When the invitation to meet President Goodluck Jonathan came to me through some of my friends who are his special aides, I hesitated. I was stunned; and that prompted a soliloquized exclamation, “Why me?” I know that I have been very critical of his government but that was last year. My first piece this year was on Jimi Agbaje. Could it be that Jonathan was trying to intervene on Agbaje’s behalf or was the invitation about himself or what. Questions. Questions. Questions. By the way, Jimi Agbaje is PDP’s gubernatorial candidate in Lagos State and according to a credible source, he is Jonathan’s darling. The President, I learnt later, loves Agbaje because he was told by those who brought Agbaje to him that he (Agbaje) lost the 2007 elections to Babatunde Fashola because he lacked the resources to fight Bola Tinubu. The President, my source informed me, told Jimi Agbaje that if he crossed over to PDP, he would see “real federal money” that would make Tinubu’s wealth look like “change” (insignificant).
Back to the invitation. In this instance, I did not know what to make of this shocking invitation. Was the President actually aware of this meeting? But considering how close these aides were to him, I concluded that he must be aware. Having resolved the riddle of the invitation and convinced that it was for real, I decided to call some of my close friends to discuss the issue with them. Though, I had made up my mind to go for the appointment, I only wanted my friends to know of my movement in case they offered me tea at the meeting. Remember Moshood Kahimawo Abiola and the last tea.
From the pool of friends that I have, I opted for strategic selection, that is, I decided to inform only those with cognate relevance to and experience in what could happen to me. The first and natural person to call was Kunle Ajibade. He was my room mate during our undergraduate and postgraduate days (years) in Ife (Great Ife). However, I did not call him because of room-mate affiliation. I called him because he had been “jailed for life” before by the one and only Sani Abacha. So, in case I found myself dining with prisoners instead of the President, he can offer some advice on solitary forbearance and longsuffering. Next on my list was Kemi Rotimi, a specialsit on Police history and a very close friend of many Inspectors – General of Police, retired and tired. I will need his contacts in case I ended up meeting with the Police instead of meeting with the President.
The third person I called was Tayo Adesina, a professor of history. I must carry him along so that no aspect of my historical meeting with the President must be omitted from the books of History. How many people, especially critics of a government, have the privilege of being invited to meet the President of their country. No matter what people think of Goodluck Jonathan, it was still a great honour for me to have a private meting with him. Those who chronicle events for posterity should not be excluded from the process of history. Therefore, Tayo was of strategic value to this unfolding drama of history.
The last person of course was Segun Ayobolu my regular accomplice in seminal baraza. His job was to mobilize the media community and the public for a “Bring Back Dapo” campaign in case my meeting with the President was a Kidnap plot by agents of government and my friends in the Presidency.
On the day of the appointment, my friends who arranged the meeting called to remind me of the appointment. In the course of the telephone conversation, I was told that the dress code was at my discretion. The venue of the meeting was never made known to me. I was only told that it would be in Lagos not Abuja. My wife wanted me to go in native and I agreed with her. It was an opportunity for me to wear one of the many agbadas that I rarely wear. At about 8p.m., a call came through from one of those who arranged the meeting that the vehicle that would convey me to the venue was on its way with an armed police orderly. Immediately I heard that, I changed my mind on the dress to wear. I opted for casuals instead of the native earlier chosen – jean, shirt and sneakers – just in case there was need to do some jogging for life from the venue to any of the NADECO routes in Idi-Iroko. Which sensible individual will do a run for his life in flowing gowns? Enough on my pre-meeting rituals and preambles.
I found myself at the venue. It was a nice duplex that was elegantly furnished. Few security guys were outside the building but they were not heavily armed. Inside the living room, there were two of them in suit. It was the orderly that came with me in the car that ushered me in. He left me in the room with the two security guys. I was frisked but my phones were not taken from me. While I was about to sit on the sofa, one of my phones rang. The call was from one of those who arranged the meeting. He called to inform me that the President would soon be with me. In less than five minutes, the President came in with his two aides who arranged the meeting. The President signaled to the two security guys to exit the room leaving just four of us-The President, myself and his two aides, my own friends. After the normal introductory rituals, the President told me the reason(s) for the special invitation. By the way, I later learnt that the venue of the meeting was one of the President’s hide-outs in Lagos. It is strictly for very personal engagements and activities.
According to the President, he would like me to tell him the truth about the situations ‘outside’ and what his chances were in the February 14 election. He also wanted to know what the people are saying about him and his style of governance. I looked at my two friends one after the other to be sure that the President meant what he was saying. As if one of them read my mind, he told me to “feel free” to tell the President the truth but I was stunned when he moved near me to whisper some words into my right ear: “Dapo, please show some respect in your submission and don’t be rude”.
Respectfully, I stood up to address the President but he politely asked me to sit. I must confess that it took some time before I could decide on what methodology to adopt. I was not even sure if what I needed was methodical approach or the courage to say what I wanted to say bluntly.
“Mr. President Sir”, I stammered, “it is very hot outside. I am not talking about the atmosphere. Your government is very unpopular and the hunger for “change” is like a revolution against your government. People outside there are tired of your government. Some of them cannot even wait for February 14 to vote you out. The other time, you were glorifying your administration for raising the ante on participatory democracy. You were of the view that it was your government that sensitized the people on the need to participate in the electoral process hence their clamour for Permanent Voter Card (PVC). At this time, I looked towards my right to see if any of my two friends would code a message of caution to me through body language. Surprisingly, the President was calm. Despite the fact that the room was well lit, I could not read the expression on the President’s face accurately. Well, I took it to mean that the three of them were enjoying my submission despite its unpatrionising delivery.
