Monday, 25th September 2023

2023 elections: How ruling parties frustrate opposition campaigns in states activities

By Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna), Charles Ogugbuaja (Owerri), Godwin Ijediogor and Monday Osayande (Asaba), Michael Egbejule (Benin City), Obinna Nwaoku (Port Harcourt), Samson Kukwa Yanor (Makurdi) and Kehinde Olatunji (Lagos)
16 February 2023   |   11:00 pm
As campaigns for the 2023 general elections gather momentum, ruling parties in various states are deploying strange and unacceptable tactics to ensure opposition is weakened in their states.

Political violence

As campaigns for the 2023 general elections gather momentum, ruling parties in various states are deploying strange and unacceptable tactics to ensure opposition is weakened in their states.

From Lagos to Kaduna, Imo to Plateau, Delta to Benue and across the country, The Guardian gathered that opposition parties are facing serious challenge mobilising support for their candidates.

It was gathered that candidates of ruling parties use machinery of their government to gain upper hand, as they control the media and other state apparatus. Sometimes, ruling parties use state security agents and thugs to obstruct and intimidate opposition parties. They deny opponents use of state facilities and destroy their campaign materials.

Opposition kicks, accuses Rivers PDP of undermining free, fair election
OPPOSITION parties and candidates in Rivers State have decried undue advantage of the ruling PDP over them in the campaigns and access to government facilities. They said: “The near total stifling of the political space by the government undermines President Muhammadu Buhari’s commitment to a free, fair and credible transition. It makes a complete mockery of the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) effort to ensure that votes count in 2023.”

They said the government has weaponised control of state apparatus to gain upper hand and witch-hunt opponents.

Most APC billboards, whose governorship candidate is Tonye Cole, located in Umuokpurukpu in Omuma Council of the state, Uyeanda in Andoni, Chokocho and Egwi in Etche Council have been vandalised.

Similarly, SDP campaign billboards and posters with the pictures of its governorship candidate, Magnus Abe, in 23 councils of the state, have been destroyed.

Accord Party’ standard bearer, Dumu Lulu-Briggs, is not left out, as his campaign materials were equally destroyed.

Campaign materials of Siminialayi Fubara of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) also suffered the same fate, as campaign materials situated in Etche Council were vandalised.

Also, the APC in Rivers State has described the Executive Order 21 and 22 signed by the governor as a pure example of stifling the opposition.

According to the party’s state publicity Secretary, Darlington Nwauju, the government has erected a number of obstacles against the opposition.

Nwauju noted that the introduction of Executive Orders 21 and 22 was done to take the wind out of the sail of the opposition, describing it as anti-democratic, saying: “We are aware the Electoral Act 2022 (as amended) specifically, Sections 91-96 has dealt with the issue of access to public facilities and media but, the same is not the case in Rivers.”

The Accord Party in the state said the political atmosphere had become extremely worrisome and portends danger for democracy.
The Director of Media and Communication for Dumo Lulu-Briggs Governorship Campaign Council, Sotonye Ijuye-Dagogo blamed what he described as “disturbing aspect of the happenings” in the state on the indifference of the presidency, INEC and security agencies, saying that the Federal Government is yet to condemn in unambiguous terms, Governor Nyesom Wike’s actions against democracy in the state and in the country.

On Wednesday, February 2, the Rivers State Government revoked the approval granted the PDP Presidential Campaign Organisation to use the state-owned Adokiye Amasiaemeka Stadium in Ikwerre LGA for its campaign scheduled for February 11.

Wike had earlier approved the use of the stadium for Rivers State presidential campaign rally of party candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, with a waiver on the N5 Million venue fee stipulated by Wike’s Executive Order 21.

However, Rivers Commissioner for Sports, Barrister Christopher Green, explained that the decision of the state government to revoke the approval followed an intelligence report that the Atiku Campaign Organisation planned to share the facility with the state’s APC governorship candidate, Tonye Cole.

Citing violent acts among members of the Rivers APC, Green said the state government was not ready to expose the stadium to any risk of being damaged.

The Commissioner in a letter dated January 31, 2023, addressed to the Director General of the Atiku Campaign Organisation and Governor of Sokoto State, Aminu Tambuwal, said, “credible intelligence available to the government of Rivers State and recent developments now show that your presidential campaign organisation is working in collaboration/cahoots with a faction of APC in Rivers State, led by Tonye Patrick Cole, and that is the intention of your presidential campaign organisation to accommodate and share the approved facility for your campaign with the said faction of the All Progressives Congress, APC.

“Government records show that the activities of the APC in Rivers state have always been marred by violence due largely to irreconcilable internal conflicts within the party including shootings and killings in the course of protests arising from the nomination process of delegates for primaries and detonation of explosives in the course of campaigns (Explosion Rocks APC Campaigns in Rivers.

“The Rivers state government is unable to risk damage to or destruction of the very valuable and priced asset, the Adokiye Amasiemaka stadium, which your use of the same in collaboration with your Tonye Patrick Cole APC faction will definitely expose it to.

“In this circumstance, the Rivers government has come to the painful but inevitable decision to withdraw the approval earlier given to you for the use of the stadium.”
Kaduna State

In Kaduna State, opposition political parties recently protested against the government of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) over the denial to erect billboards and other inhibitions put in front of their candidates.

The opposition parties accused the ruling party of favouring candidates of APC, by allowing them to place their billboards and posters all over the metropolis.

Affected political parties such as, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Labour Party (LP) said the state government is also denying them opportunity to air their jingles in the state media.

A chieftain of PDP, who is also a member of the party’s campaign council, Danjuma Sarki, said, “it is very sad that the government has denied us the use of billboards and other campaign facilities to project our candidates by putting prohibitive costs, and where we even apply to place our billboards, we are outrightly denied.”

Danjuma explained, “when our Presidential Candidate, Atiku Abubakar came to Kaduna for his rally, government denied us the use of Ahmadu Bello Stadium (ABU) and we have to move to Ranchers Bees Stadium to hold the rally.
“It did not stop at that, the Ranchers Bees Stadium was invaded by thugs, who were armed with dangerous weapons. Is this how to practice democracy, for God’s sake?” he asked.

The Director of Public Affairs of the PDP Atiku-Ashiru Campaign Council, Yakubu Lere, while reacting, said, “despite the restriction of the Nasir el-Rufai’s government, we are always well received by the people in places we go to for our campaigns.
“Everyone can see we have not been given opportunity to erect our billboards and posters in the metropolis. They said we must apply, and when we applied, permission was not granted. The next thing they told us was that somebody had already booked those spaces. Go round the city, you can only see APC candidates’ posters and billboards. Is this how to run a democracy?” he asked.

Also, the spokesman of Jonathan Asake, the LP governorship candidate, Mr. James Swam, while lamenting this ugly trend in the state, noted that the major challenge they are having is “outdoor advertising of our political campaigns.”

He said: “You cannot see Labour Party or any other party’s candidate on billboards, only APC’s. You can only see our billboard outside the city and in rural areas,” Swam claimed.

Meanwhile, the Vice Chairman of the Kaduna State Peace Commission, Saleh Bomale, had earlier warned political parties and actors against doing things that would likely derail political process in the state. He warned against thuggery and other undemocratic activities. The warning was contained in a statement he issued when the campaign rally of the PDP was disturbed by thugs in the state.

Thugs disrupting rally

The situation in Plateau is not any better. Opposition parties are not given opportunity to campaign in the state’s two media outfits: Plateau Radio Television (PRTV) and Nigeria Standard Newspapers. Any government in power exclusively controls these two media organisations. Since APC is in power, it controls them.

A staunch member of the opposition PDP, Dr. Mustapha Abdullahi, said they are being oppressed left, right and centre in all the state media. “This was what we too did when we were in power during the 16 years of PDP,” he pointed out.
Parties bicker in Imo State.

