The Anambra State Signage and Advertisement Agency, has dismantled the campaign billboard of the presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr Peter Obi.
Obi’s massive billboard located at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University Temporary Site Flyover was pulled down on Saturday alongside that of the party’s candidate for the Anambra Central Senatorial District in the February elections, Chief Victor Umeh.
In August 2022, the Anambra State government placed a public announcement directing presidential candidates to pay N10 million, senatorial candidates to pay N7 million, House of Representatives candidates to pay N5 million and state House of Assembly candidates to pay N1 million as campaign fees before mounting any billboard or poster.
Reactions have continued to trail the development as stakeholders and indigenes have insisted that the action had a political undertone, while it was alleged that the action was ordered by the state governor, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo.
Speaking on the development on Sunday, the Managing Director of ANSAA, Mr Tony Ujubuonu, pointed out that contrary to insinuations, the pulling down of the billboards had no political reasons, but that the affected candidates did not comply with the laid down procedures.
He said the action had nothing to do with Soludo, explaining that the exercise was carried out after several efforts, phone calls and entreaties to the affected candidates for them to pay for the advert, which proved abortive.
He said, “In August 2022, ANSAA sent out a letter to all the political parties in Anambra to obtain political campaign permits which would enable them to enjoy campaigns around the state and access to rent available government outdoor media assets and public spaces.
“Also in October, the Agency sent out another letter to the candidates reminding them of the need to obtain the permit. Before commencing enforcement in November 2022, ANSAA ran a one-week sensitisation paid adverts in the media in case someone missed the earlier formally communicated information.
“Many of the political parties and their candidates responded including a good chunk of candidates of the ruling party in the state.
“But sadly, no payment was made by the Labour party candidates both at the national and state House of Assembly levels. Several phone calls and entreaties were made to them through their media managers but they ignored these.
“They have had several campaigns in the state without permits and have their campaign materials everywhere without permits. It’s only fair that all politicians should be treated equally.
“Equally, any political party candidate affected knows that either they are yet to pay or are yet to complete their payments of the political campaign permit.
“We hope this is not a case of entitlement mentality or a brazen decision to disobey the Anambra State Signage and Advertisement Agency. Once again, ANSAA will not allow itself to be drawn into any partisan politics but will continue to serve Ndi Anambra to the best of her ability.”
Umeh, in his reactions, described the development as undemocratic and unconscionable, while threatening legal action against the state government if the billboards were not restored any time soon.
He said the state government had no power in any extant law to regulate electoral processes, stressing that it was the sole responsibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission to do so.
He explained that he had paid about N4 million to his advertising agencies for the billboards which had also paid to the ANSAA the required fees for outdoor adverts.
He said, “There is nothing like campaign fees under the electoral law. No state government has a right to impose any fee on any candidate before he could campaign. There is no such law in Nigeria and no such law either in Anambra State passed by the state House of Assembly.
“If the governor makes an executive order of humongous fees of N10m, N7m, etc before one could campaign in the state, that’s against democracy. You can’t prevent somebody from campaigning with arbitrary fees.
“It’s INEC that sets rules for campaigns, not state governments. The state government doesn’t conduct elections. You can’t tax a candidate of a political party to pay a state government before he can campaign.
“No other state does that except Soludo’s state. Who did Soludo pay campaign fees to in 2021 when he contested for governorship?”
“We are considering legal action. I have told the advertising agent to write to the state government to restore the billboard because it was a contract signed with them and I paid them fully and they paid ANSAA. Why should Peter Obi pay N10 million to Soludo before he could campaign in Anambra when Umeh is paying N7 million?
“There should be nothing on the way of any candidate to campaign to look for votes under the Electoral Law. What Soludo is doing is illegal. No government has a right to tax any candidate to pay in any money before he can campaign. What he is saying is that if you can’t pay N10m or N7m you can’t campaign after being nominated by your party to contest the election for them.
“It’s illegal to tax any candidate by the state government before the candidate begins to campaign. Matters about campaigns are regulated by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Government has no hand in regulating political parties’ campaigns.
“No government has a right to place a tax on any candidate for campaigning. A campaign is an open and free thing to solicit votes.
“Government cannot say that before you campaign for an office you have been properly documented by INEC you have to pay fees.”
Another chieftain of the Labour Party, who craved anonymity, accused the Soludo, of ordering the dismantling of all LP billboards mounted at strategic places across the state and replacing them with those of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, the governor’s party.
He said, “Soludo said that he does not want Labour Party advert at such strategic places and ordered the Anambra Signage Agency to refund the money it received for the advert.
“He ordered the removal of all OBIdient billboards across the state. It’s a direct instruction from him in an APGA meeting Those around asked him not to do that, but he insisted that must be done.”
When contacted, Christian Aburime, the Press Secretary to Soludo, said the state government was studying the development and will issue a press statement on the matter soon.