As the dust over President Goodluck Jonathan’s embarrassing outing in a recent CNN interview is yet to settle, PREMIUM TIMES can report that the presidency actually spends thousands of dollars in public funds to arrange interviews with foreign media outlets.
Mr. Jonathan’s penchant for foreign media has fetched him criticism, with citizens often bashing him for what they consider his unpresidential poise and bad grammar on camera.
Commentators on social media ranked his performance in the interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour two weeks ago amongst the president’s worst yet.
While this newspaper is unable to determine how much was spent in procuring the late January CNN and Aljazeera interviews with Mr. Jonathan, we are in possession of documents suggesting that the presidency has retained the services of an American lobbying firm, Fleshman-Hillard Inc. to help arrange these interviews.
The firm, which reports to the presidency through Enyi Odigbo, Chairman of Lagos-based advertising and public relations company, Caser’s Group, was hired in 2010, without any formal agreement and budget.
The lobbying firm submits bills to the presidency as it pleases.
In at least one of its bills seen by PREMIUM TIMES, the company requested $59, 200 from the Nigerian government for arranging an interview for President Jonathan with the CNN Nigerian affiliate in late 2010.
The interview, anchored by Isha Sesay, held in Aso Rock in Abuja on September 30, 2010, in preparation for the Golden Jubilee Celebration of Nigeria Independence.
Fleshman-Hillard was also to contact other foreign media outlets such as Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Reuters as Mr. Jonathan planned at the time to announce his intention to run for president in the 2011 presidential election.
But the firm was only able to deliver on the CNN interview. It was unable to get interviews for the president on the other platforms.
It is not known why the President needed to hire a lobbyist to procure interviews for him even when he has a Reuben Abati, a Doyin Okupe, and a Reno Omokri among his numerous media aides.
Since taking office in early 2010, some of the president’s key decisions and pronouncements have been made public via foreign outlets, mainly the CNN.
Mr. Jonathan delivered his first public comments on late President Umaru Yar’ Adua’s health, in an interview with Ms. Amanpour in 2010, where he spoke of how the ailing president’s family blocked him from seeing Mr. Yar’adua.
He would not force himself to see Mr. Yar’adua, he said at the time.
Regardless of the channel through which he opened up, the interview was well-received as the president also spoke on governance, promising improved electricity supply (which he enjoys calling POWER) and security.
Mr. Jonathan has yet to grant exclusive interviews to Nigerian channels. The closest to that is the occasional presidential media chat on the state-run Nigerian Television Authority.
But the president’s preference for the foreign networks has not gone without knocks, with critics often rebuking him for his unassertive demeanor before the camera, and poor quality responses to questions.
Critics say the last interview was even worse.
Fleshman-Hillard was also mandated to hire a trainer to work on the president, to help improve his delivery. The firm was yet to deliver on that as at the time the document seen by this newspaper was filed.
A presidency source said the presidency has continued to retain the company for the foreign interview arrangement.
But Fleshman-Hillard could not be reached for comments Friday. Sarah Vellozi, who was the company’s contact for the project was not available on her desk the two times PREMIUM TIMES called her New York office. She is yet to return the calls.
Presidential spokesperson could not also be reached for comments.