By Levinus Nwabughiogu*
This is a Reporter’s Diary of the activities of President Muhammadu Buhari since his return, Friday, March 10, 2017, from London on medical vacation. It is his sixth week since the return and the President has been so busy but mainly working behind the scene.
You will be amazed that a 74-year-old soldier in retirement has not lost his agility. Also, disappointment awaits you if you believe a President who swore to elevate the country from the sorry state he met it would go to sleep, knowing fully well that the time left to conclude his assignment is only two years.
For a President who loathes corruption, everyday comes with a new vigour to fight the scourge. This is the story of President Muhammadu Buhari who, upon his return from sick leave in London on Friday, March 10, 2017 and subsequent resumption of duties on Monday 13, 2017, swung into action and, since then, has been working assiduously to better the lot of teeming Nigerians who have almost become circumspect of his “change” government.
First, Buhari’s return was a surprise to many. Once upon a time, the expectation of his coming heightened but the President, we were told, was still “resting” in London. In his absence, Vice President Osinbajo became ubiquitous, criss-crossing the country and mending fences. Suddenly, the President returned, evidently when the ovation was high for Osinbajo. To many critics, Buhari’s return has slowed down activities especially at the seat of power. But to his staff and many political hangers-on, that’s not true. The President has been working since he returned in the last six weeks. Personally, I was moved at a point to believe that recuperating Buhari would slow down and get enough rest to re-energize the soldier in him but he has been firing
To many critics, Buhari’s return has slowed down activities especially at the seat of power. But to his staff and many political hangers-on, that’s not true. The President has been working since he returned in the last six weeks. Personally, I was moved at a point to believe that recuperating Buhari would slow down and get enough rest to re-energize the soldier in him but he has been firing from all cylinders and this is how.
First week Monday, March 13-A walk from homes I am back messages to lawmakers For a man who was rumored dead and believed in some quarters to be incapacitated to continue with the functions of his office, a walk from his official residence located within the Presidential Villa, Abuja to his office on his resumption day was one step necessary. And his handlers wanted to score a point, apparently. And, therefore, on Monday, March, 13, they led the President to walk, a thing he didn’t do when he landed at the Aso Villa helipad after he returned from London. The cameras, plenty of them at the Villa, caught the scene and the media later celebrated it. Our President was hale and hearty. The handlers had succeeded in telling the story to the people. Swiftly, Buhari signed some letters which were later sent to the National Assembly leaders to formally announce his resumption of duties. Same day, Buhari took briefings from officials starting with Osinbajo.
Tuesday, March 14-Saraki, Dogara visit On Tuesday, Day 2 of his resumption, Senate President Bukola Saraki and Speaker Yakubu Dogara visited. After about 40 minutes behind-closed-door meeting, the two top lawmakers left. It was later to be known that the President same day signed the instrument of ratification of the treaty on the establishment of Abidjan-Lagos corridor for the governments of Republic of Benin, Cote Divore, Ghana, Togo and Nigeria. He also received briefings from the Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Godwin Emefele.
Wednesday, March 15-FEC meeting Wednesday, March 15 came with so much anxiety on whether the President was fit enough to preside over the meeting of the Federal Executive Council, FEC. At exactly 10:03, Buhari walked into the Council Chamber, venue of the meeting. At the meeting, his boisterous, comic nature came to play after he stirred laughter when he called Lai Mohammed, the Information Minister, to pray during the opening formalities of the FEC session after the Transportation Minister, Rotimi Amaechi, had said the Christian prayer. After about two and a half hours, the meeting was over.
Thursday March 16-Buhari joins governors at NEC meeting Buhari made unusual appearance at the meeting of the National Executive Council, NEC, on Thursday, March 16. He is not a statutory member of NEC but, on that day, he chose to be part of it. It was learnt that Buhari took the decision to stop the governors who had earlier resolved to pay him a welcome back visit in his office. At the meeting, Buhari, who had been too busy since his return, refused the governors’ advice to take some more rest. Instead, he said he would not rest until Nigeria’s problems were solved. Indeed, to prove that point, the President there and then ordered the release of the second batch of London-Paris refunds to governors.
Friday, March 17-No Work Fridays are usually mosque days. And on Friday, March 17, the President went to the mosque to worship. Having seen the activities and Buhari’s volume of engagements in his first week, some report later emerged that he had for the purpose of his health scaled down his activities to get some rest. But that was not a report Buhari’s media handlers would subscribe to. His SSA on Media, Mallam Garba Shehu, refuted it, saying the President was tirelessly engaged in his first week. Shehu told Nigerians that Buhari has an office by his living room where he works from after retiring from office. Good!
