The Death of the Third Force? 

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On April 1, 2022, popular Nigerian entertainer turned politician, Olubankole Wellington known by the alias “Banky W”, declared through a viral video that he had officially joined the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the main opposition party in Nigeria and the self-acclaimed “largest party in Africa”. While giving reasons for joining the PDP, Banky W confessed that “we must engage with Nigeria where it is, not where we hope that it should be”—a sharp statement that left many curious Nigerians scratching their heads in bewilderment.

Banky W contested in the 2019 elections under the platform of the Modern Democratic Party (MDP) with the intention to represent the Eti-Osa Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives. However, he lost the election to Babajide Obanikoro, the candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), in an election that marked his first full foray into Nigerian politics. Now, just three years after, Banky W has returned to the political scene with news of his decampment to the PDP.

While it is no news that Nigerian politicians are fond of mindlessly decamping from one political party to another, the fact that Banky W left the MDP for the PDP remains puzzling. The Modern Democratic Party (MDP), the political party under which Banky W contested for the Eti-Osa House of Representatives seat in 2019, had been floated in 2018 by Prince Bukunyi Olateru-Olagbegi, a then 27-year old political activist and entrepreneur, who declared at the launch of the party that the party will be home to Nigerians who want to be part of a political party that is “fresh, new, untainted and different”. The manifesto of the MDP also stated that due to the fact that many political parties in Nigeria were only created to win elections and loot Nigeria’s wealth, the MDP will “remake Nigeria where every Nigerian will (sic) call his home”. 

Except that now, it is Banky W who has decided not to call the MDP his home anymore. By joining the PDP and declaring that “we must engage with Nigeria where it is”, Banky W has unwittingly indicated that the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are the parties to beat when it comes to winning elections in Nigeria.

 

Tracing APC and PDP’s Influence in Nigerian Politics

According to some political analysts, Nigeria now unofficially runs a two-party system, even though there are 18 registered political parties in the country. Currently, there are 22 state governors who are members of the APC, while PDP has 13 state governors in its coffers. The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) serves as the political platform of the last, but not least, state governor in Nigeria. In the 2019 National Assembly elections, the APC won 217 House of Representatives’ seats while PDP won 115 seats out of the 360 seats available. APC won 64 Senate seats while PDP won 45 seats  of the 109 seats available. All of which goes to demonstrate the political clout of the two parties.

So why do the APC and PDP roughly share almost all the political seats available in the country. Well, here are some possible answers:

 

  • Qualifications for National Presence

Section 222(e) of the 1999 constitution stipulates that no political association in Nigeria must appear to be confined to a particular geographical area. Furthermore, INEC’s Guidelines for the Registration of New Political Parties (2014), provides that a political party must have offices and officers in at least 24 states in Nigeria, and its headquarters must be in Abuja. Every political party in Nigeria must also consider candidates from all tribes and regions in Nigeria when setting up its executive committee. 

The condition of having members and offices across Nigeria was put in place so that political parties in Nigeria can have a national presence. Because Nigeria is a diverse country of more than 250 tribes, it is important to ensure that political parties have political influence across all the different sections in Nigeria. So when it all boils down to the issue of national presence, which political party can honestly lay claim to having more spread across Nigeria than PDP and lately, APC?

PDP was established in 1998 when an initial group of 34 politicians came together to form a political party following the end of the Sani Abacha military junta. The party was led by Chief Alex Ekwueme, the first elected Vice-President of Nigeria, and it drew prominent members across the country. They included;  Olusegun Obasanjo, a former military leader of Nigeria, Alhaji Abubakar Rimi, Chief Audu Ogbe, Chief Sunday Awoniyi, Alhaji Lawal Kaita, and Professor Jibril Aminu, amongst so many other experienced politicians.

Since its establishment, PDP has won 4 out of the 6 presidential elections conducted in Nigeria since 1999. This series of political wins at the federal and state levels have made it consolidate more influence across many areas in Nigeria, even though the way it conducts its business has been fraught with many irregularities, including election malpractices, cases of abuse of power, and several allegations of corruption.

