A U.S. communication firm has admitted setting up at least one interview for President Goodluck Jonathan for a fee, but denied it received up to $60,000(N9.5 million) as initially agreed.
Fleishman-Hillard Inc. said in an email to PREMIUM TIMES that parts of planned "communication services", including media interviews for the president in 2010, were later suspended, with equivalent $20,000(N3.2 million) reduction in its fees.
That implies for arranging one interview, the firm was paid $40,000 (N6.3 million). The company did not state which media interview went through, but said the service was in support of the president's trip to New York for the 2010 United Nations General Assembly.
"Due to urgent ad-hoc meetings held for the African nations at the 2010 UN General Assembly, the original services proposed were not able to be fully executed," a Nigerian firm, Quadrant Company, representing Fleishman-Hillard, said in an e-mailed response.
The company said "planned media interviews and other services" for the president were cancelled with only one appointment rescheduled for a later date.
"As a result, Fleishman-Hillard fees were more than $20,000 less than those originally proposed," the statement added.
But the company's claim is inaccurate given the documents in the possession of this newspaper. In one of the documents, Fleishman-Hillard informed its contact in the Nigerian presidency that although it was unable to get an interview for Mr. Jonathan in the United States, it succeeded in getting the CNN to interview the president in Nigeria.
The reaction followed an earlier report by PREMIUM TIMES examining how the president paid thousands of dollars to agents for arranging interviews with foreign media outlet, a choice seen as wasteful and unnecessary.
Documents available to PREMIUM TIMES indicate that Fleishman-Hillard Inc anchored the deal with the Nigerian presidency through Enyi Odigbo, Chairman of Lagos-based advertising and public relations company, Caser's Group.
In the bill, seen by this newspaper, 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.
Fleishman-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.
The firm only delivered the CNN interview.
In its response, signed by Bolaji Okusaga, the Managing Director of Lagos-based The Quadrant Company, who is representing Fleishman-Hillard in Nigeria, said a part the contract awarded to the company was suspended "at the last minute" due to the exigency of time.
The company denied carrying out lobbying activities for the presidency, and said what it offered to the presidency was a "one-time assignment".
"Fleishman-Hillard has not provided any service to the Office of the President since that time," the firm said.
Foreign media rush
The president's penchant for foreign media has drawn him criticism. Critics have questioned why the president requires third parties for arranging media interview showcase with at least three top media aides at his disposal.
After the story was published, a poll requesting public opinion on the president's decision reflected that concern with 175(68 per cent) votes out of a total 259, condemning the president's procedure of lobbying the media, instead of the press seeking him out for interview.
Another 44 votes (17 per cent) described the amount deployed as "lavish," while a further 24 votes (9 per cent) wished off whatever choice was taken provided the interview yielded foreign investments.
Since taking office early 2010, some of the president's key decisions have been made public on foreign outlets, mainly the CNN.
Mr. Jonathan delivered his first public comments on late President Umaru Yar'Adua's health, in an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour in 2010, where he spoke of how the ailing president's family blocked him from seeing Mr. Yar'Adua.