Theodore Ekechi was the Director of Election Planning and Monitoring in the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Organization. He spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on how the APC presidential campaign was successfully executed.
PT: I will like to congratulate you on a successful campaign. You were up against the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, that had boasted it would remain in power for 60 years. If one looked at the strength and spread of the PDP before the election one will have few reasons to doubt them. What gave your party and your office in particular the confidence to take them on?
Answer: If you want me to put it this way, it was the same confidence that galvanised David to go against Goliath against all odds. But more importantly, it was because the APC are actually very close to the hearts of Nigerians. Without sounding boastful most people in the APC are really and indeed progressives. We are the real democrats and when you’re a democrat you share affinity with your people. And we knew that everybody in Nigeria knew we were due for a change, a change in the way things are going on in Nigeria. There was this general desire that something different has to happen. That in itself was very fundamental so it wasn’t really like a surprise for those who are on ground and in touch with the realities of Nigeria. I’m proud that I’m one of the members of the team who actually steered the train to its present location.
PT: You were the Director of Election and Monitoring, Like you said Nigerian wanted change but you also knew that the PDP was everywhere. Did you have a blueprint of how to beat them? How did you execute these plans? Did you modify your plans as the campaign proceeded?
Answer: Like I said, we knew Nigerians wanted change. And we were very convinced that we were not driving for a change in a vacuum. We were so convinced that we were not swimming against the tide. That was quite fundamental and that gave us a little bit of advantage. It consolidated our level of confidence. Secondly, we knew for us to bring about this change we really need to push the PDP out of office so we have to look for ways to ensure that this is done and done peacefully without dislocating Nigerian political equation. One thing we did very well was to find out how has PDP been winning all these years? That PDP has remained in power for 16 years is it a reflection of the actual support they enjoyed from Nigerians? And we came out with a resounding no as answer. The PDP has hung to power not because Nigerians so desire them to be but because they have always had the ways of getting themselves entrenched in power. Those machinations were one of the things that we discovered. And what were they? Rigging. Rigging from all perspectives. The main question we asked ourselves was do we have the capacity to prevent PDP from rigging or continue to rig because it will amount to a nullity our efforts if at the end of the day the rigging machinations are still in place. Luckily it coincided with the time when we saw an electoral umpire in INEC which was willing to have a free and fair election where every vote will count in the outcome of the election. That was also another thrust of confidence for us. We were also lucky that we had a Jega who was also very committed and unwavering in his commitment that every vote will count. Having convinced ourselves that INEC was committed to a credible election, we set out to begin to win the people’s vote and we knew that the way to win the people’s vote was to commune with them. That is why if you look at the style of our campaign, our campaign was not based on the usual political jingoism. We were not playing to the gallery. We concentrated on reaching people who need to be reached. We started early enough to identify the new Nigerians; the people who are committed to change. People who are working for the party not because of pecuniary benefits but because of a commitment to seeing a new wave of leadership in Nigeria. That was the major thrust of my directorate. Identifying, appointing and training election agents in 155,000 booths across Nigeria; in over 8,000 wards in the country, in 774 local governments. And then managing all these agents in coordination with the states coordinators. The biggest challenge of the APC campaign is to get them to work together in synergy. The moment we were able to achieve that we knew we have gone very far into our success story.
We also developed a network of natural supporter and natural canvassers. These are people who do not support the candidates for the sake of money. They support them because they really believe for one reason or the other they want PDP out of power. It was not very easy but it was possible to identify these people across the country. So when PDP were busy abusing our presidential candidate on television and radio and using all the media available to them, we were busy recruiting these patriotic men and women into an unprecedented movement that cannot be stopped by any army. The moment we had these people integrated and put them into a database, we knew that we had made substantial progress.
