by Reuben Abati
Omoba Adedoyin Ajibike Okupe – the man popularly known at the “attack dog” of Nigerian politics, who eventually re-christened himself “the attack lion” is 70 today, March 22, 2022. Yesterday, friends and family gathered in Lagos, to honour him at the public presentation of a book he has written to mark the occasion: Double Jeopardy-The Doyin Okupe Story. There are further celebrations today; a church service and a party in the evening. It was a great pleasure for me to have been invited to review the book at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs (NIIA). Although I got the book around 6 pm on Sunday, Dr. Okupe is one of those persons to whom it is difficult to say No. His personality is compelling. He is forever persuasive and genial. Reading the book turned out to be a great delight: for a text written in six weeks, it is an impressive outing. No one else can tell the Doyin Okupe story better than the man himself, and indeed after four decades in the Nigerian public space as a medical doctor turned political marketing guru, politician, and Presidential spokesperson, Okupe has a story to tell. He delivers his narrative in a lucid, racy, engaging and chronological manner.
I find the title of the book curious, however. Why double jeopardy? Jeopardy has a negative connotation. Double jeopardy is a legal term referring to the conviction of a person for the same offence, based on the same facts, twice. Okupe considers his unceremonious exit from the Obasanjo administration which he served as Special Assistant on Media, clearly as first jeopardy. His second jeopardy is described as his exit, without profit, from the Jonathan administration when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lost the Presidential election in 2015. Okupe’s book could well have been titled “My Odyssey”. What he chronicles is a long, eventful and adventurous account of his role in the Nigerian political and social space in more than 40 years. His life has been one of privilege, accomplishments, and opportunities. At 70, he can indeed look back with a feeling of fulfillment, and pride, that he has so far had a good run, not double jeopardy and he is not yet done. Very few people have been as privileged. In the business of political marketing, perhaps the only two persons in recent memory that can be rated higher would be Chief Duro Onabule, who served as spokesperson of General Ibrahim Babangida’s military government for close to nine years, and may be Igwe Alex Nwokedi who was an outstanding communicator who served a military Head of State (General Olusegun Obasanjo) and a civilian President (Alhaji Shehu Shagari). If there is any other, such persons may not be of the same rank as Doyin Okupe in terms of reach, colour and capacity for heavy-hitting political communication. It is not for nothing that he is known as the “attack lion”. Over the years, Okupe has carved a niche for himself in that genre.
The irony is that he is originally a medical doctor. Double Jeopardy – The Doyin Okupe Story is 316 pages long. It is divided into two parts, and has a total of 40 Chapters. The first part of the book tells the story of his beginnings, upbringing, education, his life in the medical and political theatres and what he has seen in the politics of Nigeria as role player, citizen and aide to Presidents. In the second part, he presents more or less a manifesto for leadership as he expresses his opinions about key national issues such as the rule of law, the police, insecurity, structure, education, housing, youth employment, inadequate power supply and health care delivery. This therefore is part-autobiography, part-manifesto and a memoir on Nigeria’s contemporary political developments. Okupe has written an insider-participant’s account with such forthrightness that is unmistakable. He does not even spare himself. With a bold face, he documents his record as a polygamist, or serial monogamist, with a record of four wives and nine children and a retinue of grandchildren. He is himself a product of a similar background. He is the child of the 9th wife out of his father’s ten wives, and the 17th child out of 41 children.
Born in Iperu in 1952, his father, Chief Matthew Adekoya Okupe was a haulage business owner who in 1945 established a bank – the Agbonmagbe Bank which had branches in the North and the South in Zaria, Ebute Meta, Mushin, Ago-Iwoye and Ijebu Igbo. The bank would eventually become the National Bank, and transmute into a new brand, what is known today as Wema Bank. Chief Okupe eventually went into politics, a contemporary of Chief Obafemi Awolowo, H.O. Davies, Akin Maja, and Alhaji S. O. Gbadamosi. Okupe’s foray into politics was not influenced by his father, but the elder Okupe was his first hero, who taught him about values, temperance and faith. In this book, Okupe pays tribute to many mentors: those who have impacted his life positively and given him opportunities in life. These include his maternal grandmother, who taught him the art of discipline, his half-sister, Dr (Mrs) Adeola Olumide (nee Okupe), a medical doctor who insisted that the best path for him in life would be a career in medicine, Chief Akin Ogunmade-Davies who introduced him to the world of political communication and public relations, Chief Duro Onabule, who as editor of the National Concord newspaper taught Okupe the rudiments of media practice and writing, and gave him a platform to be heard. There was also Biodun Shobanjo, of Insight Communications with whom he worked on political marketing for the National Republican Convention (NRC).
Many in the Nigerian political space know Okupe for his rambunctious style. Whatever rascality anyone may ascribe to him seems to have been acquired in his days as a student at Igbobi College, Lagos where as a young man nicknamed “Dorrie”, he acquired quite a reputation for unconventional behaviour. He eventually ended up at the University of Ibadan. He gained admission to study Medicine at the age of 19. He graduated at 24. By his own account, he was an excellent student who took his studies seriously, and also enjoyed the privilege of having very good teachers. He is so proud of the training that he received, he tells his readers: “I have not practised medicine for a long time but I can still consider myself very proficient in Medicine because this lecturer of mine took me through every aspect of medicine. …Till today, you can’t fault my diagnosis. I learnt medicine from a genius. It was the knowledge in Medicine acquired from Professor Bademosi that I used in Surgery, Cardiology and other departments.” (p. 35). Well, I don’t know about diagnosis. What this writer knows is that when he was Dr Doyin Okupe’s colleague at the Presidential Villa during the Jonathan years, we used to crack jokes behind his back that he had left his chosen field of Medicine for so long, and made a detour into politics for too many years, nobody should accept any prescription from him – even for Malaria, because he might not remember!
