A divided Presidency and a First Lady battling for space
The recent shooting incident at the nation’s seat of power which security experts have described as a rare occurrence has further portrayed the Buhari Presidency in bad light, OLALEKAN ADETAYO writes
The serene nature of the Presidential Villa, Abuja cannot be mistaken for any other expansive compound in the Federal Capital Territory.
Small signposts with inscriptions banning motorists from honking their horns within the premises are erected in strategic locations. Whether it is in the morning, afternoon or evening, the silence that pervades the environment is so pronounced that the sounds of birds, bats and monkeys among other animals are loud enough for all to hear.
When this silence is suddenly disrupted by feuding parties shouting on top of their voices in their desperate attempts to make their points, it becomes easily detected as an unusual happening in the environment where the President of the most populous black nation resides alongside his deputy and members of their families.
It becomes more awkward when the gladiators are not satisfied with verbal attacks and decide to fire gunshots either into the air or towards those in the opposing camp.
At this point, those saddled with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of the President and others will jump up and quickly position themselves for the bloody battle that may follow.
But what then happens when after mobilising to the “battlefield” and they suddenly realise that the troublemakers are not outsiders but the very people that they are being paid to protect?
That was exactly what played out at the seat of power in the evening of penultimate Thursday when Aisha, the wife of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) reportedly attempted to force her husband’s nephew and Personal Assistant, Sabiu Yusuf, to go into self-isolation having returned from a trip to Lagos which is the epicentre of the dreaded coronavirus.
Mrs Buhari; her Aide-De-Camp, Usman Shugaba; and other security aides were said to have stormed Yusuf’s official residence inside one of the guest houses inside the Presidential Villa called House 8. Their mission was to evict the young man whose residence is a short distance from the official residence of the President.
They however met a resistance from Yusuf who saw no reason why he should be forced into self-isolation. Reports said there was exchange of abusive words. As the situation got rowdy, one of the security details of Mrs Buhari reportedly fired gunshots that forced Yusuf to take to his heels.
Report of the incident got to the Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, who quickly ordered the arrest of all the security men that joined Mrs Buhari to invade Yusuf’s residence.
Playing the victim, the President’s wife took to her social media platforms the following day to publicly ask the IGP, her husband’s appointee, to quickly release her security aides. In her post, she also called on relevant government agencies to enforce the law on interstate travels and self-isolation.
Although she did not mention any name, she was clearly setting up the relevant government agencies against Yusuf.
She wrote, “That COVID-19 is real and still very much around in our nation is not in doubt. Consequently, I call on all relevant government agencies to enforce the Quarantine Act signed by Mr President and ensure no one is found violating this law and the NCDC guidelines especially on interstate travel without the necessary exemptions for movement of essentials. Anyone who does that should at the very least be made to undergo a 14 day mandatory isolation no matter who the person is, no one should be above the law and the police command will do well to remember that. Finally, I call on the IGP to release my assigned staff (members) who are still in the custody of the police in order to avoid putting their lives in danger or exposure to COVID-19 while in their custody.”
Not a few people hold the belief that the latest development was a continuation of Mrs Buhari’s desperate efforts to assert and liberate herself from the strong forces surrounding the President which have come to be popularly known members of the Presidency cabal.
She had in the past come out strong against those people who she believes have the President’s ears against the wishes of Nigerians but many would have thought that the death of Buhari’s former Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari, in April due to COVID-19 complications would have ended that era.
Not too long ago, Mrs Buhari granted an interview to the Hausa Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation, in which she accused Fatima, the daughter of her husband’s nephew, Mamman Daura, of laughing at her in a video that went viral after Buhari reportedly asked Daura and his family to vacate the Glass House, an extension of the President’s residence, for his son, Yusuf.
Daura is believed to be the leader of the group known as the cabal. He had been occupying the building within the precinct of the President’s residence with his family, in spite of the fact that he is not known to be holding any public office.
Mrs Buhari had said in the interview, “I was the one in the video. Those people behind me were the security personnel assigned to protect me. But Mamman Daura’s daughter, Fatima, shot the video in the presence of security officials and everybody. She was laughing at me because my husband said they should vacate the place (Glass House) for my son. I wanted to pass through that door to go into a store, but they had locked the door. I took an alternative route only to discover that the door was also locked.”
Fatima also granted the same medium a separate interview, admitting that she recorded the video that went viral to provide proof for her parents and security officials about Mrs Buhari’s outburst during the encounter.
