BODE OLAGOKE examines the publicity department of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) from its days in opposition till now.
Publicity stunt like no other
It came like a joke but its messages were getting to the deaf all over. Today, the story of the APC as the first successful merger party that unseated the incumbent ruling party has redefined politics in Nigeria. Prior to it, there were attempts to forge a common front to oust a ruling party but to no avail.
The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), All Nigerians Peoples Party (ANPP), Congress for Progressives Change (CPC) and a faction of All Grand Progressive Alliance (APGA) lost their identities to form the APC sometime in 2014 in anticipation of the 2015 elections.
Interestingly, the publicity machinery of the rising opposition party was entrusted into the hands of a trained propagandist, who became the first to handle that responsibility: Alhaji Lai Mohammed.
After its public presentation, the then spokesman of the ACN, Alhaji Lai Muhammed, was announced as the interim National Publicity Secretary of the APC under Chief Bisi Akande as the interim national chairman.
The Kwara born politician eventually emerged as the first substantive spokesman after the party’s first national convention, which produced Chief Oyegun as the national chairman. His display of competence as an opposition party spokesman gave the then ruling party some jitters.
Apart from his vast experience, Lai Mohammed kept the PDP on its toes by craftily using the media to score political points against the PDP. He even once offered to take Olisa Metuh, the then PDP spokesman, on a free, six-week crash course on his role as the spokesman of a ruling party.
Though he could be mischievous atimes and may not have been politically grounded in his home state of Kwara, but give it to him, he was consistently bringing burning issues to the front burner for deliberation while his peers in the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) progressively took the back seat.
Observers believe that the then opposition party did not discriminate against any media outfit in terms of business or recognition.
Being an astute politician and one of the founding members of the APC, he knew how to play on words to drive political points. When he held sway as the APC spokesperson during its years in opposition, Lai Mohammed played a crucial role in checking the excesses of the PDP through constructive criticism and on several occasions, he actually predicted correctly the plans of the then Goodluck Jonathan- led administration.
Though seen largely by political watchers as an alarmist, propagandist, the APC’s publicity machinery under him could not be faulted as it achieved the desired effect: disorientate the electorate against the PDP, ruin the ruling party’s reputation and inflame anger against the PDP.
Following his elevation as minister of information, the then National chairman, Chief John Odigie-Oyegun once remarked: “The party is finding it difficult to get a replacement to match the performance of Lai Mohammed as the National Publicity Secretary.”
After Lai Mohammed was appointed minister, the party refused to allow the deputy national publicity secretary, Timi Frank, to step into the shoes because some of the party’s national officers were not favourably disposed to it.
So, another Kwara man emerged the spokesman in person of Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, who was seen as a die-heard Bukola Saraki man. Notwithstanding, Abdullahi redefined publicity engagements in the new role of the APC as the ruling party.
The party witnessed structured publicity engagements that were pivoted on intellectualism and brand building. Although, compared to Lai Mohammed, Bolaji was seen as a proud politician who was riding on the back of Saraki to hold public office.
Bolaji did not also discriminate against media outfits but his accessibility expected of a media manager was limited. Abdullahi’s political ambition and that of his boss, Saraki were parallel and this eventually led to his leaving the APC in 2018.
Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu
Immediately Bolaji Abdullahi dumped the APC, his deputy Yekini Nabena, was allowed to step into the shoes of his boss unlike Timi Frank.
For the short period Nabena acted, not only did newsmen sing praises of him, even the party men at national secretarial had testimonies to tell about the Bayelsa man. Nonetheless, the party was not about to breach its zoning structure in terms of national leadership framework.
As the APC constitution demands, the North-central where Bolaji came from were asked to produce another NPS and Kwara state, again produced another man, Mallam Lanre Issa-Onilu.
Since his emergence as the party’s spokesman, there have been divergence opinions on his style, media management and approaches.
For Barrister Aliyu Abdullahi, the vice chairman of the Buhari Media Support (BMO), Mallam Issa-Oniu has done very well under the circumstance and role expected of a ruling party.
The BMO’s deputy chief, however, said Issa-Onilu’s department ought to have been the loudspeaker for the Buhari’s administration performances.
“Since the coming of the current APC Publicity Secretary, I must confess there have been lot of ambiguity in the direction and character of public engagements of the ruling party.
“The party seems to have deliberately reduced feasibility either in leading brand initiatives or countering offensive in responding to the mostly pedestrian arguments pushed into the public space in the most adversarial manner by the opposition PDP.
“I believe the current APC publicity department is underperforming. I hope to see more vitality and feasibility of the APC brand in the public space. Beyond being a ruling party, the party must be known to represent something that, at the same time, resonates with Nigerians.
