Two articles – one a story and the other an opinion – earned The Punch the red card from the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Monday.
The two were published on Sunday.
This led to the ejection of the Correspondent of The Punch covering the Presidential Villa, Olalekan Adetayo, by President Muhammadu Bihari’s Chief Security Officer, Bashir Abubakar.
The Special Adviser to the President and Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, has, however, distanced himself from the action of Abubakar, an operative of the Department of State Services.
Adesina told The Eagle Online: “I was not consulted before it happened.
“I was not informed.
“We will look into this.
“But I want to assure you that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari will continue to uphold the freedom of the press and we will settle this amicably.”
Fresh anxiety in Aso Rock over Buhari’s health
Fresh anxiety is mounting over the state of health of President Muhammadu Buhari, who returned to the country on March 10 after a 49-day medical sojourn in London, United Kingdom.
The 74-year-old Nigerian leader was only seen in public once throughout last week, when he joined other Muslim faithful for a Juma’at service on Friday at a mosque located near his office inside the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The service lasted less than one hour after which Buhari returned to his residence.
Before Friday’s brief appearance, the last time he was seen in public was penultimate Friday when he attended the same service at the same venue.
Presidency sources attributed the President’s continuous non-appearance at public events to his ailing health and the need to take further rest.
“It is no longer news that the President has been sick. His ill health coupled with his age is responsible for the scaling down of his activities,” one of the sources said on Saturday.
In the Presidential Villa, there have been continuous whispers among workers over Buhari’s continued absence.
The concern was further heightened when it was observed that many of the President’s assignments were transferred to the Vice President.
During the week, a delegation of the Arewa Consultative Forum had met with the vice president and told him they were welcoming Buhari from his medical vacation through him (Yemi Osinbajo).
“Was it that they were denied access to the President himself due to his ill health?” some workers wondered aloud.
One of our correspondents reported that, although some government officials were reported to have met with Buhari in his office during the week, to update him of developments in their ministries, no photographs or video recordings of such encounters were made available by the Presidency, which was contrary to the usual practice.
Although the government officials spoke with reporters after their separate meetings with the president, the absence of such photographs and video recordings raised doubts as to whether, indeed, the government officials met with the President.
When confronted with such suspicion on Thursday, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Usani Usani, who was one of the government officials that met Buhari during the week, said those who held the opinion that he did not meet the president were entitled to their opinion.
He, however, insisted that he met Buhari and briefed him on developments in his ministry.
Others who met the president during the week were the Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winnifred Oyo-Ita; Minister of Solid Mineral Development, Kayode Fayemi; and the Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Solomon Dalung.
Speaking on the development, a former Joint House Leader of the defunct Peoples Redemption Party and Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, as well as a member of the Defence Committee in the Second Republic, Dr. Junaid Mohammed, told SUNDAY PUNCH that there was every reason for Nigerians to be worried about the president’s health, especially because he has hardly been seen in public.
Mohammed said, “The Presidency needs to tell the truth. It is disingenuous and not good for the country for the people to be told lies about their president.
“We need to know the truth and not be told lies. People have genuine cause to be worried because they don’t see their president as they should. Knowing about the health of the President is not a personal issue; it is of public interest. Nigerians are genuinely concerned.”
Also speaking on the rare appearance of Buhari in public, a member of the National Executive Committee of the Arewa Consultative Forum, Mohammed Abdulrahman, said Nigerians should be worried that the cabal in the administration of the president might have hijacked the care of Buhari from his wife, Aisha Buhari.
“That was what happened to Gen. Sani Abacha. The same happened to (ex-) President Umaru Yar’Adua when he took ill and eventually died. Aisha has to learn the ropes and should not allow the cabal in her husband’s government to mismanage the President’s health. While I think the President’s illness is due to old age, there are concerns in the public that he has continued to stay away from the public and the Presidency keeps saying the President is fine. People are worried because Buhari is a president they love,” the ACF chieftain told SUNDAY PUNCH on Saturday night.
Similarly, the leader of the Arewa Youth Consultative Forum, Yerima Shettima, stated that Nigerians were worried about the continued absence of the President in the public. He noted that Buhari was not elected to stay indoors.
“Nigerians want to see the President they voted for. Nigerians want to know the status of his health. We are praying for him to get better but nobody should hide him from us. We are worried. It is disturbing and worrisome that we have not seen him in public and that we do not know his exact health status. Nobody should hide him away from us because we feel he has been kidnapped from Nigerians. He is being treated with taxpayers’ money so they deserve to know the status of his health.
“It is sad that against all odds, a cabal in the government has turned Buhari to a private property. But Buhari is a public property as an elected president of the country. Tradition and constitution demand that we should know about his health. No one has the right to hide him from us. We are concerned; we are worried. We feel that our mandate is being hijacked by some people. The electorate must know what has happened to their mandate,” Shettima said.
He is recovering, says Presidency
When contacted on Saturday to react to the fresh anxiety over the President’s health, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, said Buhari was recuperating, adding that the prayer of all was that he recovered fully soon.
When further asked when the President would likely return to see his doctors in the United Kingdom, the presidential spokesman said Nigerians would be adequately informed about Buhari’s movement when the time comes.
Adesina said, “The President is recovering, and our prayer is that he returns to full heath soon.
“On arrival in the country on March 10, he (Buhari) said he would still travel at a later time. No date was given, but be assured that when it’s time to travel, the country would be told.
“The President is a plain and straightforward person.”
It will be recalled that the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele Fayose, had questioned Buhari’s absence from state functions, especially the weekly Federal Executive Council meetings.
The Convener of Every Nigerian Do Something, Perry Brimah, had also claimed in a statement on Friday that the President was critically ill and was being locked up inside the Presidential Villa by a selfish cabal.
Fayose, in a statement in Ado Ekiti, on Thursday, issued by his Special Assistant on Public Communications and New Media, Lere Olayinka, had asked if the President was governing the country by proxy.
According to him, it is becoming obvious that a group or cabal is exercising the powers of the President.
The (temporary) fall of all-powerful SGF
It was a huge shock for some of us who have observed events in the seat of power closely when the Presidency, through the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, on Wednesday announced the suspension of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Babachir Lawal, alongside the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, Ambassador Ayo Oke.
We were gathered inside the Press Gallery near the Council Chambers ruminating on the failure of the government to hold its weekly meeting of the Federal Executive Council when we received the statement announcing the suspension. Shortly after filing the report of the suspension, news filtered to us that Babachir was in a meeting with Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo in his office.
Expectedly, we rushed from the President’s side of the Villa to the Vice-President’s wing as fast as our legs could carry us. To confirm that he was indeed with the Vice-President, we sighted Babachir’s police orderly with some security operatives attached to the Vice-President’s office. The VP’s Wing does not have a press gallery, so we laid ambush for him on the corridor.
A few minutes after, Babachir emerged from the Vice-President’s office. As he was descending the staircase, we were already waiting for him. He expressed surprise at the ambush. Even after asking him to comment on his suspension, he feigned ignorance of the development. He asked us where we got the information from. After telling him that the Presidency issued a statement on the matter, he asked us who the Presidency was in a manner that suggested that he was wondering if anybody could lay claim to the Presidency without his involvement.
We had an Herculean task getting any useful statement from him as he kept responding to questions with questions as he was making his way out of the building. By the time he got to the open space in front of the Admin Reception, his official car was not in sight. I initially thought maybe the car had been withdrawn following his suspension. Luckily for him, however, the car was brought and he asked if he could enter his car, wondering whether he was under arrest. He was later driven away.
Another drama played out shortly after he left. Embattled Oke also arrived the Villa with his retinue of security details. Immediately he stepped out of his official car and sighted journalists, he became uncomfortable and was smuggled back into the car by his men. They made an attempt to drive him into the forecourt of the President’s office through the Service Chiefs’ Gate but his convoy was denied access by the security men manning the gate. He had been using that gate in his capacity as the head of one of the nation’s security agencies up until Wednesday when he was suspended.
Oke was then driven out of the premises. He later got across to the presidential spokesman and appealed that journalists be asked to leave the vicinity to enable him to keep an appointment with the Vice-President. Officials from the media office led by Adesina later came out to appeal to journalists to leave the area and return to the Council Chambers’ Press Gallery. Shortly after the area was cleared of journalists, Oke returned to meet Osinbajo.
Not a few persons will miss the suspended SGF in the cabinet. Missing him does not necessarily mean that most of them are not happy with the development. The truth is that some will be happy to miss him. He carries on at the Council Chambers as if he is the class monitor. He would call most of the ministers to order at the commencement of council meetings as if they were his boys. It was Lawal that at a time chided the Minister of State, Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, publicly for exchanging pleasantries with his colleagues at a time when, according to him, there was fuel scarcity.
We had our unfair share too. The embattled SGF had had cause to threaten to stop journalists from entering “my Council Chambers.” His grouse was that reporters pick up some of his talks like the one addressed to Kachikwu and turned them to news items. He attempted to carry out the threat until the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, intervened.
Funny enough, Buhari himself is aware that his SGF is controversial. When receiving some engineers in his office last year, the President told his guests that their colleague (Lawal is an engineer) is controversial. Even the Vice-President, at a thanksgiving service Lawal organised shortly after his appointment, recalled the funny thing B.D (Babachir David) said at the first meeting he attended inside the Villa. Osinbajo recalled that as the meeting progressed, Lawal turned to the President and asked if all they do in the Villa was to talk at length without refreshments. He said the President and others at the meeting laughed over the comment while Buhari quickly asked that they proceed on break.
Will Lawal and Oke return to their seats after the Osinbajo committee investigating them would have completed its assignment? We are all waiting.
Seat of power’s event centres going into extinction
If the truth must be told, activities are currently at the lowest ebb in the seat of power. There seems to be nothing happening. The development has left many of the different venues where events or meetings are usually held in the villa empty for a long time. Such places are gathering dust.
For now, even the Council Chambers which used to host various types of high level meetings is now opened once in a week: for Wednesday FEC meetings. No other event had been held inside that hall at least in the last two months.
The same fate has befallen the Presidential Banquet Hall near the President’s office. Before now, that building was hosting high level meetings between the President and some high profile foreign and local guests. He was also receiving letters of credence from ambassadors and high commissioners newly posted to the country inside the building. I can’t even remember the last time such exercise took place.
The story of the main hall of the Old Banquet Hall now christened State House Conference Centre is not in any way different. Many big events of various ministries meant to be attended by the President were always holding inside that hall. I have lost memory of the last time such events were held inside that hall.
During the last administration, political meetings were held inside one of the guest houses in the Villa popularly called House 7. No event has been held inside that building since the inception of the present administration to the best of my knowledge. So far, the few events holding in the Villa have been restricted to the President’s office, Council Chambers, the Vice-President’s office or his Conference Hall. I hope the proposed law for unoccupied buildings in Abuja will not affect the aforementioned empty buildings in the Villa soon.
If you insist that I must give reason(s) why these once bubbling events centres are gradually going into extinction, I will simply say it is a sign of the times. Have a lovely weekend.