Third Force: Fact or Fiction?

Dr Chris Anyokwu

By Chris Anyokwu

Since May, 2022, when Mr Peter Obi defected from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) to the Labour Party (LP), of which he is the presidential flag-bearer, the nation has been rocked by talk of a so-called Third Force emerging from the diffuse but potent mass animus and angst provoked in a people down on their luck with the accustomed rulers of their lives.  The ensuing assumption is that we are witnessing what in the financial world is called “mergers” and “acquisitions” but in political parlance is referred to as “coalitions” and “alliances”, a radical reconfiguration and realignment of progressive tendencies and sensibilities in Nigeria’s power apparatchik.  The expectation, thus, is that post-military politics in the country has or will change forever.  The genie has escaped from the bottle.  Unsurprisingly, the jury is out on this new-fangled development.  Whilst those who are favourably disposed to progressive change of the status quo declare that, without a doubt, a Third Force has emerged in Nigeria’s politics, on the other hand, those who could be characterised and collectively described as the implacable and unrepentant defenders of the ancien regime, that is to say, the beneficiaries of tradition reject and stoutly denounce any vestigial shoots of a countervailing vision – a so-called Third Force!  For this latter persuasion, the regnant redoubtable presence of the “system” proves eloquently the fictitiousness of a so-called Third Force in Nigeria’s politics.  The current transition to the all-important 2023 presidential election is on course to further cement the place and power of the business-as-usual power lotharios while the starry-eyed gospellers of a conjunctural paradigm shift, naively imagined as a Third Force, can as well perish the thought.

Peter Obi

Given this balance of opinions, it is important to ask the question: Is there really a Third Force at present in Nigeria’s political life?  Can the Labour Party or/and its presidential flag-bearer, Peter Obi be considered the concrete visible and veritable incarnation of this (putative or otherwise) Third Force?  Perhaps, it is instructive to remind ourselves of a similar development in the not-too-distant past, namely the so-called “Coalition for Nigeria” (CN) ostensibly rigged up by no less a political juggernaut than former President Olusegun Obasanjo shortly after the spectacular collapse of his pet Third-Term Agenda project, a narcissistic self-deification dream killed by the resounding gavel of Ken Nnamani, the then Senate president.  Thus, OBJ’s “Coalition for Nigeria” was a political movement borne out of necessity to checkmate and put an end to the reign of both the PDP and the APC, Nigeria’s state political parties to date.  A political marathoner who Nigerians love to hate and hate to love on account of his unwonted and unexampled romance with power, first as a military Head of State and later as a civilian president.  It is generally regretted that, despite being the most favoured among Nigeria’s rulers, OBJ dissipated and squandered his luck to put Nigeria onto the road to recovery from the years of the locusts.  In the event, his so-called Third Force (CN) was interpreted as a largely risibly ineffectual appeasement feast.  It was medicine after death.  But the fact of the matter is that, there is nothing essentially novel about the OBJ Third Force as history is replete with exemplary instantiations, even in Nigeria itself.  However, it is meet to start from without.  China’s Third Force represented attempts to establish another force against the authoritarian Kuomintang and the radical Chinese Communist Party during the Republic of China (1912 – 1949) era, and also attempts to establish an alternative to the Chinese-Communist-Party-led People’s Republic of China as well as the Kuomintang-led Republic of China and the expulsion of KMT from Mainland China in 1949 (see Google.Com).  A Third Force in China was the third party other than one of the two dominant ones in a two-party political system, for instance, Chinese Peasants’ and Workers’ Democratic Party.  During the Fourth Republic, France experimented with what they regarded as a political coalition.  It was a powerful coalition which could be termed a Third Force.  A similar political arrangement was witnessed in many countries including Hong Kong, Iran, Northern Ireland, Myanmar, Russia and South Africa.  In the case of Iran, an overwhelmingly mono-religious polity, a socialist-nationalist political movement had swept through the nation during the Abandan Crisis.

Professor Wole Soyinka. Photo by Ayo Efunla

Chinua Achebe.

Now let us return to our shores.   The notion of a Third Force seems to be intrinsic to politics itself in Nigeria as the ruling party and the opposition tend to normally go at each other’s throat, thus necessitating a Third Force acting as a counterweight.  Politics the world over as well exemplifies this, although the degree of its remediation varies from place to place.  For the case of Nigeria, there has always been a Third Force right from the colonial times.  For instance, the West African Students’ Union (WASU), founded in London in August 1925 by Ladipo Solanke and Herbert Bankole-Bright was the Third Force at the time.  WASU was a key political, social and cultural organisation for West Africans in Britain.  It developed out of the activities of earlier student organisations such as the Union of Students of African Descent and the Nigeria Progress Union, established by Lapido Solanke and Amy Ashwood Garvey in London in July 1924.  For about thirty years, WASU had campaigned against racism, colonialism and for the independence of African countries from European colonial conquistadors. The organisation was a Third Force to the colonialists and African political elite at the time.  By the same token, therefore, as Wole Soyinka narrates in his memoir Ibadan: The Pekelemens Years, he and his ilk in the United Kingdom during the late ’50s had also constituted themselves into a Third Force in the context of the political negotiations that went on between the British colonial masters and Nigerian politicians as they pressed for self-determination.  Soyinka had espied the deeply disturbing first signs of the coming locusts during these London confabulations held between Nigeria’s founding fathers and the British colonial authorities.  There was absolutely nothing to choose between these seemingly opposing groups, the one departing and the other incoming.


