By Adebayo Briggs
ASo Rock, the Presidential Villa, is the official abode of the Nigerian President known with an overwhelming power, conferred on him by the constitution. Nigerians from a distance have always looked towards the seat of government as a most revered and well-fortified hallowed territory. To many, the Villa is a place meant only for a tiny clan of elected eggheads; the privileged few or rather, the ruling elite. Anyone not called into the business of governance may find the place very impenetrable.
In the immediate past, the Presidential vVlla failed to live up to its name and status. More than a year ago specifically, the seat of power lost its natural ecclesiastic reverence, glamour and unrivalled pride. Driven by kindred spirit, the last chief occupants, allegedly threw the doors wider open for their own and special cronies. The Villa then suddenly became a huge attraction for power mongers, political jobbers, gold diggers and general favour seekers. It got so bad when men and women of little relevance had field days competing for attention in attempts to cut huge deals.
Unbelievably though it seemed, wanted oil heists and drug kingpins had unrestrained access to the President! In no time, the Villa was completely violated! Before Nigerians could realise the tragedy involved, the seat of government became a coven where their commonwealth was freely butchered and frittered away. The consequence of poor crowd management in the Presidential Villa ended up a monumental disaster, not only for the over-exposed past President, but also for the rest of Nigeria!
The level of violation of the Presidential Villa, as reported had required some serious physical and spiritual cleansing. That happened before President Muhammadu Buhari moved in. From then on, sanity increasingly returned as the new managers took time to lay very solid standards that are more difficult to subvert and which promise to endure. This is happening as the Change promised by the President is beginning to take its course.
Lately, President Buhari launched a fresh campaign to promote attitudinal change in Nigerians: Change Begins With Me. Indeed, those who work closely with the President conclude that he is the number one purveyor and mirror of the Change mantra his government has been trading in. That change is starting right from the Presidential Villa, given the way the power zone runs now. In essence, any visitor to the Presidential Villa today can attest to the improved standards and the changing atmosphere. The crowd that had hitherto been the permanent feature in every department and waiting rooms in the President’s office has thinned out most drastically. The arrangement in place now offers all the officials most especially the President, the right breathing space to engage in serious work. For the President and others, effective management of time and space is a huge opportunity for cutting off distractions, while settling for the arduous business of governance.
Many in the Villa are of the view that the President is a delight to work with. He cracks jokes to ease off tension when attending to visitors. Many had attested that the President is respectful, open, avuncular and affable. There are reports that the President often times locates old friends and acquaintances from the crowd and had visibly made efforts to bring them closer. He had stunned many with that attribute described as infectious. To keep pace with events within and outside the villa, the President reads newspapers, watches television and listens to Radio, his tight schedules notwithstanding. Surprisingly, the President attends to state matters even on weekends. In all, he is said to be a stickler for time.
From findings, those enjoying the new lease of life in the Presidential Villa owe the Chief of Staff, Alhaji Abba Kyari and his immediate lieutenants in the protocol department some gratitude. Any day, the management of the President’s complex routine of work is an enormous task. Yet, the President’s Protocol seems to have mastered the art while leaving little or no fault lines for attention. Notwithstanding criticisms, the Office of Chief of the Staff and Protocol Department, from disposition gets more diligent in mounting fool-proof arrangement to keep the villa running effectively to give the President less hassle. Experience and full dedication to work drive the conduct of officials in the protocol department of the Presidential Villa.
Under President Buhari, any willing visitor to the Villa must be put on schedule. Nobody, no matter how influential can bump in on the President, unlike before. Even visitors to the President’s residence must be on schedule, and registered in black and white. Indeed, foreign visitors to Nigeria rate the Protocol Department in the Presidential Villa high in efficiency.
Nonetheless, a meeting with the Nigerian President under the new arrangement is not a herculean task. First, the President can signify who he wants to see, while the protocol department takes care of the fixing of time and movements. On the other hand, all a willing visitor needs do is send a request memo to the Office of the Chief Of Staff and that of the State Chief of Protocol (SCOP), stating very genuine reason (s) for a meeting. Such visitor eventually gets to meet the President on approval of request. The idea is that in this new era, nobody pays a ‘toll’ to anyone for appointment to see the Nigerian President.
President Buhari is said to be focused more than anyone had imagined. He still retains the military mental alertness and the conscious mind to note what goes on around him. Oftentimes, the President broods over events of the day and asks questions from aides to be sure that nothing went wrong around him. In the Villa today, new standards have been established, while everyone willingly fallsu in line.
Engineer Briggs writes from Abuja