By Femi Adesina
Date was Friday, May 13, 2022, time 10 am, and venue was the Council Chamber of the Presidential Villa. The event was valedictory session for appointees leaving the cabinet to pursue political ambitions at different levels. Some were aspiring to be President, others Governors, and others Senators.
It was solemn and sombre. Yes, it had to be. Some of the Ministers had been with the Government since 2015, some others came in 2019. Like it is said, there’s no good in goodbye, and parting can be such sweet sorrow.
All the Ministers who had bought forms to contest were around, except Hon. Emeka Nwajiuba, erstwhile Minister of State, Education, who was said to have travelled. He had turned in his resignation letter since April 28, when he bought the form to be President.
On Wednesday, May 11, President Buhari had required Ministers with political ambitions to turn in their letters, with the deadline being Monday, May 16. And in line with his commitment to human dignity, the President decided to hold the valedictory session.
I’ve told this story before, but let me tell it again. The President had retained the Service Chiefs he inherited in 2015 for some weeks, when the usual practice was to remove such people with the speed of light. He didn’t, but kept them for almost two months.
The day the President decided to appoint new Service Chiefs, he sent for me, and I reported in his office. He told me what he had decided to do, and he gave me the names of the incoming set.
Then President Buhari gave a strange instruction. “I’ve discussed with the exiting Service Chiefs, but don’t announce their exit immediately. Let them get home, and let them be the ones to announce to their families and friends. It’s not good for a man to have a job in the morning, lose it in the afternoon, and he hears it over the media.”
I told the President that once he had told those Service Chiefs, it would be virtually impossible to keep the news till the next, as he was asking me to do.
The President looked at me with a smile on his face, and declared: “You won’t understand, because you’ve not been sacked before. Me, I’ve been sacked, so I know how it feels.”
That was how we held back the official news of the appointment of new Service Chiefs for a while. President Buhari believes in the dignity of man. The same thing he did with the two Ministers who had to leave the cabinet involuntarily last year. He had privately met with the Ministers of Power, and that of Agriculture and Rural Development, told them that time was up, before the other cabinet members and the nation were told.
That was not the staple Nigerians were fed with, or used to. They usually would tune their radio sets to Radio Nigeria 4 pm news, or NTA Network News, only to hear that some public officials had been dismissed “with immediate effect.” Some of them would still be in their offices, working, or be at home relaxing with their families, when the news would hit like a thunderbolt. Obviously, many leaders enjoyed that supercilious and cavalier treatment of their appointees, but not President Buhari. He believes in the dignity of man.
So, that Friday morning, the Ministers with intention to run for offices were invited. And gracefully, the President appreciated them, and wished them well in their political aspirations. What were the germane points Mr President made?
-The day marks yet another landmark designed to establish a culture of managing the departure of public officers who have served the nation sacrificially, with dignity and honor.
-The cabinet had been composed, first in 2015, and then 2019 at reelection. Some of the old Ministers were retained, while some new ones were brought in.
-Looking back as the President and head of the team over the years, I hold fond memories of incisive and robust discussions during cabinet meetings, rendering of performance reports during special sessions and presidential retreats.
-A significant number of cabinet members have become sufficiently equipped for higher elective offices, including the Office of the President. It shows the impact of the experience gathered while serving as members of the Federal Executive Council.
-If the next President emerges from among former members of the cabinet, ample competence would be on display.
President Buhari didn’t claim that he made any of the Ministers. “Prior to some of you joining the cabinet, you had made your marks in other areas as Governors, legislators, entrepreneurs and core professionals in different fields.” I tell you, there seems to be no proud bone in the body of this our Baba.
He wished the Ministers success in the upcoming elections, and in their future endeavors. It was a poignant moment.
For members of the cabinet remaining onboard, “I wish to remind you that the journey to the finish line is still very far, and this calls for more diligence, resilience and commitment to serve Nigerians better.”
Outgoing Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, and former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, spoke on behalf of his colleagues. He expressed “deep appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity to work with you,” adding that they had learned, tapped from experience, and contributed their quota to national development.
Saying they had become disciples of Mr President, Akpabio pledged that they would “communicate Buharism, and take your message of transformation, patience, administrative sagacity to Nigerians.”
He said leaving was filled with sadness and joy. “We will miss the weekly learning and interaction with a father. Joy, in that we can now speak to a wider number of Nigerians. Those who misunderstood you will hear from us, and posterity will never forget you for your love for the country.”
Akpabio prayed that the President would land well at the end of his tenure, “and may one of us succeed you. We know where you are going, your mission, vision, which somebody from outside may not understand.”
Some of the Ministers have since rescinded their decisions to run for elective offices. That is not the purpose of this piece. The purport is to dwell on the dignity of man, how some leaders love to trample on it, and how President Buhari loves to respect and uphold it. That is why some of us love and admire him, and would stand by him through thick and thin, whether in government or out of it.
Femi Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity