Another handshake with Mr. President
By Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye
I was excited when information filtered in last week that President Muhammadu Buhari would be meeting with members of the State House Press Corps.
Two things informed my excitement. One was the expectation that I would have the opportunity of asking him just one question. The second reason was an anticipated handshake with him.
Yes, we see the President almost now and then, especially every Wednesdays during meetings of the Federal Executive Council (FEC); but naturally, there is a world of difference between taking newsworthy notes, greeting and having a chat with the Number One citizen in utmost informal way.
But much as this went, I was eagerly waiting to ask the President this one question which would have been: Please, Mr. President, define “change”.
This was persuasively necessary because of the economic situation in the country that had picked on the very poor which the government has sworn to protect. I belong to that group and I can say the experience is not worth sharing.
I know the President is a no-nonsense leader. But I was so surprised to see that under his watch, Abuja and indeed, major cities of the country were littered with street urchins who posed as black marketers of fuel. Of course, that was during the fuel queues.
But you can say they are no more, because the queues have all disappeared now, courtesy of the high price we now pay to get the product.
Again, under President Buhari, prices of staple foods like rice have skyrocketed. Tomatoes have almost vanished from the markets, and for those who still manage to get them, one piece goes for N100. What about the electricity tariff, general goods and services?
Amid all these, I would have popped the question. But I did not get the opportunity because when the meeting finally held, it took another dimension far from what I expected.
The first time the President met with State House Correspondents was on June 22, 2015 – three weeks after he took over the mantle of leadership from Dr. Goodluck Jonathan.
I recall at that meeting, he thanked us in advance for the “good and ill” he would face in our hands in the course of governing the country. If I understood him then, the President was not trying to cast aspersion or “bribe” us ahead. He knows the probing stance of journalists and he trusted we would play our role as the watch-dog of his actions and inactions.
But one thing was uppermost on his mind then. It was at that meeting that he disclosed that he inherited a “virtually empty treasury” with debts running into hundreds of millions of dollars and had to appeal to the media to explain the true position to Nigerians, so that “they won’t March on us.”
Buhari had also in that meeting, described the inability to pay workers as a disgrace, blaming it on bad management.
Then came the time for handshake, the very first handshake I had with him. The President had one funny thing or the other to say to every journalist as we introduced ourselves.
And just like yesterday, it is already one year since the meeting held!
Buhari’s one year in office
As part of activities to mark his one year in office, President Buhari decided to have lunch with the State House Press Corps on May 30, 2016. This was where I expected to ask my questions.
And so, we came with our news gathering gadgets – recorders, phones, ipads, camera (still and video) but were shocked when we could not take them in. Reason: Security issues. Only the cameramen were exempted.
President Buhari seized the occasion to again, relieve the moment, when former President, Goodluck Jonathan, called to accept defeat after the last presidential elections, describing it as shocking.
He said because he was not expecting a sudden acknowledgment of electoral defeat, there was dead silence from his end when Jonathan called.
Buhari then described Jonathan’s action as generous and gracious, regretting, however, that his good intentions were rubbished by his ministers, who refused to work with the transition committee in preparing the handover notes. As far as the President was concerned, most of the challenges facing his administration today, could be traced to that non-cooperation.
The big assignment
President Buhari who apparently would not entertain any question, indirectly threw a challenge when he said he was curious to know that the diaries of those covering the Villa look like having been in the corridor of power interviewing movers and shakers of the nation and captains of industry as it relates to the ‘Change’ Mantra of his administration.
Due to the shocking discoveries his administration has made as regards corruption and the sentiments these have elicited in the land, the President urged journalists to carry out research on those who visit the Presidential Villa to put them on their toes or expose the skeletons in their cupboards.
He revealed that those who speak to the Villa Correspondents know the mileage they get but he would want them not to find that encounter easy.
“So, please; when next you want to interrogate out visitors, try and do some research so that when they are coming next time, they will do research themselves”, he said.
Celebrating the oldest photographer in State House
At the lunch, President Buhari met with Nigeria’s oldest photo journalist, Alhaji Ladan Abubakar.
Surprising, when ‘Baba Ladan’ (as we call him) was introduced by the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, the President was not paying too much attention until he heard the age of the man popularly called Baba Ladan.
While the rest of the corps got a handshake and walked away, Baba Ladan bagged the honour of a special photo shot with the President.
In fact, so excited was the ace photographer to see his pictures in some newspapers making the front page the next day that he verbally queried others whose papers did not use the picture.
Not discouraged by the missed opportunity, I look forward to when next the President will be the guest of the Press Corps and I will ask several questions bugging my mind; one of which, looking back, will be if he regrets making those campaign promises that earned him the victory at the 2015 elections. That will make a good memoir, moreso as the President is curious to read a dairy of State House Correspondents.