by Olalekan Adetayo
The present administration led by President Muhammadu Buhari came with a promise of change which is the slogan of the ruling party, the All Progressives Congress. Over one year after coming on board, there have been heated debates on whether the change is here or not. Most of the debates have been centred on what has become to be known in the nation’s political lexicon as dividends of democracy.

I have noticed some changes in the way this administration is being run compared to the system that was in operation during the last administration. I plan to highlight some of these changes here:

I have observed that there is a drastic change in the relationship between presidential aides and the President under this administration. How do I mean? Under former President Goodluck Jonathan, most, if not all his aides had direct access to him. They consulted with him regularly. That time, it was not unusual for Jonathan’s political advisers, economic advisers and others to hold talks with him.

Under this dispensation however, I can count on my fingertips the number of presidential aides who have direct access to the President. Once one names the two presidential spokesmen, Femi Adesina and Garba Shehu, as well as the two National Assembly liaison officers, Ita Enang and Suleiman Kawu, one will have difficulty in remembering others who enjoy such a rare privilege.

The system adopted by this administration is to deploy presidential aides to the Office of the Vice-President or ministries, therefore making them reporting directly to the Vice-President or the ministers they are attached to.

A few examples here will suffice. Buhari recently inaugurated his Special Adviser on Social Investment, Mrs. Maryam Uwais; Special Adviser on Political Matters, Senator Babafemi Ojudu; Special Adviser on Economic Matters, Dr. Adeyemi Dipeolu; and Special Adviser on Planning, Tijani Abdullahi.

The four presidential aides had resumed work long before they were inaugurated. Surprisingly, however, they are not regular faces at the President’s office. As a matter of fact, I saw Dipeolu and Abdullahi for the first time in the President’s side of the Villa on the day of their inauguration. For Uwais and Ojudu, I only saw them a few times at the President’s side. Their cases are similar to that of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Economic Matters, Mr. Ayoleke Adu, who died recently. I never set my eyes on him.

While Uwais, Ojudu, Dipeolu and Adu were deployed to the Office of the Vice President, Abdullahi was deployed to the Ministry of Budget and National Planning. There are many other presidential aides who are deployed to ministries such as the Ministry of Justice and the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and do not normally have contact with their principal, the President.

We recently asked the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, what informed this unique arrangement. His response was that the Presidency is one; therefore it is within the prerogative of the President to deploy any of his aides to any office he so wishes. Change!

Another unique thing is the way the present administration’s Economic Management Team operates. During the last dispensation, although the then Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, was the Coordinating Minister of the Economy, Jonathan still presided over the team’s meetings that were held regularly inside the Council Chambers.

But this time, Since Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo is the head of the team, the meetings always hold in his office without the President attending. In fact, Buhari is not a member of his administration’s economic team. I guess it is Osinbajo who feeds him back on decisions reached and is saddled with the responsibility of defending such before the public. Change!

Abuah stops issuing Presidency’s statements

I wrote here in June that when President Muhammadu Buhari hosted State House correspondents to a lunch on May 30 as part of activities marking his one year in office, his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, did what he called “special recognition”, for two people in the hall.

I reported that time that the first person that was recognised was an octogenarian photojournalist, Alhaji Abubakar Ladan, who has been covering the Villa since the days of yore. He is arguably the oldest among the over 100 journalists accredited to cover the President’s activities.

The second person so recognised was the Director of Information, State House, Mr. Justin Abuah. He was full of life that day. He rose as Shehu told the gathering that he (Abuah) had served seven past Nigerian leaders since 1986 when he joined the State House media office from the News Agency of Nigeria. He worked in the former seat of power, Dodan Barracks, Lagos and then moved to the Villa when the nation’s capital was moved from Lagos to Abuja.

A few weeks after that event, Abuah who had been responsible for churning out most of the press statements emanating from the Presidency suddenly disappeared from the scene, leaving his junior colleagues to be issuing the statements. I made an enquiry and was told he was on vacation. Later on, I learnt he was sick. I called him but he did not answer the calls, neither did he return those calls. Quite unlike him.

On Sunday, Abuah passed on. He was aged 57. He is survived by his wife, Loretta and three children -Chinedum, Chike and Amaechi.

The fond memory I have about Abuah is his unique way of laughing. There were times that I would approach the office of the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, either during the era of Mr. Femi Adesina or his predecessor, Dr. Reuben Abati, for interviews and I would be asked to hold on for the person with either of them to come out. Even with the door of the office closed, it wouldn’t take me more than a few seconds before I would recognise that the “guest” inside was Abuah. His boisterous laughter would always pierce through the mahogany door to the ears of those of us outside.

On his way out of the office, Abuah, would look at me. Suspecting that I had come with my “troublesome” questions again, he would say jokingly, “Lekan, which questions do you want to ask SA again? Won’t you let us be?” Abuah would not wait for an answer before bursting into his trademark loud laughter. Whenever he saw any of my reports he found not to be complimentary of government, Abuah would say, “Lekan, have you seen SA? He is looking for you o!” He would burst into laughter as he walked away quickly.

He was a private man. This reflected in the way he handled his illness without making it known to many of his friends and colleagues. Even his elder brother confirmed this when we paid a condolence visit to his Abuja residence on Wednesday.

Abuah would have retired from the civil service in 2019 when he would have clocked 60 but it pleased God to retire him at this time. No more press statements from him. Who are we to blame God who gives and takes life? Adieu, O.J, the man with a unique roaring laughter.

Olalekan Adetayo is Punch's man in the Villa