A spokesperson for a presidential campaign has to have certain qualities: healthy, likeable, articulate.
For a country as diverse and politically complex as Nigeria, the three are only basic starting points. A national outlook is necessary, as well as an understanding of what it takes to (and not) push sensitive ethno-religious buttons. And where the individual is to be responsible for selling an opposition party, the requirement that he or she be a “character” is non-negotiable.
Senator Dino Melaye has been appointed one of the prime faces of PDP’s campaign to get Atiku Abubakar elected Nigeria’s president in 2019. He is in the team headed by Senate President Bukola Saraki as the campaign’s director-general. Other members include the former Corps Marshall Osita Chidoka, Nnena Ukeje who represents Bende federal constituency of Abia State, and Kazeem Afegbua, author of the Ibrahim B. Babangida letter to Buhari in February.
Chidoka has a growing reputation for his abilities as a skilled communicator and factual policy analyst. You know what you’ll get from him: innovative thinking and arguments based on evidence. He provides necessary historical context and future consequences for his propositions. Ms Ukeje has been a steady head for the PDP in the House of Representatives. When that legislator from Jigawa state argued against the Gender Bill by saying he wouldn’t want the female members of his constituency to be as enlightened as one of his colleagues, his reference was Ukeje. And Afegbua is a veteran in public relations; you don’t write letters for IBB if you are some scrap.
And then, Senator Dino Melaye.
He is a one-term member of the Senate, returning more than four years after his first term in the House of Representatives was cut short due to a suspension. Rising to national relevance from the corruption allegations of the short-lived House leaderships of Patricia Etteh and Dimeji Bankole, he has fashioned himself as an anti-corruption crusader, evangelist and pro-democracy activist. But the reality of public perception of him is skewed so far and removed from those dignified labels.
At 44, Dino Melaye is the youngest Senator in the 8th Assembly. He is also one of the most vocal and loyal to the Senate President, standing vociferously by Saraki through the periods of his trials at the Code of Conduct tribunal. Melaye’s had problems of his own, from the Sahara reporters accusation about not graduating from Ahmadu Bello University to the attempted (but failed) recall initiated by the Kogi state governor, Yahaya Bello. He survived both storms, celebrating each with a public show, unabashedly.
That sense of not being able to be shamed makes Melaye a “character”.
That is why his followers on social media eagerly await and acclaim his posts. Whether he is showing off cars and designer accessories, or declaring morning “prophesies”, Melaye catches attention. Mention of him means something has happened and people want to be in the know. He is also not bad in communication, meaning he can be listened to even by those who may be embarrassed by his general eccentricity.
And, love or loathe him, he has an ability many Nigerians do not: bilingualism. In political circles, the ability to flow in conversations with people of different groups eases acceptance. It may be overshadowed by his quirks but being able to flow in Hausa and Yoruba is a capacity even many of his detractors would want to have. His is a brand built on Alarinjo, agreed, but there is some substance too.
Melaye began this year by throwing a Captain-Jack-Sparrow-themed birthday party and set off an internet sensation with his a je kun iya mixtape. It remains to be seen whether he tones down on ‘Dino, the artist’ with his new responsibility (his 45th birthday is less than 30 days away). But don’t count on him not leveraging these talents or even amplifying them; they may be the reason for his being on the team, using his “crazy” to rile and distract the opposition.
He seems healthy, except still in pain from his James-Bond escape from the Police. He is liked by many and articulate. Chidoka and the others may be more highbrow and eclectic, but a good sandwich has to have something to make a bite crunchy. Yea, Melaye is the onion for the Atiku presidential campaign team. Get ready to cry and laugh.
Opinions: Part formed, Part undergoing reform