By Judith Ufford

Dr.Tony Akabuno is the Delta State coordinator for Neighbour 2 Neighbour,the volunteer group that together with the Goodluck/Sambo campaign Organisation toured the nooks and crannies of the country spreading the transformation message of Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate at the April 2011 presidential election. The University of Ibadan trained medical doctor recently spoke to a group of journalists on how his team delivered Delta State for PDP and Jonathan.

What were the challenges your organisation faced in marketing the Jonathan candidacy in the South south?

Our challenges were very insignificant. We had two positive things going for us in the region, the acceptable personality of the man Goodluck Jonathan and the fact that he is from the South south.

So, it became a case of let one of our own get in. We had to deal with some level of disaffection for the party (PDP). So we adopted a simply strategy to market the man Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. We sustained the rhythm of “vote the person, not the party”, particularly in Delta State.

Initially, there were fears that people from the South south will not accept him; was this really the situation or a mere media creation?

It was a mere media creation. Why will South south people want to throw away a golden opportunity of having one of their own as the elected number one citizen for the first time?

How did most of you who headed the state chapters of Neighbour2Neighbour (N2N) get the job?

I think it was strictly on merit. Some of us have been involved as volunteers and strategic contributors for different groups like Goodluck Support Group (GSG), Goodluck Nigeria, and health professionals for Goodluck, etc. After the President’s declaration, all the groups collapsed into the campaign structure. I guess along the line, some persons would have seen our abilities in the area of galvanizing support and our leadership prowess. For me, I got a phone call late last year from Plateau House in Abuja saying that a grassroot mobilisation arm of the Goodluck/Sambo Campaign Organization called Neighbour 2 Neighbour had been formed. The caller went further to say that the leadership of N2N had appointed me as the Delta State coordinator and that I was invited to Sheraton hotel Abuja for the formal inauguration.

At a time when there were uncountable numbers of groups in the air rooting for support for Goodluck Jonathan, I had to quickly do my personal investigation and made enquiries from some of my advisers and friends. When I saw the personalities involved in the leadership of N2N, I knew it was a very serious and proactive group. So I accepted the offer to serve and I attended the formal inauguration of all state coordinators in December 2010 and took my brief.

Who in particular made you accept the offer?

A number of persons, but most important among them is Elder Godsday Orubebe. He is from my state and a very pragmatic leader that has a common belief with Mr. President on transformation and sustained development of the Niger Delta region.

He is a man that will not tie his name to anything unserious. If you have the privilege of spending some time with Elder Orubebe, you will see an organised and dependable leader in him.

There is also His Royal Highness, King Turner, who is a real gentleman and an ardent believer that this country has what it takes to make positive progress. Also Prince Eka Williams, whom I worked closely with in a group called Goodluck Support Group.

It must have been a financially rewarding assignment considering the reported huge campaign fund at the disposal of Goodluck/Sambo Campaign Organisation which picked your bills?

Ha ha ha!(laughs) Let me correct this erroneous impression. There are two groups of people in Neighbour 2 Neighbour, the volunteers of N2N, the office staff at Plateau House and Asokoro. The volunteers were the actual foot soldiers and comprise of the state coordinators down to polling unit coordinators across the federation.

The office, headed by Princess Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi supervised the full operations and administration of N2N. State coordinators were given notebooks with internet access, while both state and local government coordinators were given GLO lines for free communication amongst ourselves.

These were funded by the N2N office, and I must say that it helped us tremendously. Even if we came on board as volunteers, cost of our accommodation and air fare was taken care of by N2N office at all our visits to Abuja.

So there is nothing like huge campaign funds at the disposal of the volunteers to spend freely. For me, it was a privilege to be part of a group like N2N as a volunteer for TRANSFORMATION.

So how were you able to run the wall to wall campaign that your members did by spreading the election messages/promises of Jonathan and Sambo to all the nooks and crannies of the oil rich region of Nigeria?

