Raheem Akingbolu x-rays the brand essence of the President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, and how his handlers explored every single opportunity to market his candidature.
As a political brand that had a lot of issues to deal with before the stage was set for the 2023 contest, the emergence of Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, former Lagos State governor, as the presidential candidate of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), posed some challenges to its handlers. It was a brand that had admirers and critics in almost equal measure.
Coming up with a narrative that would resonate with different ethnic, religious and political tendencies was never going to be a tea party for those saddled with the responsibility of selling the brand to Nigerians. However, it was a job they must execute.
The Power Shift Narrative
Though a narrative not created by Tinubu’s men, this message resonated with voters in the southern part of the country, especially in the South-west and part of the North-Central. By the end of his second term in May 2023, President Muhammadu Buhari would have spent eight years in office. The thinking was that this would have made up for the agitation of the core North for power pre-2015 when the region, with active support of the South-west, worked against the second term of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
After spending eight years in office, the gentleman’s agreement on power rotation among the regions should come into play. And this worked on so many Southerners even across party lines. “We can’t have another Fulani President after Buhari” were the buzzwords out there. While Tinubu’s handlers were very careful how they pushed this narrative, it was also a message that was quietly but effectively passed across to voters; especially neutrals. It must also be noted that even those who were pushing for a breakaway nation to be called Oduduwa Republic also caught the power shift bug as it was believed that it would answer to some of their agitations.
‘He Made so Many Men’
One other message Tinubu’s handlers pushed very hard and successfully for that matter was the fact that no other politician in Nigeria, living or dead, had ‘produced’ more political and elected leaders more than their man. They listed governors, both serving and former, who would never have realized their political ambitions if not for the support Tinubu gave them. There were words around also that if not for Tinubu, perhaps, Buhari would never have become President. Latching on to mere morality in politics, the message was pushed across to the effect that it was fair enough that those Tinubu had made politically should support him in his presidential ambition.
Closely related to this was the fact that Tinubu is a consummate administrator who understands the nuances of governance and management of public affairs. They also pushed the narrative that he knew how to head-hunt for capable hands that would run the country with him. Though a politician, his handlers believed he would look outside politics to seek talents and experts that would work with him.
The ‘Emi lo kan’ Mantra
While many might think it was an unguarded political statement and one which reeked of entitlement, the ‘Emi lo kan’ claim made by Tinubu actually became a powerful political messaging tool that worked on ethnic champions who believed it was the turn of the South, albeit Yorubas, to produce the next President after Buhari.
When Tinubu made the statement in Abeokuta, the Ogun State capital, a song was made out of it and those words assumed a life of their own and it gained a lot of traction with many people, trending for a long period of time. Very soon, even neutrals changed it to ‘Awa lo kan’ which means ‘It is our turn’. That is, it was the turn of the Yorubas.
It must be noted that Tinubu’s most strident opponents were from the Southwest but quite a few of them were won over by the ‘Emi lo kan’ mantra and their ethnic sentiments were aroused. While it can be claimed that this might not be the best messaging tool, especially with many political neutrals, even from the Southwest, pushing for an Igbo Presidency, but since politics remains a game of numbers, as long as the obvious ethnic sloganeering would fetch few additional votes, it was a fair game.
Perhaps the ‘Emilokan’ mantra would have been dismissed on the basis of its tone of entitlement but the other two leading candidates –Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Peter Obi of the Labour Party or LP also laboured so well to play up their rights to the throne. While Atiku tried to quickly draw a line between North East and other northern zones, Obi hinged his campaign on the obvious reason that the Igbos have been denied for a long time. Of course the seeming denial of Igbo to the office of the President for decades should fly with everybody who had considered it a moral burden to other parts of the country but the petty approach adopted by Obi’s spin doctors made it look as if the Labour Party candidate was coming to govern only the Biafra nation. Then Obi saw the need to leverage on the clamour for a Christian Presidency and quickly rallied various Christian leaders and General Overseers, who suddenly became his campaign managers.
The Spin Doctors
Festus Keyamo: As the spokesman of the presidential campaign council, Keyamo’s background as a radical lawyer and activist was an advantage during the campaign. Knowing fully well that APC Campaign Council had the Atiku/Obi combined forces to battle with, it was not a surprise therefore that the team had to settle for a ferocious personality in the mood of Keyamo and others.
