SDP Is The New 'Third Force' Ahead 2019?

*Repositions to reap from perceived discontentment in the country over failures of the ruling APC and opposition PDP Ahead of the 2019 general elections, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) has taken the centre stage in the political arena.

It has literarily become the toast of the moment among politicians who are not comfortable with the existing political order.

Already, the Peoples Redemption Party (PRP) and Peoples Salvation Party (PSP) have teamed up with the party to form a formidable platform. Also, some members of the PDP who are said to be disgruntled over the outcome of the last national convention of the party, led by former ministers of Information and Education, Prof. Jerry Gana and Prof. Tunde Adeniran, respectively, have also joined the party.

It is also being insinuated that the Coalition for Nigeria Movement (CNM), which is the brainchild of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, is also in talks with the party. Former National Publicity Secretary of the party, Alfa Mohammed, had also recently claimed that five serving governors, 20 senators and some members of the House of Reps were set to join the party.

Mohammed, who spoke with journalists in Minna, Niger State, last Sunday, had said: “In the next two to three weeks, the mass movement into the SDP will become more pronounced especially at the national and state Houses of Assembly and I am sure that the party will soon become the majority at the National Assembly.”

According to The Sun, whether Mohammed’s assertion amounts to mere political talk or not remains to be seen, but the unfolding scenario in the political scene amply suggests that the SDP is being primed to act as the ‘Third Force’ in the 2019 elections.

Recall that Obasanjo had in his open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari on January 24, 2018, declared that the two prominent parties in the country, the ruling APC and opposition PDP, had failed Nigerians. He had mooted the idea of forming a movement, now christened a ‘Third Force’ in the political circle, “that will drive Nigeria up and forward.”

“We need a Coalition for Nigeria (CN). Such a movement at this juncture needs not be a political party but one to which all well-meaning Nigerians can belong. That movement must be a coalition for democracy, good governance, social and economic well-being and progress. Coalition to salvage and redeem our country. You can count me with such a movement. Last time, we asked, prayed and worked for change and God granted our request. This time, we must ask, pray and work for change with unity, security and progress. And God will again grant us. Of course, nothing should stop such a movement from satisfying conditions for fielding candidates for elections,” Obasanjo had said in the letter.

Nevertheless, with the emerging re-positioning of the SDP, the question that is bothering many Nigerians is whether the party has what it takes to dislodge both the APC and the PDP from their vantage positions in the political arena in 2019 given that it did not make serious impact in previous elections both at the national and state levels. Moreover, there are concerns about the capability of those behind the party to mobilise Nigerians against the two major political parties in the country their votes in the coming elections. Do they have the support base and the financial muscle to prosecute an election that would hold in less than a year?

The Interim National Working Committee (NWC) of the party, which it announced last Friday in Abuja, comprises the National Chairman, Olu Falae; Deputy National Chairman, Abdul Ahmed Isiaq; National Secretary, Shehu Musa Gabam; National Vice Chairman, Ebenezer Ikeyina; National Vice Chairman, Junaid Muhammed; National Vice Chairman; Supo Sonibare; and National Vice Chairman, E.B Henshaw.

Others were National Legal Adviser, Joseph Abu; National Treasurer, Nnamdi Clarkson; National Organizing Secretary, Emeka Atuma; National Spokesperson, Adakole Ijogi; National Financial Secretary, Kehinde Ayoola; Women Leader, Maryam Batubo; and Youth Leader, Stanley Nwaka.

Meanwhile, should the CNM choose to fuse into SDP as being speculated, it might also boast of the likes of former governors Olagunsoye Oyinlola and Donald Duke of Osun and Cross River states, respectively; former national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr Ahmadu Ali; Otunba Oyewole Fasawe; former Military Administrator of old Ondo State, Gen. Ekundayo Opaleye; former minister of state for defence, Mrs. Dupe Adelaja; former national secretary of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), Buba Galadima; national chairman of African Democratic Congress (ADC), Ralph Nwosu; a former deputy governor in Oyo State, Taofeek Arapaja; and a two-time governorship candidate in Ogun State, Prince Gboyega Isiaka, among others, who had already aligned with the group.

One of the leaders that have been actively involved in the deliberations and negotiations towards re-positioning the SDP told The Sun on the condition of anonymity that the party has truly secured the support of some serving and former governors as well as some serving and former National Assembly (NASS) members.

“The meeting of the SDP held at Sheraton Abuja a week ago had Dr Junaid Mohammed of the PSP, who was a staunch supporter of the efforts leading to the emergence of Buhari as president, together with 10 former governors, representatives of eight serving governors from across five of the six geo-political zones and two serving senators, who were only brief in attendance.

