By Olalekan Adetayo
Penultimate Monday, former President Olusegun Obasanjo was in the Villa to hold talks with President Muhammadu Buhari. On Wednesday, it was the turn of former President Goodluck Jonathan.
The first assignment for that day was the meeting of the Federal Executive Council which hitherto was held weekly under Jonathan. Since the inception of this administration, the meeting only holds when necessary.
As the meeting was underway on Wednesday, we heard that Jonathan would be visiting the President. Since he left the seat of power in the morning of May 29, 2015 for the Eagle Square where he handed over to Buhari, the former President had only been sighted once in the Villa.
That time, the meeting with the President was held inside the new Banquet Hall. Journalists were not allowed near the venue, so we could not interview him. Some other meetings had been held between the two leaders away from the prying eyes of journalists. Much of this was revealed by Jonathan himself when he told us that he had been meeting with Buhari mostly in the night when we would have left the Villa.
With the FEC meeting over on Wednesday, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, led the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola; and Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, to brief State House correspondents of the outcome. That was at about 1.30pm. We were aware that Jonathan’s visit was scheduled for 2pm, so we wanted the briefing to be done with as soon as possible.
Luckily, that briefing ended a few minutes before 2pm and we rushed from the Press Gallery to the forecourt of the President’s office to wait for the august guest. At exactly 1.55pm, the black Range Rover marked KWL 86 CN conveying the former President made through the Service Chief’s Gate. About 100 metres to where journalists were waiting for Jonathan, the Sport Utility Vehicle conveying him stopped abruptly. We initially thought Jonathan was not comfortable with the sight of the journalists. But as it turned out, the driver was only waiting for the security vehicle to come forward.
The former President stepped out of his vehicle and was received by one of Buhari’s aides. He exchanged pleasantries with us as he made his way to the President’s office. Buhari was already waiting in front of his office upstairs to welcome his predecessor. As they exchanged greetings and made to enter the President’s office, Buhari turned to the cameramen and asked jokingly, “Do you want to follow us into the office?”
The meeting was a short one. It lasted less than 20 minutes. At about 2.17pm, Jonathan emerged from the President’s office. Buhari accompanied him downstairs but he did not step out of the building to the point where we were laying ambush for the former President.
With the way we positioned ourselves, Jonathan had no choice but to talk to us. We strategised before his arrival and we agreed that we would begin the interview from “friendly” to “not too friendly” issues in order to encourage him to talk.
We succeeded to some extent because one of us massaged his ego on how relaxed he was looking before he asked him his mission to the Villa. Smiling, the former President started by telling us how pleased he was to see us again. “It is good to see some of your faces. Of course, I was with you for a period of eight years. For over a year now, I have been out. It gladdens my heart to see you again,” Jonathan said.
He then went further to tell us that his mission was to inform the President of some of his recent and future international engagements. Again, another “friendly” question came in the form of his role in the government’s efforts to end the violence in the Niger Delta. He told us how he and other opinion leaders in the region had been intervening at their various levels to ensure peace. He also reiterated his popular sermon of “one indivisible Nigeria.”
Then came the big one. Jonathan was asked to comment on Buhari’s ongoing anti-corruption war especially as it concerns his former ministers and aides currently being investigated or prosecuted. He smiled and said, “I don’t want to talk about that one because there are too many cases that are in court. It will not be fair to make comments. I will talk at the appropriate time when most of these things are resolved.”
Some presidential aides who were on hand to witness the interview also became uncomfortable and started saying, “Thank you, no more questions please,” as Jonathan made his way to his vehicle.
For us in the Villa, that was not the first time Jonathan would promise to talk to us at “the appropriate time.” I mentioned his first time of making such an unfulfilled promise here last week. We shall therefore not be surprised if the latest promise goes the way of the first one which was not fulfilled.
Presidential guards going the Beijing way
In September 1995, the fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing, China. The thrust of the 38-point declaration released at the end of that gathering was the need to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women as enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.
Interestingly, the Guards Brigade, an arm of the Nigerian Army saddled with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of the President and the seat of power, has taken a cue from the declaration.
On Tuesday, soldiers attached to the brigade were on hand, as usual, for military ceremonies when Buhari hosted two visiting Presidents -President of Benin Republic, Mr. Patrice Talon and Togolese President, Mr Faure Gnassingbe. They were received separately.
The unique thing about them on that day was however the huge number of female soldiers among those who took part in the military event. Before now, we only got to see few females among them. But on Tuesday, the ladies who assembled on one side of the parade ground almost outnumbered the men.
The ladies looked very fit. Surprisingly, none of them fell down while the two parades lasted despite standing for a long time. The ambulance of the Nigerian Army parked close to the parade ground was therefore rendered useless.
The highly impressed Commander of the Guards Brigade, Brig.-Gen. MS Yusuf, and the Regimental Sergeant Major, were seen keeping eyes on the female soldiers. They were seen at some points, helping some of them to adjust their caps.
Another person that was visibly excited about the development was the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa. She told me how she was at the guards’ base recently to give a talk and how she was happy about the development.
The way it is going, maybe sooner than expected, we may witness an all-female military parade inside the Villa. Enjoy your weekend.
Olalekan Adetayo is the Punch Aso Villa correspondent