The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Nigeria’s main opposition group, has signed up Ballard Partners—a firm founded by Florida-based lobbyist Brian Ballard—ahead of general elections next February. The firm will earn $1.1 million per year. The PDP’s presidential candidate is Atiku Abubakar, Nigeria’s vice president from 1999 to 2007 and former ally of current president Muhammadu Buhari.
Among its many duties, documents suggest Ballard Partners will work with a “special focus in the coming months on maintaining political and security conditions free of intimidation and interference in order to ensure the success and fairness of Nigeria’s national election for president in 2019.” Ballard Partners will also advise the PDP on enhancing US-Nigeria relations.
Brian Ballard has strong ties to US president Donald Trump, having chaired the Trump Victory organization in Florida, a major swing state, during the US elections. He has also lobbied on behalf of the Trump Organization in the state for more than a decade. Ballard Partners also represents governments of Qatar, Turkey, Maldives, the Dominican Republic and Mali and lists US corporate giants Amazon, Sprint and Uber as clients.
The company’s appointment adds to Nigeria’s recent history of engaging international lobbyists during election season. In April 2014, less than a year before 2015 general elections, the then-incumbent PDP government hired Levick, a DC-based firm run by founder Richard Levick, for $1.2 million to help manage an image battered by failures to combat terrorist sect, Boko Haram. Levick’s stint was not without controversy as it faced backlash through an online campaign by Nigerians. For its part, the ruling All Progressives Congress also signed up Chicago-based AKPD, a firm founded by David Axelrod, former presidential adviser to Barack Obama, in the build up to the 2015 elections.
The ethics of American and European political firms in Africa has increasingly come under the spotlight following a streak of questionable practices. After being hired by an unnamed Nigerian billionaire for $2.8 million to orchestrate a campaign against then-candidate Muhammadu Buhari in 2015, controversial UK data analysis firm Cambridge Analytica reportedly deployed hacked personal emails in a bid to sway the elections. Cambridge Analytica also worked on Kenya’s elections in 2013 and 2017, managing president Uhuru Kenyatta’s campaigns. As Quartz reported, campaign messaging in the run-up to the 2017 elections was particularly marred by fake news and attacking commentary on opposition candidates mainly through Facebook and Whatsapp.
Bell Pottinger, another UK firm, was closed down after coming come under fire for its work in South Africa a divisive campaign based on stoking racial anger. The campaign ultimately led to it being dropped by clients, shareholders and its international divisions.