Dele Alake: Among other factors, the fact that Asiwaju recruited those who knew him from the word go as managers of his communications made the job easier. Alake, a former Editor of Concord newspaper and a major player in the media teams of both Chief MKO Abiola’s 1993 Presidential Campaign and Ashiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Senatorial bid and eventual victory in 1991, is one of those eggheads who worked with Asiwaju Tinubu as governor. He was not only the Commissioner for Information but the first to be given the ‘strategy’ title as part of his portfolio. At the critical period of Tinubu’s reign as governor when he had a Gani Fawehinmi to duel with, Alake tidied up the loose ends and gave his principal a soft landing.
Alake was then in charge of communication together with the current Commissioner for Environment in Lagos State, Mr. Tunji Bello. Another former Editor at Concord and THISDAY, Bello was also instrumental to the well-orchestrated communication delivery of the Tinubu/Shetima camp during the build-up to the presidential election but he provided more of a behind-the-scenes communication strategy.
Bayo Onanuga: That Bayo Onanuga head Tinubu information directorate during the campaign could not have been by accident, considering his pedigree as an experienced journalist and communication expert. Like Alake, the relationship between Onanuga, a founding member of The News magazine and Asiwaju Tinubu dated back to many decades and this gave him (Onanuga) a rare advantage to know Tinubu inside out.
To this end, responding to issues about Tinubu and issuance of relevant press releases and other regular communications were not difficult for him during the electioneering campaign. One noticeable trend while the campaign continued was that Onanuga fought the battle with the same seal with which he faced the military during the era of guerilla journalism. With communication strategists and intellectuals like Temitope Ajayi, Remi Adelowo and others, issues generated on the Tinubu brand were getting the expected traction online and offline while the campaign continued.
Dr. Nasir Danladi Bako: One of the most strategic moves made by the Tinubu/Shetima campaign council last year, was the appointment of Dr. Bako as Co-Director of Strategic Communications APC/PCC. He played both an active and advisory role in the communication arm. Though from the
Hausa-Fulani extraction, he is nonetheless one of the country’s most cosmopolitan public servants. A successful broadcaster, orator, former commissioner in Sokoto State and above all a former Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission. During the campaign, Bako leveraged his influence in the media so well that he got a lot done to project Asiwaju Tinubu and Senator Shetima. A palace source also hinted this reporter that Bako’s closeness to the Sultan and other top northern elites also gave the APC campaign council ample opportunity to penetrate electorates from the various zones in the north.
Tunde Rahman: A former Editor of THISDAY, the Sunday newspaper, Rahman was an experienced political reporter and analyst before coming on board as Tinubu’s spokesperson. Though Rahman worked behind the scene during the presidential campaign, he was always the go-to person on issues that concern the person of Asiwaju.
Mahmud Jega: At the peak of the campaign, a few firebrands from the North were brought in for obvious reasons; to add more vibrancy and give a sense of belonging to northern supporters. Jega, a respected columnist and intellectual falls into this group. Within a short time, he leveraged his popularity among the northern elites to deepen the Asiwaju/Shetima narrative.
Abiodun Ajiboye: Being a successful marketing communications practitioner, Ajiboye came into the team with experience in brand and crisis management. This explains his ability to sway opinions and douse tension from time to time. Among other attributes, his combativeness and ability to apply cutting-edge strategies to tackle difficult situations gave him an edge. For instance, he deployed his full arsenal while defending Tinubu’s conduct at the Chatham House and displayed his understanding of Nigeria’s idiosyncrasies while commenting on the naira redesign issue which he stylishly described as a calculated move to de-market APC and its candidate. Above all, his media appearances were top-notch with impressive views across various social media platforms.
Kasim Afegbua: Though not assigned any special role or named XYZ within the structure, Afegbua demonstrated an absolute commitment to the cause. Having served as Commissioner for Information in Edo State and worked as spokesperson to former President Ibrahim Babangida, Afegbua found the campaign as a usual terrain and he applied his experiences.
Femi Fani-Kayode: Love him or hate him, Fani Kayode has a gift of the garb and this became handy during the campaign. Occasionally, FFK is beckoned upon to get dirty when the need arises. Tactically, the Tinubu communication team had a Fani-Kayode to deal with the excesses of the likes of Dino Melaye and other tough promoters from Obi and Atiku’s camp. His approach was rough, radical, and guerilla in nature.
Hanatu Musawa: Perhaps another strategic move made by the BAT movement was the introduction of a northern pe in its communication team. Musawa, a northern intellectual, lawyer and poet enjoys a huge following from the northern women folks.
Ajuri Ngelale: A broadcaster and an aide to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, Ngelale’s presence in the team was strategic because of his knowledge of the activities of the administration and his appeal and love by the youth. He was active and accurate in his defense of government policies, which could have been used to discredit the campaign. Of course, there was also Tosin Adeyanju during the campaign, who coordinated the TSG Media and hyped the BAT movement and activities.
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