Five years after it was established as a modern political party and three years on as Nigeria’s ruling party with vast resources at its disposal, the All Progressives Congress (APC) still has no notable presence on social media, it admitted on Friday.
The APC said the famous Twitter account with which it had long been associated is in the hands of a man who holds no official position within the party, and getting him to relinquish the sign-in credentials for the handle has proven fruitless for years.
Philip Obin, a social network marketer from Cross River State, set up the account in February 2013 shortly after the leaders of the legacy parties that became APC announced that their merger talks had pulled through. Mr Obin quickly obtained a Twitter verification badge for the handle and used it to drive APC’s online campaign in 2015. The account amassed well over 700,000 followers as at Friday night.
But following a chain of embarrassing engagements which the party neither sanctioned nor had prior knowledge of, the APC has repeatedly disowned the account as unofficial and has accused Mr Obin of being an impostor.
The latest denial came on Friday evening when the party issued a statement to distance itself from overtures allegedly made to a former social media aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Reno Omokri.
Mr. Omokri, an ardent critic of President Muhammadu Buhari, claimed on Thursday that the APC, through its Twitter handle, tried to warm up to him several times, attempts he said he rejected. He posted screenshots of the messages.
In a statement to PREMIUM TIMES, Bolaji Abdullahi, a spokesperson for the APC, said the affairs marked the latest embarrassment the unauthorised handle would inflict on the ruling party.
“For the avoidance of doubts, we wish to state that Philip Obin was one of the numerous youth volunteers for our party during the 2015 elections. He administered the Twitter handle at the time,” Mr. Abdullahi said. “But despite numerous appeals to him by various well meaning party representatives, to hand over the handle, Mr Obin has refused and in defiance continues to use it to misrepresent the Party.”
“In essence, therefore, Mr Obin’s interactions with Mr Omokri are in his personal capacity and do not involve Party in any way,” he added.
Mr Abdullahi threatened “other lawful actions” against Mr Obin and indicated that the APC would no longer tolerate his conduct, especially in instances where his activities cast the party in bad light.
“Giving this latest incident, the Party is now left with no option than to take other lawful actions to restrain Mr Obin from further embarrassing the Party,” Mr Abdullahi said. “The general public is yet again reminded that the Twitter handle @APCNigeria is not a Twitter handle of the All Progressives Congress.”
The party has no official presence on Facebook, the world’s largest social networking platform.
Mr Obin elected not to publicly counter the APC when reached for comments, telling PREMIUM TIMES Saturday morning the matter was purely “a family affair.”
“There are internal issues regarding who manages the account and I would prefer we handle it internally and amicably,” Mr Obin said.
Mr Obin said almost all APC leaders, including Mr Buhari and Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, had interacted with the handle at one time or another.
The APC was the result of a groundbreaking merger of top opposition parties in 2013. It was unveiled on February 6 and registered by the Independent National Electoral Commission on July 31, 2013.
Barely two years after, the party went on to claim victory in its first major outing by winning the presidency and sweeping parliamentary and gubernatorial elections in most states in the 2015 general elections — ending the 16-year dominance of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Maximising appeal to the youth was top amongst crucial steps that helped the party to victory. Its online narrative, shaped largely by young professionals with ties to white-shoe companies, overshadowed the efforts of PDP supporters on social media at the time.
But in February 2013, as politicians were concluding talks on the formation of APC ahead of its formal registration with INEC, some youth were positioning themselves for strategic roles in the party’s online presence.
Amongst them was Mr Obin, who quickly set up the account to assume control of APC’s activities on Twitter.
The APC has distanced itself from the backlash that Mr Obin had brought on the party through his use of the Twitter handle. Shortly after results were announced for the February 2016 senatorial re-run election in Benue South District, the handle congratulated David Mark, the candidate of the PDP who emerged winner in the election.
But this was despite the APC candidate’s rejection of the results, and the party issued a statement disowning the account and reiterated its official position that the exercise that returned Mr Mark was neither free nor fair.
In June 2017, Mr Obin conducted a poll for Twitter users to rate Mr Buhari’s performance after two years in office. The results were overwhelmingly negative. The party was again compelled to issue a statement distancing itself from Mr Obin.
Several APC insiders who had been a part of efforts to get the handle from Mr Obin said significant financial reward was amongst the compensation package the party offered him.
“But he rejected the offers and frustrated all our efforts to get Twitter to delete the account and create a new one for the party,” said an APC source familiar with the negotiations. “He just won’t cave, no matter what.”
But two APC officials admitted to PREMIUM TIMES that the account had not been entirely a minus for the party.
“He has used the handle to help our communication efforts on social media, especially the activities of the Buhari administration which he had propagated prominently,” one official said Friday night.
“It’s actually going to be a bigger loss if we don’t settle the matter with him and instead allow the handle to go to waste,” another added.
Mr Obin denied deliberately embarrassing the APC, saying it was virtually impossible for him to have control of all activities at all times.
“Social media works are positive at some times and negative at other times,” Mr Obin said. “You cannot always have control over that.”
He reaffirmed his loyalty to the party and Mr Buhari, neither of whom he would publicly criticise.
“I respect the party a lot and I won’t join issues with the party or President Buhari,” he said.
Learning from PDP
Mr Abdullahi, who said he had met with Mr Obin several times in a bid to resolve the stalemate, said the party might eventually shelve plans to get take control of the handle and instead unveil digital communication channels.
The spokesperson said the party might eventually adopt the strategy used by the PDP when the main opposition party found itself at the mercy of its former social media director.
Deji Adeyanju was in charge of the party’s @PdpNigeria handle for years. But when the caretaker leadership of the party took charge in 2016, members tried to get him to hand over the account, which he declined.
After months of disagreements, and pleas from Ahmed Makarfi, leader of the caretaker leadership, the party ultimately wrote to Twitter to delete the account with about 188,000 followers. The party unveiled a new account, @OfficialPDPNg, which Twitter immediately verified for the party.
Mr Abdullahi said the APC is working on new accounts across all social media platforms, especially, Faceboook, Twitter and Instagram.
“We plan to unveil our digital channels at the upcoming convention,” the official said. “By then, Nigerians will know all the official handles and be guided appropriately going forward.”