As the 2023 general election in Nigeria gathers momentum, FIJ’s TOLA OWOYELE visited Sagamu, Ilaro and Abeokuta, all in Ogun State, to observe ward meetings conducted by members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Labour Party (LP). The mission was to expose the various mechanisms put in place by the parties to influence voters’ decisions come 2023.
When this reporter first arrived at the Labour Party Secretariat in the southern part of Abeokuta in Ogun State, he was only able to meet with a police officer manning the premises. The time was 1:15 pm on November 4.
“They are all not around,” the police officer, a man in his late 40s, said. “You may need to come back. They should be around by 3 o’clock.”
At 3 pm, this reporter returned to the secretariat and was eventually able to meet with a party member who introduced himself as Ebenezer.
Just like he did at the APC ward meeting, this reporter introduced himself as a new resident in the area who was very much enthusiastic about becoming a party member.
“This is Labour Party Secretariat, Abeokuta South LGA,” Ebenezer said.
“This is where the chairman and other excos operate from. From ward 1-15, the excos meetings take place here.”
Just like it happened during the APC ward meeting, Ebenezer also tried knowing this reporter’s area of residence to be able to recommend a suitable ward to him.
When Ebenezer was told this reporter resided around Lafenwa area of the city, the ward member said his meeting location should fall under Abeokuta North LGA.
“Don’t worry, once the party local government chairman arrives, he would connect you to the right person,” Ebenezer said in Yoruba.
A PARTY MEMBER THAT WAS NOT AWARE THE LABOUR PARTY ALREADY HAD A GOVERNORSHIP CANDIDATE
After this, this reporter told Ebenezer that he was surprised there were no posters of the party’s governorship candidate anywhere. This, in the end, led to a shocking comment from the party member.
“In fact, we have people vying for all positions in the state,” Ebenezer said. When he said this, he was asked to assist with names of the party’s senatorial candidates in the state.
“I really don’t know his name. You know, I am not really that loyal to them.”
His response prompted this reporter to ask if he was not a party member.
“You know, if you follow the news regularly, there is still an ongoing crisis within the Labour Party. The problem was that we were late as a party in sending the names of our candidates to INEC,” Ebenezer said.
“INEC rejected those names because they were submitted late. During all these however, Tolulope Phillips, the candidate vying for Abeokuta South House of Representatives seat, was the only person that consistently showed interest in running on the platform of this party.
“When all necessary things were not put in place on time, we were deemed a party without structure. But when they now saw how popular the party became at the federal level through Peter Obi, aspirants now started showing interest. As we speak, we have about three people who are interested in running for the office of the governor in the state.
“The party chieftains are presently trying to figure out who would represent the party for the governorship race. This is why we are unable to mention a name now. All is settled now, and INEC has given us an additional one week to select a candidate.
“They are expecting us at INEC Abuja to send in a name.”
From the interaction this reporter had with Ebenezer, it was obvious the party member had no idea that Labour Party already has Kehinde Shogunle, a former Commissioner for Finance in the state, as its candidate.
On June 9, and at a party primary held at the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) secretariat in Abeokuta, Shogunle emerged as the party’s candidate through affirmation by the 100 delegates that represented the 20 local government areas in the state.
THE ABEOKUTA SOUTH “YOUTH LEADER”
At this point, the party’s chairman, youth leader and women leader made their entries into the secretariat.
This reporter immediately engaged Wole Ajayi, a middle-aged man, who is the party’s youth leader in Abeokuta South, about his desire to join the party.
He told Ajayi that he has had his card transferred to Lafenwa.
“Ha, that’s Abeokuta North. Don’t worry; I will connect you to the Abeokuta North party chairman,” the youth leader said enthusiastically.
Ajayi immediately called the Abeokuta North party chairman and was able to confirm that Lafenwa was under Ward 8. He also gave this reporter the chairman’s number so he could reach out to him as well.
The youth leader was able to confirm Kehinde Shogunle to this reporter as the party’s flagbearer in the gubernatorial race.
