Staff members resume work earlier than they did under Jonathan
Fridays no longer ‘work-free days’ as it used to be
Lobbyists, contractors, hangers-on steer clear.
Nocturnal meetings no longer hold at First Lady’s Conference Room
Sunday reports that since President Muhammadu Buhari moved into the Aso Rock Presidential Villa in Abuja on June 22 after his inauguration, the seat of power has not remained the same again.
For many of the staff of the State House, the fear of Buhari is the beginning of wisdom. Dedication to duty is the order of the day and lateness to work is a risk they cannot afford to take. One of them explained the atmosphere thus: “Every staff member of the State House in now more committed than ever before. As you can see, we are all up and doing. You never can tell, the president may decide to go round offices one early morning. And you know everybody believes that the president does not tolerate nonsense. So, none of us wants to be punished as an example or scapegoat. That is why many of us now resume at work every day as early as 7.30am. And the majority will not leave office until around 6.00pm.
“There are fears that the president will sanction erring staff. He comes to office early in the morning. You will always find him at his desk between 8.00am and 9.00am. You must also have observed that the president keeps to time when he gives an appointment, especially when permanent secretaries come to brief him on the activities of their ministries. If he expects you at 11am and you come by 11.05, you are on your own”. This atmosphere is different from what was obtainable during the erstwhile regime of President Goodluck Jonathan, when there was an apparent laissez-faire approach among the staff members of the State House. In those days, staff members could stay away from the office by giving flimsy excuses, but this is not the case now.
The State House is also a beehive of activities on Fridays, unlike before. Staff members can no longer close early on Fridays. This has been the situation since Buhari decided to be observing Juma’at Prayers in the State House mosque, instead of going to the National Mosque, Abuja for Friday prayers. After prayers, the president would return to his office and continue with his official functions. The effect of this is that the bravest of the staff cannot close for the day until Buhari leaves office.
It is also observed that lobbyists, contractors and political hangers-on have since steered clear of the Presidential Villa. Many of them, during the last regime, often patronised ‘powerful’ presidential aides who had access to Ex-President Jonathan. That was when presidential aides were seen to determine who and who is allowed to visit the president.
However, since President Buhari took over, none of his aides could guarantee anybody anything. Our reporter learnt that Buhari keeps details of his activities close to his chest, making it difficult for those around him to read his lips or accurately predict his next lines of action. Perhaps, those who are very close to him may have access to information but do keep sealed lips. Those who have been very close to the President and could be considered as most powerful at the moment include the recently appointed Chief of Staff to the President, Alhaji Abba Kyari, the newly appointed Comptroller -General of Customs, Colonel Hammid Ali (rtd), and his aide-de-camp (ADC), Lt Col Lawal Abubakar, who doubles as Aso Rock’s Chief Security Officer (CSO).
Other influential elements in the Villa include former super permsec Ahmed Joda, who headed Buhari’s transition committee. He has been a regular face in the Villa. In spite of the fact that he was not appointed as the National Security Adviser to the President, retired Lt. General Abdurrahman Dambazau is still around him. Another such element in the Villa’s security circle is Major General Abdulmalik Jibrin (rtd). Since his appointment as the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption, Professor Itse Sagay, has become a regular face in the Villa, though he works closely with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai, too, seems to wield some powers in the Villa, though the measure of his influence is not very clear. So also are Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun and a former Ekiti State Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi. Malam Mamman Daura, a former Managing Director of the New Nigerian Newspapers is believed to be a confidant of the president.
There are fewer and fewer visitors in the Presidential Villa at the moment, contrary to what used to be the case when former President Jonathan planned to appoint ministers. In those days, there used to be uncontrolled streams of visitors and lobbyists who sought appointments for themselves or for some other individuals. But in the last three months since Buhari took over, lobbyists have not been seen around.
According to a staff in the Presidency, “In the recent past, it was usually a Herculean task for State House security officials who are bogged down with screening and clearing hundreds of visitors. The majority of these visitors often bought their way through presidential aides. Many of those visitors were coming for businesses and contracts,. It was an opportunity for the aides to make money. The aides even went to the extent of booking appointments with the president for visitors.”
Regular visitors to the seat of power during the Jonathan administration included religious groups and members of the Nollywood industry. At a point, precisely on February 17, 2014, former President Goodluck Jonathan even described Nollywood as more important than the media. While granting an audience to the Actors Guild of Nigeria (AGN) at the State House at that time, Jonathan denigrated the Nigerian media, saying it was only Nollywood that his government could partner with to “redefine the country”.
Since Buhari took over not many of such meetings have been held. The only one that was well-pronounced was his meeting with the All Progressives Congress (APC) legislators at the Presidential Villa over the leadership crisis in the National Assembly. He had, also, on few occasions held closed-door meetings with such party leaders as Bola Tinubu, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former President Goodluck Jonathan, among others.
Actually, Buhari’s regular visitors have been mainly permanent secretaries who brief him on their respective ministries’ activities. In the past, Nigerians got to know government policies after the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings. But by interacting with the permanent secretaries, most of Buhari’s administration’s policy directions have been made known to the public.
The Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mr Danladi Kifasi, noted last Monday that in the absence of ministers, Buhari had helped restore the confidence of the civil service by leaning on the Service for support in piloting the affairs of the nation. Kifasi was speaking during the launching of the Capacity Building Programmes for Public Servants–Structured Mandatory Assessment-based Training Programme (SMAT-P) and Leadership Enhancement And Development Programme (LEAD-P). He pledged the support of the civil service to Buhari’s government in its determination to bring about positive and sustainable change in the country.
Dr. Umar Ardo, a chieftain of the PDP and former governorship aspirant said with Buhari at the helm of affairs at the Aso Rock Villa there is no room for speculation in terms of appointments. According to him, while there were always speculations and rumours during Jonathan with regards to appointments, such does not exist in Aso Rock anymore.
“While in the Jonathan era there were rooms for speculations based on promises of appointments, it is no longer the case as Buhari does not give room for such consultations,” Ardo said.
He, however, said there were advantages and disadvantages in both cases. “The advantage of the Buhari style of non-consultation before appointment is that it blocks rumour mongering and bad blood in the system. On the flip side, if at the end of the day the appointees made without consultation disappoint, the blame goes to the President because it is solely based on his judgment. Conversely, if the appointees succeed, the credit goes to him,” he said.
Alhaji Ibrahim Modibbo of the Northern Reawakening Forum, who is associated with the APC told our reporter that under Jonathan Aso Rock was an all-comers affairs but this is no longer the case. “Aso Rock is no more an all-comers affair; going there is now strictly for business. No more third parties and the volume of traffic there has greatly reduced; it is no longer business as usual.”
For the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, the Presidential Villa is now an organised setting and there is a vetting process for visitors.
“We have a system that has the Chief of Staff at the centre of the entire activities around the president. So, in terms of appointments or who is in or out of the State House, there is a vetting process and the Chief of Staff is there at the centre of it, and he gives directives down the line to the Chief of Protocol who will then work from there. It is a highly organised system,” Shehu stated.
He, however, noted that though President Buhari meets with government officials and politicians, there is a separation between official time and private time without one conflicting with the other.
According to the presidential aide, President Buhari’s visitors come on schedule. “Hangers-on? It depends on what you mean by the hangers-on. But the president meets government officials, he meets party and politicians also. But there is a separation between official time and private time. He meets private people at home who may not be necessarily officials of government and meetings which are not recorded for media consumption and people will not know. Yes politicians and party men come on schedule”, Shehu said.
Source: Daily Trust