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Counting the people’s economic gains ahead of Anambra governorship election

By Samson Ezea (Lagos) and Lawrence Njoku (Enugu)
11 November 2017   |   4:16 am
Since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced November 18 for the Anambra governorship election, the state has been a beehive of activities, even as the election holds within one week.

Nigerian popular musician, Phyno performing live at Governor Willie Obiano campaign flag-off in Awka, Anambra State

Since the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced November 18 for the Anambra governorship election, the state has been a beehive of activities, even as the election holds within one week.

The activities started from the preparation for the primaries by the various political parties and their aspirants towards the poll. After the emergence of the candidates from their party primaries, electioneering campaigns commenced and should be concluded 48 hours before the election next Saturday.

In all of these, the state economy and especially the economic fortunes of its residents witnessed a boom as a result of the activities preparatory to the election.

The Guardian investigation reveals that aspirants of the All Progressives Congress (APC), spent billions of naira before the primaries in seeking the support of the party delegates and members. While almost all the 14 APC aspirants opened and furnished campaign offices in Awka, the state capital, they also hired people to keep the offices running.

Most of the workers, who were not resident in Awka, were accommodated in different hotels in Awka and their bills picked by the aspirants. During the primaries, it was disclosed that almost all the aspirants greased the delegates’ palms depending on the size of their pockets. While the delegates did not reject the offers, most of them voted for the aspirant that emerged victorious in the exercise.

One of the APC aspirants from Anambra South who pleaded anonymity told The Guardian that before the primaries, he spent more than N2 billion on logistics and human wants.

“Apart from giving out various amounts of money to all the ward, local governments and state executives of the party, I rented a campaign office in Awka, hired workers and paid them salaries and allowances. I printed fliers and other documents in large volumes. Several meetings were organised where millions were spent on arrangements for foods, drinks and other things.

“Elections in Anambra State are highly commercialised, especially the governorship contest. It is commercialised in other states, but it is peculiar here. The most worrisome aspect of it is that the majority of the politicians here have no legitimate means of livelihood. That is the reason election is a money-spinning venture here. I can’t remember how much I spent on lodging people in hotels in Awka and Abuja for weeks,” the aspirant said.

The APC candidate, Tony Nwoye and his followers hired one of the biggest hotels in Awka in the last three months. The hotel, situated at the back of Government House, has been busy till date.

A worker of the hotel told The Guardian that they had not witnessed a dull moment since INEC announced the election date.

It was also revealed that millions of naira were paid to one of Nigerian topmost musicians Phyno to appear at the takeoff of Governor Willie Obiano’s campaign.
The expenses have been trickling down to the petty traders, small business operators and the ordinary people in the state from the 37 candidates of the political parties who are participating in the election.

So, nothing else takes the residents’ time since the election process commenced other than to engage in nocturnal political meetings, discussions, rumours and half-truths about the election.

As the people are engrossed in the hustle and bustle of the election, so also are objects and public facilities in the state, which are daily defaced by the candidates’ campaign posters.

In fact, billboards bearing information, advertisements and road signs of all kinds have been immersed by campaign posters; so also are private and public buildings, especially those close to the road.

Several branded cars, commercial vehicles, buses and tricycles are not left out in the campaign frenzy rocking the state.  Electricity poles are also affected as they are fisted with flying banners.  Some of the campaign posters are adorned with pictures of Dr. Alex Ekwueme, the late Dim Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, and billionaire businessman, Prince Arthur Eze among others to indicate that they are behind the candidates.

Major road junctions and newspaper stands have been witnessing activities as every news item surrounding the election is interpreted differently by the supporters of the various candidates in the race.

The Guardian observed that the voters have a strong reason for their support for particular candidates in the election. Some of the reasons being adduced include performance, expectations when voted to power, relationship and who is who behind the contending candidates, may have changed the narrative that voting would be done along party lines, instead of candidates’ track record.

It was also observed that youths in an attempt to make money from the campaigns have created groups among themselves. Some have even formed music groups with drums and other local instruments, which they play to eulogise prominent personalities sauntering into the campaign arena.

In some cases, the youths, who usually compose songs with names of the politicians, mount the venues of campaign rallies. In one of the campaigns held in Agulu on Tuesday, youths divided themselves into groups and mouthed what looked like security on every flashy car that attended the event. They usually hail the owner, praising him with the aim of making money. These youths do not carry musical equipment.