“The entire Middle Belt zone has adopted SDP as the alternative platform. This stretches to 12 of the 19 states in the North. The Southern, Middle Belt and Arewa Vanguard Forum are considering an invitation to be part of the political party with the zonal structures being offered to each of the zonal organisations within the leaders forum. The Forum is comprised of the leadership of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Afenifere, Pan-Niger Delta Forum, Middle Belt Forum and Arewa Vanguard. The group has been meeting for the past one year with the resolve of working together to put up a platform that would be able to restructure the polity with fiscal federalism and structural devolution of power as its minimum criteria in the emerging polity,” the source said.

The source further revealed that “it is suggested that Obasanjo, former military president, Ibrahim Babangida; and former minister of defence, Gen. Theophilus Danjuma, are all supporting this initiative on the condition that even if older and experienced politicians jump-start the arrangements, they need to yield to new and younger leaders with fresh ideas to lead the initiative.”

The current National Vice Chairman of the party, Mohammed, believes that with the ongoing re-organisation, the SDP would seriously challenge the status quo in 2019.

“I am an optimist; I believe SDP will make a great impact. The main reason I want to be associated with it is because it is ideologically driven. Even if it was not ideologically driven before, it has to be ideologically driven.

“It is not compulsory to have governors or members of the National Assembly in a party to succeed. There are about 65 to 67 parties or thereabout in the country. In terms of electoral performance, most of the parties are not on ground. The two parties, which have led the country, are not doing well. They have impacted negatively on the economy and our political life,” he noted recently.

A public affairs analyst, Mr. Jide Ojo, however, told The Sun Sun that it would be too early to determine whether the SDP would emerge as a ‘Third Force’ in 2019 or not.

“I think that if five governors and about 20 senators are on their way to the SDP as they claimed, that will boost the fortunes of the party. But whether they will be able to clinch the presidency is another issue entirely. Why I’m saying this is because it remains to be seen how potent that ‘Third Force’ will be. Right now, we know for sure that Prof. Adeniran has joined the party. There are other personalities in the country whose names are being mentioned in connection with the party. But one would have to tarry a little; may be by the middle of this year if they are able to poach very powerful bigwigs from the ranks of APC and the PDP, then it may be the ‘Third Force’. But for presidency, which is actually the ultimate, it will also depend on who they will field as their presidential candidate,” Ojo said.

He explained further: “You know that from 2003 when the incumbent president joined the presidential contest, he had always won overwhelmingly in the North. So, if he is running in 2019, unless there is a counter force that is very potent that can erode that northern base, it might just be an effort in futility. But that is not to say that the SDP cannot be a force to reckon with in terms of winning seats at other levels. But I still have my doubts; it may end up like the overrated CPC of 2011. When Buhari set up the CPC, a lot of people thought that the party would win many seats in the NASS and clinch the presidency because of his popularity. But what happened? They were only able to win one governorship seat – Nasarawa and very few seats in the NASS.”

Asked whether he felt that the period left before the next election was too short for the SDP to re-organise and truly upstage both the APC and the PDP at the poll, Ojo noted that building a political party requires a lot of hard work.

“I wish this so called ‘Third Force’ had emerged in 2016 or even early 2017. That would have given them sufficient time to build the party into a formidable force. Building a party is not a walk in the park. You need to have structures across the length and breadth of the country, particularly if you are aiming to win the presidency. The structures serve as the foot soldiers of the party. They are the ones that will campaign for the party; they are the ones that will nominate the agents that will be the eyes and ears of the party at the polling units.

“Recall that the SDP has been in existence for a while. I’m very sure that it participated in the 2015 general elections. But what impact did it make in the elections? What impact did it make even in Ondo State where Falae comes from? Now, building that party into a formidable election-winning party takes more than few months. So, what I’m saying is that unless they are able to attract bigwigs that can deploy both human and material resources to institute very potent structures from ward to the national level, they may not make much impact in 2019,” he said.

Ojo, however, stated that the SDP might benefit from the internal crisis in the APC and the arrogance of the PDP. He noted: “The APC having realised that they have a lot of internal issues have set up the Bola Tinubu-led reconciliation committee. If they make a mess of that reconciliation effort, then the SDP may reap bountifully from that and may realise their ambition as a ‘Third Force’. Also, the Ekiti State Governor, Ayo Fayose, recently described Prof. Adeniran as an Abuja politician, who does not have a base in his state. If the PDP members continue with their attitude of describing anyone that leaves their fold as a spent force that is not needed in the party, the SPD may also reap bountifully from that. But even at that, the SDP will need to launch a recruitment movement to actually get Nigerians, young and old, to join them and then build them into the ‘Third Force’.”

What is clear from the foregoing is that the road to 2019 would be riddled with thorns and pins for the SDP in its quest to alter the status quo. But even at that, the dominant parties in the sphere must hold the warning, “never underrate your opponent”.