CLAIM: A report purported to be done by Ballard Partners shows that Buhari would win the elections, with Atiku emerging as the runner-up
EVIDENCE: The President of Ballard Partners denies ever conducting a survey or publishing a report, and so does Claire, an employee at the firm. An in-depth look at the letter attached to the report also reveals inconsistencies that throw doubt on the credibility of the report.
CONCLUSION: Likely to be FALSE
Two days to the General Election and unsurprisingly major information has surfaced online. A recent poll allegedly conducted by Ballard Partners Inc., a popular lobbying firm based in the US, has revealed that the incumbent president of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari may emerge again as the president.
The document bearing the good tidings (for APC) claims to be an original as it contains the firm’s letterhead and a letter from its President, Brian D. Ballard sealed with his signature.
According to the report, a public poll conducted by the firm shows that Buhari is more likely to win the elections by 51% while Atiku scores 42%. But it doesn’t stop there.
The attached letter addressed to Bukola Saraki and dated February 5, 2019, claims that the odds are stacked against the presidential candidate of the PDP.
“The results of the poll are, to put it bluntly, very negative for us,” the letter reads.
It further faults an earlier poll claimed to have earlier been announced by Mr Saraki on the basis of interviewing “only 1550 people which is less than 250 per geopolitical zone, and they couldn’t cover more than 2 states per zone.”
“The attached report suggests that there is a significant difference in results for states even within the same zone. We can also be sure that they haven’t reached remote rural areas which are Buhari’s strongholds.”
The interesting part about this new development is not the emergence of the report only a few days to the election but the fact that the firm actually denies ever producing the report or writing the letter!
THE GENESIS: PDP’s DEAL WITH THE BALLARD PARTNERS
The People’s Democratic Party deal with the Ballard Partners has been in the news for weeks now and has not been denied by the party. Ballard too, compelled under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938 to disclose the details of such contracts, has not denied the deal.
The contract document which was obtained by Dubawa showed that on September 21, 2018, the PDP struck a deal with the Ballard Partners to advance its interests before the United States government. The deal was signed by the duo of Osita Chidoka who served in the capacity of the special advisor to the PDP and the President of the lobbying firm, Brian D. Ballard.
The mandate of the Firm includes “advising, counselling, and assisting the foreign principal in communication with U.S. government officials, U.S. business entities, and non-governmental audiences.”
Also, the agreement recitals read, “it shall be the Firm’s duty to consult with the Client and advocate on its behalf those issues the Client deems necessary and appropriate before the US federal government.”
For these services, the PDP agreed to pay $90,000, totalling of $1,080,000 (N331 million) — excluding the costs for certain expenses such as registration fees, travel and lodging expenses, and so on. Already, the first two instalments of $540,000 have been paid; the remaining two would be due on March 21 and June 21, 2019, respectively.
According to a report by the Reuters News Agency, with the deal between the two parties, “Atiku was allowed to enter because the United States saw little benefit to creating bad blood with the man who might be the next leader of Africa’s most populous nation and the continent’s biggest oil producer”.
FINDING THE TRUTH: PERCEIVED STRINGS OF INCONSISTENCIES IN THE REPORT/LETTER
First, and perhaps the most striking is the wording of the report and letter.
A part of the report reads: ‘Buhari is leading the vote with 9 points (51% / 42%). Undecideds are at 4% and all other will score a total of 3%. So, Buhari cannot be stopped.’ One would wonder why a report would include such a statement especially since the firm was employed by PDP at a huge price.
The letter is also beaming with red flags. For one, the signature looks more like a cropped picture than it is a directly handwritten signature. The letter also says a result which favours the PDP was recently announced by Mr Saraki whereas no such announcement has reached the public.
In addition, the Firm was highly instrumental in the victory of US President Donald Trump over Hilary Clinton in 2016, whereas a line in the letter reads: “You might remember that Hilary lost to us.”
BUT WHAT IS MORE, IS THAT BALLARD PARTNERS DENIES THE REPORT
Mr Brian Ballard has outrightly denied that his firm has anything to do with the report. On his official Twitter page, the Firm’s president wrote: “A letter allegedly sent by me on Feb 5, 2019 [,] regarding [Nigeria’s] presidential [election] is fraudulent. My signature has been forged. Ballard Partners has not conducted any survey research on behalf of the People’s Democratic Party of Nigeria.”
Also, in a telephone call by Dubawa to one of the Washington DC Partners of Ballard Partners, James Rubin, he called the report “fake news”, “fraudulent ”, and “desperation on the other side”.
He said the report is an attempted move by the APC to discredit Mr Atiku Abubakar, adding that the APC should receive the blame for the circulation of the report.
“We didn’t do any research like that. It’s fake news. It’s been put out by the government party to discredit Mr Atiku Abubakar’s work.
“Is that our job? We work to make sure the US government believes in pushing for a free and fair election. The people who wrote this letter forged the signature of Mr Ballard. They misrepresented the logo of the Ballard organization. They invented an activity that never took place.”
When he was asked if he was certain about his accusations of APC, he said: “I think it’s pretty obvious that it was done by the government in power; or somebody working on their behalf, somebody who is worried about the polls and trying to discredit Mr Atiku’s work.”
Asked if any legal redress would be taken on the issue, he brushed aside the possibility, saying the focus of the Firm is to ensure a free and fair election.
He also confirmed to Dubawa that the Firm has a deal with Mr Atiku Abubakar “to maximize the chances of a free and fair election without intimidation or an outrageous attempt by somebody who is an opponent of Atiku. And the only real opponent of Atiku is the government party.”
Although, Theodoric Meyer, a journalist that covers lobbying and the influence industry for Politico Magazine, in April 2018, opined that, “Ballard won’t talk about what he does for his clients, for the most part”. And so it was not a shock when Racheal, a spokesperson of Ballard, told Dubawa that the firm would not comment further about the relationship with the PDP, but that the statement made by Mr Brian should suffice.
The spokesperson of the All Progressive Congress, Lanre Issa-Onilu, also dissociates his party from having a hand in the report. He told Dubawa that his party is not concerned about the report as its attention is fixed on Saturday, the day of the election.
“All I would say is that PDP should get ready for the election on Saturday. All these flippant and frivolous issues they are raising [are] not our issue now.
“PDP can even deny their own name; it doesn’t bother us. Let them get ready for election on Saturday,” he said.
However, Kola Ologbondiyan, spokesperson of the People’s Democratic Party, failed to answer calls placed to his line. Also, as of publication time, the text message sent him was not replied as well.
CONCLUSION: Due to the inconsistencies in the report and letter as well as the denial of Ballard Partners’ president, this report is very likely to be false. We await further evidence that may prove otherwise.