By Olalekan Adetayo
President Muhammadu Buhari saw it coming. He has lived long enough to know the power the mass media can wield in a society, especially in a democracy. He also has enough experience on the influence, either positive or negative, of the social media. He did not have to look too far, events of the campaign period ahead of the 2015 general elections were enough to tell him that the media cannot be underestimated.
The President therefore decided to devote some lines in his inaugural address on May 29 to the mass media. “The Nigerian press is the most vibrant in Africa. My appeal to the media today – and this includes the social media – is to exercise its considerable powers with responsibility and patriotism.” This was just one paragraph out of his comments on the media on that day at the Eagle Square.
Buhari is just barely two weeks in the saddle, ink is yet to dry on the paper in which his speech was written, and the unfavourable reports have started coming in torrent, especially in the social media.
First, there was a report that claimed to have uncovered the President’s N2.1bn Asokoro, Abuja lakeside mansion located at 9, Udo Udoma Street. The picture of the mansion went viral with further claims that heavy security presence had been deployed around the area surrounding the property since his inauguration.
An online report said estate surveyors valued the land on which the triple-duplex property sits at approximately N1.2bn while each of the three duplexes is valued at N300m.
It added that the property had been home to a former High Commissioner of an African country to Nigeria while the family of the late Special Adviser on Strategy and Documentation to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Oronto Douglas, are also tenants.
Again, news spread like wildfire last week that Buhari locked Vice President Yemi Osinbajo out of a meeting he had with security chiefs on Tuesday. The report claimed that Osinbajo was refused “security clearance” to attend the meeting as a result of security concerns by the Commander-in-Chief allegedly over what he described as a “very sensitive meeting.” According to the report, it was the thinking of the President that it was too early in the day to bring Osinbajo into the President’s first security briefing. Funny enough, the Vice President was attending the inauguration of Sudanese President, Omar al-Bashir in far away Sudan when that meeting was holding in Abuja.
Wife of the President, Aisha, has not been spared. While she was sitting or standing beside her husband during his inauguration, she could not have imagined that some people were focusing their attention on her wristwatch rather than the event of the day.
There were reports that the wristwatch she wore was a Cartier Baignoire Folle 18-Carat White Gold Diamond Ladies Watch that cost £34,500 (N10, 453, 000). The report went viral until there were counter reports that hers was just an imitation of the original watch.
Buhari’s children are also having their own dose of the social media (bitter) pill. A report claimed that an unnamed daughter of the President went into a boutique in Wuse 2, Abuja with a retinue of security aides who chased out other customers to allow her do her shopping freely.
There were also reports attributing Buhari’s failure to relocate to the Villa to an alleged advice from Senegalese spiritualists who are saddled with the responsibility of carrying out spiritual cleansing of his official residence and office before his relocation. The Presidency had denied this.
The President is barely two weeks in office and all these have started coming his way and that of his family. I hope he is prepared for this because more will still come his way in the coming days.
Villa and the pains of Buhari’s absence
Immediately after Buhari and Vice President Yemi Osinbajo were inaugurated on May 29, they attended two public events inside the Villa: a state luncheon and inauguration gala. While Osinbajo had since returned to worship at the Aso Villa Chapel, I am not sure if Buhari had entered the seat of power since then.
The President has been operating partly from his private residence and the Defence House, the official residence of the nation’s President-elect located in Maitama District. Presidential spokesmen have explained many times that Buhari has been operating from outside because of ongoing renovation works in the Villa. They have released photographs showing workers painting the outside wall of the President’s office.
No doubt, the President’s continued presence outside the Villa is putting a lot of pressure or stress on many people, including security operatives and protocol officials.
Others currently bearing the brunt of this development are journalists accredited to cover the activities of the President. Before now, State House correspondents report very early in the Villa. Their operational base is the Briefing Room located beside the Council Chambers. They move from there to any other part of the Villa where any assignment is holding and return there to file their reports. Needless to say that the fully air-conditioned room is very comfortable for the journalists.
On the contrary, however, no such facility is available in the Defence House, the President’s temporary office. Journalists take abode under a canopy erected in an open space within the premises. The experience of the first week was not pleasant. After standing for hours, journalists were seen leaning on trees or walls.
Since it is an open space, they have no opportunity of charging their telephone handsets, iPads or laptops, therefore making it extremely hard for them to carry out their duties. Anytime the weather becomes cloudy, journalists will be seen gazing at the sky intermittently, apparently praying to be spared of the embarrassment it will cause them if the rain starts and they do not have a place to run to.
Last Friday, journalists had arrived Defence House to wait for the President when news filtered in that he would be holding a meeting in his residence. They rushed to the residence only to be told that Buhari was already preparing to leave for the Jumat service in the National Mosque. All these movements were being done despite the biting fuel scarcity that has refused to abate in the Federal Capital Territory.
The prayer on the lips of the journalists and other presidency officials is that the President should relocate to the Villa as soon as possible. We are waiting.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Olalekan Adetayo/Punch