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CONSENSUS CANDIDATE CAN'T MATCH JONATHAN – ABU, CAMPAIGN DIRECTOR

By NBF News
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Abu
On Friday, October 29, the Goodluck/Sambo Presidential Campaign Organisation, through a fundraising dinner, raked in close to half a billion naira to fund President Goodluck Jonathan's campaign for the 2011 presidential election. In this interview, Sully Abu, the organisation's Media Director, disclosed how the money would be spent. Jonathan's opponents, he also said, are diverting attention from the real issues to avoid being asked questions that will put them on the spot. Excerpts:

What will the funds raised at the dinner be used for, since the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) will take over Jonathan's campaign if he emerges its candidate?

The funds will be channelled towards the campaign. As you are aware, politics is a very expensive business. During campaigns, people have to travel, people have to make contacts, people have to eat, stay in hotels, print posters, produce banners and so on. So, it is a lot, very expensive process, which involves a lot of money. So that is what the money will be used for.

Where are the funds the Jonathan/Sambo Campaign Organisation using at present coming from?

The funds we are using at present are coming from people. People are making donations, some in cash, others in kind. We have some vehicles which have been donated by people. There is a hotelier in Abuja, for instance, who has donated accommodation to the campaign organisation. We have donations from people who believe in the cause, who believe in the campaign. It is for this single reason you don't see us throwing money around like our opponents; wherever they get their money from. Our spending budget has been very tight because we rely on donations from individuals, but with the fundraising, we hope it will help us be more expansive in our campaign.

What is your reaction to comments from the opposition that donations from corporate Nigeria were the beginning of rigging the 2011 elections?

How can people donate money and that amounts to rigging of election? We saw the reactions, but it's a case of sour grapes; let them go and raise money themselves if it is that easy. People who came there - Mike Adenuga, Jimoh Ibrahim and so on - came in their private capacities, they were invited. Aliko Dangote couldn't come himself but sent a representative. We believe they all came because they like what we are doing and believe we can achieve. Don't forget that one of the things this campaign is trying to do and is stressing is the transformation of the country.

We want to make sure that our infrastructure delivers the kind of environment that will be good for business. One of the most debilitating factors today for businessmen is power. I don't know whether you have been in business before, but when I was in business, getting diesel to power the generator was an everyday headache. So, if you can sort out the power problem, as we are determined to do very quickly, then I am sure those who depend much on power, like businessmen, will buy into your campaign.

That is why, I believe, the businessmen were attracted. The venue for the event was filled to the brim; we were expecting about a thousand people but we must have had about twice that number. Everyone was enthusiastic and we have also gone beyond just trying to attract money from the big donors, we formally launched an on-line and SMS (Short Message Service) donation initiative that will enable less wealthy Nigerians who believe in the Jonathan/Sambo ticket to be able contribute to the campaign using the mobile GSM and internet platforms. The platform is also for the average man who believes this country must change and the time is now.

Are all the donations from the big fish in now?
No. You know it takes time, pledges take time to be redeemed; we have to follow up and so on. So, not yet, but we are confident that they will start redeeming soon enough.

How would Jonathan spend the huge amount raised in line with statutory limit in campaign spending?

Well, it's not the president, it is his campaign organisation that will do the spending. As I said, we have to run a cost-effective campaign, we are not just going to throw money around. For instance, if we are to place 20 adverts in the papers, you look at your budget and say, 'Okay, we can only do five for this week, next week we will see what we can do.'

That is why we are expecting a lot of volunteer efforts. You know as part of this campaign we have a door-to-door project, where we are going to have volunteers talking to people from door to door, preaching the message and so on. They are not going to be paid but they can be given stipends, food, recharge cards and so on. So, we are going to rely pretty much on people donating their services, expertise towards the realisation of the objectives during this campaign.

What is your reaction to the criticism that Jonathan is taking undue advantage of his incumbency?

I don't know what they mean by 'power of incumbency', but he is the president and there are certain facilities that come with the territory. He is not going to start flying commercial planes when he has official planes at his disposal, he is not going to use state funds, I mean the state funds are not available to him, anyway, for this kind of thing. But he has to sleep in his official quarters, fly official planes, drive official vehicles and so on and this is obtainable anywhere in the world.

Anywhere in the world, there are certain things that come to you as an incumbent, which you cannot wish away nor avoid no matter how much you try and it is the same thing in this case. We are not going to abuse our office. What I mean is that the president is not going to abuse his office as the Commander-in-Chief to intimidate his opponent, because we believe pretty much in democracy, we believe in dialogue, in talking to people and that is why you find that we don't throw our weight around. People abuse us, our opponents abuse us, throw all manner of accusations at us but we take it in our strides because we have our eyes on the ball, and what is the ball?

