Monday, 7 March 2016

Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Inside Sauce with Samuel Ogundipe,

By now, even fishermen on the high seas must have heard about an “emergency” meeting of All Progressives Congress’ leaders that was called by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on Wednesday.

That political juggernauts like former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, Senate President Bukola Saraki, Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir Lawal and the APC National Chairman Chief John Oyegun were amongst newsmakers who attended the closed-door gathering is hardly news, either. What yours truly found bemusing about that event, however, is not so much about what the attendants did but what they failed to do.

We’ll get to my grievances in a jiffy. But first, let’s look the atmosphere under which the meeting was convened.

For many of us who cover the State House, Wednesday morning was just like any typical day. We had arrived and settled down in anticipation of any event the VP may have for that day. Since the President is not around, all media attention in the Villa had automatically shifted to the VP Wing. As I noted in this column three Sundays ago, Osinbajo’s schedules are virtually predictable: He spends most of his workday receiving top players in public- and private-sector and, occasionally, civil societies.

Therefore, our expectation last Wednesday was centered around those activities, and the VP’s schedulers didn’t print out what their principal had lined up for the day. Consequently, no one had a clue that the meeting would hold, much less one of such magnitude.

While many of us were whiling away the time discussing matters that suited our fancy, a colleague whispered that “Atiku is on his way to VP’s Office.” I immediately got up and rushed for the stairs to confirm the heads up, then I saw Oyegun…then SGF Lawal…then the Deputy Governor of Imo State Prince Eze Madumere and then Deputy Speaker Yusuf Lasun all making their way to the VP’s Office. It immediately hit me that something big was in the offing. This was around 10:30 a.m.

A few mins apart, Tinubu arrived and also went straight to the VP’s Office. And a few mins after that I saw Chief Bisi Akande with his walking stick and I heard him politely rejecting two protocol personnel’s offer to support him upstairs to the VPs Office. “I’ll go to the conference room,” he said. “Tell them I’m waiting in the conference room.”

The VP’s Conference Room is down and it was here that the meeting held. By 11 a.m., the conference room door was shut. Saraki did not arrive until almost an hour after the meeting had already got underway.

No later had the meeting started than a remarkable hysteria set in for State House Correspondents. Questions that we started raising amongst ourselves included: What could be going on inside? Why are they holding the meeting impromptu? Was it about Saraki’s travails or budget fallout? How come they moved it to the Villa when the President is not around?

Unfazed, I started working my sources to put together a brief report on the development for this paper’s online edition and I suspected many of my colleagues were also doing something similar. Entered Mr. Laolu Akande, the Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media and Publicity, to tell us that the event we’ve been so preoccupied with is not to be publicised.

Akande explained that the leaders were meeting strictly because they had internal issues to resolve. “They’re here to do a meeting about something serious happening within the party and they’ve concluded that they won’t be granting interviews because of its sensitivity,” adding that there won’t be photo-ops also.

Although they’re rarely justifiable, there’s a high possibility that every reporter in the State House would hear these words if they remain at the beat long enough: “This is a very sensitive story and should not be reported.” And the parlance that says “If a leaf falls in the forest and no one heard it, then it probably means it didn’t fall” immediately comes to mind. But yours truly is at a loss as to how the VP’s spokesman could expect such an event to hold without the general public being aware, in this era at that.

While correspondents were still busy discussing the substance of Akande’s plea, online platforms like Sahara Reporters had started reporting the event. By the time the meeting ended, very few people have not heard about it.

An official statement initially released by the VP’s Media Office after the meeting was as short as it was frustrating, to put it mildly.

The two-paragraph statement claimed the leaders only organised a “consultative meeting” to discuss issues about the party. How so?

Granted that the meeting was called by the Vice President, the APC leaders could still have taken their time to come up with a readily acceptable alibi. They called a meeting in broad daylight yet they didn’t want to be photographed? Are we to believe it had nothing to do with the ongoing alleged false assets declaration suit against Saraki? No one raised issues about the budget for the entire four hours that the meeting lasted?

APC National Secretariat later released a statement, which obviously was an afterthought, that delightfully billed the event as the “inaugural special caucus” meeting of the party. No kidding.

The recent Supreme Court judgments on the governorship election disputes that shattered the party’s hope of controlling an oil-rich state, the state of the economy and the scheduled bye-elections in Rivers State are amongst the issues said to have been discussed. Why then did all the leaders refuse to brief the media after the event? Why leave reporters hanging in the first place? The last time I checked, these weren’t issues that cannot be disclosed to Nigerians.

The first to come out of the meeting was the Senate President and the look on his face left many of us perpetually curious. He didn’t particularly storm out, but he looked palpably angry. The rest then started emerging one after the other and they were shaking hands with the VP as they departed the Villa. It was during the farewell session that the VP told Tinubu that someone very close to him (the VP) whom the former Lagos governor apparently knew recently passed on, causing Tinubu to scream: “Yeh! Oh! No! No!”

The next morning, I engaged Akande about the matter and he told me the leaders didn’t mind being photographed outside the conference room, just not while the meeting was still in session. “You’ve shifted the goal post Sir,” I said to him. “Mr. WESTERN POST, the leaders made the decisions themselves,” he bantered.



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