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Raymond Eyo: The Aso Villa’s “two too many” gaffes

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Raymond Eyo: The Aso Villa’s “two too many” gaffes

By Raymond Eyo

“How on earth would rats invade President Muhammadu Buhari’s office?” –Reuben Abati, Senior Special Assistant to President Goodluck Jonathan on Media and Publicity

A September 5, 2017 press release signed by Segun Adeyemi, the Special Assistant to the Minister of Information and Culture stated that “This week’s Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting will not hold due to inadequate time to prepare the documents for the meeting”. The release further explained that, “The Minister [Lai Mohammed] said the two-day public holiday declared for the Eid-el-Kabir celebrations left little or no time to prepare for the weekly meeting.”

Not only was that press release so senseless, it also reeks of extreme carelessness and inefficiency at the highest levels of the Buhari administration! Having known well ahead of time that there was going to be a two-day public holiday between September 2-3, how come the powers that be did not in advance prepare the paperwork for the previously scheduled Wednesday, September 6 FEC meeting? Seriously, this sounds to me like someone sleeping on the job. The excuse is just so silly that it makes one think the real reason for the cancelation of this week’s FEC meeting is that, perhaps, Buhari wants a little more rest time in his Daura hometown before returning to Abuja, in which case he should have delegated Vice-President Osinbajo to sit in for him.

Granted, the Constitution does not compel the President to hold a federal cabinet meeting every week or on any given day. Whether or not to regularly hold such meetings is completely up to him, and therefore of course it is still within the president’s [or vice/acting president’s] discretion to cancel previously scheduled cabinet meetings. But given the important role of FEC meetings in the discharge and constant evaluation of Federal Government policy especially in this Fourth Republic, such a cancelation, notably the second time in less than a month (since Buhari’s August 19 return from his long medical leave), should have been based on tenable and unavoidable reasons.

The Buhari administration must understand that, with the president having spent so much time out of the country this year on account of his ill-health, especially his 104-day long last trip, Nigerians expect nothing less than a great sense of urgency and renewed vigor in the handling of state matters from him and his team.

Indeed, following weeks of half-truths about Buhari’s health, plus the unbelievable August 22 rodents’ invasion story, from no other person than the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, himself, it is just clear to any objective mind that something is fundamentally wrong with the administration’s media management team. Explaining to the New Telegraph why it was impracticable for President Buhari to work in his office after returning from his 104-day medical leave of absence, Garba had said that “Because of the period of [President Buhari’s absence], rodents have caused a lot of damage to the furniture, electrical cables and the air conditioning units.” Not even a further Garba statement to the BBC that Buhari has another “well-equipped” office at the Aso Villa where he can work “perfectly” from was good enough to assuage the huge embarrassment of the rat invasion story!

In fact, the idea that three months are needed to renovate Buhari’s rat-infested office suggests that the damage done was substantial, which begs the question – how come the president’s primary office was abandoned, in his absence, and not regularly kept clean (obviously by professionals with the highest levels of security clearance), to the extent that it would suffer such damage? In his piece [Aso Villa and the Audacity of Rats] published a day after the rat invasion story made the news, former President Jonathan’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati, said: “So, Julius Berger [the contractor] would have to explain to Nigerians how rats invaded the President’s office. Is it that they locked up the place and stopped cleaning it? Ordinarily, every part of the Villa must be kept clean every day. I still don’t believe this rat story. Rats in the President’s office? The BBC in its report was practically laughing at Nigeria.” Indeed, the rat story is just more ridiculous when one considers how much how much was budgeted to prevent things like it. In Abati’s piece, he observed that: “We have been told that ₦2 billion was actually earmarked for the cleaning and fumigation of the Villa. So, who is responsible for keeping the Villa rodent-free? ₦4 billion actually. I hear Julius Berger is in charge of the maintenance of the Villa.” If, somehow the rat story is true, then, clearly, someone has some explaining to do!

Similarly, in an August 22 Facebook post, my good friend, Muhd Ibrahim Abba, wrote: “The more you hope, pray, and wish the media handlers of President Muhammadu Buhari to do well, the more they disappoint you. The more they release funny statements. And the more shame they bring upon the administration. I’m still struggling to understand why such things are happening – whether it is deliberate or sheer ineptitude.” Muhd added: “I read with great shock that Buhari is going to work from home because his office furniture and air conditioning system, according to his aides, were damaged by rodents. Yes, rodents. If you’re still wondering, don’t. This is not a good-enough excuse. Is it logically possible for rats to have access to the President’s office, to the extent of destroying something? They just don’t want to help themselves and their principal.

And, yes, it is ludicrous that it took whatever specie of rats just three months to destroy the furniture, cables and air conditioning in the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria! Furniture, cables and air conditioning which ought to be of the finest grade, given the huge sums appropriated for their procurement. The rat attack theory just doesn’t hold water, and any no-nonsense president would, rather than sweeping it under the carpet, have been angry to the point of ordering an investigation to establish what really happened – so as to sanction those responsible. Yes, for a story that has brought Nigeria such ridicule, that would be worth it!

One of the problems with having a septuagenarian president, especially one as frail as Buhari, unfortunately, is the lack of effective, engaged presence that gives aides, particularly media aides – due to their very crucial role – the consciousness that they will be reprimanded or sanctioned should they be responsible for such avoidable and embarrassing gaffes. Simply put, a more hands-on president would not only castigate his spokesman’s plain stupid rodents’ invasion excuse causing him to have to work from “home” for three months or the silly, albeit apparently sincere admission by his information minister that lack of prior preparation of paperwork is the reason for the cancelation of a scheduled FEC meeting. He would ensure that those responsible for such costly gaffes are held responsible and take measures to forestall their future occurrence.

  • Raymond Eyo’s articles and views have featured in publications such as New African magazine, The Africa Report, Think Africa Press and African Arguments (the political news platform of The Royal African Society), among others. He can be reached via Twitter, at @RaymondEyo.

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