An evening encounter with Mr. President

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When Mr. Femi Adesina was named the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, one of the first things he did was to meet with members of the State House Press Corps during which he solicited support for the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. He promised a robust relationship between his office and the reporters.

Later on, Adesina also promised us that once his boss relocated to the Villa, one of the first things he would do would be to meet personally with reporters. That sounded too sweet in the ears of many who still remember vividly how Buhari’s predecessor was completely shielded from journalists who reported his activities day and night throughout his tenure. They took that promise with a pinch of salt.

On Sunday, information went round that the President would resume in his office for the first time on Monday and would be meeting with reporters. The excitement was high because there had never been that kind of meeting in recent past, so we rushed to the Villa very early on Monday.

The President was busy with one meeting or the other for the better part of the day and the doubt came up again. Reporters suspected that some people might have kicked against the idea of Buhari meeting us.

Surprisingly however, at about a few minutes before 6pm, Buhari arrived the Briefing Room of the Council Chambers which has been serving as reporters’ operational base. He was accompanied by Adesina; his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu; and the State Chief of Protocol, Lawal Kazaure. We all rose to welcome him. The hall erupted in laughter when the President asked, “Can I sit down?”

Adesina set the tone for the evening when he told us that Buhari had decided to come and visit us on his first day in office although we were supposed to be the ones that should have visited him. He thereafter invited the President to address us.

His speech was laced with jokes and it centered on the need for us to work harmoniously. He made a statement that caused a bit of confusion later. He said, “I hope what happened of recent between the former President and one of you will not happen between me and you.” He was referring to the case of the correspondent of German Radio, Deutsche Welle, Mr. Ubale Musa, who was expelled from the Villa by the past administration for asking visiting Chadian President, Idriss Derby, a question authorities considered to be embarrassing.

We clapped when he mentioned it, believing that he promised that he would not treat any of us like that. Later however, some colleagues interpreted the statement to mean a subtle threat. We however, took solace in the fact that Adesina had, during his meeting with us, also referred to the case, saying he did not see anything wrong in the question our embattled colleague asked.

At the end of his speech, it was time for self-introduction. The President stepped forward as we filed out one after the other. He would look at the reporters eyeball-to-eyeball while we introduced ourselves and the media houses we represent. He would then proceed to shake hands. That session too was not without drama.

When a colleague introduced himself and told the President that he worked for Leadership Newspapers, the President held his hand tightly and said, “Leadership? Please, help me tell your cartoonist that my neck is fatter than the way he always draws me.” We all laughed.

When it was the turn of the cameraman of African Independent Television, the President exclaimed, “AIT! AIT!!” and used his hand to ask him to go. We remembered an earlier confrontation between the President’s handlers and the television station which led to the initial banning of its reporters from covering Buhari’s activities as the then President-elect. We laughed again. When the correspondent of New Telegraph introduced himself, the President said, “Ok. Orji Kalu. You guys are quite new.”

When it was my turn, I took my time to mention my name and the organisation I work for slowly while he held my hand. The strategy was to ensure that photojournalists would have enough time to give me as many snapshots as possible. The President simply said, “Oh, Punch newspapers!” amidst smile when I introduced myself.

With the introduction over, Buhari returned to his office while we quickly settled down to file the story. He had earlier during his speech dropped a bombshell that he inherited virtually empty treasury and huge debts running into millions of dollars from his predecessor. That news item featured prominently on the cover pages of almost all newspapers the following day.

Special induction for new state governors

Buhari had his first meeting with the 36 state governors on Tuesday. Apart from governors serving their second term or former ministers who have now become governors, many of the state chief executives were participating in a meeting inside the Council Chambers for the first time. They therefore needed informal induction.

Photojournalists had to approach some of them who went straight to the seats allocated to them. They were tutored to go round and exchange pleasantries with their colleagues, thereby giving them photo opportunities.

Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode, was very jovial throughout the period of interactions before the meeting started. As he was being ushered to his seat, he saw the tag on his table and told the protocol official amidst smile that he is not “Executive Governor of Lagos State” as written on the tag but “simply governor of Lagos State.”

People who were conversant with his campaign jingles ahead of the governorship election would shout “Ambo ooooo.” The governor would turn to them and smile. He offered to take a group photograph with some of us and he told us how Ambo was gradually replacing his name, Ambode, especially among children.

While he was engaging the governor of my home state, Senator Ibikunle Amosun, in a discussion, Governor Adams Oshiomhole joined them briefly. After exchanging pleasantries with them, Oshiomhole told Ambode that he would like to be Lagos State’s one-day governor. He did not explain the reason why he is nursing that ambition. They laughed and he left the duo to continue their discussion.

When Buhari arrived and was calling the meeting to order, I turned my attention to Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State as he kept looking at the man who he had during campaigns described as too old to govern the country.

It was a day that I wished I had supernatural power to be seeing what is going on in one’s mind while simply looking at the person’s face. Until when I get such a power, I can only be imagining what the governor’s thought was when he saw Buhari taking his seat.

Next Saturday is another day, enjoy your weekend.

Punch News – culled from http://www.punchng.com/columnists/aso-rock-lens-columnists/an-evening-encounter-with-mr-president/

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