The recent by-elections and re-runs in 26 states across Nigeria have revealed a lot about the state of the nation’s democracy and the subtle factors influencing the voting habits of the people. While the results so far have shown the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and the main opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) maintaining their dominance in most of the states, it would seem as though the Labour Party, which emerged as a formidable third force in the 2023 presidential election, might be struggling to translate the success it had at the federal level to the state and local government levels.

The APC and PDP have managed to sweep the polls across many states in the country, leaving the Action Democratic Party (ADP) with a senatorial seat in Plateau North, Young Progressives Party (YPP) with two House of Representatives seats in Anambra State, and Labour Party with one House of Reps seat in Plateau.

The LP’s performance has raised questions about its viability as a national alternative to the APC and PDP, and the extent to which it relied on the popularity and charisma of its presidential candidate, Peter Obi, a former governor of Anambra State and a successful businessman. Obi, who ran his campaign on the promise of good governance, anti-corruption, and economic development, garnered over 15 million votes in the 2023 presidential election, coming third behind President Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the APC and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar of the PDP.

Obi’s campaign was supported by a grassroots movement of young and educated Nigerians, who tagged themselves the “Obidients”, and who saw him as a breath of fresh air in a political landscape dominated by old and corrupt politicians. The Obidients mobilized themselves online and offline, using social media, music, and comedy to spread Obi’s message and vision for Nigeria. They also donated money, time, and resources to Obi’s campaign, making it one of the most innovative and participatory campaigns in Nigeria’s history.

Nevertheless, the by-elections and re-runs would appear to show that the LP’s appeal did not extend beyond Obi and his loyal supporters. Many analysts have argued that the LP lacks a clear ideology, a strong organizational structure, and a coherent strategy to challenge the APC and PDP at the state and local levels. Some have also suggested that the LP was a vehicle for Obi’s personal ambition, rather than a genuine movement for change.

“The LP was essentially a one-man show. It was built around Obi’s personality and reputation, but it did not have a solid foundation or a clear vision for the country. It was more of a protest vote against the APC and PDP, rather than a positive vote for the LP,” said Dr. Chidi Okoro, a political scientist and commentator.

The LP’s failure to win many seats in the by-elections and re-runs has been attributed to a lack of grassroots support and mobilization, as well as its inability to form alliances with other parties and groups.

However, not everyone agrees that the LP’s seemingly bland performance is the end of the third force in Nigerian politics. Some observers have pointed out that the by-elections and re-runs also lend credence to the potential of new and independent candidates, who challenge the status quo and offer alternative perspectives and solutions to the country’s problems. One of such candidates is Ifeanyi Ubah, a businessman and philanthropist, who won the Anambra South senatorial seat on the platform of the YPP, defeating the candidates of the APC, PDP, and LP, although he later defected to the APC citing “irreconcilable differences” in the YPP.

Ubah, who is the founder and chairman of Capital Oil and Gas Industries Limited, one of Nigeria’s largest oil and gas companies, ran a campaign that focused on his track record of creating jobs, empowering youths, and developing communities. He also promised to use his influence and connections in the private sector to attract investments and projects to Anambra State and the South-East region. Ubah’s victory was seen as a surprise and a shock to many political pundits, who had written him off as a novice and an outsider.

Ubah, however, said that his victory was a testament to the power of the people and the desire for change. He said that he decided to run for the senate because he was dissatisfied with the performance of the previous senators, whom he accused of being selfish, corrupt, and ineffective. He said that he chose the YPP because it was a new and progressive party that gave him the freedom and the platform to express his ideas and aspirations.

“I am not a politician, I am a businessman and a humanitarian. I have always been passionate about serving my people and my country. I joined the YPP because it is a party that believes in the potential and the greatness of Nigeria. It is a party that does not discriminate or divide people based on ethnicity, religion, or gender. It is a party that respects and supports independent candidates, who have something to offer to the nation,” Ubah said.

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Recently, human rights activist and journalist, Omoyele Sowore, stressed on the need for the Constitution to make provisions for independent electoral candidates who wished to run for office on their own, as opposed to running under political parties that were compromised and controlled by the ruling elite, and did not have the interest of the people at heart.

In an interview on Channels Television, where he was a guest alongside activist Aisha Yesufu, Sowore said, “I think we need to have a law that allows for independent candidates so that people who don’t want to be part of the shenanigans of these political parties can run without having to deal with those things.”