THE WARD EXECUTIVE MEETING
“We have been at Abayomi Collins, our incoming senator’s place since morning. If elected, the senator will be representing six local governments; Abeokuta North, Abeokuta South, Odeda, Ifo , Ewekoro and Obafemi Owode,” Ajayi said, while addressing the gathering.
“The meeting had youth leaders, women leaders, chairmen, vice chairmen and other excos in attendance. As a matter of fact, five excos from each local government area were invited. It was during the meeting that our senatorial candidate announced that he was coming out. His name has been on the list of aspirants right from the onset.
“Now, ward members are expected to start doing awareness exercises to let the public know about our candidates.
“While he was a member of the Federal House of Representatives, our current governorship aspirant, Segun Shogunle, was a commissioner for finance in the state. He has money, I can assure you of that.
“He (Collins) also said he has eventually decided to join the race now, and that the reason he “mellowed” before was because the governorship aspirant for the party was not chosen on time.
“Let us now go out ward by ward, zone by zone, and let the public know that we now have a senator and he is ready to contest. This week, his posters will be out.”
At this point, an argument ensued between Ajayi and Ebenezer.
“How can they give us just N10,000 for the pasting of posters? It is unacceptable,” Ebenezer said angrily.
After Ebenezer registered his displeasure, Ajayi told him everyone would reap the fruits of their labour once Tolulope Phillips, the party’s Abeokuta South House of Representatives candidate, emerged winner.
“The youths are angry that it is only the women that TP (Phillip’s nickname) is giving money. I am sure TP will give them the money they deserve at the appropriate time,” Ajayi added.
TIME TO SPEAK
When the youth leader finally gave room for party members to speak, a member who was simply referred to as Raphael rose to speak.
“I greet everyone present here today. May all our efforts not be in vain. That being said, I would like us to have something very important at the back of our minds. The effective running of party affairs is not done by words of mouth alone,” Raphael said.
“Last week, we spoke about how some ward chairmen acted fraudulently by sharing N10,000 each among themselves without letting it get to the ward level.
“The only time we were able to share N10,000 among ourselves as a ward was just last week. Now, what we should be talking about is how the sharing of the money will become a constant feature at every meeting.
“Yesterday, we did not even see any N10,000 to share at all. I would be glad if you can find time to come to my ward one of these days and see things for yourselves.
“When you get to my ward, it is full of women. These are elderly women that once were members of the APC and the PDP. We were only able to convince them to join our party with word of mouth. After joining us, their belief is that Nigeria would begin to smile on them, especially when they start going home with whatever we are able to share at every meeting.
“Now, with that same belief, the elderly women feel that they should not just be attending meetings and end up going home empty handed every time.
“After sharing the N10,000 among them last time, the women ended up going home with just N200 each. We, members of the excos, could not even benefit from the money. The ward chairman even had to add N1000 from his own pocket before the N200 we shared could go round.
“In previous meetings, we have been recording an average of 140 in terms of attendance. Now, we only record between 70 and 80 attendees per week. That simply is telling us that people are no longer interested in attending ward meetings and going home empty handed.
“Everybody is looking for what to eat. Campaigning and selling candidates to would-be voters is no longer based on mere words of mouth. We have to spend money on our followers.”
While reacting to the ward member’s comments however, Ajayi said the N10,000 that was shared on the day Raphael referenced was just a one-off gesture and that it was not as if money sharing was a constant feature in all Labour Party wards.
“It is not even possible for our party to be sharing money at every ward meeting,” the youth leader said.
“Well, I have never said N10,000 is being shared at every meeting. The only time that happened was last week. What I have said is that there is no ward that has never been given monetary gifts before in the past by our candidates. I have never said such gifts are given on a weekly basis.
“In the past, what used to be given are just items like soft drinks and so on. Sharing of monetary gifts only happened last week.
“APC and PDP also never share things during ward meetings. They only began sharing things now just to woo people to their parties.”