You will also observe that our campaign strategy was different from that of the PDP. It was not money based; it was issue based. We identified the major issues in Nigeria. What are these major issues? Our roads are not functional, that our schools are decaying, that there is poverty in the land and so on. We were able to narrow it to one particular thing in Nigeria and that is corruption. The root of all the problems we have in Nigeria is corruption. And we had a personality that is impeccable when it comes to corruption. You can say he never went to school and the only thing he can read is Sharia, you can say he’s too tall or too thin to be a president. It didn’t matter to us because we already asked Nigerians and we knew the kind of things that they want. The important thing for us was to emphasize that we had a candidate who would fight corruption in Nigeria. We had a candidate who had access to all the all Nigerian money as a military dictator and yet was not interested in enriching himself. Nigeria needed a person like this.
Finally, we had a tool called the card reader. The card reader was like a game changer and that was why we insisted. One of the fundamental rigging techniques of the PDP is to inflate the votes even when ten people came out in a polling booth they look at the maximum people that are registered in that booth and award themselves the score.
PT: The PDP accused the APC of running a propaganda on social media aimed at discrediting the incumbent president, Goodluck Jonathan. They said everything he did or said was criticised by youth on social media. Was it a deliberate policy of your organisation to use social media to discredit the incumbent?
Answer: Who are the propagators of the social media? Who are the players? They are You and I. They are Nigerians. The social media is the only place where truth can be told because they are being told by those who are the voters. If you look at it that way, the social media is a true reflection of Nigerians particularly Nigerians between the ages of 15 to 50. If you look at this categories of people, these are active people when it comes to debate about the nation. Most Nigerians who are 50 and above don’t actually take part in the debate. This is the real reflection of the mood in Nigeria. There was nothing like propaganda in it. The one that is sponsored is the one you saw on AIT day in day out. The one you saw on NTA. The paid advert on media houses we couldn’t afford. The newspaper pages that TAN will pay for. You open a newspaper on a particular day and out of 50 pages 40 are carrying messages of Jonathan. So it wasn’t true, we did not sponsor propaganda rather we were on the receiving end of PDP propaganda. But like I said, their propaganda were not based on facts. They were not researched propaganda. The PDP were too overfed to do research. Even when they spend money on research the money was shared. I’m aware they had their own control centres, they had their own situation rooms, but they were manned by those who are already overfed and looking for more money. So it is not the same thing like the one that I ran without looking for a penny for the period I was there. The one I ran without asking anybody to put fuel in my care for the period I was there. The one nobody provided me with lunch for the period I was there and so many other Nigerians who were part of the national control centre who were not paid for two months. It wasn’t the same thing as that of the PDP.
PT: Let’s talk about the APC situation room. At a point the work that you did became controversial because the PDP said how come the results released form your situation room hours earlier were identical to the ones released by INEC. How did you collate results that were almost identical to the ones announced by INEC at the states and even the national collation centres?
Answer: Once you have passion in the course you are pursuing everything will come to bear. Whereas PDP has money, we relied more on our brain work. We did a lot of brain work, we did a lot of planing. We thought the world had changed. We used very basic tools, not sophisticated like the ones they employed but the people who used their tools were garbage in garbage out. Those who worked for us were more committed. They were more focused and appropriate to the positions they were posted. But I want to make this clarification. We never announced this result ahead of INEC. But we were part of the dissemination of results that INEC had announced. If there are 14 booths within a particular ward and election was completed by 1pm and INEC had announced the results in all the 14 booths, those results are now in the public domain. If I go ahead and tell you that 7 out of 14 booths APC had won and they won with so and so numbers of votes, I had not announced the results. I’m only disseminating the result that INEC had announced. The fact that some people will wait till the next day before they use bro and pencil and begin to calculate painstakingly what they had gotten in that ward shouldn’t be my problem. But as soon as INEC had announced what they had gotten in that ward and I decide to put all those things together within the next 35 to 45 seconds does not mean that I had announced the result. I was only disseminating the result INEC had announced. We were very much ahead of them and there was nothing illegal and nothing outside the electoral law that we committed by so doing. And we did that primarily to prevent INEC from changing the results along the line.
