- We collect gifts because we feel they are stolen money
Less than two weeks to the conduct of the 2019 general elections, investigation has revealed how politicians and political parties alike have devised new strategies to sustain their campaign policies, woo party faithful and the electorate in generating massive block votes when the elections finally takes place. Investigations carried out by Saturday Telegraph’s correspondents across the states indicated that aside from unveiling their campaign plans and manifestoes, some of these have also devised other ‘materialistic means’ of getting their messages to their supporters, which is geared towards making them to vote for them and to get their block votes during the elections. It is common to refer to political campaigns as a strategic means or machinery through which candidates of parties seeking for an election into offices solicit for the support and most importantly, the votes of members of the party or parties in order to attain victory at the polls. And to achieve this feat, both the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and their candidates usually deploy other ways to perfect the strategies and possibly also to identify members or groups in support of the platforms. As part of moves to woo the interest of the electorate and make them vote for them in the coming election, series of packages are being churned out by candidates of various political parties in form of largesse. Some of the items used to woo the electorate include wrappers, rice, money Tshirts, caps, wristwatches, campaign attires, rice, among others. While the action has gained prominence in most campaigns across the states, many believe the action may have its own drawbacks on the conduct of the elections in the days to come.
In Bauchi, the new devised method introduce by the politicians include, giving huge amount of money to political groups, political associates and most influential people in the society especially those with capability of canvassing support from members of their communities. Other methods are surprised gifts to women groups, youth groups, religious, traditional leaders and attending occasions or events of less important status. For instance, politicians are also using the old method of distribution bags of rice, wrappers, noodles, salt, cars, tricycle and motorcycles among others to woo their supporters. Checks by Saturday Telegraph revealed that the other reasons why most electorate are collecting money and other gifts from politicians are as a result of the level of the abject poverty and illiteracy ravaging the country. While some electorate advanced reasons for collecting all kinds of gifts from politicians, others insist gifts are bought with public funds or stolen funds by the politicians. A resident, who spoke with Saturday Telegraph, said: “If you don’t collect the money, others would do so. So, it is better we collect the money and vote them out of the system.”
A Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain, Hon. Saddrack Opia, who is also the Special Assistant to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa on Community Mobilisation and Social Development, however, disagreed with the proponents of the argument. Speaking on the issue, he denied that the practice was been carried out by politicians and political parties alike for vote-buying or selling of votes, stressing that it was aimed at identifying with a popular candidate like his principal. He said: “If families of the dead could design clothes to mourn loved ones, how much more the living? If they could place adverts on billboards and newspapers for millions of naira, not counting food and drinks, and printing distinctive clothing, popularly called Aso-Ebi, why not for campaigns? “Leave the propaganda that it was meant to dissuade voters. Friends and acquinances should not leave electioneering in the hand of their loved ones alone, they should go extra miles to muscle support for him. “The issue is not that only one political party is guilty of this, it cuts across PDP, APC, Labour, SDP and others. Whether they sell it or share it free-of-charge, it is for advert purposes and to be worn by supporters and those who believe in the capability of the candidate in any race. “It can come in form of caps, T-shirts, vests, spectacles, mufflers, emblems, wristwatches, bangles and what have you; all for smooth campaign trains.” On his part, a chieftain of the Buhari Support Organisation (BSO) in Delta State, Apostle Victor Sorokwu, who said he did not know of other political parties, said President Muhammadu Buhari- led APC Campaign Organisation is doing so to take Nigeria to the Next-Level of growth and development, with is its mantra of ‘Change Begins With Me’. Reacting also, the Special Assistant to Governor Okowa on Child Right, Human Trafficking and Child Abuse, Bridget Ayanfulu, said the attire were not necessarily procured by the contestants but by their friends, associates, benefactors, benefactresses, well-wishers and those benefitting from them.
In the Fountain of Knowledge, it was gathered that politicians in preparation for the election have started giving out various branded gift items, which given to party members. A politician, who pleaded anonymity, said that the branded gift items like rice, noodles, T-shirts, caps and even cash were being distributed to party members only. He explained that the electorate would receive theirs mostly in form of cash on election D-days. On the implication of vote buying, he said: “Whether we like it or not, vote-buying is an aspect in electioneering as voters need to be encouraged.” “Political parties in the state are giving out branded gift items like rice, noodles, T shirt, caps and cash to party members and supporters for their commitment, while registered voters will be encouraged on election day,” he said. A registered voter, Olaniyonu Adekunle, said the gift items being distributed by politicians are only being used to lure voters ,’ though it might take a long way to eradicate the practice in our system, but it will be better if the act is stopped , because it’s the root of corruption’. Another voter, Mrs Baliqs Suraju, said politicians only extend gifts to people when planning for their political victory, but added that such largesse ends the moment they assume office.
In Edo State, aside the party’s logos, the leaderships are seen distributing clothing materials to as mark of identity while the candidates or elected representatives seeking for re-election into new or old offices have been roundly seen with their pictures boldly and permanently pasted or inscribed on constituency projects for use by communities, councils, organisations or even the parties they belong to. This is common amongst legislators of such parties. For example, in Edo South senatorial district of the state, the solar powered street light projects of Hon. Omoregie Ogbeide Ihama, who is the PDP member representing Oredo Federal Constituency and those of Senator Matthew Urhohide (Edo South), also of the PDP, litter the streets and roads in their constituents with their pictures on the poles to indicate the benefactors. Although, this new wave of politics has drawn the ire of the APC-led government of Governor Godwin Obaseki and the process pitched him against the PDP lawmakers.
Just last week, a short video of local snacks called ‘kulikuli’, packaged in a red sachet, with the picture and names of Governor Abiola Ajimobi printed on it hit the social media and had been trending since. Ajimobi, who is eyeing his return to the Senate from the Oyo South senatorial district, was in the Senate between 1999 and 2003. Two voices heard in the video criticised Ajimobi for the kulikuli package, claiming that Ajimobi had said that it is rich persons that drink garri with ‘kulikuli’, a comment meant to portray the governor as ironically dressing the Oyo people in the garb of poverty. To many people spoken to, if indeed Ajimobi was Telethe one that packaged the ‘kulikuli’ as a bait to curry the voting favour of the electorate, then he did not want the masses to be pulled out poverty while he and his family swim in the ocean of opulence. However, the campaign organisation of the governor had denied knowledge of the groundnut delicacy, describing it as the handiwork of opposition.
In Ogun State, politicians across party lines have intensified their campaigns for the general elections in all the nook and cranny of the state. Amid the electioneering, the activities of the various political parties fielding candidates have been dogged by financial inducement, otherwise known as vote buying. Members of the ruling and opposition parties, according to investigation, are guilty of this electoral malfeasance. Our correspondent gathered that though vote buying has been a part of the nation’s politics for a while, its dimension keeps changing from one political party to another. In some of the campaigns in Abeokuta and other parts of the state, politicians and their agents have been wooing prospective voters with cash, foodstuffs, liquor and drinks, clothing materials and souvenirs, among other items. Apart from the aforementioned, some of the politicians have taken their strategy further by deploying their agents to buy Permanent Voters Cards (PVCs) from voters at different sums of money. The monetisation of the process has become prevalent that the electoral umpire and other stakeholders have expressed dismay at the spending spree ahead of the general elections. Different political chieftains, who spoke in confidence, said they are not to blame for the rising level of vote trading in the country. Several respondents said their decision at the polls will not be determined on the basis of financial inducement. A lecturer, Adetokunbo Tejuoso, said there is increased awareness among Nigerians about vote buying gimmicks and would not fall for such during elections. He said: “An average voter is more enlightened and we are aware of the fact that this is what they (politicians) would do to us when elections are coming and their intention is to buy our votes. “Unfortunately, due to the level of awareness against vote buying, people feel that the money, foodstuffs and all forms of souvenirs that the politicians are distributing are their birthright which they deserve but were denied earlier. Therefore, it is not going to determine who an average voter will vote for.”
In the last few weeks, political parties have stepped up their game when it comes to holding public rallies, town hall meetings, street rallies and door-to-door campaigns all in a bid to seek the votes of many Lagos residents. In Lagos State, some of the most visible gifts being shared at political events are branded T-Shirt and fez caps. Hardly can someone walk a kilometer without seeing one or two people wearing branded T-Shirt and fez caps of a particular politician or party. Many residents in Lagos today are also seen wearing branded, colourful Ankara materials, a below-the-line advertorial campaign. The branded Ankara materials are being distributed by political parties and candidates whenever there is any gathering. In the last few weeks, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, has embarked on door-to-door campaigns across many locations in Lagos State, apparently to campaign for the re-election of President Muhammadu Buhari with whom he shares a joint ticket, as well as all the candidates of All Progressives Congress (APC). During that trek, there is usually members of his entourage have handed out T-Shirts, exercise books and toothpaste to the people even as they drive on the road. Apart from Osinbajo, prominent candidates in the state, especially the presidential, governorship and National Assembly candidates of major political parties have also put smiles on the faces of people by sharing different gifts during their campaign tours. Speaking on the development, an ex-officio of the PDP in Lagos who prefers anonymity, said the opposition party does not have the resources to start doling out gifts to electorate, adding that the APC are the ones inducing electorate with all types of gifts. Reacting, a chieftain of the APC, Hon. Moshood Salvador, said the APC is not inducing any voter for vote, saying that the PDP banks on vote-buying at the polls, adding however that people of the state are wiser and won’t be carried away by any percuniary enticement. Salvador, who was the immediate past state, chairman of PDP in Lagos State before defecting to APC, noted that the ruling party’s popularity and acceptance is its edge over PDP.
Residents of Kaduna State have been trooping out to campaign grounds across the state to show their support for the various candidates vying for elective positions in the forthcoming elections. Investigations by our correspondent also shows the campaign organisations votes a substantial amount of money for supporters, sympathisers and party faithful solely for the mobilisation of others and at times, to get them to the campaign venues.
Candidates of various political parties have been wooing voters in Ondo State with promises of major projects and other campaign souvenirs. Members of the campaign committees of various parties have been moving from one landlord’s association to another in order to promise projects if their candidates are elected into offices In order to demonstrate what they would do when elected, roads have been graded in many streets, with many needy communities also getting transformers and rehabilitated boreholes. Aside projects, some have been giving souvenirs including T-shirts, fez caps, Ankara fabrics, branded toothpastes and tablets of soap to voters in order to woo them. Cash handouts during electioneering campaigns have also been given to communities, individuals and groups in many of the places visited by the candidates and their supporters.
It is common to see gifts and souvenirs bearing the insignia and photographs of parties and their candidates during campaign periods. Even in advanced democracies, gifts and souvenirs are an extension of the political campaign process. However, the purpose and intention vary from clime to clime, with such gestures having moved from campaign strategy to inducement aimed at swaying the electorate, irrespective of character, antecedents and ideology, in Nigeria. Abia is not insulated from the trend as it’s common to see wrappers embossed with the photographs of candidates and party emblems.While the women use the wrappers with blouse, the men sew them to make tops which goes to add colour to political campaigns. The three major political parties in Abia State have, all given out. Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, for instance, has a material printed with his photograph and PDP logo while Dr Sampson Uchechukwu Ogah put the APC logo on his just as Dr Alex Otti has materials for both himself and his party, All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) which are common at his campaign rallies.
Beyond mounting the soap box to appeal to the sensibility of the people and convince them to vote for them, political parties and candidates for the 2019 elections are investing a lot of campaign funds in providing gift items in the form of branded campaign souvenirs to woo prospective voters. Across party lines in Imo state, at every campaign rally or political party event, a vast array of colourful branded vests, caps, materials and shirts dominate the rallies with all projecting the image of their preferred candidate. No matter the political party holding an event, the story is the same. Another issue common with all political parties is the fact that so far, it has been noticed that no matter how popular the party or candidate is, the political parties role out cash to rent crowds for campaign rallies. It is common knowledge that no matter how carefully guarded the crowd renting process is, once it is time to share money to the hired crowd, disputes over sharing formula always lets the cat out of the bag. From N1,000 to N2,000 per head, crowd renting for political parties is a viable enterprise which is in season and the middlemen and rural people ferried to town for rallies at a cost are having a good time. What is not certain is if this will reflect in the voting pattern at the polls.
In Taraba State, some of the candidates are busy distributing branded items with different inscriptions and pictures of candidates as well as political parties. Some of these items include bags of rice, Omo detergent, bags, motorcycles, Maggi cubes etc. A cross section of the candidates who spoke Saturday Telegraph in Jalingo, capital of Taraba State, gave different reasons for collecting these branded items from the candidates. Jonathan Alkali, a resident of Jalingo, said he has to accept the items from the politicians to cater for his needs. “I am in need of these items because I don’t have money to buy them, moreover this is the only time you can benefit from these positions. If you don’t collect others will collect. Even if I collect, they cannot force me to vote for them,” he said. Another prospective voter, Hajiya Aishatu Musa, said: “I will collect whatever they bring from any candidate of any political party because this is the only time you get something from them and once they win or lose they will run away.” She added, however, that she would not vote for a candidate because she collected the items. “I will vote for APC SAK even if I collect the rice or OMO from PDP.” Most of the candidates declined to comment on why they adopted the campaign strategy of distributing branded items to the electorate but the governorship candidate of the APC, Alhaji Sani Danladi Abubakar, told Saturday Telegraph that he does not believe in distributing branded items to the electorate before winning elections.
Politicians in Anambra State seem to have shunned political campaigns and resorted to a strategy which aligns with buying of votes. For the electorate, it is a welcome development. Saturday Telegraph gathered that most influential politicians in the state have also engaged the services of agents who now look out for voters’ card in all the LGA and wards. Our correspondent also learnt from prospective voters that candidates of most prominent political parties now besiege their wards with gift items like party T shirts, clothing materials, bags of rice, groundnut oil and bags of salt. Speaking to our correspondent, an official of one of the parties, said: “My name is Mrs Anthonia Nwogbo, I’m a woman leader of one of the political parties. What we do is not buying of votes but we campaign for voters and in the course of our work if we are convinced that you will vote for our party, we will collect your name, phone numbers and account number as well as particulars of your permanent voter’s card and we will return them to our chieftains. The person will receive N5,000 through their bank accounts with a promise that if after the election, our party wins in their wards, another sum would be given to the agents to pay to our supporters there.” However, other politicians who spoke to Saturday Telegraph denied any knowledge of vote buying just as a House of Representatives candidate in one of the LGAs who does not want his name mentioned, condemned the act but warned that anybody caught indulging in such in his constituency would be severely dealt.