The opposition also accused the state government of converting the Dan Anyiam Stadium on Wetheral Road, Owerri, to the APC Southeast zonal campaign office for the Presidential candidate of the party, Ahmed Tinubu.

They are also alleging that the Rear Admiral Ndubusi Kanu Square, Owerri, is restricted to only the ruling party in campaigns.

But recently, the governor directed opposition parties be granted assess. The approval is yet to be embraced by the opposition, instead, they chose Kanu Nwankwo Sports ground, near Aladinma, Owerri.

Recently, the country home of the PDP House of Representatives candidate for Ideato North and Ideato South Federal Constituency, and the spokesperson of the Coalition of United Political Parties (CUPP), Ikenga Ugochinyere Imo Ikeagwuonu, in Umukegwu Akokwa in Ideato, was razed down by unknown gunmen. Over 30 cars and some valuable properties were also reduced to rubbles. His uncle and two of his orderlies were reported, killed.

Accusations and denials in Delta State
In Delta State, there have been no cases of inter-party clashes or violence or use of thugs to unleash mayhem by any of the contending political parties and candidates.
To a very large extent, the security agencies, the state and federal players, have displayed neutrality.

But candidates of opposition parties, especially the APC, had, at some point, alleged obstacles in their campaigns, accusing government of using state resources to canvas for votes, denying them access to government-owned facilities and venues for rallies.

Last November, APC condemned the sudden closure of some roads leading to the Warri Township Stadium, venue of its rally for Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, describing the action as an attempt to frustrate the event.

APC governorship candidate and Deputy President of the Senate, Chief Ovie Omo-Agege, warned other political parties that engage in the harassment of his party supporters not to offend the law.

The APC candidate had also alleged that the party’s campaign rally earlier scheduled for the Otughievwen Primary School could not hold there and was later held at a private ground in Imode, saying party faithful were not given access following orders from the state government and the PDP.

He also claimed that they were denied access to Oviri-Olomu Secondary School for the party’s Oviri-Olomu rally.

But the government denied these allegations, insisting it has provided a level-playing field to all the parties and candidates to market themselves without let or hindrance.

On its part, the LP, last month, accused the state government of denying it and its presidential candidate, Mr. Peter Obi, access to a venue for a rally in Asaba.

LP has expressed concern over the frequent destruction of its billboards in major towns by suspected PDP members. State Chairman, Mr. Tony Ezeagwu, told The Guardian in Asaba that the party’s billboards were also being destroyed each time they were fixed.

Ezeagwu, who described the destruction as an intimidation and unwholesome act, however, stated that such action was only making the party stronger by the day, “but we are not going to be confrontational with anybody or parties involved.
“The intimidation we are getting is the continuous destruction of our billboards. As they continue to destroy them, we have resorted to making plenty T-shirts and face caps. These two things are difficult for them to get rid of, unless they want to kill the person wearing the shirt or cut off the neck of those putting on the caps.”

But Chief Press Secretary to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Mr. Olisa Ifeajika, dismissed the allegation, saying there was no iota of truth in them. He said: “To the best of my knowledge, no billboard has been destroyed anywhere in the state. You know PDP is not a violent party; we are not violent people either. So, if it is true that their billboards were destroyed, they should go and report to the Police for necessary action.

“Let me tell you, LP is not a threat to PDP. Delta is PDP and PDP is Delta. We are harmless and we cannot do what they are accusing us of, so, they should look elsewhere.”

On the issue of denying opposition access to rally venues, the state government, through the Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Aniagwu, in a statement, dismissed the allegation, stating that no party ever applied officially for any venue and was denied.

Regarding Omo-Agege’s allegations, Ifeajika stated that the APC candidate has been going about the state unhindered and campaigning, wondering whether the APC group was ever attacked anywhere.

