When President Muhammadu Buhari hosted State House correspondents to a lunch on May 30 as part of activities marking his one year in office, he gave us a clear mandate. The presidential mandate was that we should be grilling all those who come to the Villa to meet with him.
The President did not mince words in telling us to always do researches on his guests with a view to asking them critical questions. In doing that, Buhari said his guests too would be forced to do their homework well before coming to face us.
That was the stroke we have been applying to guests at the Villa since that encounter with the President. We usually apply “subtle blackmail” for those who do not want to speak with us by telling them that the President directed us that we must interview all his guests. He actually gave that directive.
We do not only interview the President’s guests, we grill them. The two recent encounters that aptly demonstrated this were the separate visits of Nobel Laureate, Prof. Wole Soyinka, on Thursday and embattled Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Yakubu Dogara, penultimate Friday.
On Thursday, we were nosing around on the corridor (of power) for stories as usual when we sighted an unusual visitor approaching. The grey hair combined with his traditional waist coat couldn’t be mistaken. The august visitor in August was Soyinka. We saw him walking briskly into the office of the President.
Despite the fact that one of Soyinka’a daughters and one of his sons-in-law had at one time or the other, worked inside the Villa especially during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan, the Nobel Laureate is not a regular visitor at the seat of power.
So we decided to lay ambush for him. As he was exiting the President’s office a few minutes after with a former Managing Director, Daily Times of Nigeria, Dr. Yemi Ogunbiyi, Soyinka met the United Nations Population Fund’s Executive Director and Under Secretary-General of the United Nations, Prof. Babatunde Osotimehin, who was leading a delegation to meet the President. They exchanged pleasantries.
Shortly after leaving the UN delegation and moving a few metres, he also saw the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, who he also greeted warmly.
In all these, photojournalists and television cameramen who Soyinka took to the cleaners in his recent piece titled “The weapon of mass obstruction” had a field day capturing him and those he was exchanging pleasantries with. He had in that piece written about how cameramen and photojournalists disrupt public events and block the views of guests in their bid to get good shots at such events.
As he walked through a small gate after the Council Chambers, Soyinka came face-to-face with some for people who he did not prepare and was not ready to meet. They were reporters who had already formed a barricade in front of the Press Gallery of the Council Chambers.
He did not hide his feeling about it. He looked visibly embarrassed. Despite the many microphones and voice recorders pointed towards his direction, Soyinka was blunt. “I didn’t come to see you people,” he said as he attempted unsuccessfully to break through the journalists’ barricade. When it became clear to him that the reporters would not relent, Soyinka said, “I came to discuss national and international matters, general matters, that’s all!”
For us, we felt Soyinka who has been outspoken on national issues could do better by giving further details of the discussion. So we probed further but he insisted that he would not divulge the details. Clearly not comfortable with the interview and as if he suddenly realised he had been held captive, Soyinka declared, “I will be holding a press conference in about a week. You can ask me any question then, but now, please I will just like to get away.” With that the journalists made way for him to leave the premises.
In the case of Dogara, he was a bit at home during our encounter with him penultimate Friday. He even took out time to have a handshake with as many of us that were present at the beginning of the interview that started like an informal one as he emerged from the President’s office with the Senior Special Assistant to the President on National Assembly Matters (House of Representatives), Suleiman Kawu.
The session became intense when journalists sought his view on the allegation of budget padding leveled against him by a former Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Committee on Appropriation, Alhaji Abdulmumin Jibrin.
Dogara ended up asking more questions than he answered. From “Can’t I come and see my President? Do I need any reason to come and see my President?” to “What is budget padding?” “Resign for what?” “Worried for what?” The Speaker kept throwing the questions back at us.
He claimed he did not know the meaning of budget padding and asked us to go and ask Jibrin who made the allegation because, according to him he who alleges must prove.
Since our presence in the Villa is not for fun, the earlier the President’s visitors realize that anybody who is afraid of water should not go near a river, the better for them.
When Buhari ‘drills’ former military leader, Abubakar
Penultimate Friday, Buhari attended the Graduation Ceremony of Course 24 of the National Defence College, Abuja where he was the Special Guest of Honour. As a General, the President was on hand at the event to identify with his constituency, the military.
The event was not without some funny side attractions. The college gave awards to different categories of people including the college’s former commandants and prominent alumni.
All the awards were presented by Buhari on behalf of the NDC. A former military Head of State, Abdusalami Abubakar, was among those rewarded as a former commandant of the college. In his capacity as a former Head of State, Abubakar was seated with the President on the high table.
When it was Abubakar’s turn to collect his award, he thought he could easily stand beside the President and collect it. But Buhari would not hear of that, he used his hand to order Abubakar to leave the high table and stand before him. The hall erupted in laughter. The former military leader also caused ribs cracking when despite wearing agbada, he gave Buhari a military salute before collecting his plaque.
When the graduating participants were being called one-after-the-other to collect their certificates from the President, one Dogara of the Nigerian Army was called. The Speaker of the House of Representatives was shocked that the military officer shares the same surname with him. Dogara could not hide his anxiety. When the participant came forward, the Speaker was seen making desperate effort to confirm his name by looking closely at the name tag attached to the officer’s uniform.
Immediately after he confirmed the details, Dogara opened the graduation brochure before him to locate the officer and possibly take note of his details. With that done, he took his pen and marked the page where he saw the details of his (sur)name sake. It was however not clear whether he contacted the graduating participant later.
- Olalekan Adetayo