APC on the other hand was established in February when a faction of the then ruling PDP (known as the “new PDP”), merged with a faction of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and three other big opposition parties; the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), and the All Nigeria Peoples Party (ANPP). The party went on to win the 2015 presidential elections after it fielded Muhammadu Buhari as its presidential candidate. It consolidated its initial victory by winning the 2019 presidential elections and 16 governorship seats. Today, APC is the ruling party in Nigeria.

In the 2019 elections, APC polled 15,191,847 million votes while PDP polled 11, 262, 978 million votes. Cumulatively, the two parties commanded 96.82% of the total votes cast in the 2019 elections—a graphic depiction of the weight of their national influence in Nigerian politics.

 

  • Cost of Nigerian Politics

A political analyst has estimated that the average cost of settling the feeding and transportation logistics of polling agents on a typical presidential election day runs into more than ₦1.7 billion. This is because there are currently 176, 846 polling units in Nigeria, and if a political party budgets about ₦10,000 for one polling agent in every polling unit, then the cost will run into that amount.

Now, how many political parties in Nigeria have close to ₦2 billion to expend on the logistics of polling agents other than the major parties like APC and PDP? Also, there are so many election-related costs asides from the welfare of political parties. It is estimated that the two major political parties spent up to ₦5 billion on organizing primary elections, securing delegates, getting media visibility, and running campaigns in the lead-up to the 2015 elections.

Little wonder politicians from the two major political parties often fund their lavish political campaigns by diverting public funds for election activities. There is the famous case of the $2.1 billion that was allegedly diverted from the Office of the National Security Adviser for the PDP’s presidential campaign activities in the 2015 elections. Governor Joshua Dariye of Plateau State also famously diverted his state’s “ecological funds” for campaign purposes, amongst other things. And there’s the curious case of the TraderMoni scheme that was shared with petty traders by the Nigerian presidency in the lead up to the 2019 presidential elections, which many international observers have concluded was vote buying.

Even though Section 88 of the Electoral Act (2022) now prescribes the limit that political parties can spend on elections, and section 88(2) states that a presidential candidate must not spend more than ₦5 billion for a presidential election, the lack of proper campaign finance regulation and enforcement means that politicians from the two major political parties flagrantly violate this law by spending recklessly on their campaign activities.

 

  • Importance of Grassroots Politics

Another reason why the alternative political parties in Nigeria (or “third force parties”) fail to win significant votes in elections is that they target their campaign at Nigeria’s ‘middle class’ citizens while ignoring the vast majority of Nigerians who reside at the ‘local level’.

It has been found that about 48% of Nigerians live in rural areas, and these Nigerians are the ones who majorly turn up to vote at elections. Unfortunately, there is an inclination for the alternative political parties to direct their campaigns at well-educated Nigerians who are digitally savvy and live in urban areas but who do not fully participate in Nigeria’s electoral process.

In the 2019 elections, only 35% of registered voters turned up to vote, a situation that benefited the established parties. Through random polls conducted on social media, many people declared that they did not vote in the elections. In fact, only 18% of registered voters turned up to vote in Lagos State, Nigeria’s most cosmopolitan city.

These metrics show that newer parties must drive their campaigns beyond the surface by engaging with traders, informal workers, artisans, farmers, and all the different shades of people who constitute Nigeria. By selling promises only to a certain audience, newer parties only end up playing into the hands of the established parties who already have a base.

 

“Engaging Nigeria Where It Is”

As it stands, many upstart candidates who were once in alternative parties are now joining the ranks of established parties like APC and PDP. Due to some of the factors that have been outlined above, many candidates now realize that it is only through the platform of the two major parties that they can achieve their political ambitions. However, whether or not this is a good thing for Nigeria’s democracy is another issue altogether. For now, one thing is clear: APC and PDP are still the major political parties in Nigeria. 


Doyin Olagunju is a freelance journalist based in Lagos, Nigeria. He publishes National Cake, a weekly newsletter about Nigerian politics, policy, and culture. 

 

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