Nigerians should be worried about Obasanjo's 'Third Force' in 2019

Obasanjo is assembling a strong political team that will most definitely create a dilemma for Nigerians next year.

In the statement, Obasanjo accused Buhari of rank incompetence, nepotism, poor economic management, as well as gross dereliction of duty and urged him to consider stepping down from active public service in 2019.

While many were initially struck by the weight of criticism coming from such a place of influence, Obasanjo had moved more than a few game pieces across the board in that same statement in what was the perfect sleight of hand.

While expressing his exasperation with the status quo, Obasanjo said he'd lost hope in the ability of the ruling All Progressives' Congress (APC) and the opposition People's Democratic Party (PDP) to provide Nigeria with the initiative it needs to progress.

As the problem-solver that he is, he 'proposed' a simple solution - the creation of a movement of well-meaning Nigerians who will engage in democratic practices that will drive the country forward and be a source of hope for all Nigerians for speedy, quality and equal development, security, unity, prosperity and progress.

A week later, on January 31, the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM) was officially launched at the Yar'Adua Centre, Abuja.

When Obasanjo waltzed into the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) secretariat in Abeokuta, Ogun state, the next day to sign his membership form, Nigeria's electoral fate in the 2019 general elections was radically reshaped in a way that still wasn't entirely clear.

When he made his initial statement in January, and a couple times since then, he noted that due to his quest for non-partisanship, he would gladly leave the movement whenever it became a political group. While it appeared unusual to be preparing for an eventuality before the group had even launched, deliberately or not, Obasanjo showed his hand on his true vision for CNM, and a few political spectators noticed.

On Thursday, May 10, Obasanjo finally unveiled his masterpiece as he disclosed that the movement has made the decision to adopt the African Democratic Congress (ADC) as its political platform.

According to him, the ADC will serve as the movement's platform "to work with others for bringing about desirable change in the Nigerian polity and governance."

"The second phase (of CNM) will involve galvanisation of all like-minded forces for enthronement of new order in Nigeria," he added.

The Third Force wave in Nigerian politics

As public disillusionment with Nigeria's current crop of influential political class has skyrocketed over the past three years that Buhari has been president, there's been a fevered clamour for a new political crop to steer the country towards a clear new path.

With what has been regarded as Buhari's failure to truly transform the country as promised, coupled with the disappointment of PDP's 16 years of inadequate governance, Nigerians have been crying out for a force strong enough to rewrite the nation's political history once again.

Over the past few months, there have been a lot of groups jostling to fill that much-needed vacuum.

Former Minister of Education and activist, Dr Oby Ezekwesili, has been spearheading a Red Card movement that's hell-bent on putting an end to "the tyranny of rulership of a wicked minority political elite class" that is responsible for the nation's "stagnation and retrogression".

Presidential aspirants such as Omoyele Sowore, Kingsley Moghalu and Fela Durotoye have also been riding on the Third Force wave to reconcile Nigerians with a future that's better than the one the current crop has to offer.

While Durotoye is contesting on the platform of the Alliance for a New Nigeria (ANN), Sowore and Moghalu remain without a political platform while promising that they're working to attempt a power grab with like minds separate from the ones that have plunged Nigeria into chaos.

It could be argued that Obasanjo's call for the creation of CNM and its eventual establishment was him taking advantage of the relentless clamour for a new generation of leaders and he's pandered well to it.

If there was a physical vacancy for a Third Force, with its merging with the ADC, Obasanjo's CNM has effectively filled that slot now.

With Obasanjo's influence, ADC has been plucked from relative obscurity to become the third biggest party in the country and that has implications, for better or worse.

What the rise of Obasanjo's ADC means for 2019

There's no sense in downplaying the amount of influence Obasanjo commands in Nigeria, especially since he's served as a military and democratic president. This commanding influence means ADC is about to get some great momentum going for it in next year's elections.

Even though, as he previously promised, Obasanjo has disclosed that he'll not be a member of the ADC, his new role appears to be left open to interpretations.

He said, "With the emergence of ADC as a political party for the Movement and its associates and in line with my clear position which I have often repeated, the first phase of my job is done and I will not be a member of the Party but as I have always done since I quit partisan politics in 2014, I will keep alive and active on Nigerian and African issues and interests and I will be open to offering advice to any individual or organisation for the unity, development and progress of Nigeria and indeed of Africa.

"I will, of course, continue to exercise my right to freedom of speech where and when I consider necessary in the interest of Nigeria, Africa and humanity."

Despite his public position, it's unthinkable that Obasanjo won't maintain a presence in the ADC's runnings; and then, when you think about it some more, what's potentially behind the curtain is just as disconcerting as what's out in the open of the CNM-ADC merger.

How fresh is Obasanjo's Third Force?

The most stimulating attraction of a Third Force that Nigerians have been clamouring for is the injection of a new political crop untainted by the sins of the old order; people like Sowore, Moghalu and Durotoye. However, Obasanjo's CNM has some familiar suspects that are at the front and centre of the show.

On May 10, hours before Obasanjo's announcement of the CNM-ADC merger, former Osun state governor, Olagunsoye Oyinlola, resigned his appointment as the chairman of National Identity Management Commission (NIMC).

