5 things the third force could have done better during the 2019 presidential elections

Coming into the race, the third force was billed as a ‘saving grace,’ especially after the #NotTooYoungToRun bill was passed and the attraction of age became a centerfold with the need for alternative candidates to the known faces.

The key members of the 2019 third force. (Twitter/Guardian/To Build A Nation/Daily Post/Wikipedia/Connect Nigeria)

Over the past few years, the conversations around how the same people have ruled Nigeria for the bulk of the past 59 years – maybe even since independence. During an election-based Vox Pop by Pulse TV on February 13, 2019, Suraj Owolabi told Pulse TV that, “The same people have ruled my Grandfather, my father and now me. If I have a child today, they will still rule him.”

Such is the agony of the Nigerian predicament that has Nigerians vocal and more influential in political tides than ever before despite still having some way to go in fighting the cynicism that stand against the power of our unified voices to decide the leaders against the norm.

This same conversation promoted the #NotTooYoungToRun bill, gave it traction and then, pushed it into becoming a Law that reduced the age of participation in Nigerian elections at all levels, championed by millennial-driven social media conversations on themes like inclusion and a need for youthful participation in governance.

Equally, this same narrative of a need for change aided the memorable mantra that got Presidential Muhammadu Buhari elected during the 2015 Presidential elections against the incumbent, Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. That need for diverse generations and newness in governance looked – at least to the average optimistic – Nigerian to have given the third force some traction.

Indeed, the numbers in third-force participation soared as the Nigerian need for changed emerged, candidates such as, Fela Durotoye, Oby Ezekwesili, Kingsley Moghalu, Donald Duke, Eunice Atuejide and a few others ramped up campaigns and their faces graced multiple posters and billboards. Indeed, they also had some bloopers ‘On the Couch’ with Falz and Laila Johnson-Salami.

But since then, the excitement built, we have had more of a burst than a bubble against the backdrop of their existence, except social media notoriety from town halls and debates without any real substance to boot.

In the wake of Oby Ezekwesili’s announcement that she had dropped out of the Presidential race, Pulse Senior Editor, Ayomide Tayo wrote that, “Let's call a spade a spade. The third force contenders were inadequately prepared for the 2019 elections. What we have left is a party that ruled for 16 years that gave Nigerians more headaches than joyous moments, and a party that has wobbled and fumbled this last four years.

“The apathy is back in full force. How can I vote for candidates I don't believe in? I bet there are many other Nigerians that are tired of the broom and umbrella alternatives. Unfortunately, the options we have are not encouraging.”

The third force could have been that option, but they messed it up and left us with a straight choice, again between broomsticks and umbrellas with the way the remained unproven and unsold as we discuss the endearment of candidates to the electorate.

Speaking to Bose, an online cloth vendor at Mandilas market on Wednesday, February 13, 2019, she said, “I would have liked to vote for one of the other candidates; the bald one (later found out to be Fela Durotoye),” but she didn’t even know his name by heart.

The cause of the third force has been more about what it could have done than what it has accomplished, and despite the very herculean task of displacing more popular choices and political institutions, the chance was always there to accomplish something greater than they currently have - we are no better off as a people.

But due to the relative lack of influence from parties without umbrellas and brooms, it now becomes harder to emerge from political obscurity and run for office – the usually cynical electorate has grown even more cynical to the third force. The bulk of people who don’t want to vote that Pulse spoke to on February 13, 2019 complained of the lack of diverse choices.

During a discussion a few weeks back, a friend of mine named, Aliyu lamented how he traveled to Yola, Adamawa State and the only signs he saw of conspicuous third force presence was a 10-inch poster of one of the candidates in a place the town does not even reckon with.

He questioned this tactic of self-destruction and it hit my bones. The truth is, the third force cannot lay claim to the funds and structure of the brooms and umbrellas, but anything can be achieved or at least made better by adequate planning and a vision. It’s not just about nursing ambitions and engaging social media marketing campaigns.

The idea of Nigerian identity in a Presidential election means concentrated efforts upon years of planning and coalitions while striking appropriate deals with kingmakers across the country. Any third force members who goes into hiding and then comes out close to elections does not show serious intent. Some ingredients of this planning is sourcing funds and national support.

With funds and the understanding that the aforementioned four states are only a fraction of even the elite Nigerian electorate, with little influence on how elections turnout in Nigeria, there will be better national coverage and more aggressive media onslaught.

