Tony Okafor, Awka
The candidate of the Labour Party (LP) for Anambra Central Senatorial District in the February 25 General Elections, Chief Victor Umeh, has condemned the dismantling of the billboards of the presidential candidate of the party, Mr Peter Obi and other candidates of the party in the state by the Anambra State Government.
Describing the development as undemocratic and unconscionable, Umeh threatened 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 was the sole responsibility of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The LP had accused the Anambra State governor, Prof Chukwuma Soludo, of ordering the dismantling of all the LP billboards mounted at strategic places across the state and replacing them with those of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), the governor’s party.
An LP chieftain who craved anonymity told our correspondent that Obi and Umeh’s massive billboard at the Unizik Temporary Site Flyover was pulled down on Saturday by the Anambra Signage and Advertising Agency( ANSAA).
He said,“Soludo said that he does not want Labour Party advert at such a strategic place and ordered the Anambra Signage Agency to refund the money it received for the advert.He ordered the removal all OBIdient billboards across the state. It’s a direct instruction from him in an APGA meeting Those around asked him not do do that, but he insisted that must be done.
The Managing Director of Anambra Signage and Advertising Agency( ANSAA), Mr Tony Ujubuonu who confirmed that the LP billboard at Unizik Temp site was removed on Saturday denied that Soludo gave the order for the removal.
He said, “ If you recall in August, we sent out a message to all political parties to pay up their campaign fees. There was a lot of hullabaloo about it. None of them has paid their own. So most of the parties that have not paid theirs that have adverts on government assets were removed. It has nothing to do with the governor. Governor didn’t give any order for that.
“They didn’t pay the campaign fees and we spoke to their media heads several times; we informed them about the enforcement, and they haven’t paid it so we decided to take down the advert. It has nothing to do with the governor.
Some months back, the state government placed a public notice announcement stating that presidential candidates would pay N10m , senatorial candidates would pay N7m, House of Representatives candidates would pay N5m and state House of Assembly candidates woukd pay N1m as campaign fees.
Reacting to the development on Sunday, Umeh described levies as unconscionable, adding ” 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 Soludo 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.”
He said he had paid about N4m to his advertising agencies for billboards who accordingly had paid to the ANSAA the required fees for outdoor adverts.
Umeh added, “It’s INEC that sets rules for campaigns not state governments. 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 full and they paid ANSAA appreciately. Why should Peter Obi pay N10m to Soludo before he could campaign in Anambra; Umeh to pay N7m?
“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 that if you can’t pay N10m or N7m you can’t campaign after being nominated by your party to contest election for them.
“It’s illegal to tax any candidate by the state government before the candidate begins to campaign. Matters about campaign are regulated by the Independent National Electoral Commission. Government has no hands in regulating political parties’campaigns. No government has a right to place tax on any candidate for campaigning. Campaign is an open and free thing to solicit for vote. Government cannot say that before you campaign for an office you have been properly documented by INEC you have to pay fees.”
Speaking, the advising agent who mounted the Unizik LP billboard said, ” The issue there is not about money. Somebody told me about two day ago that Soludo wants to remove all OBIdient billboards and replace them with APGA billboards.”