He had cut the image of decency when in 1993 he did what many Nigerian politicians will never do. It was in the wake of the June 12, 1993 presidential election. Okupe was the National Publicity Secretary of the defunct National Republican Convention (NRC) which contested the election with the defunct Social Democratic Party (SDP). While Bashir Tofa flew the flag of the NRC, late MKO Abiola flew the flag of the SDP. In the build up to the election, both parties literally tore each other apart in all manners of vicious campaign. And the day of election came (June 12 1993). All the party demagogues had gone back to their home states/bases.
Abiola, along with his late wife, Kudirat, had gone to the nearest polling booth to vote. Abiola wore a leaf green agbada with his signature high cap. On the agbada was emblazoned the embroidered image of a horse—which was the symbol of the SDP. They voted and left. And few days later when the results began to come and it was crystal clear that Abiola was coasting home to cool victory, the NRC, led by Chief Tom Ikimi began to raise the issue of MKO wearing a horse-embroidered outfit to polling booth, arguing, rudderlessly, that it amounted to campaigning on election day which was against the ethos of the Electoral law.
They began to shout about it, asking wickedly, that the election be cancelled on account of that. It was a view point that rankled all decent-minded persons, including Dr Okupe, irrespective of being in the NRC. He made a public statement denouncing the position of his party, pointing out that even if what Abiola did amounted to campaigning, and the result from his booth was cancelled, Abiola would still have won with a wide margin. After declaring this truth, he resigned his position and membership of the party. The rest, they say, is history.
His return to the public space was under former President Olusegun Obasanjo, banking on his resume of past decency. But surprisingly, he could not survive Obasanjo’s feisty government, as he soon got replaced as the President’s spokesman.
And after what looked like a long walk in political ‘Siberia’, having failed in his governorship bid in his native Ogun State, Okupe strolled back to reckoning few weeks ago, as the Special Adviser to the President on Public Affairs.
That office was specially created by Obasanjo at the time, to contain, and if necessary, attack his attackers. Fittingly, Femi Fani-Kayode was appointed into the office and he executed his brief with clinical accuracy, to the pleasure of his master.
With Okupe back on the row, it is believed that his coming is in preparation for the 2015 ‘war’. He is articulate, expressive and understands the deep dialectics of partisan politics. An old war horse, so to say. Given what had seemed as a pliant presidential team, all the while, it must have been reasoned that a presidential bouncer was needed to quieten the bay dogs barking across the land.
And as if on cue, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, who has suddenly become an anti-establishmentarian, called on President Jonathan to resign if he cannot solve the nation’s problems. That seemed to have been the ‘Play button’ Okupe needed to get activated. And ever since then, he has been firing from all cylinders, sometimes misfiring. Already, the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) seem kitted for long wrestling bout with Okupe, over what is not more than bad belle political inanities.
As a reporter, I had interacted with Okupe countless times, such that I know he is so progressive in his ideas, reasoning and even arguments, except that he dons the conservative cloak in the political arena.
Granted, Okupe must be seen to be doing his job and earning his pay. But as an adviser to the President, what kind of advice does he give his boss? Does he really advise him? Does any of the advisers actually advise the Big man whether or not he listens? Former President Obasanjo had warned his advisers at inauguration that there is no guaranty that their advice would be taken. Many of the advisers stayed all through in office without ever having a one-on-one with him. The aides, as it were, ought to be the interface between the President and the populace. Just before Okupe moved into the cosy quarters of government, what had he been hearing on the streets? Has anything changed? If the President is disconnected from the populace because of status-gap, should his aides also be disconnected? Do they report back to him what the people are saying on the streets?
Do they understand the challenges ordinary Nigerians face on daily basis?
All said, Nigerians expect Dr Okupe to wake his own corner of the presidency from the suffocating inertia by daring to tell Mr President the truth whether it hurts or not. Not forgetting that it is either a collective credit or collective guilt, if the administration succeeds or fails, respectively.