By Rotimi Fasan
The news came out of the blue, but there it was on prominent display in the day’s news media last week.
Named the National Consultative Front, NCF, it announced itself as a movement that was offering an alternative platform to push for reforms. What type of reforms? It had no known address but announced names of prominent political figures across the political spectrum and the different political tendencies, ‘conservatives’ and ‘progressives’ in the country, as members.
Perhaps, the fact that the platform appears to be home to strange bedfellows should have been a red flag, the first sign that something was wrong somewhere.
The display of so many prominent, not necessarily distinguished names, unconsciously prevented one from realising that there was no particular person or group of individuals whose name or voice could be directly linked to the new movement. There was no proper attribution as could be expected of a group. The entire announcement could have passed as another case of fake news but nobody thought along those lines.
The many prominent names, easily recognisable in any gathering of Nigeria’s active and non-active politicians, that were attached to the body were enough proof of the genuineness of the so-called movement. That nobody raised what should have been very obvious questions was, perhaps, also an unconscious reflection of Nigerians’ anxiety and desire for some alternative to what both the APC and the PDP have to offer.
Yet one cannot but wonder what could be the motivation for such a presumably national movement of no known parentage that comes across like a bird of not only different but conflicting plumage? What is the binding force, the common goal that could justify this rather strange assemblage of riotous forces? Nigerians did not have to wait for long for their answers to these questions.
In a space of four days since the announcement of the NCF, there had been almost as many disclaimers by some of the prominent names linked to it, dissociating themselves from the NCF. The tone, indeed, the first few words of these disclaimers, linked them all together. They could have been written by the same person.
Yet, each disclaimant expressed understanding for the sentiments that must have motivated the announcement of the NCF and the association of their names to the movement. The first to put a distance between himself and the NCF was Olisa Agbakoba, a long time human rights lawyer and activist who had been a co-founder of movements or structures that offered alternative political directions to those provided by mainstream parties in the past.
Such ‘third force’ movements were shipwrecked, as was the case in the run-up to the 2019 presidential election. It turned out the ‘third force’ was a structure motivated more by ambition than common vision and hardly was the crunch moment upon members when each went their separate ways.
Agbakoba does make clear to Nigerians in the initial tweets that he was not part of any interaction that led to the establishment of the NCF and, more significantly, he was not consulted before his name was advertised as part of the movement. But even at that he expressed what could be read as a sympathetic understanding of what the NCF was about and in his tweet left the door open for possible collaboration.
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Next to renounce any membership of the NCF was Abubakar Dangiwa Umar, a retired colonel of the Nigerian Army and one of the more radical, reliable, and respectable figures of the Nigerian political sphere. He was recently in the news for his open letter to President Muhammadu Buhari who he had accused of nepotism and favoritism to the North. His letter was no doubt a moral nudge among others that got President Buhari to confirm the appointment of Justice Monica Dongban-Mensem as President of the Court of Appeal.
Colonel Umar said he was not privy to the formation of the NCF and was never consulted before the inclusion of his name as one of the sponsors of the body. By the weekend, Femi Falana, one other prominent name from the human rights community, had distanced himself from the NCF. Like the other two men that announced their dissociation from the NCF, Falana also said he was not part of any parley that preceded the formation of the movement and was never consulted before his name was used to promote it.
He goes on, in his press statement, to express understanding for the formation of the NCF and did not foreclose the possibility of working in a similar body. He, in fact, gave clear hints that a similar organisation like the announced NCF was being planned.
Who then are the actual promoters of the NCF? Pat Utomi? Does a tree make a forest? Could there be some agent provocateur somewhere trying to know what the opposition is up to? Could these three disclaimers have been more similar in tone had they been written by the same individuals? No less uncanny is the similarity of language? Each disclaimer said, “It has been brought to my (read their) notice that…”. Not one of Olisa Agbakoba, Dangiwa Umar, or Femi Falana appeared to have read/seen the announcement of the formation of the NCF on their own. It was brought to their notice. Are these verbal footprints, their tonal and lexical isomorphism, as fit as any for forensic investigation, indicative of more than each man would admit to?
Even if they didn’t give their permission for the use of their names, were they aware that the formation of such a platform was in the offing? Were they at any time invited to be part of such movement and they declined? And why? Is this a result of past experience- once bitten twice shy?
Would that explain why they are somewhat quick to express their openness to such collaborations? Being lawyers, an inveterately litigious community, why are these men not seeking damages for the unauthorised use of their names? Perhaps, concern for Nigeria trumps all personal considerations?
The fate of Nigeria cannot be left in the hands of career politicians like most of those venal elements in the APC or PDP. As recent cases of ‘cross carpeting’ have shown, members of these two parties lack any form of ideological compass, both parties being fungible platforms for the vending of largely self-serving interests. Nigeria cannot be left to be passed around by buccaneer politicians.
There is a need for alternatives called by whatever name, third force, or what-not. But such should be well thought through and guided by a clear vision and agenda for the good of Nigerians. Not a formation of malcontents united by mere ambition, their hatred of the APC/PDP alignment, or the Buhari administration as the hurried formation of the NCF would suggest.