Sunday, June 10, 2007
Nigeria's flawed elections good business for Washington Lobbyists
The Democratic consultant who brought Silicon Valley strategy to Howard Dean’s 2004 White House bid exported his brand of high-tech campaign tactics to Nigeria during the run-up to the country’s April presidential election.
Joe Trippi, currently advising former Sen. John Edwards’s (D-N.C.) 2008 campaign, designed a text-messaging campaign for opposition Action Congress Party candidate and then Vice President Atiku Abubakar.
“What drove me on this one was the need for an opposition party. Democracy has only been there for eight years,” Trippi said.
He was just one of many Washington consultants and lobbyists hired by Nigerian politicians to meet with policymakers here or campaign across the Atlantic. Abubakar and former President Olusegun Obasanjo, through the West African country’s government, each spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the months preceding the vote on such services.
Obasanjo fought successfully to secure victory for his successor in the governing People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Umaru Yar’Adua. Yesterday in Nigeria, power was handed over to the new president.
The director of African Studies at Johns Hopkins’s School of Advanced International Studies, Peter Lewis, said the feud between onetime allies Abubakar and Obasanjo had been “brewing ... for several years and exploded into the open during the last 12 months.”
“The malpractices were carried out in an absolutely brazen fashion,” Lewis, an international observer for Nigeria’s April polling, said of the election. “While there certainly was misconduct by all parties, the main source of the misconduct was the ruling party.”
Goodworks was Obasanjo’s main U.S. lobbying group during the last year. The firm has taken in $500,000 since April 2006 from the government of Nigeria, according to the most recent records filed with the Justice Department.
Cooper said his firm avoided the politics back in Nigeria: “Frankly, we could not afford to get caught up in the internal strife.” Instead, Goodworks highlighted the former president’s economic reforms and his fight against corruption, and “promote[d] the democratic election in Nigeria.”
The firm helped to organize meetings and calls with American policymakers for the heads of two Nigerian government agencies that were thorns in Abubakar’s side.
In May 2006, Goodworks organized an itinerary for Nigeria’s chairman of the Independent National Election Commission (INEC) to discuss his country’s “efforts in voter education and registration” with the Carter Center, the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and State Department officials.
All have been heavily critical of last month’s elections, run by the INEC. The agency banned Abubakar from running, citing corruption charges, before the courts reinstated him.
Goodworks also helped to draft congressional testimony last May for the executive chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Cooper called the EFCC’s work an example of Obasanjo’s battle against corruption.
An oily affair