“They flagged off their campaigns at the Warri Township Stadium, owned by the state government, nobody stopped them. They have been to Gbaramatu and even the governor’s local government area to campaign and they were not attacked or denied access to anywhere they wanted to go or use,” he said, adding that Okowa’s other name is democracy, which allows everybody to do their thing.
Oppositions raise concerns over denial of access in Edo
Following the high-wired politicking in Edo among the ruling and opposition political parties, there are allegations of government prohibiting other parties from use of state facilities and erecting campaign billboards across the state.

Other allegations include the denial of the opposition access to the use of Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium for presidential rallies.

But the Edo State chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) swiftly debunked the allegations. The state government through its Commissioner for Communication and Orientation and Deputy Director, Media/Publicity, Edo State PDP management campaign council for the 2023 general election, Chris Nehikhare said the allegations were untrue.

He explained that the state government only made policies to regulate the erection of billboards and pasting of campaign materials in the state.
He added that the state government did not sponsor erection of billboards during the recent presidential rally of the party in the state. According to him, the state party’s campaign council sponsored the campaign billboards.

Nehikhare told The Guardian that the governor has nothing to do with payment for billboards, as it is purely a party affair. “The PDP paid for some billboards, but not all. For example, there is a billboard near the Nigeria Union of Journalists Secretariat carrying the Labour Party advertisement for Chief Patrick Eholor. Is the billboard not still there? Edo State government does not engage in gangsterism. We don’t act like APC. In Lagos, that happens, but in Edo State, it doesn’t happen,” he stated.

Meanwhile, APC’s state Publicity Secretary, Peter Uwadiae, said some of their candidates in Ovia had their billboards in Egor and Okada junction in July, last year, but they were pulled down recently as allegedly instructed by the government.

Disappointed with the state government, the LP and NNPP disagreed with the Obaseki led PDP government on the development, which they described as unhealthy.

The National Publicity Secretary, Abayomi Arabambi, said: “The report of this blanket ban is not only satanic, but it is likely to truncate this hard-earned democracy.”

Meanwhile, the Presidential Campaign spokesman of the New Nigerian Peoples Party (NNPP), Ladipo Johnson, said the masses have the right to make an informed judgment on the party and candidate they wish to support.

Edo State Coordinator, Tinubu/ Shettima Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) of the APC, Lucky Imasuen, had, during the party’s presidential rally, held at the University of Benin (UNIBEN) Sports Complex expressed worry over denial of the APC Presidential Campaign Council use of Samuel Ogbemudia Stadium in the city centre for its rally.

He lamented why the government would not tolerate any opposition political party, insisting that the government had, on the eve of the presidential campaign rally, removed APC posters across the state capital.

Another staunch member and youth leader of APC in Edo State, Comrade Tony Adun, popularly known as ‘Kabaka’, told the audience at the APC Presidential rally that opposition party leaders in the state had become a target of the state government as they are intimidated by the government with demolition notice on their landed property.

He said the government had taken the fight against opposition political parties too far.

But Nehikhare described as laughable and embarrassing, the report that Edo State government banned billboard owners from accepting advert campaign projects from opposition parties, adding that the report is the handiwork of mischief-makers.
“In Edo, freedom is given to the opposition to express themselves. It is not a coincidence that the elections are around the corner. As far back as a few months ago, Edo State Government discussed with all billboard owners to make payments for quite a number of them in the Benin metropolis.
“We did not take possession because we were waiting for the campaign to kick off, and if anybody has gone to a billboard agent to pay for one, the person who pays first and is given a date when his account will start to run is actually the legal owner of that billboard.
“We, as a party, raised the money for these billboards. We were more strategic in planning and took advantage of the time to make payments for most of the billboards. If a billboard agent has taken money from you and cannot post your advert, you should go back and get your money, because we paid for them first. We have no apologies for anyone who didn’t have the foresight to do it,” Nehikhare boasted.

Benue APC alleges victimisation, unfair play
The opposition in Benue has also accused the of the ruling PDP, especially its Community Volunteer Guards, which was formed a few months to the general elections by the PDP-led administration of underhand tactics.

