Senator Dino Melaye… The Straight Path to NATIONAL RESPECT

I asked a friend the other day what he thought of Senator Dino Melaye’s new house—the gilded one whose photograph the Kogi politician recently posted on Instagram.

My friend, who is reputed to possess an excellent taste in aesthetic design, said, Nah, it’s too loud.

Some of the other words I’ve heard used to describe the interior decor are: obscene, over-the-top, needy, arrested development. It’s like a 48-year-old man suddenly realising he needed a supercar, some loud mouth sneered. But then, we all know what they say about middle-aged men with red Ferraris, right? Yeah.

But here’s the thing: I have no scruples about the brand new vainglorious edifice. I think it’s… cute. Besides, such grandiose displays of prosperity have become part of Senator Melaye’s public identity. You either love him for that or absolutely despise his taste and judgment.

The problem at the moment is that people seem to be weaning themselves off the cautious acceptance, even celebration of his inordinate shows of affluence. It was acceptable, I believe, to cheer him on when he was a senator with unlimited power on his speed dial—the type of power that could instantaneously silence wayward critics or activate an avalanche of spontaneous revenue. You could say his crowd of followers learnt to live with his swaggering braggadocio, which was how Dino distinguished himself from the lot of Abuja lawmakers.

Now, however, after the debacle that was his controversial re-election campaign, which resulted in the loss of his senate seat, the storied access to power seems diminished and the river of money tautened. What’s left is only his larger-than-life persona. And this is where things get a little tricky.

If we cannot describe Senator Dino Melaye as a member of government, how else do we describe him today? Obviously not as an IG skit artiste—that would be too low. Plus, I don’t think he’d like that appellation either. And he shouldn’t. Nor should we describe him as an up-and-coming Nollywood star.

In the meantime, we have to remember that Senator Dino Melaye has come a long way. From his wonderful days at the Ahamdu Bello University where he was an articulate and quite monumental student union leader, to his near destitute days as a promising Kogi grassroots politician, he was always an acclaimed canvasser. He’s always had the words, the charisma, the empathy, and the chutzpah with which to capture an audience and hold them entranced.

I’ve also been told that Senator Melaye is a master political strategist who instinctively knew how to pick the winning side—even before the winning side knew it was the winning side. That’s why he repeatedly came out on top in the perpetual turmoil that is local and national politics.

Until now.

This time around, it appears he’s elected to resist the urge to play the game by his old rules. He wants to stand for something other than easy scheming. When you decamp from the ruling APC to the opposition PDP and then turn around to wage a war against the incumbent winning side, there must be a reason for this reasoning, mustn’t there? I bet there was.

But my story is not about the game of politics in particular.

It is about Senator Dino Melaye’s bounce-back. You may argue that he hasn’t gone anywhere yet, but let’s give it a minute, shall we? We’ve seen this movie before.

Although he’s still occasionally photographed with the most powerful men in the land, it won’t take long before those people start sending his calls to voicemail. Why? In business (and politics), you either be bringing money or influence or you’re nothing. Nobody cares for a has-been.

To prove my point, go ahead and google Dino Melaye right now and see what comes up. Go do it — I’ll wait. Here’s what you’ll see: Old news, levity — nothing transcendent, heart-warming, or nationalistic. And there, ladies and gentlemen, lies the big question. For him to return to prominence and cement his legacy, What Should Dino Melaye Do Next?

This is my answer in one sentence: Senator Dino Melaye must build on his current assets — his authenticity — to make a name that’ll stand for something the people will cherish.

This won’t be the first time a politician would rebound after suffering the loss of a chunk of brand equity. But we could name a few of them who have successfully re-launched: Eliot Spitzer, Bill Clinton, Atiku Abubakar, Muhammadu Buhari, Marion Barry, Musiliu Obanikoro.

While local politicians often choose to return to public reckoning via simple and murky influence bartering, it is indeed possible, in this age of a democratised media and platform arbitrage, to create a strategic and sustainable reputation management system that will lead to a more respectable result. This strategy I have called Reclaiming Your Story and Standing by It.

Pick a cause

So, first, Senator Dino Melaye must pick a cause: a massive, important cause that will become synonymous with his name and also power his future political ambitions—because he definitely, absolutely still has a political ambition. Is this cause the campaign against the caste system in Igboland to which he was recently attached? Um, I doubt that. He needs to pick a problem to which he is genuinely connected, say, poverty in the land. For someone with his kind of origin story and recorded achievement, he can be the loudest voice against poverty in Nigeria and maybe even Africa.

cultivate a voice

Two, he should tweak the content he releases to the public. Remain friendly and gregarious, but rather than perpetuate low-bar ostentatiousness just to curry the instant gratification of likes and retweets from the legion of social media followers who are perpetually on the hunt for giveaways, he should use that flamboyance in the service of everyday Nigerians. He can’t change who he is but he can redirect his effect.

make some noise about every achievement + embrace tech

Now, he should court the media, especially sites with high domain authority. He could instigate them to cover the commendable work he is now doing. PR, as some say, is 10% doing good and 90% talking about it. He must manage what people see when they type his name to Google.

stay close to the palace

The Senator must maintain his relationships with those powerful friends of his by bringing something to the table. Maybe he already does this but who knows—which is why he must have a storytelling strategy about his partnerships.

instigate third-party endorsement

Finally, he has to activate communities of sectorial influencers to accord him the due recognition for his work. When these people speak about him in respectable terms, it’s likely that a number of serious, not-paid-for awards will follow.