Some hotels and eateries are wearing a new look, but those interviewed said they did not review the prices on their menu.

Although there are 37 political parties featuring governorship candidates for the elections, the campaign posters for most of them are barely visible, a development that has made it a little difficult to assert whether they are really in the race to win or to merely participate.

But while the campaign posters and the state radio and television, as well as other private electronic media houses are awash with political adverts that are played intermittently, especially as the parties and candidates intensify their last campaigns, the development may have taken an upward swing on the state economy.

It is indeed a busy time for sachet and bottled water sellers, food vendors, printers, recharge card sellers, hotel operators, commercial vehicles and tricycle operators, among others, as they are witnessing increased patronage in their businesses.

Mary Chukwu, who runs a restaurant at the Arthur Eze Avenue, told The Guardian that: “We wake up every day to cook more than we were doing before. I was not cooking on Sundays, but I had to start cooking on Sunday mornings since the candidates began their campaigns. This is because, campaigns go on everyday here and the people out there are looking for what to eat, especially on Sundays.

“I cook white rice with stew on Sundays and cook fufu, garri and others any other day. It has really been a good business because I come out here after mass and by noon, I am through. It is very tasking actually, but we are enjoying it”.

She stated, however, that the only problem was that they now spend longer time on the road in the evenings when most candidates would have ended their campaigns due to heavy traffic, adding: “I don’t think those of us who sell food are not profiting from what we are doing because, there are more people in the state looking for what to eat.

“The thing is that activities begin early in Awka these days. It is no longer boring for business because even the transporters in the
parks don’t close until late in the night. There are movements in every part of the state, because apart from those on political campaigns, there are still other activities, which go on daily in the state”.

A printer, John Asa, said printers were also experiencing a boom, stressing that it was more tasking because “different churches have also started their end of the year activities.

“As we print these posters, the churches are also calling on us and demanding that they be served. There are several end-of-year programmes, which they have lined up including harvests, retreats and what have you.

“Also remember that there is no week that burials are not conducted in various places in Anambra. So, when these are added to the political campaigns going on, which now come in different forms with branded T-shirts of various colours, branded gift items, cards and what have you, you will understand where I am coming from.

“We sometimes don’t meet up with the demands and what we usually do in that instance is to give out the jobs probably to people outside the state depending on the volume because there are people who are ready to pay and you cannot just say no to them.

“So, I think it is good business but you cannot compare what is happening now with the situation four years ago when Anambra held governorship election. That time, people with resources and ready to spend were in the race; activities were on the higher scale than we are experiencing at the moment. Those of us who have been here for a long time profited from the exercise.

“Although there are so many of them in the race, the campaigns are not as elaborate as they were four years ago. We had situations where a candidate then would engage you for a whole week with various materials that he would use in the election and it was like, it should not end,” he added.

However, while certain persons are smiling to the banks, it is an added responsibility for street sweepers and refuse evacuators as they now have a herculean task in ensuring that certain public places and refuse heaps that litter the streets daily are cleared.

Some youths serving as ushers and canvassers at campaign rally in Awka

A cleaner told The Guardian that “we pack used sachet water sacs, food items, broken bottles, torn posters and banners and whatever anybody can think of on daily basis. If you go to the Alex Ekwueme Square, the refuse heap there has accumulated because as you are leaving, some persons are coming in to mess the place up in the name of campaign. So, what we have is increased responsibility. There are times that you even have to remove green leaves abandoned here and there, by those involved in the campaign. That is the extent we have gone”.

Chief Ignatius Okpalla said he was a delegate from Awka-Etiti to the APC governorship primary and was accredited to vote for the aspirants vying to fly the party’s flag in the election.

“For you to be named as a delegate, you must have shown that you are a member of the party. I cannot tell you that we don’t make money as delegates when it comes to voting. We do, but the thing is that it is more when there is a hot contest between two or three.

“Here, delegates were turned to beautiful bride, dictating the pace and given their mandates to a person who must have not only convinced them to earn their votes, but is ready to show appreciation for your effort.

“In several cases, you are not expected to vote. Somebody will do that on your behalf after your accreditation,” he said.

Okpalla stated that different political parties in the state made money from the sale of expression of interest and nomination forms during the primaries, adding that the seriousness of any aspirant was in the purchase of the forms, which was non-refundable.

