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Political support groups: Personal gratification versus corporate good

Published by Tribune on Sun, 07 Sep 2014

Constant like the Northern star; especially when a general election looms, political support groups have become a recurring decimal in the nation's body polity. DAMOLA ADEOYE writes on this political phenomenon.COMING in different names, perspectives and reasons for formation, political support groups have come to stay in the Nigerian political space. Apart from professing admiration for their principal to the high heavens, they strive hard to to ensure his or her success in the elections. From TV adverts to radio jingles, house-to-house campaign to banners, pamphlets and stickers, political supporters are ready to go the whole hog to secure the victory of their candidate. From governorship to the presidential elections, the presence of these groups can be felt everywhere.In the prelude to the 2011 general elections, there were not less than 1800 recognised associations and pressure groups that drummed up support for President Goodluck Jonathan to be chosen as the standard-bearer of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and for his subsequent victory at the general polls. The groups included the Congress for Democratic Change, Congress for Equity and Change, Northern Friends for Jonathan, Northern Friends for South South, Niger Delta Mandate Coalition, Bridge Builders Frontiers and Igbo Redemptive Group for Jonathan/Sambo. Others were Friends of Democracy for Jonathan, Goodluck Support Group, Goodluck Na Kowa, Youth Vanguard 4 Jonathan 2011, United Nigerians for Goodluck Jonathan and Arewa Youth Coalition for Jonathan/Sambo.In the build up to the 2015 general election, the President can be sure of the support of not less than 300 political support groups, including the Protectors of Nigerian Posterity, Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria, Vibrant Transformation Awareness and Leadership Development Initiative, among others. On the side of the opposition, there is Generation Rochas purportedly working for the realisation of the presidential bid of Imo State governor, Owelle Rochas Okorocha in his party, the APC while the Atiku Abubakar Support Group clamours for former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar in the same party.At the state level, there exists several support group platforms spearheading the re-election of some state governors. In Oyo State, there was the Akala Vanguard, Oyo Teachers for Akala while Governor Abiola Ajimobi had the ACN Professionals, Ajimobi Solidarity Forum, Team26 and so on. In Osun State, there is the Friends of Rauf, while the structure of the Iroko Frontiers which campaigned vigorously for the re-election of Ondo State governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko, in 2012 has been collapsed to pave the way for Believe Nigeria, Trust Goodluck which is to work for President Jonathan's re-election.In recent history, the poltics of support groups can be traced to the aborted Third Republic. Widely held as the freest, fairest and most credible election in Nigeria's history, the June 12 presidential election has become a watershed in the nation's political history. Won by renowned philanthropist, Chief MKO Abiola, the final result was eventually annulled by the Babangida regime. Much as strident voices called for its de-annulment, marked by series of protests nationwide and strikes by industrial unions, the blame for that rape on the nation's democracy has been laid on the table of former president, General Ibrahim Babangida, and the Arthur Nzeribe-led Association for Better Nigeria (ABN). That group, which backed the Babangida regime, also worked assiduously for the perpetuation of its successor junta, General Sani Abacha.It was the ABN that secured the notorious injunction that eventually forbade the then National Electoral Commission (NEC) from going ahead with the conduct of the polls, going ahead with the Babangida-Must-Stay rallies in Abuja. That dubious injunction eventually formed the kernel the Babangida junta relied on to annul the election.Many Nigerians remember Daniel Kanu's Youth Earnestly Ask for Abacha (YEAA). The group claimed its main aim was campaigning for transformation and empowerment of youths under the civil leadership of General Sani Abacha. The group said it based its work on the premise that Abacha was doing an excellent job by reducing the country's external debt, increasing external reserves, ensuring stability of the country's currency and a list of other achievements in the eyes of Daniel Kanu's YEEA. So, despite public opprobrium, the group organised bewteen March 3 and Mrach 4, 1998, what is now popularly known as the 2 Million March. That gathering is by far the largest political gathering organised by an individual who more or less was unknown in the political terrain.Modus OperandiOwing to the current ban on campaigns, majority of the support groups deploy the mass media and the social media as their launch pad. According to a reports, prominent groups working for the President's re-election include Goodluck Initiative for Transformation (GIFT) 2015, Protectors of Nigerian Posterity and GEJites as well as some of those that worked for him in 2011. With questions such as; 'Do you believe in the government of President Goodluck Jonathan' Are you passionate' Do you have the capacity as a volunteer and leader to actualise our aims and objectives'' the Chinedu Okpalanma-led GIFT is using Facebook to raise an army of membership. While the GEJites advanced on its website that the 'philosophy and idea' behind its formation took a cue from 'Obama Volunteers and Chavistas', campaign organisations of the United States President, Barak Obama and the late Venezuelan leader, Hugo Chavez, the Protectors of Nigerian Posterity put up an advert idolising the President. In the said advert, the President is raised high, compared with renowned world leaders like the late anti-apartheid hero and ex-President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, the founding father of modern Singapore and ex-Prime Minister, Lee Kwan Yew as well as American President, Barak Obama. In the one sponsored by the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria, renowned comic hero and film-maker, Chief Chuks Okpala a.k.a Zebrudaya is seen mouthing the achievements of Mr President