Let me focus on Delta State that was my brief. It was quite a challenge to get to all the grass root areas including the water ways without official mobility. I was happy to use my personal vehicles and resources to do the job because I believe in the transformation agenda of Goodluck Jonathan/Sambo.

I was also lucky to have a very committed team in Delta State who also spent a lot of their personal funds in complimenting the effort of the N2N office to deliver Dr. Goodluck Jonathan. T-shirts, caps and pin up batches were supplied by the N2N office for distribution to the grassroot to further publicise Goodluck/Sambo.

Delta was particularly a unique state during the campaign and election proper in the sense that of all the six states that make up the zone, it was the only state where the PDP had a formidable opposition in DPP, did you at anytime feel that the President might not win the state?

Even before I was appointed as the state coordinator, I understood the politics of Delta State. In addition, as a managerial psychologist and political strategist, I had my joker.

In the appointment of all my 25 local government area (LGA) coordinators, I specifically ensured that DPP and PDP supporters were included and worked together for a common goal.

In fact, I went further to pay courtesy visits to prominent leaders in all active political parties in the state (PDP, DPP, ACN etc). As a chess player that was my perfect gambit, so at no point was I worried about our ability to deliver Mr. President in Delta.

From your experience in the field will you say that the President is genuinely loved by his people in South south or that the unprecedented votes he got in the area was just as a result of ‘let’s just vote for him because he is the son of the soil’ and not that they truly and really believed in his ability to deliver?

This victory was possible for four reasons. The first and most important reason is the personality of Mr. President.

Other reasons are: the massive people oriented media publicity driven by N2N office, the grassroot mobilisation carried out by volunteers and their willingness to spend personal funds and time. Lastly, the novel idea of the first lady to mobilise women across the nation was an effective strategy.

What is the story of your emergence as the coordinator of Delta State chapter of the organisation considering the fact that you are from the Igbo speaking part of the state. One would have expected that the national leadership of Neighbour2Neighbour would have been more comfortable with an Ijaw person as the coordinator?

This is where people misunderstand the leadership of N2N. Tribalism is not visible at all. As a matter of fact, I got the best support from Elder Godsday Orubebe. At several meetings with him, he demonstrated true leadership quality. There cannot be a better detribalised leader.

That is why he did not insist on an Ijaw person as state coordinator. I owe a lot to him for giving me the opportunity to serve in this capacity and will forever be grateful.

Given what you experienced in the field during the electioneering campaign, is it a job that you will do again willingly if you are called upon by any candidate be it at state level in future elections?

I can tell you that the N2N structure is so strong and has the largest outreach. We are like one family. Even after the election all the state coordinators are still in touch with each other. Our loyalty remains with the N2N leadership and the transformation agenda .

At the state level, I am still in touch with my team. N2N is non partisan, but it is one group that has the potential of transforming into the largest political movement in this country. I expect the leadership to harness this part and sustain N2N, otherwise it can be hijacked by some determined politicians towards 2015.

If I am called upon to do a job like this in future, I will as usual consult and analyze before I accept. I will most likely accept if it is to market a credible ticket in the mould of Goodluck/Sambo and work with a sound leadership as we have in N2N.

Who is Tony Akabuno? What were you into before now?

Where do I start from? I am a medical doctor, a management consultant, entrepreneur, managerial psychologist, public relations expert and political strategist. I come from a humble background, but had the best education. Grew up in the real ghetto, did my primary and post primary education in Lagos where I was best overall at both stages.

Studied medicine and surgery at the University of Ibadan where I had the best academic training, a good political and leadership experience in the student union.

My post graduate in business administration, managerial psychology and public relations were in the United States, United Kingdom and Nigerian universities. I love the game of chess and develop a lot of my strategies from it.

What do you think give Jonathan the landslide victory even though he is the candidate of the PDP, a party most Nigerians felt has failed to deliver dividends of democracy in the last 12 years it has presided over the affairs of this country?

Nigerians voted the person Dr. Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, not the party. Nigerians were just tired of the same old block, we needed transformation and it was seen in Goodluck/Sambo ticket.

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