PT: When the election was shifted from February to March, it appeared your campaign was in trouble. The PDP started gaining momentum. The army started reclaiming towns after towns from the Boko Haram just like they had promised. It appeared that your campaign was going under. Also your presidential candidate was also out of the country allegedly for medical check up. Up to the point where General Buhari spoke at Chatam House it appeared that the PDP had rolled back the momentum you had at the initial stage of the campaign. How did you manage this bleak period in your campaign?
Answer: We relied more on brain work and planning. We were more of brain, PDP were more of brawn. They thought money can solve all the problems in this country particularly when it comes to campaign. We had this fundamental information that this election was not going to be about money. That people in their hearts of hearts are committed to change. When that happened and honestly speaking it kind of disrupted our programme. There was dislocation. But unlike PDP we didn’t jump into the streets. There was a need for us to reorganise ourselves on how best to counter PDP. PDP felt we don’t have enough money and that their own money is limitless and the flow of the money is endless that they can now outspend much more and drive us out of the campaign arena. Secondly PDP also believed that within that period of the extension that they would be able to get the National Assembly and INEC to drop the use of the card readers. That was very fundamental for them. Thirdly PDP wanted to change the image they had in the international community. So that when they rig and win there won’t be an international condemnation of the result. Because we understood what they were doing, we came out and attacked those areas. Again unknown to the PDP the incursion the army made in the north east didn’t give them any gain. Rather it exposed the wickedness of the party. Because people were now asking after the election were postponed what has changed in Nigeria that will enable the army make such gains that they made in such a short period. The question was why didn’t this man do the things he is doing now for the past 6 years? Did it mean that we recruited more men into the army, within the last 6 weeks as against 6 years? Did it mean that we bought more equipment in the 6 weeks as against the last six years? Therefore people in the north east concluded that the whole idea of Boko Haram in the north east was deliberate on the part of the PDP and on the part of Jonathan just to ensure that they were disenfranchised. And it worked against them.
PT: Unofficially, the PDP started its campaign way before your party through The Transformation Ambassadors of Nigeria (TAN). How did you counter the momentum TAN had established before the campaign officially kicked off?
Answer: TAN’s campaigns were too elitist. Unknown to PDP the TAN campaign was even insulting the sensibility of of Nigerians. It was too exotic. and not a few Nigerians knew that this was taxpayers money that was being spent under a so called private organisation. TAN campaigns concentrated mainly in the towns. From the international airport in Abuja every structure you see on that road contained one advert or the other or one billboard or the other of Jonathan and PDP. It was so much so that it was annoying to the eyes. People see these things and people thought it was a vulgar exposure that assaulted their flight and this things translate into billions of naira. They were only targeting areas along the presidential route where the president can see in and out of Abuja or when he goes to any state for campaign. So they were playing to the gallery. They were playing to satisfy the president and the presidential team. They were not doing much to reach the masses except the ones they do on radio. It wasn’t too much of a concern to us because like I said before these things were being analysed in the social media and the true import of all this exposure were being communicated to the people and it was very easy for people to ask where the money was coming from.
PT: The President-elect recently said that the APC manifesto is not the Quran or the Bible that cannot be modified. Fillers from some of your leaders also suggest that you may not immediately deliver on some of your election promises. Some Nigerians are worried that this may point to the fact that your party may renege on some of its promises. Will the APC deliver on all its campaign promises exactly like you promised?
Answer: Nobody is God and no one can pretend to play God. It is impossible to say that everything that have been promised must be achieved. But it is good enough to say that everything promised was promised in good faith and is going to be pursued with good faith. I think the problem is more about timing. It is impossible to expect that the mess that we’ve put into for 16 years can be cleaned off in no time. It is easier to mess up that to build. But the important thing in the Nigerian situation is that the building must start. All we have been having has been mess and destruction. APC promises to start building Nigerians again. That is the most important thing. Our graph of progress, or social integration and social equality should and would stop looking and start looking up that is the much I can say but for the detail of how we are going to prosecute this, please wait till after May 29 by the time the action plan of the APC would have been spelt out.