April 14, 2024

From his days as an iron fisted military ruler, Muhammadu Buhari had cut the image of a brutal, no nonsense person, without a drop of milk of human kindness. Not so. People often condemn who or what they don’t understand.

Yes, he can be reserved, aloof, unflappable, and even stern. I remember when news of Bukola Saraki’s defection, along with Yakubu Dogara and many other senators and Rep members got to him before 2019 election, he simply said: “And who the bloody hell does that bother?”

But all that changes when he becomes comfortable with you. You then get to know his soft and kind side.

Sometime in 2022, we were at Kigali, capital of Rwanda, for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. On the delegation was the Honorable Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen.

During our stay, news got to the President that Dame Tallen had suffered a bad fall in the bathroom, and was in the hospital.

Pronto, President Buhari got some of his aides together, and we headed for the hospital. He not only wished his Minister well, but also gave instructions that she be evacuated for better care, if necessary.

Col. Dangiwa Umar, remember him? He was one of those popularly referred to as IBB Boys in the Nigerian Army then, and he was military governor of Kaduna State.

He told me a story, which showed that he may not have gone beyond the rank of Captain in the army, if not for Buhari.

“I went on a course in the United States of America. Advanced Armoured Course. General Buhari was Military Secretary then.

“Usually, promotion in the army is based on performance, and annual evaluation report. But you don’t get assessed for a year you are on course, since you didn’t work under any superior, who would assess you. So, the course report is usually used.

“I came back from the course, and my mates, the 7th Regular Course, had been promoted from Captain to Major, but I was bypassed. I wrote that I wanted to resign my commission because of the injustice.

“As Military Secretary, Gen Buhari took an interest in the matter, raised it at the appropriate quarters, and within two to three weeks, I was promoted.”

You also sure remember Dr Marilyn Amobi, Managing Director of Nigerian Bulk Electricity Trading (NBET) Plc. She told me of her encounter with Buhari:

“My first contact with the Nigerian government was in 2005, during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration. One afternoon, I just got a phone call in London, where I lived, and the person identified himself as Liyel Imoke.

“I said; Imoke. Is that not a Nigerian Minister? He was just laughing. Because I was making my hair, I was a bit impatient with him, when he didn’t answer. I then said; please don’t call this number again.

“He was calm, and asked when I would finish making my hair. I said in about an hour. He promised to call back.

“He truly did, and said he was trying to put together a regulatory commission for the power sector, and he would love to meet with me. I agreed.

“We met both in London, and later in Abuja. I was to become a Consultant to the Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) for a number of years.

“When President Buhari came in 2015, I learnt he set up a sub-committee to scout for honest, knowledgeable and courageous people, who could do the right things in the power sector.

“Members of the committee all came back with one name, Marilyn Amobi. Eventually, I was made Managing Director of NBET.

“But it was a turbulent assignment, with too many vested interests trying to bleed the system. One day, in 2017, I got a phone call through which I was summoned to the Presidential Villa.

“There had been the issue of Acu Gas, over which the President had been misled to approve the sum of 10 million dollars. I wrote a memo against it, and that was why the President sent for me.

“I waited briefly in an office shared by Ambassador Kazaure (SCOP), Mohammed Sarki Abba, and Dr Suhayb Rafindadi. I was eventually ushered before the President, with my knees shaking.

“He cleared his throat, and asked me to sit down. He was laughing.

“My daughter, how are you?” he asked. “I couldn’t answer.”

“I hear you are fed up with your job at NBET. You have many troubles. But have you gone to jail before?”

“He laughed again. He said he asked to see me because he saw what I had written on the Acu Gas deal.” He went on:

“It’s not easy to govern Nigeria, or even anywhere. But I must trust some people, or I can’t survive. They got me to commit 10 million dollars of Nigeria’s money to this project. I sent for you, to thank you for your courage to write against the deal.

“They brought you to join in their corruption, but you refused. You can’t fit into their corrupt ways, and that is why they are all against you.

“I told the President that I was already tired of the job, but he told me not to worry, that he would give me people I could contact if there’s any reason.”

The people, according to Dr Amobi, were Mohammed Sarki Abba, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Domestic and Household Matters, and Adamu Adamu, the Minister of Education.

“The President then prayed for me. And when he finished, his eyes were filled with tears. I was so touched. I asked if I could pray for him too. He said yes.

“I asked that God would bless, strengthen, and give him long life.

“When I finished, he looked at me, and said instead of long life for him, I should pray that God would give Nigeria more honest people like me.

“The President never knew me before he appointed me. When I had troubles, he stood behind me. Yet some people say he doesn’t like Ibos. Well, I don’t know….”

