Deji Yesufu in his piece titled ‘Why A Third Party Stands No Chance in Nigeria Today’ has talked about the chances of Sowore, Moghalu and others at the presidential election.
In the United States of America the term “third party” stands for any other party besides the two traditional parties in that country. From almost inception in 1790, the USA has been ruled by either the Democratic Party or Republican Party.
Very few Nigerians know that there are over a hundred other parties on whose platforms people run for elections in America. Yet the American society appears to have only two parties in each election year. There have been few occasions where people contesting on the platforms of third parties have won elections to legislative houses in America. But no one has ever contested as a “third party” presidential candidate in the USA and won. It is not that they do not try, they just do not win.
Nigeria is fast becoming a similar two party state. Since the return to democratic rule in 1999, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led the country for sixteen years. Nigerians got tired of their high handedness and booted them out of office in 2015, when the country came together to elect Muhammadu Buhari on the platform of the All Progressive Congress (APC). The APC had launched an ambitious coalition to wrest power from the PDP and their political machination worked; they won. But after close to four years in power, the Nigerian people cannot see much of a difference between the APC and PDP. So that there much is talk for of “third party”, like the Americans have.
Some have suggested that the incompetence of the Buhari’s administration has given a lot of people the false notion that they also can be President. For this reason, there are no less than seventy political parties providing presidential candidates in the forthcoming 2019 elections. It is unprecedented. Many are asking whether these people really do stand a chance of winning, besides the two popular parties – the APC and the PDP. In fact, a lot of political commentators are asking: why are Nigerians not looking the way of the other presidential candidates besides Alhaji Atiku Abubarkar and the incumbent Buhari? I would be using the rest of the essay to enumerate reasons why third parties do not stand a chance in today’s Nigeria.
First, is the disregard for enduring political structures. Whatever else anyone may wish to say about the APC and the PDP, they still have the advantage of having been ruling parties in this country. Where a party has ruled a nation at the centre or at federal level, such a party would of necessity possess enduring structures in all parts of the country. It does not matter what defection might have occurred within this party, those structures will still remain. It is from within such structures that individuals emerge and pursue whatever political ambitions they have. These structures give rise to a very important element of a political party: the emergence of candidates from well organized primaries. While the APC quite understandably produced a consensus candidate in the person of the incumbent President, Buhari, the PDP went through a gruelling primaries. Political heavy weights came together and tested their popularity first within that party before one person emerged from their ranks.
This is no mean task.
If we are to look at most third parties at the moment, we see a situation where candidates emerge from questionable primaries. Some of them are merely unopposed because the individual chosen is the all in all in his party. What is common to almost all of them is that there were really no genuine test of their own popularity within their own parties. If these persons cannot hold structure in little parties, they cannot hold structures around the country that would deliver at the poles. The APC and PDP still have it to their credit that they were able to produce presidential candidates from proper primaries.
The second reason why third party presidential candidates do not stand a chance in the February poles is because non of them have a hold in the largest voting blocs in the country. The first and third largest voting blocs in the country are the North West and the North Eastern parts of the country respectively. Buhari is from the former, while Atiku is from the latter. Political pundits posit that close to half of the casted ballots will come from these political blocks in the country. If Buhari were to win the North West and Atiku the North East, what would be left for the third party candidates? In fact political pundits believe that all the third party candidates are not likely to have more than a million votes combined. These are the realities on ground and these are the things these gentlemen and women should be considering when they take up the challenge of contesting against established parties.
Third, is the issue of lack of cohesion among third party aspirants. This, more than anything else, has proven that non of the fellows who are running for President, besides the APC and PDP, are serious about winning the elections. The only way the APC could challenge the PDP was by entering into coalition with others. This is a point that all the aspirants in third parties have stressed, yet none of the over 70 candidates is willing to step down for the other. If Nigerians are genuinely tired of the APC and PDP, it should occur to these fellows that there is a viable third alternative that Nigerians are looking for. But when the third alternative is splintered to seventy varying parts, it would be politically suicidal to cast a vote for any of them. In fact it would amount to a waste of voting effort. The third parties should have long entered a coalition. They should have run something close to a primaries and agreed on one candidate. If they cannot do such a thing in the microcosm of their political sphere, they have not shown that they capacity to rule a vast country like Nigeria.
Fourth, is the lack of resources. To win elections in Nigeria, one must have money. And it is not necessarily because Nigerian politics is so money centred, it is because this country is so large there is no one person who has all the resources to foot a political campaign alone. What established political parties do is that they get individual in various political blocs in the country – from state to ward levels – and have these fellows foot the bill of the campaigns in those places. When they come to power, these people are compensated with political offices. But when one is in a third party that has no structure on ground, except say at state capitals, that person is getting ready for a loss.
The last reason why I am convinced third parties would loose in the coming election is that there are essentially no difference between the individuals in third parties and those in established parties. There is a seeming Nigerian factor present in every person in this country that sees political office as an opportunity to make gain for themselves and not to serve people. I am not convinced by the seeming altruistic motives of some third party candidates who brand themselves as a new breed without any stain. The fact remains that the heart of all men are desperately wicked and the heart of an average Nigerian is even more so. In relation to third parties, Nigerians see that the devil they know is better than the angel they do not know.
In conclusion, let me suggest to third party candidates to consider carefully the 2023 elections. They should work hard towards getting a consensus candidates among themselves and they should all unselfishly support this person. Nothing short of this would produce a challenge to the PDP and the APC. Until that happens, we are left with the two traditional parties in the country. We are left with this option not because they are the brightest and the best but because they are the most enduring.
Deji Yesufu is the author of the book Victor Banjo. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org