Second week Except presiding over FEC meeting on Wednesday, March 22, Buhari, through out the second week of his resumption, took briefings from his Service Chiefs. As the meetings lasted, I observed one unusual tread. The President spread the meeting. Since assumption of office in 2015, security meetings had always been a one off thing, held together on day with the participation of all security agencies heads in attendance. But this time, the President decided to spread the meeting even beyond a week. And so, at different days and times, he took on each security chiefs. For instance, the Chief of Army Staff, Tukur Buratai, and his counter-part in the Air Force, Sadiq Abubakar, were the only ones that visited Buhari on Tuesday at different times.
Friday, March 24 was the turn of the Inspector-General of Police, Idris Abubakar. The third week was the most hectic for Buhari. My guess was that he worked from home as the Presidential Villa was mostly quiet. I had expected some outdoor activities even at the presidential forecourt, but that didn’t happen. The President was busy indoors either in his office or at home, treating files.
Monday March, 27-Briefing by Naval Chief Buhari continued his security briefing. And so, on Monday, March 27, the Naval Chief, Vice Ekwe Ibas, visited him. Tuesday, March 28-Briefing by Defence Minister The Defence Minister, Gen. Dan Ali (retd) briefed the President on Tuesday. His briefing was apt because of the small arms competition held at the Sambisa forest. To him, a milestone had been achieved and he spoke with journalists about the fall of Sambisa. His visit capped the security briefings.
Wednesday March 29- FEC meeting The weekly meeting of the FEC held and Buhari was on hand to chair it. Senator Udo Udoma, Budget and National Planning Minister, and Lai Mohammed, the Information Minister said the opening prayers. To be fair to the times, the Buhari I saw still looked boisterous, stood ramrod straight with his usual deep, hoarse voice. After about three hours, the meeting, which commenced exactly 11 am, ended.
Thursday, March 30-Farewell meeting with Saudi Ambassador. Thursday was hugely quiet at the Villa. Again, my guess was that the President was busy indoors. But despite the silence and no walk in and walk out that hitherto characterized the Villa, the President had farewell meeting with Saudi Ambassador, Mr. Fahad Bin Abdullah Sefyan.
Friday, March 31-Prayer Friday was also silent at the Villa. The only time it came alive was during the worship time at the mosque. But by the time the prayer ended, the loud silence returned. But thank God the weekend had set in. Osinbajo’s trip to France I couldn’t believe it when I heard that Vice President Osinbajo left Abuja Wednesday night for Paris, France to attend the global forum on Anti-Corruption and Integrity hosted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, OECD. My surprise was hinged on the fact that Buhari could delegate duties to his vice on such a crucial forum. Buhari is anti-corruption personified. So, it was strange he was so busy he could not attend the Paris event. The last time I checked of the recent anti-corruption programmes held in London, it was Buhari that graced the occasion. Remember, the “fantastically corrupt” saga with former Prime Minister David Cameron? Yes, that was the time.
Then the fourth week Monday, April 3-Saraki, Dogara visit Buhari President Buhari’s fourth week began on a hectic note. On Monday, April 3, Senate President Saraki and Speaker Dogara visited the Presidential Villa. Everybody was anxious to know their mission to the Villa. This is because of the face-off between the Executive and the Legislature over Ibrahim Magu, the acting Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and Col. Hameed Ali, the Customs Comptroller-General. Again, the imbroglio, somehow, had claimed the job of Senator Ali Ndume for 6 months. So, with their visit, State House correspondents were excited because we had armed ourselves with questions. As anticipated, both lawmakers answered appropriately when they later emerged from the meeting that held behind closed doors. Saraki said he lacked the powers to unilaterally reverse Ndume’s suspension while Dogara maintained that crisis between various arms of government was a natural ingredient to deepen democracy.
Tuesday, April 4-Gowon visits Former Head of State, Gen. Yakubu Gowon, was the first known caller to the President’s office on Tuesday. Buhari later met with Governor Abdulahi Yari of Zamfara State and the Minister of Agriculture, Audu Ogbeh on China-Nigeria agricultural treaties.
Wednesday, April 5-Buhari launched ERGP What appeared like the biggest event the President had engaged himself since his return took place on this day. It was the unveiling of the Economic Recovery Growth Plan, ERGP. The event was big because of its content and not because the President exerted a lot of physical energy while it lasted. With the programme over, the President continued with the meeting of FEC.