What are we going to do to transform this environment? We are tired of a country like this, we are tired of a country that does not work, so we are determined that in our time we can hand over to our children a country that works, a country where power is available, a country in which we will bring back the glory of our schools in those days and not what obtains now. We want to remain very focused and not engage in these accusations and counter-accusations about personalities, no. We want to be issues-driven, we want to put our eyes on what we are going to do to change this country for good.

Talking about issues-based campaign, your opponents have been using the continued doctors and lecturers' strikes to campaign, does that not bother you?

Well, the fact that we have begun campaign does not mean that the basic problems are no longer there or that you can wish them away. Don't forget there have been long festering problems in so many sectors. I just mentioned education now and the fact that we want to return it to its past glory that many of us benefited from. There are deep fundamental structural problems and this is what our campaign is about, we want to sort out these problems, we want to have the power legitimately to sort out these problems once and for all. So, if the doctors and lecturers are on strike now, it's a reflection of the basic issues that we want to address and to change.

It is almost certain that the North may settle for a consensus candidate, does it worry you?

Well, I don't know whether it is certain that our opponents will settle for a consensus candidate, because they are all driven by their own ambitions. If they are going to have a consensus candidate, how come each of them is individually mounting spirited campaigns, they are all over the place, talking to people, wooing them to ensure their individual victory.

But as to whether it bothers us, no, it gives us comfort, because when people are ganging up against you, it's because they recognise your strength, even though we are not taking things for granted, we are out there working, talking to people asking them not to see this as Jonathan's but about themselves. As I said, this country has just got to move. Our peers, the Indians of this world, the Malaysians have all gone far ahead of us, there is no reason why we cannot catch up and overtake them if we are serious. That is what we are about.

Will Jonathan not be forced to pay back in future to these donors should he come to power next year?

No, it doesn't really follow. All over the world, people donate to certain causes; it is left for you the recipient to know how you relate to them. It is a donation and it's not binding. As a donor, you know what cause you are trying to prosecute, that you believe in. But we have to be realistic, it does not mean that if you donate to a cause you do not stand to benefit.

These people are all Nigerians and they will all benefit like you and me if the power situation is fixed, if the roads are better than they are right now, if our schools function, if our doctors don't have to go on strike. I tell you the businessmen will make more profit, because they will not bother about diesel, about their employees not being fit to come to work, because the hospitals will no longer be what they used to be. So, the agenda that we have is what we believe that everybody - the wealthy and the average Nigerian - will buy into.

How rich is the campaign organisation right now?
We welcome donations even from you, but as I said, election campaign is very expensive and also because of the state of the economy and poverty of our people and our culture, when people come to visit you, you must entertain them one way or the other. So, in that case, you need to ease their discomfort. But we are still trying to emphasise that what will drive this campaign is people volunteering their services.

There is so much to be done and we need people to give us ideas, we want them to debate those ideas and come up with acceptable solutions to problems, and every serious campaign organisation will be enriched by listening to people and picking the best of those ideas. We are not rich in monetary terms, but we believe we are rich in terms of ideas that we are receiving and the quality of support and we do not need to spend millions of naira like our opponents.

How true is it that there is wrangling in the campaign office?

Where? That is news to us because I am just hearing this for the first time. There is absolutely no wrangling; we are working as a team with our eyes on the ball, to deliver Jonathan back to the Villa come May 29. We believe that you are bound to have problems here and there, as it is normal in campaigns - disagreements, debates but these are all healthy discussions. The campaign organisation itself is strong, I have never heard of these wranglings.

When is the campaign organisation publishing its sources of income in the face of allegations that your principal is using public funds?

We are certainly going to follow the law. The electoral law has stipulated that you cannot donate more than a million naira and this was stuck to at our campaign fundraising by everybody, including those who could afford to give us N1 billion. For those alleging that we are using state funds, what evidence do they have to buttress that? We are not splashing money all over the place. If we had such abundance of funds, you will see us painting the sky with Jonathan's posters and so on.

But we are working with a very tight budget. Anybody relating to the organisation will see how disciplined we are in the spending of the funds at our disposal; we are almost tight-fisted because the funds are not just there and we believe that we should behave responsibly as well. Why should we throw money around when people are so pauperised? But these are just some of the things our opponents are hauling at us, because they really do not have anything to say.

They want to throw up unnecessary dust - talk about zoning, talk about using state funds, talk about wrangling in the campaign organisation, all manner of irrelevant things, when what we are supposed to be focused on is the plight of the Nigerian people and how to get us out of this morass. But, you see, it's a deliberate tactic on their part, because if we focus on issues and what you can do for the people, people are bound to ask, 'But you were here 20 years ago, 30 years ago, 50 years ago, how come all these programmes you are campaigning about, you did not do them when you had the chance before now? What did you forget at Aso Rock that you want to go back and pick up?' But instead, what do they do?

They divert attention by focusing on non-issues, things that are emotive that can get people mad and get people away from addressing substantive issues, away from asking them pensive questions or what credibility they have. But we are not bothered, because Nigerians are now wise, especially when they have been assured that their vote will count come 2011.