By Tony Amadi
Doyin Okupe, the loquacious and awesome spin doctor is back to Aso Rock and at once rattled the nation with his immediate impact. It was the most unexpected appointment by President Jonathan and it is easy to deduce from the action that the president has seen the need for a combative-style propaganda machine for the fights ahead – not necessarily the impeachment battle at the House of Representatives, nor the Senate’s more mature approach to force the president to execute the budget or face the music of impeachment; you are sure to conclude that the president has just far too many political battles on his hands in the run up to 2015.
Indirectly, the president has signalled an intention for the long run when he characteristically gave away his intentions for 2015, when he said that ‘women can vote me out in 2015’ during the opening of the Africa First Ladies Peace Mission that his wife hosted last month. It has suddenly dawned at Aso Rock that there is a dire need to liven up its spin machine if it is to march that of the opposition.
President Jonathan just has to get up and fight a looming battle in the public affairs sector if he is to match the spin machine of President Obasanjo during his many battles with the National Assembly. As we can all see, the opposition is not sleeping because it is determined to clinch the elusive federal power from the PDP which has ruled the country for the past thirteen years.
ACN’s National Publicity Secretary, Lai Mohammed, has been tearing away at the government unhindered, exposing its ineptitude in critical areas of governance. He has developed a style reminiscent of the great late M.C. K Ajuluchukwu who was director of research and publicity of the defunct Unity Party of Nigeria when Chief Obafemi Awolowo was the leader and presidential candidate. With Okupe back to his old beat, Lai Mohammed and other opposition spin doctors like Osita Okechukwu will have a run for their money.
Coming to Doyin’s appointment as Senior Special Adviser on Public Affairs, you then wonder what about the Senior Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, the position held by Reuben Abati. Before the rumour machines could get grinding out sordid tales about what has just happened, the duo came up to meet the press corps and clear the air. We shall be working as a team as disciples of the president and sell his transformation agenda, they told everyone who cared to listen.
It has become clear to Aso Rock strategists that Reuben Abati couldn’t hurt a fly even though his armoury of powerful and politically-loaded words and its effective use could move mountains. So you needed a cutting edge and Doyin fitted the bill. His huge and intimidating presence was enough to knock out opposition spin machine with as little as one punch. Let alone when he unleashes his verbal tirades. The one problem, however, is Doyin may have come with some excess political baggage that could arm the opposition as is already happening.
During the Okadigbo impeachment battle there was a battery of spin doctors at the service of the president. Stanley Macebuh would be the one to churn out intellectual materials and argument while Onyema Ugochukwu would be there to ensure the penetration of the line they tow into the people’s mindset. Femi Fani-Kayode was the one to rub it in. Tunji Oseni stays behind to mind the press and their daily needs.
For Jonathan there doesn’t seem to be a spin machine, let alone any deliberate plan to give him cover from sniping journalists and political opponents. That is a disaster, to put it mildly, but that seems to be changing with the new haughty mood at the presidency. Before the arrival of Doyin Okupe, he had just Reuben Abati and to some extent Oronto Douglas to manage his spin affairs after he sadly dropped his former media aide Ima Niboro.
There is no doubt that since his arrival at the Villa, Doyin has hit it off flying high among the political spin community. The problem the president will have to contend with Doyin Okupe is that he is a loose cannon who can spin out of control sometimes and in turn attract more enemies for President Jonathan. Otherwise, the appointment is a wise one for the PDP administration who for the first time is becoming overwhelmed by the high level of public demand for effectiveness in governance.
I will not be surprised if sooner, rather than later the opposition will begin to get punched holes among its own ranks. They have had a field day out-spinning the government, making the efforts of the president to transform the country look as if nothing is happening as the government sat idly by seemingly doing nothing when a stronger propaganda machine would have turned things around by now. The one man hit squad that is Osita Okechukwu has consistently been a thorn in the flesh of government with his often virulent attacks on government policy under the aegis of the CNPP, the acronym for Congress of Nigeria Political Parties.
Osita inflicts a weekly dose of virulent tirades on the government via his news releases which are usually front page material for most newspapers including the powerful Northern voices like the Leadership and the Daily Trust group of newspapers. When he feels like, the president of the CNPP and former Second Republic Governor of Kaduna Alhaji Balarabe Musa will blast away with his own bone-shaking critic of government. So now, with Doyin Okupe firmly entrenched no one will be spared if you crossed the part of Jonathan or his administration.
Some have branded him Jonathan’s hound dog and he retorts by asking what harm could a 60-year old hound dog possible do? Well if you judged by the level of calls for the EFCC to go after Doyin by the opposition ACN, you would know that the opposition is obviously scared still of the forthcoming spin war in the polity. Someone somewhere is certainly worried that Doyin Okupe will disorient their hitherto winning strategy of hitting the president as much as they could and still get away with it.
One will expect that the PDP’s own spin apparatus headed by its National Publicity Secretary Chief Olisa Metuh will move in to shore up the president’s opinion poll ratings which were tottering in the precipice before the fortification of the Aso Villa’s propaganda machine now co-manned by Dr. Okupe and Dr. Abati. Metuh had been out of the country enjoying a deserved summer holiday in the United States and managed to e-mail releases which Chuks Okocha of THISDAY graciously used but I reckon that in the coming months when the politicians, particularly members of the National Assembly return and the impeachment threat is reignited there will be a great season of political cross exchanges across the nation.
Meanwhile, the president may have taken the sail out of the looming impeachment war with his massive funding of the 2012 budget following the release of some N300 billion for capital projects last week. This brings the total release out of a total N1.5 trillion for capital projects to N704 billion, an action that may gladden the hearts of National Assembly members who have been upbraiding the presidency for not implementing the budget to the detriment of the people of Nigeria.
Newspaper commentators see the release as a panic measure to stave off impeachment, but Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala thinks that the country would begin to experience remarkable progress in budget execution with the massive cash injection into the economy. For instance, many parts of the country are enjoying the fruits of longer hours of light rather than the darkness that has been the lot of many Nigerians.
If President Jonathan gets the budget execution right and people begin to see some further improvements in electricity supply, more road projects executed across the country, and the so-called reorganization of the sports sector as promised following the London 2012 disastrous performance by Nigerian athletes, people will rethink their current negative assessment of the administration’s performance.
Should Jonathan show more authority and action by the end of his second year of the current dispensation, signs are that public opinion of his performance in office will improve and people can begin to think of a possible second term. But for now, his ratings has dipped so low that if election were to be held today, he has little or no chance of winning the South-south, let along the rest of Nigeria.
One of the elements that can make things brighter for the president is a consistent positive spin even with the near impossibility of bringing Boko Haram to its knees. And Doyin and co can make it happen.
• Amadi is an Abuja-based author and publisher