Thursday-April 6-Sports Minister briefed Buhari The only known assignment the President had on Thursday, April 6 was the briefing he took from the Minister of Sports and Youth Development, Solomon Dalung.
Friday, April 7-Buhari worships at Villa Mosque On this day, Buhari was available for worship at the State House Mosque. The worship was also attended by Saraki, Governors Abdulahi Ganduje of Kano, Aminu Masari of Katsina State and Yahaya Bello of Kogi State. Other personalities at the mosque include Magu, Hameed Ali and Director-General of the Department of State Service, Lawal Daura.
Fifth week Monday, April 10-No activity The first day of the week was without any known activity by Mr. President. My guess is that he worked either from home or silently treated files at the office.
Tuesday, April 11-CJN visits The only known public function Buhari had on Tuesday was the meeting with the Chief Justice of Nigeria, CJN, Walter Ooneghen.
Wednesday, April 12-Buhari absent at FEC meeting Expectations were high that Buhari would preside over the FEC meeting on Wednesday as was the custom. But he failed to show up, delegating Osinbajo. Lai Mohammed was later to tell journalists that the President considered the agenda of the day so light and asked his vice to take charge. The Information Minister assured that the President would be in the office the next day, Thursday.
Thursday April 13-President remained indoors The President remained indoors. There was no known function.
Friday, April 14-Buhari worships Except that the President worshiped at the mosque with Governor Nasir el-Rufai of Kaduna among others, nothing else happened at the Presidential Villa that was of media significance. Sixth week The sixth week of the President’s return started with a public holiday.
Monday, April 17 was Easter. Work resumed on Tuesday. Tuesday, April 18-Oyo-Ita/Dambazzua’s day with Buhari Callers at the Presidential Villa on Tuesday were the Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita, and the Minister of Interior, Abdulraaman Dambazzua. Both briefed Buhari on different issues.
Wednesday, April 19-Hurricane Buhari blows away SGF, DG NIA Buhari shook the nation on Wednesday. With no iota of inkling in the public domain, the President suspended a dependable political ally, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Babachir Lawal, and the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency, NIA, Ambassador Ayo Oke. Both had been indicted in alleged corruption cases. For Lawal, a grass-cutting project of the Presidential Initiative on North East, PINE, which touched on the large chunk of the money appropriated for the welfare of the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs, got him suspended. Oke was trapped in the $43m found by EFCC in Lagos recently. His NIA claimed ownership of the money. Meanwhile, both men were not only suspended but are also to face a panel set up by the President and headed by Vice President Osinbajo. Investigations are ongoing.
Thursday, April 20-Fayemi, Usani, Dalung, Bello visit Buhari At least, four ministers visited the Villa to brief Buhari on Thursday. They were Kayode Fayemi (Minister of Solid Mineral), Usani Usani (Niger Delta Affair), Solomon Dalung (Sports and Youth Development), Mohammed Bello (Federal Capital Territory, FCT).
Friday, April 21-No activities Fridays are mosque days and, on April 21, there were no known activities the President engaged into. At least, not at at 1:30 pm when this piece was concluded.
Bottom line I am highly persuaded to believe that Buhari is not in the know of what politicians and hangers-on around him are really doing with his health. The President I have come to know so closely right from the days of All Progressives Congress, APC, has an annoying candour.
Right from the purchasing of his nomination form down to his presidency, he has remained a principled man who wouldn’t play any kind of politics with issues, always ramrod straight. This was Buhari who told APC that the fee for their presidential form was outrageously expensive, the Buhari who told delegates at the APC convention that he hadn’t money to share to get their votes, the Buhari who told Nigerians that he had blood transfusion in London and had never been so sick, the Buhari who said he would also return to London very soon. Some other person would have kept mute on these issue. I can bet it that the Buhari I know wouldn’t mind taking a rest officially and offer advice from behind the scene.
Now, where is that candour? Why has the Villa become a ghost arena with no activities and yet the President is busy? If his day in office could be sufficient with just a meeting with a security chief, why was it busier with several meetings and functions before his London trip?
Yes, the President has an office by his living room and could work for 24 hours behind the scene but, in my thinking, the President needs to do more before the camera to let Nigerians know he’s truly very busy. He should get the Villa alive again. Doing this before jetting out for another round of medial check-ups in London wouldn’t be a bad idea. This would change a lot of impressions in some quarters. He should remember that May 29 is almost here. With two years behind, 2019 is no more far.
*Culled from Vanguard