the land. This is the time for him to begin the process of building the Labour Party from the bottom up. This is the time for him to show his capacity for managing change. This is the time for him to show that he has what it takes to shake up the political system so we can reap the benefits of political pluralism. 

The third force will not necessarily make the first and second forces irrelevant, but its presence will help to invigorate our national politics. This is what we need. Our national politics has been arrested by stupor and starved of the oxygen of intellectualism. This is a serious challenge not just for Peter Obi but for the rest of us who want to see political parties as the driving forces in our national development. The third force beckons. Let the talakawa answer its call.