(AllAfrica Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) The Nigerian political landscape has in the past months witnessed the activities of pro-Jonathan groups demanding the President to throw his hat into the ring come 2015. One of them, Tranformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN), has so far held rallies in the South-East, South-West and South-South to sell its agenda to the geopolitical zones. In this report, Sunday Trust unmasks the forces behind the transformation ambassadors' project
Awka, the headquarters of Anambra State in the South-East of Nigeria came alive on August 16, 2014. It was a day of political fanfare as thousands converged at the popular Ekwueme Square where the Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN) held its maiden rally calling on President Goodluck Jonathan to declare for the 2015 presidential race. The event attracted notable dignitaries of the Ndigbo extraction including former vice president Alex Ekwueme, former Senate Presidents Adolphus Wabara and Ken Nnamani as well as Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim. Others were senators and members of the House of Representatives, party chieftains and political appointees from the zone.
For speaker after, speaker the message of the day was clear: a demand on President Jonathan to hearken to the 'clarion' call by declaring his interest to seek re-election in the 2015 presidential election. To seal their demand for Jonathan's endorsement in this regard, delegates from the zone said to have been drawn from the wards, local governments and states of the South-East zone reportedly appended 1.6 million signatories demanding Jonathan to contest in 2015.
The train of the transformation ambassadors moved westward to the historic city of Ibadan, the capital of Oyo State in the South-West on August 23, where a similar rally was staged. The Ibadan rally which held at the popular Liberty Stadium was reportedly attended by former deputy national chairman of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Bode George, Ekiti State Governor-elect Ayo Fayose, Minister of Defence, Musiliu Ogbanikoro, Minister of State for the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Jumoke Akinjide, as well as other political bigwigs from the zone. According to the organizers, a total of 1.8 million signatories were collated from delegates endorsing President Jonathan's re-election bid in 2015.
In continuation of the zonal rallies TAN defied calls from the opposition APC to suspend the event over Ebola threat and moved to Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, where it held the South-South rally yesterday. Like the previous rallies which had in attendance Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim, the Port Harcourt event was also attended by ministers from the zone including Ngozi Okonjo Iweala, Mike Olomememen, Nyeson Wike. Akwa Ibom State Governor, Godswill Akpabio was represented at the occasion by his SSG which also had Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan in attendance.
After the Port Harcourt rally, TAN is expected to take a recess for two weeks after which it would move to the northern part of the country, with the North-Central rally in Minna slated for September 13 while that of the North-East will be hosted in Gombe on September 20. North- West will take its turn on September 27, with a rally in the city of Kano while the grand finale is expected at the Eagle Square, Abuja on September 30.
The unseen forces behind TAN. Although TAN claims to be a non-political, non-governmental organization designed to promote good governance, its activities have raised curiosity concerning the main agenda of its formation as well as those who are behind the project. Some of them are serving officials in President Jonathan's administration. Udenta Udenta, the director Communication and Strategy of TAN said: "The Group is comprised of professional men and women, youths, businessmen and women, artists, artisans, sportsmen and women, physically challenged persons, widows associations, Christian, Muslim and native religious groups, community, traditional and market leaders, opinion molders and analysts, farmers, school teachers, trade unions and all the masses of Nigeria that are committed to the ideals of good and quality leadership, order, unity, peace and progress of our nation under the constitution."
TAN also encapsulates its mission statement thus: "To assist and be part of the transformation of the second 100years of the existence of Nigeria a nation that will visibly transcend the threshold of under-development, overcome the challenges of diversity and enthrone our collective vision of a nation where good governance, natural justice, equity and good conscience become the hallmarks of quality leadership which is in conformity with the status and standards of other developed nations of the world."
