“In what capacity is Asari Dokubo speaking at the Villa with the coat of arms behind him?”
This question and a million other variants flooded social media on June 16 and the days that followed Dokubo’s visit to the Aso Rock Presidential Villa, Abuja. Around 11am that Friday, President Bola Tinubu granted an audience to the former Niger Delta agitator.
Although two hours passed before he re-emerged, it is difficult to say that he spent all that time with the busy President. However, what cannot be ruled out is that they met and discussed security and perhaps, the military.
Like most presidential visitors, Dokubo was ushered into the Press Gallery, where he briefed State House Correspondents about his meeting with the Commander-in-Chief.
For the 31 minutes he spoke, Dokubo only repeated what he always said outside of the Villa. He accused the Nigerian military of perpetrating perhaps the greatest crime against a country so reliant on petroleum: crude oil theft.
He said, “The military is at the centre of oil theft, and we have to make this very clear to the Nigerian public that 99 per cent of oil theft can be traced to the Nigerian military, the Army and the Navy, especially. The Army and the Navy intimidate Civil Defence, who are by status the people who are supposed to guard these pipelines.”
But that’s not the banger.
Dokubo added, “It is not the Army that makes it possible for you to travel to Abuja or Kaduna, and vice versa. It is my men.”
Aside from accusing the military of stealing what it should protect from thieves, he said non-state actors procured the relative safety Nigerians now enjoy on the dreaded Abuja-Kaduna highway. As expected, this did not go down well with the military, which has come out to deny the claims, demanding Dokubo to name names.
Now, speaking from the Villa is significant for two reasons. First, it stamps a weight of legitimacy on whatever you say. Second, it gives you a wider reach; since you are speaking from the country’s seat of power, where tens of media houses are waiting to disseminate your story to over 200 million Nigerians. What you say and how you say it matters, especially when you have the wooden background and the coat of arms behind you. This got many Nigerians talking!
However, questions about why the ex-agitator was allowed to visit the President and brief the press are invalid. It reminds me of an episode on Armed Forces Remembrance Day 2022 when some Nigerians criticised former President Muhammadu Buhari for standing on the Presidential Seal.
I laughed as I watched some purported analysts boldly vent their ignorance on national television, claiming that the act “degrades” the coat of arms and Nigeria’s dignity. Haba!
They should have watched former US President Barack Obama’s inaugural ball in 2013 when he danced on the presidential seal with his wife.
Back to Asari Dokubo. President Tinubu promised to run an “open-door” policy from day one. In explaining this, he said, “We are all ears. We are ready to listen at any given time. I promise you an open-door policy and that is the way I will go. That open-door policy is for you to call me and send to me at any given time any concern that you might have.”
If anything, this means Nigerians should expect more August visitors at the Villa, even though not all will be open to addressing the press, for obvious reasons.
Many of the President’s visitors dread walking into the Press Gallery because the State House pool of journalists is known to ask the most challenging questions. I have been part of episodes where Q&A sessions morphed into heated arguments when guests tried to play smart or shy away from pertinent questions. Backing the coat of arms means offering yourself to the press for questioning, and questioning they will.
Tinubu’s romance with Paris
For his first foreign trip as President, Tinubu jetted out to France to attend the Paris Summit for New Global Financial Pact. Paris is unique because it is the President’s last foreign destination before assuming office and his first afterwards.
The President is certainly no stranger to Paris air or weather. In mid-May, he was in France for about two weeks on a private trip for medical purposes, his aides said. The Africa Report revealed that the then President-elect wanted to conduct a final check-up at the American hospital in Neuilly-sur-Seine before his inauguration.
This time, he arrived and left, enjoying the special privileges accorded to a sitting Head of State. Over the years, Paris has served as Tinubu’s vacation and check-up hub. Now, it will double as a negotiation ground to drive his economic policies and Renewed Hope agenda. In any case, France may be to Tinubu what London was to Buhari.