in various sectors of the economy. In the case of Generation Rochas, an advertorial portraying the good deeds of their principal, Owelle Rochas Okorocha, comparing him to great legends of yore like the avatar, Chief Obafemi Awolowo, former Premier of Eastern Region and first ceremonial president of Nigeria, Chief Nnamdi Azikiwe, former Premier of Northern Region, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, famed leader and friend of the Talakawas, Mallam Aminu Kano, India's historic leader, Mahatma Ghandi among a retinue of other world class greats, and a call on the Owelle to 'come rescue our generation' beams on night-time TV.Those adverts are an apt reminder of the 2011 episodes when President Jonathan's TV campaign organised by Neighbour2Neighbour was anchored on the president's humble beginnings with the sobriquet: 'I had no shoes'. That sobriquet nonetheless worked effectively on the masses that saw the president as one of them, and so voted for him massively immediately he secured his party's ticket. Atiku Abubakar, who was the president's challenger for the ticket of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) then, also anchored his campaign on a lowly background as a boy, without a father and a poor mother growing up in Jada, a small town in Adamawa.BenefitsLike every business venture, there are gains and losses attached to support groups. Former aviation minister, Princess Stella Oduah and the former presidential adviser on political matters, Hon. Ahmed Gulak who were notable members of Neighbour2Neighbour and Goodluck Support Group respectively. Other appointees can be found spread across the country. The case may be in the fact that quite a number of them are forgotten after their principal has won election. Things become sadder if the principal loses the election, as every structure is automatically disbanded. To thy tents, o Israel, becomes the swansong!Proliferation of support groupsPerhaps, it was in a bid to separate the wheat from the chaff that the Presidency, through the Office of the Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, organised a screening exercise for pro-Jonathan groups. In the first day of the exercise alone, over 300 pro-Jonathan groups converged on Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State capital for the on-going screening and evaluation of organisations routing for President Jonathan's re-election. According to Ambassador Sebibo Horsfall; 'The Special Adviser to the President on Political Matters, Prof. Ahmed Alkali, inherited about 3,000 to 4,000 support groups from his predecessor, Hon. Gulak. The purpose of this exercise is to harmonise these groups. We want to know them and want them to know us. They are our friends and we are like one family. We want us to work together towards Jonathan's re-election in 2015.' Horsfall disclosed that the exercise was running simultaneously across the six geo-political zones in the country, describing the turnout as very impressive and overwhelming.That decision was hailed by a public affairs analyst, Yemi Ogedengbe who, while speaking to Sunday Tribune, admitted that even though some of the groups may be sincere, very many of them remain grossly insincere. To him, 'Most of these so-called groups are actually out for the cash. I think the moment politicians stop giving out support funds to these supporters, the better the situation gets. Only then, can the true identity of real supporters be unmasked.' A member of the Accord Party, Chief Femi Oladiran, speaking to Sunday Tribune, said that supporters are the flavour of politics, and they could come in whatever platform. Without them, he said, 'Politics would be dry, dull and drab.'Explaining further he said; 'While we have registered party members, there could be support groups who may or may not be members of the party but who are just admirers of the candidate.' But he was quick to caution that their activities be regulated, so that only real supporters and not those in the business for the pecuniary gains would be given pride of place.While some respondents expressed divergent views on the activities of support groups, some remain vehement in their critique of such groups. Speaking to Sunday Tribune, Dr Kayode Omotoso, a senatorial aspirant for Oyo South Senatorial district under the banner of the APC, berated the idea of political support groups. To him, 'Support groups are a distraction. They provide means of siphoning funds from aspirants. Since an aspirant is a member of a particular political party, it should be incumbent on the party supporters to provide maximum support for their party's candidate. Unlike support groups whose contribution may not be directly measurable, the efforts of party members and supporters can, and they can be rewarded accordingly. So, to me, all these vanguards here and there are unnecessary.'To Dr Ayobami Wasiu Lam-Adesina, eldest son of former Oyo State governor, Alhaji Lam Adesina and a governorship aspirant in the APC, support groups are a two-edged sword. In his words: 'For private citizens who are not in government, such groups may be necessary because they tend to promote the ideals of that particular individual, but for those who are already in government like the president and governors, it is unnecessary. Their developmental efforts should be visible to the blind and audible to the deaf; they needn't fund any pressure group again to blow their trumpet.' He queried: 'Where will the funds come from, their private pockets or the public till'' As if to prove doubters of the sincerity of these support groups right, phone calls to the contact phone numbers sourced from various websites were either not picked or the numbers were outrightly unavailable. Mails also sent to the e-mail addresses were not replied by many of them. Though a particular group replied the initial mail and promised to get back to the reporter after seeking official clearance from the founder, no response was received as of the time of going to press.As the 2015 elections beckon, political analysts and commentators seem to have become wary of the activities of many of these political support groups, maintaining that the sincere ones will have to put in a lot of work to convince not only their principals but also the entire voting public as to their genuineness and zeal for the success of the country's democracy.
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