By FEMI ADESINA
This has been a week of reflection, introspection, and rumination. It’s the last full week of a journey that started eight years ago. And like Yoruba people say, if you can ponder, then you will wonder, and be filled with thanksgiving to God.
That was what Wednesday was dedicated to. Looking backwards, inwards, and forward, as the last Federal Executive Council meeting under President Muhammadu Buhari held. “This is the last that we shall dance together,” Wole Soyinka wrote in his work, Kongi’s Harvest.
Yes, dances do end, no matter how much you love to pirouette. You dance like butterfly and sting like a bee. It will end. You gyrate, whirl and spiral. Very good. It’s a delightful part of life. But then, there’s always the last dance. That’s what Luther Vandross sang about in Dance With My Father:
Back when I was a child
Before life removed all the innocence
My father would lift me high
And dance with my mother and me then
Spin me around till I fell asleep
Then up the stairs he would carry me
And I knew for sure I was loved
If I could get another chance
Another walk, another dance with him
I’d play a song that would never ever end
How I’d love, love, love to dance with my father again.
For Vandross and his father, the dance ended at a time. As it’s bound to be. Nothing lasts forever. Not the good. Not the bad. Not even life itself.
Reflections. That was what happened on Wednesday, as the Federal Executive Council meeting held for the last time under this administration. Such days had come for many governments in the past, and would also come in the future. It’s inexorable, as sure as night follows the day.
Each Minister, and Minister of State, was given time to speak on times and seasons under the Buhari administration. Some had been there since 2015, some others came in 2019, and yet others in 2021, after a minor cabinet rejig.
It was appreciation, eulogy and tributes to the President all the way. Not fawning praise singing, but factual appraisal of opportunity given to serve the country, and to make a difference.
Do you know that Ministers rarely spend four years in position, not to talk of eight years? But a lot did under Buhari, because he’s not a supercilious man, who just likes to sack for the kick he would get from it. Yes, some appointors love to play God over their appointees. They hire and fire at will, just because they have the powers. For some other leaders, it’s job for the boys. You serve for a year or two, and you are dropped, so that the largesse can go round. Not Buhari. Unless you fall short of the mark, you are caught with your hand in the cookie jar, or commit some other grave malfeasance, then you can be sure of a guaranteed time. You have been called to serve, and not to be ridiculed and humiliated out of office.
The Ministers went down the memory lane. And it’s been quite a journey, said the Minister of Justice/Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, SAN. He’s the longest serving in that position in history of the country. Just a few months short of eight years.
His summation: “With all sense of responsibility, we’ve left the country better than we met it.”
Senator Hadi Sirika was at first Minister of State, Transportation, and later full Minister in charge of Aviation. He said the English language was insufficient for him to say thank you to the President for the honor done him, allowing him to serve.
And he spoke about the non-interfering, non-intrusive style of the principal. He recalled when he was going to close the runway of the Abuja airport for many weeks, a momentous decision. President Buhari just listened to him patiently, and said: “Go and plan very well.” The job got done.
Professor Ali Isa Pantami, Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, told the President: “You are the best. We’ve learnt a lot from you, and we will forever be grateful.”
He said he came from a poor and deprived background, and he could never have sat in the hallowed Council Chamber, if not for someone like President Buhari.
“It’s the last FEC meeting, but we will continue to meet with you through our prayers,” he submitted.
Mohammed Bello, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, said he was picked out of the blues, a testimony typical of most of his colleagues. And he is today the longest serving Minister in his portfolio. He also said the English language was inadequate to express his appreciation. So he borrowed an Hausa word the President loves to use: Madalla, meaning ‘well done, thank you, excellent.’
Dr Ramatu Aliyu, Minister of State, FCT, wondered how a minority from Kogi State, a woman, could have entered the Federal Cabinet, if not for a President who believes in equitable distribution of power. She called Buhari ‘Father of Nigeria’s Infrastructure Renaissance.’ True.
Mrs Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, said what she and her colleagues had gone through was “PMB School of Governance,” saying the President never called her once to see anybody, or give anybody anything.
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, glorified God for the restored and renewed health of the President, after the severe health challenge of 2017, which saw him in and out of hospital for about eight months.
“Your sterling leadership qualities are admired all over Africa, and, indeed, the world,” he declared.
All the Ministers spoke, but for want of space, let us adopt this highly applauded one from Dr Olorunnimbe Mamora, in charge of Science, Technology and Innovation:
“My intervention will commence on a note of gratitude to God by whose grace we are all alive and here to witness this glorious day. Next, is to thank you, Mr President, because our appointment as members of FEC is through your presidential benevolence. I am particularly grateful for being a member of this legacy team of your administration. You had earlier appointed me as MD, NIWA, and Minister of State for Health. A day like this is a day of thanksgiving, it is a day of reminiscences and it is a day of celebration of God’s faithfulness.