Those after Dr Amobi were relentless. She was suspended by Minister of Power, Sale Mamman, reinstated on the orders of the President, and when her term ended shortly after, she showed a clean pair of heels, running back to London.

“I would have died on the job. I was quite glad to leave,” she now says.

I’ve written about how the President left all other things in 2013, flew into Lagos to attend a farewell service for my late mum. One of his longest serving aides told me there were not up to five people in the country Buhari could do such for. I felt, and still feel, eternally honored.

When he got into office in 2015, he kept the Service Chiefs he met for three months. But that is not the story. It is the prerogative of a President to dispense with the services of those he inherits, and when. It could be immediate, it could be later.

The day he decided to appoint new Service Chiefs, he called me to his office, and gave me a paper.

“I’ve decided to let the Service Chiefs go,” he said. “Here’s the new list. But don’t release it till tomorrow. I want those who are leaving to get home, and be the ones to break the news to their family members. It’s not good for a man to leave for work in the morning, only for the family to hear over the radio or television that he had no job again.”

I asked the President if he had told the Service Chiefs that they would be leaving. He said yes. I then told him that the news could not be kept under wraps till the following day. It would become public knowledge once any of them even whispers it to another person.

President Buhari looked at me, smiled, and said. “You have never been sacked before. That’s why you are thinking that way. Me, I’ve been sacked, and I know how it feels.”

I left, but immediately I got downstairs, my phone began to ring back to back. It was the media, wanting to confirm if the Service Chiefs had truly been sacked or not. I promised to get back to them.

I went back to the President, and told him what happened. Surprised, he said; “is my office bugged? How did the news get out so quickly?”

He then consented that a statement be issued immediately.

When my elder sister, a Professor of Dramatic Arts at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, died in a road crash in December 2015, the President placed a personal phone call to sympathize with me. He also extended the sympathy to the entire Adesina household.

When my boss at The Sun Publishing Limited, Pastor Dimgba Igwe, had died in September 2014, well before Buhari became President, he visited the Okota, Lagos home of the Igwes, to condole with the family.

The same day, he had visited the Surulere, Lagos home of his former commander during the Civil War, Brigadier-General Adekunle Benjamin (Black Scorpion). That one was in the throes of transition to eternal life, and was no longer conscious. But Buhari gave his courtesies, nevertheless, and eulogized the man in the Visitors Book.

As President, when Boko Haram bombed Abuja, the President led us to the National Hospital to visit and comfort the wounded.

When an Air Force jet crashed while rehearsing for October 1 National Day air display, we were at the Air Force hospital in Asokoro to comfort the survivors.

At Christmas of 2016, I drew up a list of some of our prominent supporters, and encouraged the President to place personal calls to them. He looked through the list, and asked me to include the eminent lawyer and politician, Tunji Braithwaite. They spoke for a long time, and kept laughing.

Incidentally, that was their last conversation. A couple of months later, Braithwaite died. When I asked if they ever spoke again, he said no, and thanked me for encouraging him to make the calls.

The President was not also parsimonious in terms of praises. Many times, he would watch me on television, and give kudos whenever we saw.

I was on Sunday Politics on Channels Television one evening. The host, Seun Okinbaloye, was particularly combative that day. But yours truly can always hold his own. It was no quarter asked, and none given.

The next morning, the President saw me in the office. He laughed, and said; “I watched you on television last night. I could see how fast your brain was working. Thank you for defending me always.”

And one day, we were visiting Katsina State, and the President and the team retreated to Government House for the afternoon prayers. I sat in the living room, while the Muslims went into another room to pray.

When they were done, and the President came out with Governor Aminu Masari, I rose up to greet them. The President acknowledged my greetings, and said: “Clever Adesina.” We laughed.

When the Foursquare Gospel Church turned 60 in Nigeria, the then General Overseer, Rev Felix Meduoye, asked if the church could pay the President a courtesy visit. I said I would check.

When I discussed with the President, he said by all means. And a team of 10 people came.

In his speech, the General Overseer thanked the President for appointing one of the members of the church as his Adviser on media and publicity.

When the President responded, he said he was the one that should be thankful to me for coming to serve the government.

“He had built a career of integrity and professionalism, and now he brought everything to serve us. I should thank him. I depend on him a lot. When his colleagues in the media come after me, I hide behind him.” (General laughter).

At 81, former President Buhari is looking very fresh, well rested. I know, because I was with him in his Daura, Katsina State home last week. I wish him longer years, in peace and all that is good. He did his best for Nigeria. And we appreciate him.

•Femi Adesina served as Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Buhari for 8 years. The piece above are excerpts from his forthcoming memoir, Working with Buhari, to be presented to the public in January 2024.

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