As a proposition, 29-year-old politician, activist and U.S. Representative for New York's 14th congressional district since January 3, 2019, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could not pay her rent when she ran for office and won. Granted, that could have been a narrative sold to the electorate for working-class allure, but the idea of how you can dare failure in the face and sell yourself can succeed anywhere.

Noteworthy, you don’t have to grease palms, share rice and food or even cash to the electorate at rallies – be unique and true, see what that gets you.

Over the past few weeks, Oby Ezekwesili ­– to a larger extent – and Donald Duke seem to have ceded their Presidential ambitions - Duke’s party definitely did - just weeks before the Presidential election. Of the candidates in the third force, their concessions were both particularly disappointing.

Donald Duke particularly seemed a millennial-favourite who went into obscurity for a while only to come out under the SDP when the election had packed up heat and his phenomenon was almost forgotten piece-meal of Hades.

The idea disorganization was particularly disheartening to behold for someone of such potential; a loved- ex-Governor of Cross River State, calm and articulate.

On the other hand, Ezekwesili’s case was more understandable, but that didn’t make her concession any more disappointing as a woman of substance; an activist in politics and a key awareness to the plight of Nigerians. One would have dreamed of her seeing the race to the finish line.

On both ends, it seemed both were quitting before their assumed slim chances of victory manifested at poll results of the February 16, 2019. In a way, there was a mismanagement of both their potentials and campaigns, while their plights and challenges are understandable, nobody forced them to run. If you know you are that potential-filled and with an ambition, you should never take your cause with such haphazard levity as they seemed to take theirs.

We have a problem. The concentrated efforts required to win were simply not there and it seemed they both conceived their ambitions on the fly.

Social media candidacy is starting to become a thing. So has Lagos-based candidacy from a need for attraction and a fixation on the elites or sub-elites of the Nigerian electorate.

The reality is that while a significant chunk of these elites don’t even vote, their case is made worse by how they’re only a fraction of the electorate that truly determine the results of elections.

Who are the elites?

Writing for Sahara Reporters on August 11, 2016, Remi Oyeyemi wrote that, “The elites, on the other hand, are the totality of all the political, economic, social, religious, professional leading lights in the country. This would also include the various leading lights of several segments of the society such as market women, student leaders, the academia, intelligentsia, media, lawyers, doctors and artisans, transporters and so on.”

Elitism is a betrayal of the political and social strata and a misrepresentation of facts by judging the available specimen, then feeding it what it craves.

In equal fashion, most peddlers of this elitism never truly realize their elitist tendencies. They usually think they’re appealing to a different set of individuals in a different way, they didn’t set out to be elites. Some are, however, simply lazy.

The idea of elitism though is fixed; social media charm offensive and aggressive onslaughts, Lagos-based campaigns, TV-friendly campaigns and so forth. The true deciders who vote in Nigeria are either the full grassroots or the quasi-grassroots who simply have the appetite to effect things. The elite is whereas too informed and angry that he can afford cynicism and look upon elections as charades.

While appealing to a class that transcends the intellectual, idealistic or financial elites is hard, we only need people who truly want to lead the country and those will crack that way.

The human default mentality is self-serving, that’s why self-preservation and survival are very basic instincts. From this, it then becomes apparent why propelling the ambitions of self holds precedence in the cesspool of ambitions. The human fabric is a frenetic purveyor of self-preservation.

Thus, one then understands the criticism levied against mainstays of the third-force whose actions seem like a doubling back on the standards of contesting in an election.

For one, their ambition fails to be backed up by an articulate expression of it. If you truly care about Nigeria and you are driven by a need to change it, we would see better campaigns and management strategies that transcend the singular approaches we keep seeing.

An appetite for change is a passion and passion is a vicious motivator, not a paralytic. Thus, one asks whether what these people have is just an ambition or an appetite to truly change the Nigerian political scape.

5.  A third-force coalition under one umbrella and run as one, then make up the cabinet

Sacrifice is sometimes what we need, not individual desire – which continues to kill a large part of Nigerian shimmers of hope in the polity. As questioned under the previous heading, the mental driving force behind the third force is slightly questionable.

Causes are better in a coalition. With people passionate about Nigeria and not their own ambition, they might see the need to pull resources together and form a coalition against power that they seek to displace.

Good leaders appreciate and understand their rivals, if they were all good leaders in that sphere, though there are human sentiments which we cannot outrun, the third force could unite under one party and one candidate.

In fact, it should also not stop there. Since we are all rooting for the same change, they can all look to serve under the same regime and push the agenda, but selfishness and a need to be seen as focal point represents the final 'nail force in the third coffin.' 

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