In his letter, dated May 9, Oyinlola told Buhari, who appointed him in 2017, that his resignation was spurred by his decision to pursue a "greater political engagement". His resignation also effectively announced his defection from the APC as he noted, "I am moving on to chart a new course in my politics outside the ruling party."

If you haven't connected the dots already, Oyinlola has been affiliated with Obasanjo's CNM from the jump. He was at the movement's launch in Abuja with former Cross River state governor, Donald Duke, and was also in Abeokuta when Obasanjo signed his membership form the next day.

In the near future, Oyinlola will be referred to as a founding father of the CNM because of his influential presence in its formation. However, he is not exactly what many would consider Third Force 'material'.

He was sacked as governor of Osun in 2010, while he was with the PDP, when a Court of Appeal sitting in Ibadan ruled his second term victory "null and void" due to electoral malpractices. Years later, in 2013, another court sacked him as the PDP's national secretary as a result of being improperly elected, and even though he won an appeal, unsuccessful attempts to return to office eventually forced him out of the party to join the APC. Oyinlola was the secretary of the New PDP, a faction that split off from the then-ruling party to form a coalition with the APC.

Not only has he appeared to be a serial defector, Oyinlola was also indicted at some point for an alleged N2.5 billion contract scam by the Osun state government that succeeded him, although not much happened to the allegation which he vehemently denied.

The crux here is that Oyinlola is, arguably, damaged goods and does not fit the description of what Nigerians clamour for in a Third Force; and the more ominous tilt is that Obasanjo appears to have laid the groundwork to bring more like him into the ADC.

When he was speaking about the ADC's adoption, he found the time to note that the "PDP and APC are not actually made of men and women who are totally evil".

He continued, "There are sprinkles of good men and women out there and among them. What must be done is to take what is best from all to come together on a new alliance platform that will take us to the promised land."

"The clean fingers in either of them can and must be grafted to the clean hands of new entrants and participants to move up and move on and that is what I understand the reinvigorated party platform is all about - change, new order and progress," he added.

It'll be interesting to see, over the next few weeks, who these "clean fingers" from the old establishment are, but this is how the APC became an institution that Nigerians have come to despise. Despite running as a "new order", the party took on lots of comers from the PDP, to consolidate its influence, and has been forced to attempt to hide their soiled hands in plain sight, unsuccessfully.

In what might be a connected event, the New PDP faction that joined the APC is already grumbling to the party's leadership about how they have been feeling neglected by the party; and it will not come as a surprise if they start showing up in the ADC in the coming weeks with their wandering band.

If Obasanjo thinks Nigerians have not seen this play before, then he must not have been paying attention.

How does Obasanjo fit into 2019?

I need to point out that since his scathing criticism of Buhari in January, Obasanjo has been saying all the right things that Nigerians have been feeling for quite some time.

I particularly agree with him on certain subjects such as reform to the country's electoral system, grassroots involvement and a paradigm shift in power equation involving youth and women, reduction of elitism in Nigerian politics and widespread contribution across all spheres from every Nigerian to bring about the kind of change the country desperately needs.

However, Obasanjo has not been completely forthright especially in acknowledging how much he contributed to the problem the country is in.

Any Nigerian with a short memory who listens to how Obasanjo rips into the institutional rot of the PDP's reign would be fooled into thinking that he wasn't president for half of the party's 16-year stranglehold on federal power.

In his campaign against the establishment, Obasanjo has been laundering his own image and tacitly absolving himself of the blame on how he's one of the biggest beneficiaries of Nigeria's democratic malfunctions that's gotten us to this point.

While speaking last week, he accused the PDP of administrative failure in the "last eleven years", conveniently stopping just short of his own 8-year stint in the presidency which Nigerians don't generally regard with rose-tinted glasses like he habitually does.

Ever since the failure of his detestable third term bid over a decade ago, Obasanjo has been trying to run from the facts of his time in office and this will always make it hard for Nigerians to fully buy into his selfless campaign of reformation. In fact, some have suggested that his Third Force campaign is a reactivation of his failed third term agenda.

The ADC was registered in 2006, contested in three presidential elections and currently has one elected member in the Bayelsa State House of Assembly, so it wasn't born yesterday. With the CNM's adoption of the party, it's about to witness some redecoration over the next few weeks, and despite Obasanjo's public professions, he's expected to be the big man behind the curtains: the Third Force Nigerians didn't think they'd wake up to.

This is a defining chapter in the fate of the 2019 elections as the CNM-ADC merger will present a dilemma for Nigerians. Should they get behind a Third Force that finally appears to be able to rub shoulders with the APC and PDP even though it has Obasanjo's fingerprints all over it, or should they persevere and keep looking to lesser known actors that are very likely to fall short next year? With the emergence of the CNM-ADC alliance, the Sowores and Moghalus and Durotoyes of this world have their work cut out for them even more.

It is up to Nigerians to decide whether they want to gladly jump on the wagon clearly being boosted by Obasanjo's influence and that of the same band of old heads that have been around forever and are expected to move in soon. Fingers remain crossed on what comes of this; but if the APC is enough of a cautionary tale, then we've been here before, and these are not the prophets we've been waiting for.

With the CNM-ADC Third Force alliance, Obasanjo is now pushing a message of getting Nigeria to the Promised Land, but as of right now, with the actors expected to push that message, it sounds as fraudulent as the message of Change from just three years ago.


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