“I know many aspirants who paid several millions to get the APC forms. The money they paid was not returned to them even when they did not make it at the primary. It is regarded that the money should be used to run the party activities.

“There is a certain percentage that goes to the national office, the state, local government and even the ward level. Then, whoever emerges will also be helped from the funds. So, the sale of forms is a serious way for political parties to make money and parties don’t joke with it,” he said.

Also speaking on the election, a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Damian Oguike, explained that although elections had always increased the volume of business in the state, the process had not come to the point where the right message was passed to the electorate.

“I think the driving force has been money. Everybody wants money and not the message. That is why several people who throng the campaign venues are hired. The crowd you see in Aguleri will be the same crowd in Awka, Nnewi and Onitsha.

“As they move about, they write names and sign for their money at the end of the rally. That is where we are not getting it right. We wait for elaborate campaigns to tell the same public the same message and nobody is allowed to ask questions based on what he or she has been told. That is the problem of the Nigerian electorate,” he said.

Oguike said that from his observation, the voters have continued to follow the candidates that have the financial muscle at every campaign, stressing that people may have been told that there are over 37 candidates contesting the election, but on daily basis there are candidates that don’t witness large turnouts in their campaigns.

“Nobody wants to hear their message because they are not bringing the money. If they are coming with enough money and saying nonsense, people will follow them and believe them. I can, therefore, tell you that we still have a long way to go and until we learn to listen to everybody and make informed analysis about the content of their message, we will continue to miss our mark and the opportunity to serve will continue to elude the right persons”.

Evaluating the conduct of the candidates and their parties so far, he said: “I will, in all fairness, applaud the candidates for their courage and tolerance. It has really been a campaign of issues, devoid of blackmail and rancour. Yes, people are calling for the scorecard of one another and looking for loopholes to undo one another. Such is expected in any political campaign and if they can continue this way, I believe that we will not witness crisis in the election.

“There are people who left their businesses and other engagements to ensure that their parties and candidates win this election. They are proud people of Anambra and I tell you that the narrative may not be the party alone, but on the individuals in this exercise. The luck here is that almost all the frontrunners are people who have had one thing or the other to do in public service.

“The people of the state know them and with that can attest to what any of them can do if given the opportunity. I believe that despite what has happened so far, the people know that they can only change their future if they vote according to their conscience and not allow money flying here and there to deceive them,” he said.

‘The Gains Are More Of Immediate Than Long Term’
Christian Chime Onitsha
In spite of the biting economic hardship across the country, most parties made brisk business through the sale of their nomination/expression of interest forms. The forms went as high as N5 million each. This was even a drop from the usual N10 million per form, as seen in previous elections.

It could be said that the APC, which witnessed an influx of about 16 aspirants, got the highest chunk of funds from sale of forms.

The party raked in about N80 million, followed by the PDP with about six aspirants, raking in about N30 million from the sale of forms.

Ironically, the incumbent governor, Willie Obiano’s All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), under which he is seeking reelection shut out any competition, which was made to tell the world how popular he is, at least within the party.

Party delegates, especially the executives clearly made huge returns ahead of the party primaries. This was because virtually all the four visible parties instructed their governorship aspirants to go to the field’ to canvass for support from party faithful.

Consequently, all the aspirants hosted all the executives in the 326 wards, 21 councils of the state and the state executives a number of times. On each occasion, substantial amount of money above N5000 per person was the benchmark at each meeting.

Using the APC as yardstick, it had 16 aspirants who passed through the process before some dropped by the side, leaving only 12 that actually participated in the primary.

It was basically the same for the other political parties-United Progressive Party (UPP), which produced the former Aviation Minister, Osita Chidoka, as its candidate; the PDP, which produced Oseloka Henry Obaze as its candidate and APGA whose Obiano is facing stiff opposition from the other parties in his reelection bid.

But the big one and game changer was the primary where all aspirants staked all they had, knowing full well that it was the determining point in their aspiration.

Records show that no delegate got less than N50000 form each aspirant, with at least eight such chances coming to each one of them. Some buoyant and more serious-minded aspirants like Nwoye and Andy Uba were said to have put in more than that amount per delegate, hence the huge difference it made in their votes.

