Perhaps, one of the dreams of a journalist is to have an exclusive interview with the president of his country. So, when the management of the New Telegraph asked me to get ready to lead a four-man team that would interview President Muhammadu Buhari, I was so elated that I had been saddled with such an important assignment.
We were advised by the management to get our questions ready with special focus on the myriad of problems besetting our country and the perception that the President Buhari-led administration is largely a disappointment at the moment and with little or no hope that there are better days ahead.
Although, I have never been privileged to be part of the presidential media chat organised either by the present administration or previous ones, I am somewhat ambivalent to the insinuations that journalists are usually well tutored not to ruffle feathers during the programme to avoid what security agents could term as ‘national embarrassment on national television. ‘ But to my chagrin, a few days to the interview, I got a call from Abuja. The caller’s voice was guttural and deep. Something tells me he feigned his voice.
He later cleared his throat after I told him that his voice was not pleasing to my ears. After a brief introduction, he told me I was expected to send my questions ahead to Abuja for vetting. Quite strange I thought. The man whom I guessed is a security agent said the essence was to enable Mr. President to prepare well ahead of the interview. He later gave me an email address where my questions should be sent to and gave me a time frame when it should be done.
His sentence: ‘compliance is necessary if you are interested in interviewing the president’ came with air of finality that is common in military parlance. I later confirmed from the media team of the president that the caller was genuine and with the approval of my boss, the questions were sent. The next day, I got an email which acknowledged the approval of all the questions.
Two days after, l led the team to Abuja. At Abuja Airport, some of our colleagues in the Federal Capital Territory were there to receive us. We lodged in a hotel that is not too far from Aso Villa, the seat of government. The appointment with the president was 10am but we were advised to be at the villa at 8am so as to have the privilege of having breakfast with the president.
After the normal security checks, we were taken to a building near the president’s office. A lady received us and took us to the waiting room. She assured us that the president and his team would soon receive us. At 9am, the president walked in with four of his aides including Mr. Femi Adesina and Alhaji Sheu Garba, the two most senior media aides of the president.
Mr. Adesina briefly introduced me to the president as the team leader and asked me to introduce my team to Mr. President. We were led by a lanky man into an inner room where the table had been set for the breakfast.
Having had a breakfast with former governor James Ibori of Delta State sometime in 2001, I could tell that the breakfast with the president was quite modest. Perhaps, it was a reminder that hard time is here. There were pap, bean cake, tea, bread, milk, sugar, butter and honey. A glutton will not find the breakfast interesting.
The president opted for pap and bean cake. He topped his pap with milk and honey. I also took pap and akara. I observed that the president served himself and I remembered that some of his supporters had made a noise about that on social media in the past.
To them, it is the hallmark of humility for the president to actually serve himself when he wants to eat. But for me, there’s no big deal about that. This is why I did not see anything special when Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode stopped at traffic light when the red light was on somewhere in Ikeja last week.
After all, our leaders are expected to live by example. But since one of our idiosyncrasies is to make issues out of nothing, we find photograph of a governor obeying simple traffic rule or a president carrying his hand luggage a spectacular one good enough to be displayed at world’s photo exhibition. After the meal, the interview lasted for almost two hours.
The president then engaged me in what we call ‘off the record ‘ in journalism. He asked for my honest opinion about his government and the growing disenchantment in the land. But before my opinion, I told him that I admire his courage and consistency. I said I am a Buharist but would not touch blind followership even with a long pole.
The interview we had also showed that the president is a genuine patriot who is pained by the cesspool of corruption and culture of impunity that are antithetical to our socio-economic development. Besides, he expressed concern that our landscape is filled with political harlots and predators who feed fat on our common wealth and do not care about the feelings of the masses. I told the president that his sincerity of purpose can only be meaningful if it brings food to the table of Nigerians.
I advised him that the time to act is now, adding that he should work with the mindset of a man who has less than a year and not three more years. I said that the northern elders added their voices to the growing concern about the nation’s comatose economy shows that in tribe and tongue we may differ but our quest for good governance is uniform.
I advised the president to show anger towards the rampaging Fulani herdsmen who have become so emboldened that they now assume they have monopoly of violence. I told the president that the general feeling is that he is reticent about the Fulani herdsmen for obvious reasons.
I said the recent statement by the security agents to decisively deal with the recalcitrant herdsmen is an after thought particularly because it came after the president had declared Rivers State as the most dangerous state in Nigeria. I added that his pronouncement that pipeline vandals would be treated like Boko Haram should have also covered the herdsmen who want to force on the people the culture which values life of cattle more than humans’.
Suddenly, I heard a call to prayer from the minaret of a mosque inside the villa. This was followed by a gentle tap on my shoulder and a sonorous voice: ‘won’t you wake up for prayers?’ It was when I turned my head to where the voice came from that I realised it was my wife and at that moment it dawned on me that I had been dreaming.