She said, “Her (Mrs Buhari’s) comments frightened me. She was hurling insults and shouting that she had never seen anything like it. I went back and took my (mobile) phone because if you went and said she acted the way she did, nobody would believe you (without evidence).
“She was making a lot of noise, saying she was being oppressed. I filmed the encounter to show our parents and security officials, in case something happens. From the way she was screaming, I even thought she would pick up something to hit us or something like that.”
That Mrs Buhari has been in the news since 2015 with her utterances and actions is not in doubt. Most, if not all, of the utterances are indicative of a cracked Presidency and a President’s wife that is desperately fighting for a space to operate.
Recall that in her 2016 interview with the BBC, she threatened to withdraw her support for the President at the 2019 general elections unless he made an effort to shake up his cabinet.
At the time, she claimed her husband did not know most of the top government officials he had appointed.
She said, “The President does not know 45 out of 50 of the people he appointed. I don’t know them either, despite being his wife of 27 years. Some people are sitting down in their homes and folding their arms only to be invited to head a government agency or take up a ministerial job.”
Just like the way she did in her latest tweet without mentioning Yusuf’s name, she did not name those who she claimed took over the government in the interview.
Of course, observers of event still looked in the direction of Daura and Kyari at the time.
Those who thought she must have been prevailed upon to stop washing the Presidency’s proverbial dirty linen outside were surprised when after many months, the President’s wife again justified her statement, saying it was based on her sense of justice.
She said the statement was not meant to be confrontational or a sign of disrespect.
In a message she sent to the 2017 Vanguard Awards where she was honoured as the Vanguard Personality of the Year 2017, Mrs Buhari said she was brought up to stand by the truth and that was how she had been living her life.
She explained that since Nigerians elected her husband, based on the trust and confidence they had in him, she felt the administration should serve the country to the best of its ability.
The President’s wife said, “One of the reasons adduced for honouring me was the interview I granted, which some people saw as criticism of a government that I am part of.
“I need to state that my position was a reflection of my sense of justice. It was not meant to confront or disrespect the government. I was brought up to stand by the truth and this is how I have always been.
“As we are all aware, Nigerians elected this administration based on trust and the confidence they have in my husband. Therefore, I feel that we are here to serve Nigeria to the best of our ability.
“Let me use this opportunity to state that I support my husband in this call to service and will continue to do so.”
In all these, it appears that the desire of the Adamawa State-born Mrs Buhari is to have absolute control of her area and she has indicated several times that this is not negotiable.
Meanwhile, the President has ordered the redeployment of about 20 presidential bodyguards over the shooting incident at the State House.
The personnel, from the DSS and the National Intelligence Agency, were withdrawn from the Presidential Villa over their failure to manage the situation, which led to the firing of gunshots within the Villa penultimate Thursday.
They are expected to be replaced with new ones immediately.
What then have her actions and utterances portrayed about the Buhari Presidency?
A former Director of the Department of State Service, Mike Ejiofor, in an interview with our correspondent, attributed the latest incident in the seat of power to what he described as a “struggle for power and personalisation.”
Describing the incident as very embarrassing, Ejiofor said he had never witnessed such a scenario throughout his career as a DSS official.
“The incident was very unfortunate. In my career, I have never seen such incident of shooting in the seat of power except during a coup. This incident really raised a serious concern. The Presidency has said it is investigating the matter, we will wait to see what will be done but it was very embarrassing,” he said.
A serving DSS official who spoke on condition of anonymity, however, blamed Mrs Buhari’s security details for the way the incident turned out.
The official who worked in the Presidential Villa for years before he was redeployed in 2015 said, “When incompetence becomes the order of the day, you will witness more of such incident. It is the sole responsibility of the DSS to protect the President. Other security agencies are supportive: they play the roles of crowd and vehicle controls and the likes.
“But now, the police and the military are in the forefront whereas they are not trained on evacuation of VIPs. They cannot handle manoeuvrings. Indeed, there are problems with Nigeria.”
A Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Peace and Conflict Resolution, Abuja, Dr Olalekan Babatunde, is also of the view that security aides should always exercise restraints in handling their assignments.
“Such incident can be prevented in the future if the police and other security aides adhere strictly to their professional ethics and best practices. Without provocations and threat to lives, VIPs’ aides should always exercise restraints in accordance to the dictates of their work. All lives matter,” he added.