The notion of a Third Force seems to be intrinsic to politics itself in Nigeria as the ruling party and the opposition tend to normally go at each other’s throat, thus necessitating a Third Force acting as a counterweight.  Politics the world over as well exemplifies this, although the degree of its remediation varies from place to place.  For the case of Nigeria, there has always been a Third Force right from the colonial times.  For instance, the West African Students’ Union (WASU), founded in London in August 1925 by Ladipo Solanke and Herbert Bankole-Bright was the Third Force at the time. 

As Chinua Achebe tells us in No Longer At Ease and A Man of the People, Nigeria’s local power elite, memorably typified by Chief Nanga inherited ALL the bad table manners of their erstwhile mentors.  Soyinka’s 1960 play A Dance of the Forests, a forbiddingly complex theatre parable on Nigeria, past, present and future, dramatizes the coming apocalypse which we are living through as we speak.  Too self-absorbed in their hedonism and power-for-power-sake politicking, Nigeria’s founding fathers, politicians of the First Republic had refused to heed the “Call of the River Nun”, to wit, be mass-oriented, inclusive and just.  Soon enough, there were cries of injustice and marginalisation in the young Republic.  Enter Isaac Adaka Boro.  Born on 10th September, 1938, Adaka Boro, a political activist and soldier had formed the Niger Delta Volunteer Force, an armed militia with members consisting mainly of his fellow Ijaw (Izon) ethnic group.  They had declared the Niger Delta Republic on February 23, 1966 and fought with the federal forces for twelve days before they were defeated.  All were jailed for treason but Isaac Boro, their leader later became a major in the Nigerian army and fought on the side of the federal government but was killed under mysterious circumstances in active service in 1968 at Ogu in River State.  So, there is a sense in which Boro’s Niger Delta Volunteer Force may be regarded as a Third Force in the power equation involving the north and south.  Nigeria in the First Republic (1960-66) had practised the federal form of the Westminster system as a multi-party country.  However power had rotated between the NPC-dominated north and the NCNC/AG-dominated south with smaller political parties with which they had formed coalitions and mergers to clinch power both in the regions and at the centre.  Under this arrangement, a Third Force emerged in the form and shape of the United Middle Belt Congress (UMBC).  The UMBC was a fusion of two major Middle Belt organisations, viz: the Middle Zone League and the Middle Belt Peoples’ Party.  The party was formed to create a political platform for the various ethnic groups in central Nigeria covering parts of present-day Benue, Kogi, Plateau, Nasarawa, Adamawa and Kwara States (see Google Com).  The UMBC was an alternative minority voice in the Northern Nigeria Assembly which was dominated by Northern Peoples’ Congress (NPC).  The UMBC was the third largest opposition party in the Northern Nigeria Assembly. Post-Civil-War Nigeria’s political life has been alternating like some kind of ping-pong game between the military and the politicians.  To the chronically and incurably (?) naïve Nigerian populace, there seems to be no love lost between the iron-men in khaki and the sybarites in agbada/babanriga, but to the knowing third eye, you couldn’t find chummier collaborators anywhere in the world.

Isaac Adaka Boro

The caterwauling of cats at night is no sign of conflict but of coital ecstasy.   Thus regarding power-play in post-Civil War Nigeria, the Nigeria intelligentsia has always been in on the act.  But it was the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) that stepped forward to be counted.  It was the Third Force at the time.  Formally constituted in 1978 as the only national federation of trade unions in the country, the NLC suffered a chequered history.  It survived two instances of dissolution of its national organs, first instigated by the government of General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida because of the NLC’s opposition to the anti-masses Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAP) and, secondly, by the late maximum military dictator, General Sani Abacha because of the NLC agitation for the restoration of democracy. Subsumed, however, under the overarching aegis of the NLC were powerful labour groups such as the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) that may be considered a Third Force to the military dictators and their civilian co-travellers.  As they both took turns at the controls, this coalition of labour unions continued to harry and harangue the political leadership in their country with a view to enthroning responsive and responsible governance. On a personal level, it has to be admitted, Wole Soyinka has indefatigably taken on the powers that be, right from the ’60s to date.  Shortly before the outbreak of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil War (1967 – 70), Soyinka had singlehanded tried to broker a peace deal between the federalists and the Biafran secessionists.  Wrongly accused of anti-Nigeria activities, he was put under solitary confinement for the duration of hostilities.  An untiring stormy petrel with evident love for the deadly hunt, like Ogun his patron Saint, he had rallied his fellow writers, Chinua Achebe and JP Clark as a Third Force against the IBB-Vatsa debacle in 1986. The triumvirate had gone to Babangida to plead with him to spare the life of their fellow writer-soldier, Mamman Jiya Vatsa who was charged with an attempted coup.  IBB would not be persuaded.  Military tradition is military tradition, he had told his august guests.  They had departed, disappointed.  Vatsa was executed on 5 March, 1986, following a military tribunal conviction for treason associated with an abortive coup.

