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A tale of two chief tenants, excited aides

A tale of two chief tenants, excited aides
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A tale of two chief tenants, excited aides

The sun glowed brightly over the Aso Rock Villa last Wednesday as the federal cabinet, headed by the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), met for the last time. How time flies!

For some, the event was an end to an eight-year journey, while for some, it was four years, and for a few others, they were only privileged to serve for months. Regardless, it was a colorful event.

Unlike the meetings before it that lasted about eight hours, the valedictory session was over in about five hours.

The early closure was to, in part, allow the President to say hello to his primary constituents, the hidden figures who sustain the Villa. More on this later.

In the course of the meeting, ministers took turns to speak their minds, and the first on the list was the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN). By custom, he sits to the President’s left. To round up the glowing tributes they all paid to their principal was the Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo, who sits to his right.

Despite his exalted office, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, served as the class captain. He was responsible for ensuring that all ministers spoke within the allotted two minutes. However, even such a job can prove difficult among adults; especially when the Minister of Science and Technology, Olorunnimbe Mamora, went on a comedic binge, sending council members into multiple episodes of laughter.

Also of interest was the Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Social Development, and Disaster Management, Hajiya Sadiya Farouq, who displayed emotion when thanking Baba for the opportunity to serve; or was it the Minister of Police Affairs, Mallam Mohammed Dingyadi, who was absent. And when the President asked after him, he was told that he had gone for roadblock duty. The laughter that erupted was expected.

With the last FEC meeting over, a few members strolled into the Press Gallery to inform journalists what memos were approved. In his usual fashion, the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Isa Pantami, delivered a lecture-styled update. Habits die hard! Then followed other cabinet members until the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, concluded the session.

Instructively, in post-FEC briefings, no minister disclosed what memos were rejected and why. It is hoped that the incoming cabinet members will be open enough to tell Nigerians what memos failed to scale through and why they didn’t.

The chief tenant bids farewell to his staff

As I followed Alhaji Lai Mohammed out of the briefing room to get his exclusive comments on a pressing security matter, we were both startled by the deafening noise of a low-flying Air Force fighter jet swooshing past the President’s office area.

Our panic only makes sense when you realize that the Villa is prohibited airspace. Like the White House in the United States, no aircraft navigates the airspace around the Aso Rock Presidential Villa and the Three Arms Zone without prior permission. This is standard practice worldwide for significant government facilities, especially the residences of national leaders, obviously for security reasons. Although other important national events require air drills like these, this noise was symbolic. It was a startling reminder of what to expect in a few days.

Half an hour earlier, the soon-to-be former President, Buhari, stood at the forecourt of his office to address his primary constituents; the State House Staff community. In his classic I-can-ashua-you fashion, Buhari didn’t mince words to say how grateful he was to them for “tolerating” him in the last eight years.

As I looked around, I saw faces I have never met in my line of duty. But they work at the villa, silently grinding to keep Nigeria together in their little ways. To my left were presidential appointees who were only counting days, no, hours to go.

For those I discussed with, they saw May 29 as liberation day. For one presidential aide, Monday was too far already! “I am going to take one month off and just do nothing,” he told me with palpable excitement. It gave me a different perspective to the popular narrative out there that these guys are sad to leave power. Alas, some of them can’t wait to go!

Narrating his excitement in an article he titled, ‘The Final Gallop Home’, Buhari’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, was thrilled about packing up to leave.

He said “You need to see how I vibrate each time I engage in this packing. With joy and expectations, like a horse galloping home.

“I’ve had two types of experiences as we embark on the final gallop home. Some people pray with you and wish you a happy and safe landing. They tell of how much they would miss you in the public domain. Others, low people, despicable, count the remaining days with glee, saying whether you liked it or not, ‘you will soon be out of that place.’ Deserving of pity. Do they know that I started counting the remaining days long before them?”

Understandably, when you have served as a presidential spokesman for longer than any of your predecessors, it makes a lot of sense to number your days in office, especially if it’s Buhari you have been speaking for!

The new tenant inspects his crib

On Thursday morning, the Villa community was inundated with crowds and exotic cars as supporters flocked to the State House Conference Centre where Buhari conferred the country’s highest national honor, GCFR, on the President-elect, Bola Tinubu and his deputy, Kashim Shettima.

Usually, Yakubu Gowon Crescent in Asokoro – the street leading to the seat of power – is a measly three-minute drive from the main gate to the Forest Car Park, but it would have taken 10 times longer if you drove into the Villa on the morning of the investiture.

Expecting the august crowd, I walked into the Conference Centre early to discharge my duties, only to be greeted by a surprising sight. The State House Conference Centre wore a new look. On the outside, the kerbs had been repainted to a dazzling white and black in alternating style. The hedges lining the access route looked as flawless as those in a 3D animation. Fittings were replaced within and outside the hall. And for the first time, I noticed that the middle partition dividing the wide hall was rolled aside to accommodate the mammoth crowd.

On Friday afternoon, the new GCFR joined his soon-to-be predecessor to tour and inspect his new abode. Journalists had been alerted that the two friends will pass the Press Gallery shortly after the Juma’at. We were also told that they would entertain two questions while standing. A colleague who knew me enough had warned me that two people had been appointed to ask the questions and I was not one of them. I took it in good faith.

Why start trouble on the first day of seeing the President-elect? So, I stayed put, expecting the chosen two to speak. But no one did! In the 58 seconds Buhari and Tinubu spent at the gallery, only camera clicks did the talking.

Interestingly, the message should not be missed; every occupant of the Aso Villa is a tenant, who must leave after their term expires. It’s Buhari’s turn to leave.

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Image courtesy of Seunmanuel Faleye - ApplesBite International Magazine
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Seunmanuel Faleye is a brand and communications strategist. He is a covert writer and an overt creative head. He publishes Apple's Bite International Magazine.

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