To many political analysts and observers, the activities of TAN and similar groups mushrooming across the length and breadth of the country, especially in the build up to next year's general elections, leave much to be desired. With the zonal rallies aimed at galvanizing the people to persuade President Jonathan to come out and contest in 2015, not a few critics have suspected an ulterior political motive behind TAN. A common feature in all the rallies held so far is the physical presence of the SGF, Anyim Pius Anyim, who is said to be one of the forces behind the TAN agenda. His presence at the rallies is believed to be a tacit endorsement of the project by the presidency. Similarly, Sunday Trust learnt that Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezeani Allison Maduekwe is another powerful force behind the TAN project. Mrs. Maduekwe's face has become a 'signature tune' in all TV commercials, jingles and newspaper advertisements sponsored by TAN. Also associated with the TAN project, according to Sunday Trust checks, is Anambra-born business mogul, Ifeanyi Uba, who a source described as "one of the financial backbones of TAN." This is in addition to other close political associates of the president, especially those within his 'kitchen cabinet.'
Other notable names behind the TAN project are Senator Ike Ekweremadu, Hon. Emeka Ihedioha, Emeka Wogu, Professor Chinedu Nebo, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu and former Federal Road Safety Commission boss and current Aviation Minister, Mr. Osita Chidoka.
Apart from TAN, there are other amorphous political pressure groups calling on President Jonathan to seek re-election in 2015. One of them is the Vibrant Transformation Awareness and Leadership Development Initiative (VITALDI) whose national coordinator is Senator Saidu Kumo from Gombe State. Former Information and National Orientation Minister, Professor Jerry Gana, is also among the think-tanks of VITALDI, in addition to former Chief of Army Staff Lt Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika. Like TAN, the main agenda of VITALDI is also believed to be the actualization of President Jonathan's re-election ambition. Other similar groups which are now sprouting all over the place are: Northern Youth Coalition for Jonathan, Mothers of Vision Initiative, Northern Youths for Jonathan 2015, Friends of Jonathan, Neighbour-to- Neighbour, Yoruba Coalition for Jonathan, Liberal Eagles, and the Green White Green Vanguard.
Justifying TAN's formation and its zonal rallies, however, Udenta, said: "TAN is a public enlightenment organ; an engine to translate the possibility of governance into effective reality. TAN heats on the idea that President Goodluck Jonathan has done very well in his first term in office. But these grand achievements of his national transformation agenda are sometimes buried in false media narratives, both the local and the international media. Therefore, for us to sift through the contents of these narratives to see where reality begins and where perception takes over; our conclusion is that while he has done so well he has not been showcased sufficiently."
On the zonal rallies, Udenta said: "The major thrust of the rallies is to test out our skills; we started with public advocacy using cutting-edge technology and powerful social media content. But how do you now know that you have sent your message across and the people are listening? You have to go to the people in the various states and zones and ask question: are you on the same page as us? If you are, then these are our registers with names and telephone numbers for you to sign up your signatures that the president has done very well. South-East collected 1.6 million; South-south 1.8 million. The idea now is that it is not just us talking; Nigerians have taken over the conversation and the issue is out of our hands we have penetrated their minds that the man has done very well."
TAN rallies are illegal - rights activists, lawyers
Human Rights activists and lawyers who spoke with Sunday Trust on the activities of TAN and similar groups have, however, described the rallies as illegal. Chairman of the Civil Society Network against Corruption (CSNAC), Olanrewaju Suraju, said the subtle campaigns by TAN were illegal going by the provision of the Electoral Act.
"The president and current regime are synonymous with violation of laws and constitution. You will recall that the President, in violation of the Electoral Act, commenced campaign for 2015 presidential election since the beginning of this year. Several appointments were made in clear violation of the constitution and fundamental principles.
"It is most shocking to see the president, his party and sponsors waste the tax payers' money in convening ill-conceived and sycophantic rallies, which ultimately expose people to the spread of the Ebola virus. The president and those behind the rallies should be held responsible for any breakout or spread of the virus outside Lagos. A responsible leader would not sponsor such gathering but halt it where planned by those outside his political family. What is ominous in this case is 'the ambition of the president must be realized, even at the risk of people's lives", he said.