“Before proceeding further, please permit me to share a true life story on a lighter note. When I was Speaker in the Lagos State House of Assembly in 1999, as the presiding officer, I could sit for 5 – 6 hours without getting up from my seat. I was much younger then, but I cannot do that now that I am 70. After one of such sessions one day, some of my colleagues in the chambers walked to my seat at the platform searching underneath my table and I asked what they were looking for. They told me they came to find out whether I had a urinary catheter connected to a container under my table to explain my ability to sit for such long hours without the urge to go and ease myself.
“Mr Chairman Sir, I wonder how you are able to do the same at over 80! It’s simply incredible and can only be explained by your Spartan discipline. This Spartan discipline is one of the qualities that define you as a leader. I have observed you from a privileged position as one of your foot soldiers in the capacity of Deputy Director General of your Presidential Campaign both in 2015 and 2019. You are a man of calm disposition under any circumstance.
“In 2015 while wooing delegates for the presidential primaries, l sat with you in the car traversing several States from Kano to Bauchi, Kebbi, Zamfara and finally to Sokoto. The journey from Zamfara to Sokoto was in the night and the convoy was moving at neck breaking speed, so much that my heart was virtually in my mouth and skipping beats! Here was l sitting next to a General. I was so scared. Lo and behold, Oga was calm all through the journey without uttering a word on the driver’s speed! We arrived in Sokoto at about 12.30am!
“Mr President is a man of compassion and great humility. We had just finished the Presidential nomination convention at Teslim Balogun stadium in Lagos lasting from Wednesday night to early hours of Friday, about 2am. After delivering his acceptance speech, he left the podium and I thought Mr President had gone back to the hotel where we both came from. How wrong I was! He was sitting quietly in the car patiently waiting for me.
“When word came to me through Sarki Abba that Oga was waiting for me, I quickly rushed to join him in the car with a load of apology. He said “Distinguished Mamora, how could l have left you behind, when we rode in here together?” I felt greatly touched.
“Mr President has an uncommon sense of humor. At one of our virtual FEC meetings during COVID, following the presentation of a memo by the Aviation Minister, the Minister of Police Affairs was called to make his comment, having indicated to speak, but he was not available after repeated calls; Mr President then retorted, maybe he has gone for “Road block”!
“At another FEC meeting, while debating a memo on augmentation of the contract sum for the reconstruction of a particular road, the issue arose as to how Nigeria can maximise the use of local resources for road construction. Following an energetic submission by the Interior Minister, Mr President set up a Cabinet Committee to look into the matter. In his characteristic passion for what he believes in, the Interior Minister sought Mr President’s permission to be co-opted into the 3-member committee to which Mr President retorted, “Hon Minister of Interior, we do not need a passport for road construction!”
“Mr President, you have carefully put a great team together to assist you in the prosecution of your agenda for Nigeria, starting with Mr Vice President who has not only been truly Vice Presidential in words and deeds, but has combined professorial erudition with pastoral zeal. He heads the team of legal minds in FEC, whose contributions oftentimes illuminate and enrich debates at our meetings…
“Mr President and distinguished council members, I recall the comic relief always introduced to debate by the duo of Hon Minister of Works and Housing, and Hon Minister of Labour. Following the presentation of a memo on road construction and rehabilitation one day, by the Minister of Works and Housing, the Labour Minister said the Minister of Works has begged and lobbied him to sheath his sword and not attack his memo. He further said the Works Minister is an Ikate boy who migrated to Surulere. In his response, the Works Minister said the incessant strikes by the labour unions was caused by the Labour Minister who moved from Okija to Victoria Island in Lagos thereby giving the false impression that he has a lot of money. Hence Labour has been on strike with a view to benefiting from the Labour Minister’s wealth.
“The banters they throw at each other bring a lot of comic relief to the council chambers and they can be likened to “Tom and Jerry” of children’s comedy fame.
“Distinguished Council members, we have jointly served our country to the best of our abilities, hence we raise our hands in joyful adoration and shout “Thus far the Lord has helped us”! To God be the glory!
“Mr President, l join my colleagues and millions of your well wishers to congratulate you and Mr Vice President for the giant strides made under your eight-year presidency, your achievements, in the various sectors, already documented, will remain indelible in the annals of our nation’s history. You have finished well and strong. Yours has been a life of struggle but full of grace. Now is the time to take a bow and enjoy your well deserved rest.
Congratulations, Mr President and best wishes.”
Kizz Daniel and Tekno, in the popular song, Buga, said: “When I land I land softly on a sofa floor…” That is what is happening to President Buhari. Despite evil speaking, evil thoughts, false prophecies, lies, de-marketing from some quarters, the President is landing well, finishing strong. To Daura for a well deserved rest after serving the country for many decades. Awesome God.
And today is also our last dance on this platform, From the Inside, which has featured for many years, without failing for a single week. God be praised. And by His grace, we meet on another platform in the not too distant future.
So long. Au revoire.
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity