An Eventful Week at the Villa


Last week at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, was quite eventful, writes Omololu Ogunmade, who chronicles some of the activities at the seat of power

Beginning from Monday, October 30, the Presidential Villa, Abuja was characterised by events and activities bordering on subtle politics and governance. It was, perhaps, one of the busiest weeks since President Muhammadu Buhari assumed office in 2015.

Personalities of various statuses thronged the Villa with grinning expressions on their faces. Some of them were once high profile politicians including former governors, who had seemingly gone into political oblivion since they left office. The events therefore became a fresh opportunity to showcase their relevance.

Parleys with Key Party Leaders

It began with a closed door meeting held by the president with the quartet of Senate President Bukola Saraki, House of Representatives Speaker Yakubu Dogara, Zamfara State Governor Abdulaziz Yari and National Chairman of the All Progressives Congress (APC), John Odigie-Oyegun. Details of the meeting were kept secret as the quartet left the Villa without entertaining questions from waiting journalists.

The meeting was immediately followed by another with one of the national leaders of APC, Senator Bola Ahmed Tinubu, who had been in the president’s waiting room while the other meeting was ongoing. Tinubu, who had not been sighted in the Villa in a while over alleged cold war between him and the president, emerged from the meeting one hour later to dismiss insinuations of rift between him and Buhari as fake news.

Contrary to that insinuation, Tinubu said he had unwavering confidence in the president and his meeting with him was fruitful and productive. He was also swift to dismiss the claim of cabal’s existence in Aso Rock as mere gossip and a myth. And to further buttress his claim of smooth relationship with Buhari, Tinubu, who said he had never shied away from expressing his mind and even rebelling when necessary, said his party, the APC, was on course.

“I just met with the President. Our discussion was fruitful, productive and it was about the country and leadership as a whole. And that got him excited and happy,” he said. Asked to confirm the alleged rift with President Buhari and the activities of cabal, which got him sidelined, Tinubu replied: “Fake news.”

He continued: “I have confidence in this President. There is no doubt about that. We worked hard to bring about the government. There are certain things that are unpredictable and those are things that can lean itself to gossips, insinuations and all of that. But once you create leadership and it is functioning, you don’t have to baby-seat that leadership unless there is a loss of confidence and I don’t have that.

“You know me. I’m not known to shy away from talking my mind and rebelling if it is necessary and taking charge of things that I believe are necessary. What is the myth in this leadership thing? What is cabal? It’s a myth. We are the party of the people for the people and by the people and this is a democratic environment,” he said.

A Convergence of APC Leaders

Buhari had a break from meetings for about four hours on Monday before returning to the national caucus meeting of APC at the banquet hall of the Presidential Villa at 8.30 pm. At the meeting, which lasted about three hours, he met leaders of the party from all parts of the country ahead of the National Executive Council (NEC) meeting scheduled for the following day, October 31, at the party secretariat.

It was a gathering of who is who in the party as the meeting became a forum for reunion of politicians, who had lost contact with one another in the last two years. The meeting had been perceived as the take-off of nocturnal meetings, political horse-trading and consultations ahead of 2019 polls.

Participants emerged from the meeting which had earlier been described as a make-or-mar forum, beaming with smiles with a number of them describing it as not only fantastic but also a forum, where unity of the party was upheld and members resolved to bury the hatchet and work together in party’s interest.

Present at the meeting were Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, Saraki, Dogara, Deputy Speaker, Yusuf Lasun, Odigie-Oyegun, Tinubu, former interim National Chairman of the party, Bisi Akande, Deputy National Chairman of APC, Segun Oni and Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari

Governors present at the meeting were Aminu Tambuwal (Sokoto), Sani Bello (Niger), Yahaya Bello (Kogi), Bindowo Jubrilla (Adamawa), Mohammed Abubakar (Bauchi), Aminu Masari (Katsina), Abdulaziz Yari (Zamfara), Kassim Shetima (Borno), Rochas Okorocha (Imo), Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo), Abiola Ajimobi (Oyo), Atiku Bagudu (Kebbi), Tanko Almakura (Nasarawa), Nasir el-Rufai (Kaduna), Godwin Obaseki (Edo), Samuel Ortom (Benue), Ibrahim Ganduje (Kano), Ibikunle Amosun and Osun State Deputy Governor, Mrs. Titilayo Laoye-Tomori.

Former governors in attendance were Olusegun Osoba (Ogun), Niyi Adebayo (Ekiti), Adams Oshiomhole (Edo), Olagunsoye Oyinlola (Osun), Martin Elechi (Ebonyi), Sullivan Chime (Enugu), Murtala Nyako (Adamawa), Timipre Silva (Bayelsa)

National Assembly members present were Senators Ahmad Lawan, Barnabas Gemade, Ibn Na’Allah, Ahmed Sani, Joshua Dariye, Kabiru Gaya, Rabiu Kwankwaso, Andy Uba, Abdullahi Adamu, Bukar Abba-Ibrahim, Hon. Ado Doguwa and Femi Gbajabiamila.

Ministers who graced the meeting were Chris Ngige (Labour, Employment and Productivity), Rotimi Amaechi (Transportation), Lai Mohammed (Information and Culture), Audu Ogbeh (Agriculture and Rural Development), Kayode Fayemi (Solid Minerals) and Ogbonaya Onu (Science and Technology).

Other party stalwarts and government officials present were Ken Nnamani, Buba Marwa, Jim Nwobodo, Babafemi Ojudu, Don Etiebet and Abike Dabiri.

Dinner with National Assembly Leaders

The Presidential Villa remained a beehive of activities on Tuesday as the president the following night hosted principal officers of the National Assembly to a dinner in the Banquet Hall. The dinner was meant to secure the cooperation of the lawmakers ahead of the presentation of the 2018 budget.

The dinner had initially been scheduled to hold on October 26, but was abruptly suspended following the decision of the lawmakers to turn back at Aso Rock gate over the insistence of security officers at the pilot gate that they, except Saraki and Dogara, must undergo clearance before entry. Buhari later apologised to the lawmakers, and separately invited Saraki and Dogara while he rescheduled the cancelled dinner for Tuesday.

Present at the dinner were Saraki, Dogara, Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu and Deputy Speaker, Yusuff Lassun. Others were Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan; House Leader, Femi Gbajabiamila; Senate Deputy Leader, Ibn Na’Allah; Senate Whip, Olusola Adeyeye; Deputy Senate Whip, Francis Alimikhena; Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio; Deputy Minority Leader, Emmanuel Bwacha; Minority Whip, Philip Aduda and Deputy Minority Whip, Biodun Olujimi.

Also in attendance were the House Whip, Ado Doguwa; Deputy Whip, Parley Iriase; Deputy House Minority Leader; Chukwuma Onyema and Deputy Minority Whip, Binta Bello. The Minority Leader, Leo Ogor was conspicuously absent. He was said to have been brought down by an acute illness.

Also in attendance on the part of the executive were the president, Osinbajo, the yet to be sworn in Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha; Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari; Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun; Minister of Budget and National Planning, Udo Udoma; and National Assembly liaison officers, Ita Enang and Ismaila Kawu.

Oyo-Ita, Kyari’s Curious Engagement

The rather light mood in the Villa since Monday was almost blighted on Wednesday when the Head of Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita and the Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, had an unusual encounter for about 10 minutes at the Council Chamber and to which different meanings had since been read.

The episode took place ahead of the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting, which had coincided with the launch of the military emblem by Buhari. The drama started, when Kyari, while facing Oyo-Ita, pointed a finger at her in a manner that suggested she might have leaked a certain memorandum to the president on the embarrassing reinstatement of a pension culprit, Abdulrasheed Maina.

The leaked memo, published by a national daily on October 31, was the response of head of service to Buhari’s query, demanding a report on the circumstances leading to the recall of Maina, who had been accused of pocketing about N195 billion pension funds and consequently declared wanted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) since 2013.

But Maina was secretly reinstated and promoted as Director on September 28, this year in the Ministry of Interior and following a public outcry, Buhari ordered his disengagement, queried Oyo-Ita and ordered her to explain the circumstances leading to Maina’s reinstatement before the close of work on October 23. But the memo she submitted to Kyari was leaked to the press eight days later.

The head of service, according to the leaked memo, said Buhari was aware of Maina’s reinstatement and that she advised him against it. The submission of Oyo-Ita in the memo, however, contradicted the president’s feigned ignorance about Maina’s recall.

In a complete departure from her usual calm and quiet nature, Oyo-Ita, after engaging Kyari, returned to her seat but rose again and headed straight to Osinbajo, who eventually calmed frayed nerves between the two officers.

Enter the New SGF and Launch of Military Emblem

 Buhari, on the same Wednesday, before the commencement of FEC meeting, swore in the new Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Boss Mustapha. His swearing-in ended the lull, which followed the suspension and investigation of the former SGF, Babachir David Lawal, on April 19 over alleged financial impropriety. Mustapha, who took oath of office in the council chamber, has since resumed duties.

Same day, Buhari also launched the Armed Forces Remembrance Day Celebration 2018 Emblem and appeal fund, saying it was time Nigerians resolved never to provoke another round of civil war by their actions and inactions, even as he recalled the pain of the huge but tragic material and human loss during the civil war.

Buhari who launched the emblem in memory of the ex-service men, who lost their lives in the first and second world wars as well as the Nigerian civil war, said honouring the memories of the departed service men was worthwhile and desirable and urged Nigerians to contribute to the fund for the benefit of the families of the fallen heroes and the wounded soldiers.

The president also lauded what he described as the unparalleled loyalty of the military to Nigeria and hailed the gallant officers – men and women – whom he said were being confronted with huge security challenges facing the nation.

…Ouattara, Mahama Hosted

Also last week, President Buhari  played host to  President of the Republic of Cote D’Ivoire, Alassane Ouattara, at the State House. The two leaders met behind closed doors to discuss bilateral issues between the two countries. On Friday, Buhari also hosted former Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama  to a private dinner.