Also reacting, the director, Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), Idayat Hassan, said with what TAN was doing; President Jonathan was circumventing the campaign finance ceiling as prescribed under the Electoral Act, by resorting to third party spending.
"The Electoral Act 2010 as amended prescribes in section 91(2) that the campaign ceiling for presidential aspirants is N1billion with the definition of election expenditure disregarding any expenditure incurred before the notification of the date fixed for the election with respect to services rendered or material supplied. So, the entire exorbitant amount spent on organizing TAN support and used to buy all the airtime for advertorial doesn't come under the definition of campaign expenditure.
"Again, for the administration to deny that TAN is not its campaign platform will be a great hoax, as the presidency cannot approbate and reprobate at the same time. Nigerians saw the advertorial placed in a newspaper by the Special Adviser to the President on Political Parties, Prof Rufai Alkali, announcing the screening of all pro-Jonathan' groups, yet we are told campaign is yet to begin. These are clear breach of the Electoral Act," Hassan said.
National Coordinator of the Transition Monitoring Group (TMG) Mr. Chibuike Mgbeahuruike, said he had no problems with citizens calling on President Jonathan to continue through the instrumentality of TAN, but expressed concern over the question of who picked the bills for the mega rallies.
Mgbeahuruike, who noted that the activities of TAN fell out of the timing prescribed by the Electoral Act for campaigns, argued that in a democracy citizens had the right to engage in the marketing of their preferred candidates only when it did not constitute disorder in any guise or coloration.
TAN: A reincarnation of the Abacha era? For some political observers who spoke with Sunday Trust, the activities of TAN and similar pressure groups calling on President Jonathan to re-contest in 2015 amount to a reincarnation of the late General Sani Abacha era.
Toeing this line of thought , the National Publicity Secretary of the Conference of Nigeria Political Parties (CNPP) Osita Okechukwu, said TAN was simply a reincarnation of late Gen. Sani Abacha's 'Two Million March Assembly.'
"Like the Abacha Two Million Man March Assembly, will it not be a grave mistake to expect the masterminds of TAN and other affiliate groups to obey neither the fine laws of the Electoral Act nor that of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria? They are the law, simple and short, as the Electoral Commission and the judiciary are more or less in their pocket. Fundamentally, one may start by gazing into the mind-set of President Jonathan and his handlers. They want Mr President to be re-elected, an objective that is valid and commonplace. They are also aware that the core ingredient of election in a liberal democracy throughout history is referendum on the incumbent", Okechukwu said.
A legal practitioner, Barrister Okoi Obono-Obla said the activities of groups like TAN were illegal and unconstitutional since they were purportedly campaigning for President Jonathan, stressing that organised rallies in several parts of the country where political statements were made, thereby giving the impression that the electioneering campaign for the 2015 general elections had started.
"You will recall that President Jonathan started campaigning for election early this year. The president has been vigorously campaigning under the guise of holding rallies under the canopy of the Peoples Democratic Party. The president attended rallies in Minna, Enugu, Bauchi and lastly Kano. The Kano campaign was greeted with a deep sense of outrage because it was held just a day after a dastardly and horrendous bombing of hundreds of innocent Nigerians waiting to board buses at the Nyanya motor park in Abuja. Nigerians unexpectedly expressed an outcry over the show of contempt and absolute insensitivity of the president to the victims of the bombing by Boko Haram," he said.
On whether the rallies do not amount to political campaigns for President Jonathan in 2015, Mr. Udenta said: "We are not campaigning for Mr. President in 2015; we are simply showcasing his achievements and asking Nigerians pertinent questions; if he has done so well what they demand of the president? We cannot campaign for someone who has not even told us whether or not he is contesting for that office; we are not politicians. Our rallies are merely for public advocacy and if Nigerians clamor for him to come back in 2015 so be it; that is their demand."
Copyright Daily Trust. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).