The #MeetThePresident event which held in Lagos on Sunday has definitely been the most talked about event of the week so far. The event which the organisers tagged as a “once in a life time” experience was a potpourri of speeches, performances and an interview with the President Goodluck Jonathan.
The aftermath of the event has seen Nigerians debate on everything from the ‘testimonies’ of some of the attendees to the speeches made by some of the guests, especially Lagos PDP governorship candidate, Jimi Agbaje. Lots of questions were asked: ‘Was anyone paid to attend?’, ‘why did Sheyi Shay put on that skimpy skirt?’ and ‘who even funded the event?”
So we decided to ask one of the organisers those questions and a few more about the event. Ohimai Amaize is the special adviser on media and publicity to the former minister of defence, Musiliu Obanikoro, and one of the prime movers of the #MeetThePresident event. The Scoop’s Editor, Stanley Azuakola, spoke with him on Tuesday and the interview is reproduced below:
1. There’s been a lot of buzz since Sunday about President Jonathan’s big event with young people in Lagos. Why do you think this particular #MeetThePresident event has generated this much interest particularly on social media?
#MeetThePresident is a first of its kind event in a season of political boredom and predictable campaign activities. The event was unique in several ways; from the packaging to the hype and overall event content. It was a masterstroke and even our worst critics are finding it difficult to pick holes in the event.
Another interesting thing that put the event in a class of its own was the unpredictability. Most young people invited knew they were invited to attend an event where they would meet the President but nothing really hinted at the actual flow and content until the event began to unfold like an action movie. This is one event that will remain in the consciousness of young Nigerians for a long time to come. If you are not talking about how President Jonathan answered the questions posed by young Nigerians, you would be talking about how he rocked a royal blue Louis Vuitton t-shirt with a black GEJ crested snapback to Seyi Shay’s incredible sense of fashion or how Timi Dakolo left everyone with goose-pimples while rendering Great Nation!
2. I assume you are part of the group called PVC which put the event together – who exactly are those behind this group and what did you hope to achieve?
Yes, PVC stands for Participate, Vote, Country. It’s a group of young Nigerian professionals, Nigerian businessmen, entrepreneurs and civil society groups committed to mobilizing public action for national development and youth participation in politics. At the forefront of this group is Chioma Emetanjo, Audu Maikori, Aziza Uko-Douglas, my humble self and a few other young Nigerians. For the 2015 elections, PVC has essentially become a vehicle to mobilise support for the re-election of President Goodluck Jonathan as well as amplifying his legacies and accomplishments while in office. In the long term, we see it becoming a platform that will promote youth participation in politics, encourage citizens to vote for credible candidates and redirect citizen focus from self to country.
3. Clearly, a lot of money was spent considering the number of star performances and other logistics – was it funded by the government or the PDP? And if not, where did the money come from?
Without doubt, political campaigns are expensive and gulp huge sums of money. This is a global reality not peculiar to Nigeria. But let me state categorically and for emphasis that #MeetThePresident was not funded by any government, local, state or federal. Neither was it funded by the PDP. It was the collective effort of young professionals who believe in the candidacy of President Goodluck Jonathan with support and goodwill from well-meaning Nigerians who also believe in the cause.
4. For the second straight weekend, President Jonathan was in Lagos. Two weeks ago he spent an unprecedented 5 days in the state; Why this sudden interest in Lagos?
I don’t think President Jonathan took a sudden interest in Lagos. Mr. President visits Lagos from time to time whenever the need arises. Having said that, you will agree with me that Lagos is clearly the social-economic and media capital of Nigeria. So it only makes strategic sense that he spends enough time consolidating his campaign in a place like Lagos. If you remember, in 2012 alone, President Obama visited the state of Ohio 22 times because of the strategic positioning of the state in terms of numbers. So in a campaign season as this, such frequent visits to a state like Lagos, are not out of place.
5. One major controversial point from the event was the speech by Lagos PDP candidate, Jimi Agbaje, who you are now backing to succeed Gov. Fashola – what did you make of his attack lines against the APCs Gen. Buhari’s appearance, retention and qualifications?
Well, I am not a spokesperson for Mr. Jimi Agbaje and do not intend to hold brief for him. I believe he is entitled to his opinions. Again, it’s a campaign season and politicians are allowed to throw jabs at their opponents. It’s part of the beauty of electioneering in a democracy.
6. Was any cash or brown envelope given to attendees after the event? If it was, how much did each person receive?
I am not aware that any brown envelopes were handed to participants.
7. There were reports that your party, the PDP, flew down Mr. Mukhtar Dan’iyan, a popular Twitter supporter of both the president and your boss, Musiliu Obanikoro, for that event and subsequently for the last lap of the campaign? Is there any truth to that report?
Mr. Dan’iyan is free to travel anywhere he wishes to travel in the world. He is a Nigerian and I am not aware that he is barred from visiting his home country. You see, in this season of electioneering, you will hear a lot of rumors and most of them have no fiber of truth. It is the same way I have heard that I coordinated the distribution of dollars to participants at the just concluded #MeetThePresident event in Lagos alongside Petroleum Minister, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke and my immediate principal, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro. Nothing can be further from the truth. The Honourable Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Allison Madueke was not even at the event. The last time I held dollars in my hands was about a month ago. And it was a gift to me as a pastor in my church. Laughs.
8. One of the artistes who performed at the event, Seyi Shay, ran into a Twitter storm on Tuesday when photos of her dressing surfaced online. As an individual and a pastor, did you think Ms. Shay’s dressing was appropriate for the occasion?
As a Pastor, I refuse to condemn Seyi Shay for her dressing. But if she has done anything wrong, I respectfully admonish her to go and sin no more.
9. Should we expect another edition of #MeetThePresident before the polls, maybe in some other city?
The #MeetThePresident series is an idea that has come to stay. As a team, we will decide the next line of action and Nigerian youths will hear from us.
10. Finally, the event has come and gone, but on a scale of 1 to 10, how confident are you about the PDPs chances in Lagos?
I believe the PDP has a 60% chance of winning Lagos. I have interacted with everyday people in Lagos and word on the streets is that Lagosians are tired of being enslaved to one man for 24 years. The feeling amongst most Lagosians today is that though Lagos may be home to Banana Island, Lagos is not a Banana Republic.
– Ohimai Amaize can be reached on Twitter: @MrFixNigeria
Stanley Azuakola can be reached on Twitter: @stanleyazuakola