Abuja, on Monday morning, I received a message that the Chief Security Officer to the President, Bashir Abubakar, would like to see me in his office. What came to my mind immediately was that it was the Presidency’s Media Office that interfaces with journalists and not the CSO. I felt I should inform the presidential spokesmen before honouring the strange invitation.
I proceeded to the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, and informed him of the invitation. Adesina advised that I honoured it and updated him of developments. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, was not in the office at the time but I contacted him on the telephone.
On getting to the CSO’s office, he was initially polite. He offered me a seat and asked how I was doing and I replied I was fine. He then first confronted me with my column, Aso Rock Lens, published on Saturday, April 22, 2017. He was angry with one of the items in the column titled ‘Seat of power’s event centres going into extinction’. In that piece, I highlighted some places in the Presidential Villa that hitherto had hosted high-profile events. I wrote that lately, events had not been held inside the halls. He said I was insinuating that government had collapsed in Nigeria.
The CSO then brought out a copy of April 23, 2017 edition of SUNDAY PUNCH. He was visibly angry about the lead story titled ‘Fresh anxiety in Aso Rock over Buhari’s poor health’. That story was about how the President had not been seen in public in the last two weeks except when he made brief appearances at the mosque inside the Presidential Villa for Juma’at services last Friday and penultimate Friday. That story included the reaction of Adesina, who said the President was recuperating and that the prayer of all was that he recovered fully soon.
The CSO queried the motive behind the two stories. He told me that the President was free to rule the country from wherever he liked. He said the stories were meant to portray the President as incapacitated and that it had to do with the politics of 2019. He told me he would take me to the President’s official residence to see him and then tell him (the CSO) if Buhari was incapacitated. He never did that.
Abubakar added that if God had sanctioned it that Buhari would rule the country for eight years, no man could stop him. He made reference to the fact that people who were not even sick died daily. The CSO thereafter directed one of his men to take my statement and revert to him. The man took me to his office. I wrote in the statement that I had no ulterior motive in writing the stories in question. I was updating presidential spokesmen of developments as earlier agreed. The gentleman took my statement and I returned to the CSO’s office.
On getting there, Abubakar asked the Officer-in-Charge of the Department of State Services, Victor Nwafor, to seize my accreditation tag. He said he should escort me to retrieve my personal belongings from the Press Gallery and then leave instructions with security operatives that I should not be allowed access into the Presidential Villa again.
Nwafor carried out the assignment dutifully. He passed the message to the security officials at the Admin Reception and then handed me over to another security operative who he instructed to do the same thing at the Pilot Gate before escorting me to where I parked my car to ensure that I left the premises immediately.
I was driven from there in a security vehicle. At the Pilot Gate, the gentleman assembled all security operatives there and delivered the message to them. I caught one of them, a policeman, snapping my photograph with his telephone handset and I protested. I told him I am not a criminal and he has no right to snap me. He was apologetic and attempted to show me the handset to prove that he had deleted the picture but I told him I was not interested in his claim.
I was driven in the same security van to where I parked my car and I drove out of the Presidential Villa from there. The CSO had penultimate Thursday had an interactive session with members of the State House Press Corps, during which he handed them guidelines on how to report the Villa. He had also in January complained about a story on an accidental discharge that injured a female worker at the State House. Although all national newspapers reported the incident, he singled out The PUNCH and Daily Trust.
His argument was that the story was not informative, educative or entertaining.