Sowore, who is the founder and publisher of Sahara Reporters, an online news platform known for its investigative and critical reporting, also stated, “If there were room for independent candidacy, people with ideas who don’t want to participate in the dirtiness of politics can come out as candidates, and you’ll even find out that a lot of independent candidates will even organize themselves better than the political parties because they can find people who align with their objectives, their vision, their narratives about how to fix the country.”

He, however, also cautioned that independent candidacy should not be abused or manipulated by the wealthy and the powerful, who might use it to advance their personal or sectional interests, at the expense of the common good. He said that independent candidacy should be regulated and monitored by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and that there should be clear and reasonable criteria and conditions for eligibility and participation.

Sowore’s views on independent candidacy have been echoed by many political analysts and observers, who agree that independent candidacy will be a positive and progressive development in Nigerian politics, and that it could enhance the quality and diversity of the political system. They have also affirmed that independent candidacy could challenge the dominance and the hegemony of the APC and the PDP, and that it could create more space and voice for alternative and minority perspectives and interests.

Independent candidacy has been a rather contentious issue in Nigeria’s constitutional history. The 1960 and 1963 constitutions, which were in force during the First Republic, allowed for independent candidacy, but only for the House of Representatives and the House of Chiefs, not for the Senate or the Presidency. The 1979 and 1999 constitutions, which were in force during the Second and Fourth Republics, respectively, abolished independent candidacy altogether, and made party affiliation a mandatory requirement for any elective office. The 1989 constitution, which was drafted but never implemented for the aborted Third Republic, also did not provide for independent candidacy.

The main arguments for independent candidacy have been that it would enhance the political and personal rights of the citizens, who should be free to choose and be chosen without any undue restriction or discrimination; that it would increase the competitiveness and diversity of the electoral system, by providing more options and alternatives to the voters, especially in areas where one party dominates; that it would promote merit, competence, and integrity in politics, by allowing candidates to run on their own credentials and achievements, rather than on their party affiliation; and that it would foster more responsiveness and responsibility of elected officials, who would be more accountable to the people, rather than to their party leaders or godfathers.

On the other end of the debate, concerns about independent candidacy encouraging the proliferation of candidates, especially by the rich and the powerful, who could use their money and influence to manipulate the electorate, have been pointed out. There have also been arguments about independent candidacy weakening the accountability and representation of elected officials, who would not be bound by any party manifesto or ideology.

The debate on independent candidacy was revived in the recent constitutional amendment process, which began in 2016 and culminated in 2018. The National Assembly, which has the power to initiate and pass constitutional amendments, approved a bill to allow for independent candidacy in any elective office in Nigeria, as part of a broader package of constitutional reforms. The bill was sponsored by Hon. Mohammed Tahir Monguno, who argued that independent candidacy would deepen Nigeria’s democracy and create a level playing field for all Nigerians who wanted to contribute their quota to national and local development. The bill was passed by both chambers of the National Assembly with more than two-thirds majority, and was also ratified by more than two-thirds of the state Houses of Assembly, as required by the constitution. The bill was then signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari on May 31, 2018, making it part of the constitution.

The enactment of the bill was hailed by many Nigerians, especially the youths, who had campaigned for it under the slogan “Not Too Young to Run”. The bill also lowered the age requirements for various elective offices, such as the Presidency, the governorship, the Senate, and the House of Representatives, making it easier for young Nigerians to participate in politics. The bill was seen as a victory for democracy and a boost for political inclusion and representation. However, the bill also faced some challenges and criticisms, especially from the political parties, who feared that it would undermine their influence and relevance. The bill also raised some practical and legal issues, such as how to regulate and monitor independent candidates, how to ensure their compliance with the electoral laws and regulations, and how to resolve any disputes or complaints arising from their participation.

The impact and implication of independent candidacy on Nigeria’s politics and democracy remain to be seen. Should it be codified into law, it is expected that independent candidacy would increase the participation and representation of Nigerians in the electoral process, especially those who have been marginalized or excluded by the existing political parties. It is also expected that independent candidacy would challenge the dominance and the hegemony of the two major parties, the APC and the PDP, and that it would create more space and voice for alternative and minority perspectives and interests. However, independent candidacy also poses some risks and challenges, such as the possibility of electoral fraud, violence, litigation, and manipulation, especially by the wealthy and the powerful, who might use it to advance their personal or sectional agendas, at the expense of the common good. Independent candidacy, therefore, requires careful regulation and monitoring, as well as civic education and engagement, to ensure that it serves the interest of democracy and development in Nigeria.