At this point, Ebenezer spoke about wanting to meet with Abayomi Collins, the party’s Ogun Central senatorial candidate, and Kehinde Shogunle, the party’s gubernatorial candidate.
“Tolu (Phillips) cannot be the only candidate spending money at every ward meeting. The senator should be able to spend money too. Even if it is just to spend N5,000 at every sitting, it is still something,” Ebenezer said.
“The governorship candidate should also be providing money at every sitting. We know what a senator should be donating per meeting, even if it is N2,000 for every ward per meeting. Tolu cannot be the only candidate spending money at every ward meeting.
“He has spent enough money. I am sure what he has spent so far is over what he budgeted for. I am sure the money that he’s supposed to spend at each polling booth on election day has already been spent during this campaign.
“We need to talk to other aspirants as well. They need to sponsor us as well.”
In response to Ebenezer’s input, Ajayi said the senatorial candidate would be present at the next general meeting, and that all that he was expected to do as a candidate should be tabled before him.
A MEETING WITHOUT MINUTES
Another member, who did not introduce himself, soon rose to talk about the importance of taking minutes during every meeting.
“We can’t just be coming to meetings like this every week without taking minutes. I don’t think it is okay,” the member said.
Ajayi quickly reacted to the member’s observation by saying “there is a minutes book but no one has been taking records”.
“We can’t just be deliberating on important matters such as this and there won’t be proper documentation,” the member again said.
Almost in unison, members at the gathering agreed that they would have to appoint a secretary in subsequent meetings.
At that point, this reporter leaned towards a party member close to him and asked to know if such meetings had been happening for long.
“Ah! Yes na. We have been holding meetings like this for a long time. I think we started having meetings like this in April,” the member responded with a smile.
BACK TO MONEY SHARING MATTERS
The member that raised the minutes continued: “We are all responsible adults here. We should not always be coming to meetings like this and not know what strategies we need to put in place.”
“I have lost count of the amount of money I have spent as far as winning possible voters to our side is concerned. PDP, APC and APM are not joking; they are presently spending a lot of money on their members to make sure that they do not only remain loyal but also win more voters to their sides.
“At some APC meetings, ward members go home with as much as N3,000 or even N5,000 each, and per meeting.”
A female member suddenly interrupted the member and said the senator must be spoken to over the concern he’d just raised. Other members then told her to allow the member that still had the floor finish his comments.
“These people are not joking. I say it again; they are really spending money. Apart from Tolulope Phillips who has been spending money, no one else has been doing the same,” the member said.
“As far as I am concerned, and if nothing changes till the election comes, I will make sure I vote for Tolulope Phillips on election day. I will also make sure that my entire ward and household do the same.
“But for other positions, if I see that I stand to benefit positively from an APC or a PDP candidate on election day, I will vote for that person if nothing changes.
“What I mean by change is for Labour Party aspirants to also spend money on members. God help us.”
ALFA AND HIS STRIKER
At this point, a party member who simply identified himself as Alfa, rose to speak.
“I would like the youth leader to listen to me very well. It is not as if I have any special money kept somewhere, but I can very well tell you that I have spent quite a lot on this campaign, especially in my ward,” said Alfa.
“Because I am an Islamic cleric and musician, I am quite popular amongst the people I live with in my area. And whenever I call on them, in terms of political support, they answer me.
“However, the truth is there will come a time when they will start dragging their feet when I call on them because there is no monetary reward in all they have been doing for the party so far.
“As a matter of fact, I have never received a penny from anyone since I joined the party. The day Tolulope Phillips gave me N5,000, I spent it on the people present at this secretariat before leaving.
“Right now, we need to convince the youth so that they can remain loyal to us. We also need to spend a lot of money, especially on them.”
After these early statements, Alfa switched to a disturbing suggestion.
“We already have strikers who are ready to go to action on election day. You will never see them partake in meetings like this; they will only work for us on the day of the election,” Alfa said.
