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Jonathan’s handlers and their penchant for closed-door meetings

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By Olalekan Adetayo

Our government officials are too secretive. They prefer that everything about the government is hidden from the electorate who voted them into offices. That is why every meeting is held behind closed-doors.

In the Villa, I am beginning to be annoyed at the rate at which every meeting is being held in secret. For instance, a delegation of traditional rulers will meet with the President behind closed-doors,  a delegation of the Nigeria Bar Association will do the same. What is it that they discuss during such courtesy visits that Nigerians cannot hear through accredited journalists? Why will the President’s handlers prefer at all times to issue statements on meetings that journalists should ordinarily attend and report fairly? Many questions, no answers.

The other day when the  Kabiru Turaki-led Presidential Committee on Dialogue and Peaceful Resolution of Security Challenges in the North was about submitting its report, journalists had earlier been asked to leave the hall to pave the way for another closed-door session. It was later that superior argument prevailed and they allowed us in to cover the event.

Last year, when participants of the Senior Executive Course 34 of the Nigerian Institute of Policy and Strategic Studies, Kuru, near Jos came to present their report to Jonathan, they did it in the open. We sat through the session. I still remember vividly the kind of in-depth stories we filed from the event which was held inside the First Lady Conference Hall. The reports did not in any way endanger national security.

Surprisingly, when participants of Course 35 came for the same purpose on Monday, we were asked to leave the venue as soon as the preambles ended. The funny aspect of it is that no press statement was issued at the end of the presentation. I think presidential aides are over-protecting our President (yes, he is our President) and I am not too sure he is aware of half of the things people do in his name.

I agree that the man is entitled to private meetings that should be taken away from the prying eyes of journalists and by extension, the public, but the instances I gave above and many others that I know of do not in any way fall into the category of such private meetings.  When will this secrecy end?

Still on Oduah and her heavy cross

I had decided before now to stop writing about the embattled Minister of Aviation, Ms Stella Oduah, here until the time Jonathan makes his decision on the minister’s fate known.

But I changed my mind on Wednesday when I saw how co-ministers were milling around her in apparent show of solidarity. The minister is currently fighting the battle of survival. She is being investigated over the N255m BMW bulletproof cars purchased by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Agency.

While some of the ministers and presidential aides who attended the Wednesday meeting were going about exchanging banter with their colleagues, Oduah stayed put on her seat. Some of them even posed for photographs with the FIFA Under-17 soccer championship’s trophy brought to the council by the Minister of Sports, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, yet Oduah did not move an inch.

Some of her colleagues who noticed her demeanour later decided to approach her where she was sitting and engaged her in short discussions in a manner that suggested “don’t worry, we are with you in your trying time.” I want to believe that they were not telling her “we will miss you but you will still remain our friend both within and without government.”

I will resist the temptation of mentioning names, but the ministers kept going to meet Oduah. They would whisper a few words after either hugging her or giving her handshakes.

By the time she was leaving the council chambers, Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Pius Anyim, came handy as his official car was used to drive the embattled minister away.

And Mr. President clocks 56

It is no longer news that President Goodluck Jonathan clocked 56 on Wednesday. Jonathan was born on November 20, 1957 in Otuoke, Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State to a family of canoe makers. Congratulatory messages from friends and political associates were published lavishly in major newspapers. Favour-seekers too did not take the back stage as many people fell over one another to show love for the nation’s man of the moment.

Ministers and senior presidential aides who form majority of members of the Federal Executive Council were not ready to see anybody or group outshine them. They must have expressed special happiness when they noticed that the birthday would fall on Wednesday, a day they hold their weekly meeting.

They therefore planned big for the event. You won’t blame them, after all, Vice President Namadi Sambo put it succinctly when he said, “There is no doubt the great destiny of this man (Jonathan) has helped our individual destinies.”

Their disappointment can only be imagined when they discovered that the birthday boy would not attend the meeting. Jonathan had left Abuja in the early hours of the day for London where he presided over a three-day meeting of Nigeria’s Honourary International Investors’ Council.

That was not the first time FEC members would be so disappointed this year. That was the same way Sambo was absent at a FEC meeting during which council members planned to honour him when he clocked 59 in August, having left for Saudi Arabia on lesser Hajj the previous night. I hope I have not, by this information, unwittingly disclosed to Nigerians that the Vice President is three years older than the President!

Anyway, two giant-size birthday cards surfaced at the Council Chambers for members to sign.

Former Minister of Housing, Lands and Urban Development, Ama Pepple, who coordinated the signing exercise during Sambo’s birthday is no longer in the cabinet; so a man from the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation who I cannot easily identify by name, coordinated.

Sambo set the tone for a brief birthday ceremony with a short remark in which he described his boss in the superlatives. He later directed the Minister of Transport, Senator Idris Umar, and the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Akinwunmi Adesina, to pray for the President. They also sang a birthday song for him in absentia.

After the short FEC meeting that lasted barely one hour, they all retired to the chambers’ tea room  where they cut a birthday cake brought by the Ministry of Agriculture.

Adesina explained that the big cake was specially made to demonstrate the President’s commitment to the transformation of agriculture in the country. The cake was designed in form of a big farmland. A tractor was seen on the farmland. Fruits such as pineapple, carrots, cashew, oranges and banana among others were seen placed in a corner on the farmland. The President’s portrait was placed strategically in the middle of the farmland. Sambo and other FEC members cut the cake on behalf of their boss.

I did not see the cake shared. It may be one of the things that Sambo will hand over to his boss when he returns from London. But another cake was shared. Don’t ask me if I got my share of the birthday (or national) cake.

Interestingly, Jonathan did not want to miss the whole show. That explained why he cut some of the cakes provided by his friends in the wee hours of the day before leaving the country. Somebody who was part of the brief ceremony in the President’s official residence said “there were too many cakes to be cut.”

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