After the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) announced the former governor of Lagos State and National Leader of the All-Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu as the President-elect, ethnic tension and rivalry ensued between supporters of the presidential candidates.
This anxiety has been evident in the home state of Tinubu, where his party lost the presidential election to the candidate of the Labour Party (LP), Mr Peter Obi, an Igbo from Anambra State. The aftermath triggered latent ethnic rivalries between the Yorubas – largely aborigines or relatives to natives of the space – and their Igbos neighbours, mostly from the South-East, in what could be considered a supremacy tussle over the political control of Lagos.
In this fairly volatile situation, many of the Yorubas appear to want the incumbent governor, Mr Babajide Sanwo-Olu to be reelected as governor while a seeming majority of the Igbos are eager to replace him with the LP candidate, Gbadebo Rhodes-Vivour, whose mother and wife are Igbos, despite his father being Yoruba.
It was in the thick of these ethnic and political tensions that the Chairman of Heirs Holdings, Tony Elumelu released a video of Tinubu’s visit to his house in Lagos. In an Instagram post, Elumelu writes: “Last (Tuesday) night, I was honoured to receive the Nigerian President-elect at my home. We discussed ways in which the incoming administration must empower and support our immensely talented Nigerian youth. We have so much young potential to unleash.”
The Chairman of United Bank for Africa (UBA) and Transcorp Group is known for flaunting his celebrity status with powerful connections. Elumelu has created a niche for himself and a strong social media presence, through which he exhibits good-natured humour and sartorial sophistication to his teeming trans-generational followers.
The banker operates a business model he describes as Africapitalism, anchored on building a critical mass of young entrepreneurs to promote social and economic wealth, while also developing the communities in which businesses operate. Therefore, the release of the video at a time that ethnocentric acrimonies have been brewing among two major ethnic nationalities in the country, is from all indications a deliberate communication plot.
Rather than considering the video released from an ambush marketing perspective, it is more of a publicity stunt that has elements of public relations (PR) messaging about the mutual relationship between entrepreneurs in business and politicians in government.
The relationship between the people in business and those governments can be understood through a classic distinction between the politics of support and the politics of power. While the politics of support is concerned with rallying to secure an electoral majority that leads to winning and which can be funded by people in business, the politics of power relates to implementing programmes that can ultimately benefit the people in business.
The video is very clear and considerate of the current mood in the nation, about the aftermath of the presidential election. It starts with Elumelu welcoming Tinubu to his home and referring to him as: “This man with 10 lives…the Last man standing and strong man.” The President-lect jokingly replied: “I am still standing.”
Critics attacking Elumelu fail to realise that he is not an Igbo from the South-East but one from the South-South state of Delta. An average Delta Igbo is likely to be found excelling in public service, academia or in the business world, rather than in partisan politics. The likes of Mrs Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Jim Ovia, Louis Edozie, and Godwin Emefiele, among others, from Delta State would rather mind their businesses than engage in partisan politics.
It is not difficult to see that the video is deliberate and designed to achieve some strategic purpose on the delicate relationship between politics and business. Rather than an ambush marketing communication tool, whereby a promoter “capitalises” on an event to position for maximum exposure, while gaining advantage over his or her competitors, the video is essentially a publicity stunt designed to attract the public’s attention to the salient message.
The video deflects the attention of citizens from the nascent ethnic acrimony and reinforces the fact that serious business people and politicians are not concerned about ethnic chauvinism and religious bigotry. Profiting, making and service to humanity are their major priorities.
The video may reawaken warring parties to the fact that after an election, life must go on. Therefore, we should not destroy relationships necessary for progress due to surges of emotional connection with identity, as the presidential election seems to have provoked. More importantly, we all need to focus more on establishing and sustaining relationships built on trust, confidence and harmony towards a better, peaceful and prosperous society.
The Tinubu-Elumelu video has succeeded in its publicity endeavour by staging a newsworthy event that has attracted public attention. Elumelu also exercised firm control over what the media could report. The video has curated the major elements of effective publicity exploits, including having great news value, and sound bite opportunities choreographed primarily for media exposure.
In addition, it has gained prominence, and human interest to embody the features of effective public relations, which include reputation management, media (control) management and possibly crisis management, in the very subtle way it explores the soft power of relationships to de-fuse ongoing political situations.
Part of the takeaways from the video is the fact that Tinubu is truly a Lagos City Boy connected to his various constituencies and pragmatic, as evident in his paying a personal visit to worthy allies, despite what some might think are the sectional sentiments or ethnic and religious backgrounds of his host. I see Tinubu hitting the ground running after May 29.
Yushau A. Shuaib is the author of ‘Crisis Communication Strategies and An Encounter with the Spymaster’