“If they tell us that they would secure a particular number of votes for us on election day, take their words for it. They always keep to promises.”
“However, they operate on a principle, and what I mean by that is that they are only loyal to whoever is able to approach them with money first. Having said this, we should not waste any time in ensuring that money gets to them as soon as possible.
“One of them still called me on the phone this morning. He is actually quite wealthy and popular in the society. But he is a very strong striker that works for the highest bidder on election days.
“He has worked for several political parties in the past. He sometimes gets contracts to work in Lagos during elections as well. Like I said earlier, he still called me this morning to ask if we were still interested in his services. He even warned me that if he ended up “receiving payments” from another party before us, he would have no other choice than to work for the party during the elections.
“Let us quickly work on how to quickly get money out to the right people as far as this coming election is concerned.”
OPINION POLLS, SOCIAL MEDIA CULT FOLLOWING AND REALITY
In November, Nextier, a public policy advisory firm, conducted two opinion polls on who Nigerians believed was the leading candidate in the forthcoming 2023 presidential election, and Peter Obi, the Labour Party’s presidential aspirant, emerged winner.
The organisation sampled opinions of registered voters in both urban and rural areas across the country’s six geo-political zones, and the result showed that Obi defeated three other presidential candidates, including Bola Ahmed Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Rabiu Kwankwaso of the New Nigeria Peoples Party (NNPP).
Similarly, a survey conducted by Prime Business Africa (PBA) Research Centre, an independent Africa-focused multi-media organisation, positioned Obi ahead of Tinubu and Atiku, his closest rivals. The poll showed that Obi pulled 85 percent of the votes as against Tinubu’s 10 percent and Atiku’s four percent.
Since emerging as the party’s presidential flag bearer, Obi has enjoyed a cult following on all social media platforms. His supporters, popularly referred to as ‘Obidients’, have also propelled the former Anambra State Governor’s popularity.
However, many still doubt the possibility of the party becoming a serious contender in the upcoming 2023 election. Apart from the fact that it lacks a well-grounded structure as seen in the PDP and the APC, the leadership of the party has also been locked in a serious battle that stems on corruption and control.
Eragbe Anslem, the party’s National Youth Leader, was recently suspended by the party’s leadership over allegations bordering on abuse of office. Eragbe was, however, quick to challenge his suspension, insisting it was illegal and called for his immediate reinstatement.
On December 9, Abayomi Arabambi, the party’s acting National Publicity Secretary, was also suspended for his alleged involvement in anti-party activities. On the same day, the party’s National Working Committee (NWC) also dissolved the executives of its Ogun State chapter over the same allegation.
Going by the reason for which the Ogun excos were suspended, Ebenezer’s position of “not really being loyal” despite being a ward executive, comes to mind.
On December 19, a Federal High Court in Abuja sentenced Doyin Okupe, the Director-General of the Peter Obi Campaign Organisation, to two years imprisonment, after he was found guilty of corruption.
Okupe would resign from office a day later.
‘WE NO DEY GIVE SHISHI’, EBENEZER AND ALFA’S STRIKER
During his campaign tours and at political forums, Peter Obi has consistently talked about how he was a frugal administrator all through the period he was Anambra State Governor. He also always talked about how he left about N75 billion in the state’s treasury after leaving office.
Obi would also always use the slogan ‘We no dey give shishi’, a local expression that means “we don’t give out bribes to people” during his tours. After a while, and when many started to doubt the authenticity of his claim, especially during this campaign period (when politicians are expected to spend a fortune), the Labour Party took a U-turn on his statement, claiming that running a penny-pinching campaign was not possible.
Going by all that transpired in the Abeokuta meeting, it is clear people like Ebenezer, Raphael and Alfa want money pumped into their party’s campaign. For them, supporting the party is mostly about what supporters can gain in terms of monetary rewards.
From Alfa’s scary input, getting funds to his “striker” on time also means employing every necessary and available means, including violence, to ensure that election results are in favour of the party on election day.
This Story was produced in partnership with the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD).
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