At 8am on Wednesday, my Google calendar notification popped up, ‘FEC meeting @10 at Aso Rock Villa’. On a normal day, that notification was all I needed to conclude whatever I was doing and join other State House Correspondents to capture the earliest moments of the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting. It was usually an interesting moment with the policymakers and movers and shakers of the economy.
Before leaving, I would type a few paragraphs to serve as a base material for my report about who was to preside over the meeting, what events preceded the meeting and, of course, which cabinet members were present.
On such Wednesdays, former President Muhammadu Buhari could inaugurate a new board for an agency many Nigerians do not even know exist. There are many such agencies, but that is not the matter for today. On other occasions, Buhari could launch a new policy document, report or even a government-related app or website.
Also, if an ex-cabinet member died, regardless of the administration or the year the person served, the council would honour the deceased with one-minute silence before the meeting would proceed.
Interestingly, despite being top government officials, 9.30 to 10am on Wednesdays seemed like ‘rush hour’ in the Villa. Under Buhari, it was normal to see ministers dashing through the hallway of the administrative building like schoolchildren running late for school. Some could be seen with heavy folders in one hand, and some others dragging a trolley of memos behind them, hoping to enter the Council Chamber before 10am when often arrived. He was never late!
However, this Wednesday, May 31, was unlike the others. The usual rush was ‘gone’ like fuel subsidy; no convoys of black SUVs racing to the frontage. Rather, it was a scanty pathway leading to an empty chamber. Although the maintenance staff cleaned the chairs and tables, that morning, there were no ministers to occupy them, yet.
A day earlier, President Bola Tinubu arrived at his office for the first time to “hit the ground running.” In the days that followed, he met the EFCC chairman, service chiefs, a Chinese delegation, lawmakers and APC governors. He also appointed George Akume as Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Femi Gbajabiamila as Chief of Staff, passing a strong message to Nigerians that he will “keep running”.
As the Commander-in-Chief runs the country to prosperity, as he promised, Nigerians are “running” a different kind of race at filling stations nationwide. Thanks to his declaration last Monday that “Subsidy is gone!” But it’s not all doom and gloom. President Tinubu flashed a glimmer of hope on Friday when he said, “We need to do some arithmetic and soul-searching on the minimum wage.”
As the 16th President settles into office, Nigerians expect him to “hit the ground running” with the announcement of a new cabinet and other key officers of his administration. Until he does that, the Council Chamber may remain clean but empty on Wednesday mornings.
In the coming days, Nigerians look forward to other key appointments.
An unexpected sight greeted me when I walked back into the Villa on Thursday afternoon. The President had just met the General Security Appraisal Committee. After the two-hour meeting, the National Security Adviser, Major General Babagana Monguno (retd.), updated State House Correspondents on the outcome and was preparing to leave. But he was not alone.
At the entrance of the administrative building stood the Vice-President, Senator Kashim Shettima. At first, I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but I was not mistaken. As I walked closer, I recognised the NSA beside him. Both men gazed into the distance as though expecting a third person to join their tête-à-tête.
Around them stood a handful of men in black suits, all of whom looked like they were ripped out of the 1999 blockbuster movie, The Matrix. More on these guys later.
Beholding the sight, I changed direction as it was not advisable to walk too close, even though my access tag was visible for all to see.
Once inside, my curiosity got to work! After relating this sight to a few folks, I learnt that the VP was only seeing off his friend, the NSA. I went, “The VP? Seeing off the NSA? What a humble man.” Or “they must be really good friends.”
I learnt that his predecessor, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, treated his visitors with a similar gesture in his early days in office; until it dawned on him that he was the vice president. Perhaps, the new VP may continue to honour his friends and guests this way until his office forces him to stop. Whatever the case, may he and his principal lead with the fear of God, conscience and a sense of posterity.
Now, let me tell you about the John Wicks at the Villa. They are not hitmen like Keanu Reeves in the blockbuster movie, but they can be fierce. They are the first faces you see when you drive through the gates. They stand in conspicuous places. You can’t miss them. Some wear shades, others keep their eyes bare for you to quickly recognise that they are not there to joke.
They may greet you with a smile, but make no mistake, they are not your friends. These men are part of the reasons the Aso Rock Villa is considered one of Africa’s most-guarded presidential palaces. If you look, act or smell like a threat, they will treat you as one.
So on this fateful day, I saw many of these men clustered in a corner. I had never seen so many of them together. My findings showed that these men were recently deployed in Aso Rock to serve the new President. Though drawn from different security agencies, the suit and tie unify them all.
In the meantime, the new security agents will need some guidance from the older hands before they fully master their roles. Regardless, anyone who jokes with them does so at their own peril. The inauguration of the new President may have been over at the Eagle Square, but in the Villa, the transition continues.