I continued: “Sir, if you must know, I thought you were right when you were making that statement on the network news. It was not until I went to collect my PVC that I knew how wrong you were. Most of those who came to collect their PVCs at my own centre were saying it openly that their desperation was provoked by the inaction and cluelessness of your government. That with their PVCs, your government is a ‘goner’ notionally from February 14 and actually on May 29”.
The President’s disbelief was theoretically paraphrased in his short interjection: “My friend are you sure?” His question energized further acerbic comments from me: “Yes Sir. I am very sure because I heard them and I saw them. They want you out sharp, sharp”. This time, one of my friends was walking towards me, possibly to caution me, but the President halted his angry strides towards me. With this Presidential gesture, I concluded rightly or wrongly that the President was enjoying my candid presentation. So, I fired on: “Sir, I advise that you tell your men to stop their abusive campaign against Buhari especially the campaign about his having only WASC and “soldier” certificates. It is not working. People are not interested in what degree Buhari possesses. What they are saying out there is that what progress has the nation made since independence when we been ruled by “Bachelors’ (B.A./B.Sc holders) and “Doctors” (Ph.D holder(s))?
The President interrupted me: “But if they are saying my men are being sentimental, are the people not being sentimental themselves by overlooking the low educational background of a man that wants to rule a very big and complex nation like Nigeria? Why are they angry with my government on the basis of sentiments? Is it not because they cannot take me up on issues?
“Mr. President”, I took over the discussion, “there are plenty issues people out there have against your government. They question your competence to manage the economy. You have been accused of “complex dependency” on World Bank and IMF rogue economists whose economic policies and ideas are incongruous with domestic realities. These people are conservative theorists who theorise on economic issues forgetting that there should be an alignment between the practicality of their policies and their theoretical variants. Their failure to contextualize their economic ideas within their domestic locale is the major reason the economy has sunk into atrophy”.
“Sir”, I said, “I will also like you to know that the issue of corruption is also dominant in public discourse. People believe that your administration is guilty of egregious public larceny and prebendal accumulation of public resources. They say that the management of our oil and oil proceeds is lousy, loose, parochial, and culturally primitive ignoring contemporary accounting procedures and violating all known norms of transparency and accountability. This explains why billions and trillions of dollars and naira keep missing from the nation’s treasury. The Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF) has not helped in consolidating our sovereignty rather it has been the formal instrument of providing legitimacy for citizens’ suffering. Sir, all those who stole in your administration have been eased out of your government with cultural fanfare and flighty celebration. Those who are supposed to be languishing in jail for corruption are being celebrated with cultural carnivals and being treated with nauseating heroism. The dirty ones in government are being robbed in the cassock of Saints while the rest of us outside government who are the victims of their massive looting are dressed in the garment of Lucifer”.
At this stage, the President had started fidgeting on his seat. But I offered no apologies because he told me to tell him the truth no matter how bitter it was. Still, there was no attempt to stop me. None of my friends was ready to do or say anything since the President stopped them earlier from coming near me.
“Mr. President”, I ignored the mood in the room and continued with my “truthful submission” “why was it difficult for you to protect your citizens from the irresponsible killings and kidnapping going on in some parts of the North by the Boko Haram? I must be very frank with you Sir that your handling of the insurgency has been very poor and lackadaisical. People feel you lack the political will and the professional understanding to confront the insurgents and bring an end to the siege they have laid on the people of the North.
The most painful aspect of this is your failure to rescue the Chibok girls and visit the people of Chibok to let them know that their children have not been forgotten or abandoned by the government. They wonder how you can sleep soundly, campaign vigorously, smile excitedly, organize wedding ceremony for your own daughter when more than 200 innocent girls are trapped in the dungeons of the insurgents”.
As if the issue of the Chibok girls, was a no-go-area, the President stood up dramatically and reluctantly excused himself without disclosing where he was going. I was not sure if that was a signal that the meeting had come to an abrupt end. My two friends went out with him. Nobody told me anything nor did anybody come in to tell me what was happening. Anyway, I was gathering my thoughts on what I would say on the following issues should the President come back to the living room: electricity, unemployment, poverty, education, health, Patience’s impatience with the governors of Rivers and Bayelsa, the President’s visit to Maiduguri, Ayo Fayose’s advert on Buhari’s possible death in office, the collapsing of industries, Abba Sulaiman’s excesses and so on and so forth.
Unexpectedly, a security chap came into the room to inform me that the President had to attend to other important matters and would not be returning for the meeting. He said he would lead me to my car. I consoled myself that it had been a very rewarding night. But it could have been more rewarding if the drama that happened at the last minute had not occurred.
The guy who was leading me to the car was carrying a bag, possibly containing some undisclosed “presidential hospitality” contents and was about giving it to me as a gift when somebody ran after him and whispered something into his ears (I don’t know why they are always whispering). Suddenly, the guy with the bag made a u-turn and took the bag back to the house. The “whispering” guy whispered some words into the driver’s ear and before I could say “what about the bag”, the driver took off.
The setting of the meeting and the “returned bag” were all products of engineered fantasy. The blame for this should go to the terrestrial agents who presented human images in celestial apparitions to an innocent personage in the comfort of his slumbering territory.
-Thomas is a writer and university lecturer