By Doyin Okupe
All presidential speeches invariably become, part of our history, hence the seriousness and importance placed on their preparations by all Presidents.
Some speeches are hurriedly put together because of the urgency of the events they are meant to address. while others may take upwards of three or more months to put together.
Those that are institutional or departmental are by far easier to put together because the ministries or departments always come up with drafts which the Presidency reviews and fine tune them, depending on the major message the president wishes to pass across.
During the obasanjo era, he most often prepared a general guide on the outlines of what he wanted to say or discuss, of and on ,with his speech writer Mr Adobe who then came up with an initial draft which is circulated to very few government officials and close aides who also gave inputs with which a “final draft” was done. this final draft was amended and adjusted daily until the final date of the event. When I eventually collected the read speeches they always still had corrections and amendments in green ink by President Obasanjo.
In the Jonathan years the style was a bit different. For a major Speech the president calls a fairly large committee meeting of resource persons Including the media aides, close ministers and some departmental heads, the chief of staff and a few relevant presidency staffers, and even some friends of the administration who were not in government. I was in this category several months before I joined the administration. Prince Nduka Obaigbena was perhaps the most notable and consistent personality in this group.
President Jonathan will brief the meeting about the event and his line of thought about what he will like to say. Sometimes he came with some 2 or 3 drafts from other sources, which may also include Ruben Abati, or the late Oronto Douglas who were his two main Speech writers.
All available resource materials were considered and “married” so to speak and it was Ruben’s job to do a final draft.
Sometimes however, the main draft was prepared by Ruben, Oronto, my humble self and one or two other persons. it was on this draft that the larger committee worked on.
Evidently therefore preparing a major presidential speech always is a laborious assignment and yet often times it still ended up “off tangent”
A classic one I remember was an independent day broadcast where the renaming of the university of Lagos was suggested and accepted enthusiastically by all committee members including the President and yet it turned out to be a PR fiasco of monumental proportion. It was a fiasco not because it was wrong but because the prevailing mood in that section of the nigerian society in question was in total disallingment with the Presidential speech writersm and essential officers.
Such is the fate of many presidential speeches in spite of the efforts put into them and the patriotic zeal and fervour that drove the writers. Often a yeoman’s job that goes awry.
If perhaps in the instance refered to above we had taken advantage of the available technological instruments and presidential outreach, to cross check and gauge the likely response, we may have dropped that part of the speech and yet nothing would have been lost.
The Americans seem to understand it better for obvious reasons. In my 10day crash program understudying the Presidential communication, I learnt many things which were later very helpful in my presidential assignments.
Mr Joe Lockhart, spokesman to President clinton in my time who I under studied, once told me that prior to Bill Clinton’s attendance at a state function, a quick opinion poll on the preferable colour of the presidents tie is done with a sample of about 5000 women across the country. even to such level do the Americans go to manage the image and perception of their Presidents.
In these modern times, it will be beneficial if we establish, within our centres of power, mechanisms by which we can gauge the mood of the nation and society at large prior to major or land Mark speeches by our chief executives. This way a large majority will always be in tandem with what our leaders say or do at all times.
Dr. Okupe was former Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to former President Olusegun Obasanjo and Senior Special Assistant, Public Affairs, to former President Goodluck Jonathan.
culled from: NigerianTimes