“Often time, many people expect to see the kind of firebrand spokesperson Nigerians saw during the Lai Mohammed era when the APC was an opposition party. They failed to realize that that was the kind of publicity secretary needed then, and Mallam Isa Onilu is the kind we need now.
“He is calm, cool headed, and well measured in his media engagements, particularly responses to the opposition party the PDP whose style of communication has been very provocative and divisive for a politically tensed country like Nigeria.
“So, we need the Issa-Onilu’s cool temperament and well measured responses to douse an already tensed or almost volatile situation in most cases.
“Besides, Onilu has also done something different, he chooses what to respond to. Most times, he prefers to take the high road which again is also strategic communication. When he decides to respond to an issue, you can see pure brilliance coming out, not thuggery in language unlike some other spokespersons we know from the other party.
“So, style differs, Mallam Issa-Onilu may not be firebrand but he’s sure a good communicator needed for a ruling party that doesn’t speak every time and anyhow.
“One aspect I think that needs improvement is the need to sell the performances of the ruling government more. I believe the party on which platform the current leadership in the country won election and got to where it is, ought to have been the number one marketer of the administration’s activities, policies and achievements. It should be the loudspeaker for the administration’s performances.
“I have not seen that coming from the APC, it’s only the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO) that’s doing that, taking the role of the party, so that makes the party publicity office to go to sleep in my opinion because someone stepped in and was doing what they should be doing, so the party should look to that and makes amends where necessary,” Barrister Aliyu stated.
When contacted for his assessment of the current NPS, a popular journalist turned politician, who has also sought to occupy the APC National Publicity Secretary’s office at the last national convention, Abubakar Sodiq, felt disappointed.
He said: “In my opinion, the publicity department of the All Progressives Congress (APC) has failed to meet up with contemporary challenges. It has shown a clear departure from what it used to be few years ago.”
According to him, prior to the 2015 election when the APC was birthed, its publicity was top notch. Response to issues were very swift and concise, so much that it was able to water every antics the then government of the PDP deployed to curtail the rising popularity of the APC. This, however, was not sustained after the APC took control of the government at the centre.
Abu Sodiq, as popularly known said: “The problem currently facing the publicity department of the APC began with the appointment of the then National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohamed, as a cabinet minister, followed by the inability of the party to immediately find a replacement. When it eventually did in the person of Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, the momentum had already whittled.
“No doubt, the coming into power also contributed, as the party no longer feels the need to do whatever it can to wrest power just like it did while in the opposition. This trend has continued to the present such that one tends to ask if the party still has a publicity department.
What to do
“I think the party must recognise the fact that information dissemination is a vital part of what truly defines and make a party stand and it must invest heavily in this area. It must realize that a party in government has even more need to communicate to the people because selling the programmes and achievements of the government through its platform should also be a responsibility of the party. It is also particularly important for continuous engagement by the party in the era of fake news so as to dispel and separate facts from fictions,” he said.
Still playing opposition
Speaking at the 15th Daily Trust Dialogue, Lamido, who was a guest speaker, said after three years in office, APC has carved a niche for itself in propaganda and blame game coloured with glossy lies. He said the party is being led by “hate heroes.”
Lamido was also Nigeria’s Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1999-2003. He was a member of the House of Representatives under the platform of the defunct Peoples Redemption Party [PRP] in the Second Republic. He said despite blackmailing PDP and associating it with everything evil, the ruling APC is now grappling with the same issues it accused PDP of doing.
Early this year, the Young Progressive Party (YPP) has castigated the Minister of Information and Culture, Lai Mohammed over his allegation that the opposition political parties are mobilising the Boko Haram insurgents and armed bandits to cause violence during the 2019 elections.
The party through its National Chairman, Bishop Emmanuel Amakiri in a press conference on the state of the nation in Abuja stressed that the allegation to say the least is mischievous especially coming from a ruling party, which it said is still acting as an opposition.
Amakiri said that the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) is playing to the gallery in matters of urgent national security adding that what the APC led government is doing is the highest level of irresponsibility by a government whose primary purpose is to protect lives and property.
He said that the fact that the APC government is raising alarm rather than acting on the intelligence at its disposal as claimed by Lai Muhammed clearly shows a disconnect and that there is something sinister being planned by ruling party.
“If the government indeed has credible Intel or evidence against opposition leaders planning to disrupt the electoral process, arrest cum prosecution and not hasty press conference should have been the ideal course of action.
“With a benefit of hindsight into the shenanigans of the APC, we are calling on all Nigerians to please resist any plan to postpone the general elections or arrest opposition leaders based on trumped up charges.