I was used in YouTuber's 'scam' election bid - TV runner

Niko OmilanaImage source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Niko Omilana is an influencer with millions of online followers who stood in the London mayoral elections three years ago

  • Published

A TV runner has described their discomfort at encouraging people to seemingly nominate a YouTuber to stand in multiple constituencies in the general election.

Video producer Niko Omilana's name appears on ballots in at least 11 different locations in England and Scotland.

It is not clear whether it is the same person registered multiple times, or others legally sharing his name, but it is an offence to stand in more than one constituency.

The BBC has repeatedly approached Mr Omilana and his team, but they have yet to respond.

The runner said they only discovered the job was to canvass for signatures for Mr Omilana's nomination, external after signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

His name appears on the ballot in Richmond and Northallerton, which is also being contested by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

The other seats include Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Birmingham Perry Barr, Coventry South, Dundee Central, Ealing Southall, Greenwich and Woolwich, Leeds East, Leeds South, North West Essex and Stockton West.

The 24-year-old TV professional said they answered an advert looking for runners.

At first told they would be picking up documents, they said they assumed it would be release forms relating to filming.

They were later given a google document containing residents' contact details and a script to read from when they approached.

Looking back, they said: "I hate to use the word scam but that's kind of what it felt like.

"I was told one thing but really I was doing another... it went from runner, driving, picking up documents, to me then having to go to people’s houses to collect signatures."

The script sent to the freelancer stated workers should tell potential nominators: "Niko really wants to give people something to connect to this general election."

It added: "If anyone asks if Niko is running in their constituency, the answer is Yes, but please DO NOT ELABORATE."

They said: "That's when flashlights were going off in my head, no this is not right... I don't really feel comfortable being a political canvasser.

"All I was given was a name – I’d never heard of him, I didn't know what he stood for."

Asked to gather 15 signatures, they were also encouraged to ask respondents if they knew anyone else who might sign.

Despite being employed for a full week, the freelancer abandoned the £100-a-day role after just a few hours and decided not to pursue payment.

At no point did they feel "pressured into doing it," they said, but added: "I completely didn’t feel comfortable with it."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,

Niko Omilana played in the World XI during Soccer Aid for Unicef 2023 at Old Trafford

Freelance TV producer Mark Watson, who runs campaigning site The TV Watercooler, warned runners in May, external the role was not all it seemed.

"No one who did this job knew what it was really all about and were tied down by a NDA to scare them off talking about it or seeking advice from others about it," he said.

"None of them would have wanted to be caught up in something nefarious but it's now looking like they have been."

How does someone become a candidate?

Any would-be candidates wishing to be elected as an MP must fill in nomination forms, providing their name and home address.

Each nomination form must be signed by 10 electors, external who live in the constituency the candidate is planning to contest.

All electors must be over 18 on polling day and appear on the electoral register.

Election rules mean candidates are not allowed to stand in more than one constituency.

The Electoral Commission states it is an offence to provide a false statement on nomination papers when applying to stand, punishable by an unlimited fine and or imprisonment.

This includes falsely confirming an individual is not standing in another constituency.

One elector from Leeds told the BBC they were persuaded to sign a form supporting Mr Omilana by a freelancer known to their family.

"I don't understand politics myself. I don't know who to vote for," they said.

"It sounded good, all his intentions... If it's a load of old cobblers then I feel a little betrayed."

Image caption,

Mr Omilana's name appears on candidate lists in 11 constituencies, including against Rishi Sunak in Richmond and Northallerton

Police in North Yorkshire confirmed they had been made aware of and were looking into "a potential electoral matter" relating to Mr Omilana.

Supt Chris Stewart from Police Scotland said the force was was aware his name appeared as a candidate in multiple constituencies but added "currently no electoral offences have been identified".

West Midlands Police has said it is "liaising with the relevant authorities" on the matter.

Who is Niko Omilana?

A video producer with millions of social media followers, he is famous for his prank-style content.

The self-styled supreme leader of the Nico Defence League (NDL), he came fifth in the London mayoral election three years ago, with 2% of the vote.

He told the BBC in 2021: "We did it for the vibes and we've engaged young people. We've shown that young people need to be represented."

More recently, he has competed in Soccer Aid and is part of a group of YouTubers known as Beta Squad whose channel has 9.7m subscribers.

The group is currently fundraising to provide clean water for communities in Western Kenya.

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