By Joseph Ode
The Top10, a Lagos-based national magazine, recently made a very poignant depiction of political supporters and Support Groups. In an introductory piece to its cover story, ‘Top 10 Support Groups Behind President Tinubu’s Victory’ (August 2023), the magazine likened them to football fans and Fan Clubs.
It wrote: “Without fans, football matches or tournaments are drab, unexciting, lacking in thrills and frills – and so is politics without supporters during elections.
“In preparation for a new football season or a major football tournaments, fans and Fan Clubs prepare elaborately for activities to support their clubs or teams in their own way, with or without the financial backing of the clubs or teams. In return, the clubs acknowledge the support of their fans when they win or perform well.”
Similarly, “in every election cycle or period, supporters of political parties or candidates, as individuals or organizations, form themselves into support groups that strategize and engage in campaigns and related activities for the sole purpose of securing victory for their candidate or party.”
In the build up to the 2023 general elections which took place in February and March, 2023, hundreds of such political support groups were formed for various parties’ candidates at different levels. At the presidential level alone, an estimated 500 of such support groups campaigned for the then front runners – Bola Tinubu (APC), Atiku Abubakar (PDP), Peter Obi (LP) Rabiu Kwankwanso (NNPC) etc.
Notable among the Support Groups that worked for Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the eventual winner of the presidential election, were/are: Coalition of Support Groups for Asiwaju/Shettima (COSGAS) led by Engr. Johnbosco Onunkwo; Tinubu Support Organization (TSO), founded by Hon. Aminu Suleiman; APC National Supporters Centre, led by Alhaji Ibrahim Abubakar Batati; Tinubu Support Group (TSG), and South West Agenda for Asiwaju (SWAGA).
Others are: Disciples of Jagaban (DOJ), Tinubu/Shettima Network (TSN), The Bola Ahmed Tinubu Ambassadors (BAT Ambassadors), Tinubu-Shettima Ambassadors (TSA), APC National Integrity Movement (ANIM), and Tinubu Support Movement (TSM).
The groups had structures and offices in all or many states of the Federation, with membership running into two-digit millions. They promised to deliver huge number of votes, also running into millions, for their principal. They insisted they were attracted and motivated by Tinubu’s track record as a performer when he was Governor of Lagos state and believed he could replicate same country-wide
The support groups used their personal resources to fund their activities and insisted the party and Tinubu did not give them a dime to execute their mobilization programmes. This has not been controverted, at least, publicly. They said they made the investments without expectation of earning any returns in form of political appointments and other forms of patronage.
Although no one can put his finger on the actual number of votes each of them contributed to Tinubu’s victory, they nonetheless have the right – just like loyal football fans – to claim some measure of responsibility or credit for their principal’s triumph in the February 25, 2023 presidential election.
Naturally, they are justified to have a sense of entitlement to some compensation – just like the way “clubs acknowledge the support of their fans when they win or perform well.” But so far, there is no indication that any of the key officials of the support groups have been appointed into any of the offices filled by the President. None of them made the ministerial list. None of them was appointed Special Adviser and Assistants and none of them has made the list of head of parastatals so far.
The supporters have publicly expressed their displeasure with the President over the development. In August, shortly after the release of the list of ministerial nominees, thousands of Tinubu supporters nationwide converged on Abuja where they lamented their total exclusion from the federal cabinet.
Engineer Dr. Kailani Muhammad, Director-General, Confederation of APC Support Groups and National Chairman of Tinubu/Shettima Network (TSN), decried the situation where President Tinubu completely sidelined the numerous APC support groups nationwide that toiled under strenuous conditions to campaign and vote for him.
He said they were very bitter and could not understand why the President would prefer to reward those who opposed him before the elections with ministerial appointments, while abandoning those who sacrificed their time, energy and money to ensure his victory.
“This is a big blow on the morale of members of the various APC support groups nationwide.. .I devoted my time, energy and single-handedly funded the Tinubu/Shettima Network (TSN) and the Confederation of APC Support Groups and convinced group leadership and members nationwide that, the then presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, will reward their efforts when he ascends the Presidency.
“Now I am at a loss as to the reply I will give to the aggrieved leadership of support groups and members bombarding my office and residence on a daily basis demanding explanation.
“We, therefore, appeal to our able president, to have a re-think, and, in the spirit of fair play, avail us the opportunity of, at least, two ministerial appointments, alongside boards of parastatal appointments to support groups leadership, so that they can carry their members along,” Dr Muhammad said.
It was a similar tale of lamentations a few days earlier by the Disciples of Jagaban (DOJ), another Tinubu support group. In a statement, its National Coordinator, Comrade Abdulhakeem Adegoke Alawuje said as a support group, he and his men had done their best. “We that worked for Tinubu cannot be dying silently. We deserve an appointment in this government…
“We warn the people in charge of appointments to be fair, just and equitable as well as fear the Almighty God in the discharge of their constitutional duty.”
The President is not known to have publicly responded in any way yet to the frustrations expressed by his supporters – by appointing one of them or by acknowledging or denouncing their complaints. He has no reason not to give them a listening ear because he cannot deny their existence, the investment they made or the role they played in his electoral success. The evidence to support their ubiquitous presence and contributions during the campaigns was the dedication of an office in the APC Presidential Campaign Council (PCC) to the coordination of the activities of the support groups.
Also, to suggest that the president cannot find any of them qualified or suitable for appointment into any of the many top jobs in the Federal Government would be unfair to the array of eminent personalities from across the country that volunteered to campaign for the President.
To be fair to the President, the support groups were into a volunteer job – he did not invite them. He is, therefore, not legally bound to reward them. But this is politics. He received their services with open arms. It, therefore, falls within the ambit of political wisdom and morality for the President to look favourably into the case of his Support Groups by accommodating some of them in his government.
Ode, a public affairs commentator, writes from Makurdi, Benue State