At the last count, aspirants had each targeted about 2,500 delegates out of the nearly 5,000 delegates with N200000. This amounted to about N500 million in total. While some met the budget and saw it make the difference, others dropped by the side.

While some got cash, others got theirs through bank transfers on the night of the primary, while the voting had already commenced.

There were other economic aspects to it. This included the printing of posters and banners, sale of brooms; branding of ankara cloths, T-shirts, vehicles, rent and hire of transportation, renting of halls, especially in the various communities, hotels and funds for the mobilisation of canvassers and buying of drinks.

While the election fever could not be said to have affected the cost of foodstuffs in the market directly, it has clearly affected the rate of turnover.

More vendors now place orders almost on a daily basis for supplies of bags of rice, beef and rental of plates and spoons, cooks, buses to convey food to event centres where they would be needed and on time. Such contractors have been very busy this period.

It is the same for the sellers of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. Others include those selling sachet water, renting of canopies, chairs and public address system (PAS), Disc Jockeys (DJ), as well as Masters of Ceremonies (MC). Little wonder members of APGA were still lamenting the centralisation of the contract for the supply of the canopies, chairs and the PAS.

While other parties use same to empower their members in local government areas and communities, APGA chose to leave it in the hands of just one person operating from Awka. Its negative effect has often been felt where few seats and canopies were provided to the discomfort of party supporters at rallies.

A huge amount of money has gone into the printing of posters and banners of the candidates, both from the days ahead of the party primaries till now they are coasting home to the election proper.

None of the candidates printed few posters for distribution to the various wards and councils to sensitise their candidates.

Curiously, while the Anambra State government had dusted its law mandating those who wish to paste posters on street corners to pay a princely sum of N9 million to the government, it turned out that Governor Obiano became the greatest offender of that law.

His posters, handbills and billboards littered and defaced every available space in the urban and rural communities of the state.

Some of the candidates have actually taken Obiano and his signage contractor, Jude Emecheta, to court over the law. The case is still pending in court.

The sale of brooms, symbol of the APC was not in vogue as earlier anticipated. Not even at the national takeoff of the campaign, the brooms were not widely used. But the use of branded polo shirts, t-shirts, vehicles and ankara cloth was in high demand.

APGA literally made it look like a class struggle for anyone to show that he belongs to what it usually calls ife a neme. One is obviously outside the happening class in the party if he does not wear the Obiano cloth. In fact, the cloth remains more popular and visible than the governor or his democracy dividend.

Nwoye, Obaze and Chidoka have their branded cloths, with Nwoye outshining all others by his numerical strength that comes in various forms.

There is also the huge printing of exercise books, purchase and distribution of snacks. In addition to gala, Obiano presented branded loaves of mini-sized bread. There are pin-ups by Nwoye and Obiano.

Also the era of mass purchase and distribution of vehicles, as part of campaign patronages appear to have gone for good with the defeat of Andy Uba and Ifeanyi Ubah who both lost in the primaries.

However, Obiano’s heavy war chest saw him dole out money to the extent of presenting cars to ward chairmen, while others like Nwoye rented his branded campaign buses.

Also all hotels irrespective of the class within Awka have made very brisk business since the election fever caught up in the state.

Politicians who would not risk their logistics with night travel often choose to lodge in any available hotel for a couple of hours till the next day. This has now become almost the pattern.

However, hotel operators rank among the greatest beneficiaries of the new prevailing political weather.

There were some that enjoy the privilege of hosting one or two candidate or sizable number of their henchmen. APC, APGA and PDP rank highest in this category.

This is same with the high number of guests, feeding, consumption of alcohol, as well as patronage of women of easy virtue, who daily throng the hotels for quick service.

Halls in the hotels have remained in high demand, same as those in various communities where the candidates visit for their campaign outings.

There has also been high demand for boys and girls who act as canvassers and ushers, who take charge at campaign rallies, share and distribute fliers, handbills and other publications. Some move from location to location, selling souvenirs such as caps, hats, handkerchiefs, mufflers, bandanas and key holders, etc.

These have directly and indirectly kept even criminals very busy, showing clearly that 95 per cent percent of criminals in Anambra State could be functionally rehabilitated with conscious effort and commitment.

There is, however, less police presence on the roads all over the state, as was the norm in the past. Not even those of them who hide in obscure corners to extort road users are prevalent. They all seem to have been engaged by the politicians until after the election.