Clark, Achebe and Soyinka visited IBB to plead for Vatsa

The Fourth Republic, for the most part, has been so far dominated by the PDP (16 years) and the APC (8 years), with precious little to show for it except the egregious depredations of maladministration and socio-economic and political predation.  The current administration was swept into reckoning on the back of the PDP’s spectacular failure to deliver on the dividends of democracy.  On its part, the APC, the Darling of the Republic, promised to tackle insecurity, defang corruption and revamp the ailing economy.  Sadly, today, after nearly eight years in power, all the APC has to show the people are the rigor mortis of leadership deficit writ large on the body politic.  Today, it is practically impossible to imagine a people more hapless and hopeless than Nigerians.  On every side, they are besieged by such social pathologies as insecurity, insurgencies, banditry, kidnappings, armed robberies, an endless ASUU strike action with its resultant paralysis of tertiary education system in Nigeria, skyrocketing inflation leading to hunger in the land, youth unemployment and, perhaps, the worst of them all, an unhealable deep ethnic distrust between the Muslim north and the Christian south.  The barefaced impunity and in-your-face favouritism elevated to the status of state policy by the current regime coupled with its failure to manage Nigeria’s diversity and sensitivities have left the polity with a broken waist, hanging precariously over the fire.  There have been unprecedented persecution and routine killings of Christians, mostly in northern Nigeria and Abuja and its outlying areas.  The Boko Haram, ISWAP, “bandit-terrorists” (a merger of the BH and bandits) as well as kidnappers and killer herdsmen have made the West-African nation a living nightmare for the citizenry.  The recent Kuje prison incident is emblematic of the present darkness across the land.  Thus palpable everywhere is a feeling of real fear and paranoia. People are now on edge; they are jumpy.  Every leaf in the bush is now a snake.  The system is broken, perhaps, irrecoverably.  This is the basis for the emergence of a Third Force in the present dispensation.  Peter Obi and his Labour Party are seen as the Third Force.

Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, ASUU President,


Since his emergence on the big stage, Obi has been heckled and harassed over his apparent “structure-less” movement.  Time and again, he has shot back at his detractors that brick and mortar do not structure make nor do buildings scattered all over the place in the name of ward, council or state headquarters constitute “structure”.  For him, if the Big Two that have “structure”, have delivered only sorrow and death to Nigerians, to hell with such accursed “structure’.  However, Obi has informed everybody that his structure are millions of Nigerian students whose futures have been stolen due to the ASUU  strike action, the ASUU itself, poor workers, the unemployed, pensioners and the generality of the disenfranchised masses.  The EndSARS rallies were an indication of the energy of the youth waiting to be unleashed; over 120 ethnic groups which are not Hausa-Fulani in the north are hanging their hope of emancipation on the Third Force which the Peter Obi candidacy represents; the Igbo indecision betokened by the Biafran agitation and the quest for presidency has alchemised and coalesced into a rallying-cry for an Obi presidency – a Third Force to the north and west domination at the centre.  In the face of BAT and Atiku’s personalisation of power as well as the Muslim-Muslim ticket of the APC, the necessity of a Third Force is all the more urgent.  For whatever it is worth, the Electoral Act of 2022 is a game-changer and bodes well for the country.  The electronic transmission of election results has the potential, a good chance of reducing rigging to a minimum but, more crucially, the electorate will, for a change, be the ultimate shapers of their political destiny rather than the business-as-usual politicians who are foisted upon the people by the selectorate.  So, between the political class and the military adventurers, the electorate is also a Third Force, indeed, and, this time, the Labour Party is their platform.  Broadly speaking, Peter Obi or any other politician from any region of the country will do provided he or she inaugurates change; changes the shit-stem; interrogates the nature of power in an African post-colony in relation to the recrudescence of entitlement, preferment, cronyism, prebendalism, autocratic authoritarianism, the cult of the Big Man, and self/dynastic apotheosis.


*Chris Anyokwu writes from University of Lagos.