Dr. Okupe actually practised medicine for a short while. After his National Youth Service year in 1978, he worked briefly at the St. Nicholas Hospital in Lagos, and also at Juli-San Clinic, also in Lagos. In 1982, he and two others – Dr. Seyi Roberts and Dr. Ladi Okuboyejo teamed up to set up a joint practice, The Royal Cross Medical Centre in Obalende, Lagos. The practice thrived. The young doctors had great fun, and there was Iya Modinat, who sold delicious rice “a stone’s throw from the clinic,” whose joint soon became a major attraction for many young Executives who patronized her and also stopped by at the clinic in the evenings. Dr. Okupe did not stay long in the Medical Theatre. He had developed interest in politics as a part-time vocation. He attended meetings of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN), the ruling party in Nigeria at the time, but an opposition party in Lagos. He chose the NPN because he wanted to play politics at the National level. He rose quickly within the party ranks to become the Vice Chairman for Epetedo Ward, and later Secretary of Eti Osa Local Government in 1978/1980. Okupe was an associate of Dr Wahab Dosunmu who would later become Federal Minister of Works and Housing. In 1982, he contested for the Federal House of Representatives. His career as a politician had effectively begun. A substantial part of the book is understandably devoted to this new career, with Okupe’s account of his membership and participation in such political groupings as the Liberal Convention, the Alagbo Group, the National Republican Convention (NRC) which he would later serve as National Publicity Secretary, the People’s Democratic Party, the National Accord Party, and others.
His political journey is the perfect stuff of adventure. He tells not just his story, but his encounters and relationships with others, across the country, North and South. In over 40 years, Okupe comes across as an experienced politician and bridge builder who was either at the ringside or inside the arena during critical moments in Nigerian history. Readers would find particularly interesting his account of the processes leading to the formation of political parties and groups, the politics of June 12, the formation of the Oodua People’s Congress, the emergence and activities of the National Democratic Coalition (NADECO) as well as his interaction with key political figures: Chief Tom Ikimi, Dr. Frederick Fasehun, Rufus Ada George, Bamanga Tukur, Awwal Tukur, Bashir Tofa, Chief Ayo Adebanjo, Chief Bola Ige, Chief Segun Osoba, Buruji Kashamu, Chief Edwin Clark and others.
The high point of Dr Doyin Okupe’s political career is readily his appointment by President Olusegun Obasanjo as his government’s Special Assistant on Media. This raised Okupe’s profile and shot him into national and international limelight. He gives a detailed and robust account of an appointment that gave him so much joy and fulfillment but he was shocked when the President sacked him! Thus began a period in his life that he classified as “Half-Time”, a period of about 11 years (2001 -2012) during which he tried his hands at entrepreneurship and had to hustle for survival and capital. As fate would have it, he had the opportunity of a return to the Presidential Villa under President Goodluck Jonathan as Senior Special Assistant, Public Affairs in 2012. We worked together. He was a very attentive and committed heavy-hitter. One of his first declarations on assumption of duty was that he was no longer “an attack dog” but an “attack lion”. The Jonathan administration needed a lion in its attacking mid-field. The Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the coalition of opposition forces that created a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) called the All Progressives Congress (APC) bombarded the administration with hypertensive and hyperbolic attacks. Governance turned into vitriol and war by another name. There were issues on the table: the abduction of the Chibok Girls, Boko Haram. In 2015, the PDP lost the Presidential election. Okupe tells the story of the last days and what he calls “an unpleasant ending” that is – the second jeopardy. He insists that “the APC never won the 2015 Presidential election.”
At 70, Okupe has seen quite a lot and learnt so much about the nature of Nigerian politics and the character of the average politician. In reporting this, he draws attention to the intrigues in political corridors, the sycophancy of politicians, the use of money as a tool of influence and the fetishization, the reign of occultism, in Nigerian politics. A recurrent refrain in his narrative, however, is his faith in God, and how God has been faithful to him at every point in his journey, including when he first discovered that when he prays to God from the comfort of his bathroom, the “prayers are always speedily answered.” Okupe defends himself: he says he does not believe in the use of politics to amass wealth and that he has never stolen a penny. But he says he prefers to forgive those who have wronged him.
The second part of the book is his political manifesto: his plans for the reinvention of Nigeria. Whereas there is little to argue about in the earlier parts of the book which focus on the author’s experience, his prescriptions for Nigeria may generate debate and difference. It would be recalled that Dr. Doyin Okupe has since declared interest in the 2023 Presidential election in Nigeria. His chosen political platform for pursuing this ambition remains unknown. Questions have also been asked about how he intends to fund what is clearly an even more expensive enterprise, and a far more contentious proposition given the politics of zoning and power rotation as Nigeria embarks on the transition to another change of government at the Federal level. Okupe’s Double Jeopardy may well be taken as a campaign material: he presents himself warts and all, and he defines a social contract for Nigeria. Whatever anyone thinks of his ambition to be President, and the prospects, no one can deny that this is one man who has been here and there, who has lived a life of meaning and impact, and who beyond being a Prince of the Agbonmagbe dynasty of Iperu Remo in Ogun State is all things considered, a jolly good fellow, a media man, a prolific family man, a politician of great rank and so as he turns 70, he deserves hearty cheers, a song and a dance. Congratulations, Dr Okupe:
Akesan Bale Oja
Ara Oju Ona
Obi Owo nso ti won Oro’woka
Omo re da Oja
Olori re ni da Oja…
Best wishes and many happy returns.