A pro-APC group under the aegis of the Benue Coalition on Human Rights in a petition to the President, the Inspector-General of Police, the National Security Adviser and Heads of other security agencies on what it termed ‘the activities’ of the Benue Volunteer Guards and the Benue State government, alleged that the guards were being used to harass and intimidate opposition elements.

The letter was dated December 2, 2022 and signed by its President, Rev Solomon Semaka and Secretary, Patriot Okwori Onaji.

According to the Benue Coalition on Human Rights, the most recent attack was carried out in Oturkpo where three natives were dehumanised and left in coma.
Similarly, the state publicity secretary of the APC, Dan Morgan Ihomun, told The Guardian that the party was relying on conventional security forces like the police and the National Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC) for security, since the Volunteer Guards were providing security for only the ruling party even though they were set up with the generality of the Benue tax payers money.

When The Guardian sought the views of the PDP on the allegations leveled against it by the APC, the PDP state publicity secretary and Director, Media and Publicity of the PDP campaign council, Bemgba Iortyom, dismissed the allegations, saying, the APC should face their woes and stop looking for excuses, as they would be defeated in the general elections.

Accessing state facilities, a challenge for oppositions in Kano
In Kano State, the same ugly situation has continued, despite a claim by the state government that they will allow opposition parties to enjoy free and fair campaign. One of the main opposition parties, the NNPP explained that they would rather use neutral grounds for political rallies to avoid clash or rancour with the ruling APC.

Lagos laments intimidation
Oppositions parties in Lagos have lamented intimidation by the ruling party. They noted that the ruling APC is using state machinery to restrict them from putting up billboards, pasting posters and banners.

Specifically, the Boot Party Chieftain, Oladoja Olatayo, said: “We had issues with respect to getting billboards. Most of the billboard companies, once you mention that you are from a party that is not APC, they start ignoring you and stop responding to your enquiries. Also, while trying to set up Local Government party offices, we found out that lots of the landlords in the LGAs, once they hear that you are from another party, refuse to lease their buildings to you.”

ADC Governorship candidate For Lagos State ,Funso Doherty

Also speaking with The Guardian, the governorship candidate of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Funso Doherty, said: “When we attempted to obtain billboard space on the Lekki Expressway axis, we were informed by our agency that the billboard owners were not accepting placements from opposition parties.”

On his part, spokesperson of the governorship candidate of the PDP, Gbenga Ogunleye, said: “We have been having serious challenge. Last year, we came on national TV to let Nigerians know the challenges we face in accessing outdoor advert space. Our principal, Jandor, on some of the national TVs came up with documented evidence.
“We contracted two outdoor agencies to do our visuals across Lagos and we paid them and one of them returned our money. The other one even started running the campaign but they were threatened by the government agency in charge and some leaders of the APC, they had to return our money.
“These two agencies returned our money, having signed contracts to go public with our commercials for the elections. Up till now, there are unwritten threats to all outdoor owners across Lagos not to take PDP and I know it cannot be limited to PDP, you can check, hardly will you see visuals of other candidates across Lagos.
“Besides outdoor media, on the Third Mainland Bridge, we had some of our visuals there, within few hours of putting them, the agents of the government were there to remove them. They also came with flushers to flush out our posters from the bridges. They send touts to attack our boys when they go out to paste posters. When we go on campaign, they send their touts to attack us so that we don’t have access to what they regard as strongholds.”

According to him, PDP deputy governorship candidate, Funke Akindele has been going around the market to talk to market women and the ovation has been outstanding, although there are backlashes.

Babalojas and Iyalojas in those markets, he said, are attacking many of the traders, because they welcomed them. He added that they even shut two markets in Alimosho because they allowed Akindele to visit them.

Reacting to the allegations, Lagos State APC spokesman, Seye Oladejo, said the parties should endeavour to comply with the rules and regulations of the relevant government agencies rather than unnecessarily politicising an otherwise administrative issue.