Family members, friends and senior government officials who attempted to call or pay visits to President Muhammadu Buhari in the United Kingdom are having a difficult time getting access.
SUNDAY PUNCH can authoritatively report that four aides of the president control access to President Buhari, who is on extended medical vacation in the United Kingdom.
The aides are the President’s nephew, Mamman Daura; the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Domestic Affairs, Sarki Aba; Buhari’s Chief of Staff, Abba Kyari; and Personal Assistant to the President; Tunde Sabiu.
Our correspondent learnt that anyone who wants to telephone or see the president in London must get the approval of one or more of the four aides. The only two individuals who are exempted from seeking permission to visit Buhari or call him are Acting President Yemi Osinbajo and First Lady, Aisha Buhari.
SUNDAY PUNCH gathered that the First Lady is said not to be happy with the way the aides have been managing access to her husband. The first lady’s relationship with the president’s aides has not always been cordial. In October last year, Aisha granted a highly controversial interview to the British Broadcasting Corporation, in which she alleged that a cabal had hijacked her husband’s government.
According to a source in government, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Buhari’s wife had voiced her displeasure to close friends and associates that the cabal she complained about were still the ones in charge of her husband in London.
“The First Lady is not with him permanently in London, which should normally not be the case. She has had a few clashes with the cabal and she is not happy that they are also firmly in control in London. That’s why she goes and comes. She is not happy with the atmosphere over there.”
Sunday PUNCH gathered that these individuals have turned down numerous requests from the President’s friends, associates and members of his cabinet to see him.
Since Buhari extended his medical vacation on February 19, those who have visited him in his Abuja House residence in London include the Senate President, Bukola Saraki; Senate Leader, Ahmad Lawan; Speaker, House of Representatives, Yakubu Dogara, Deputy Speaker, Yusuf Lasun; Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu; Chief Bisi Akande; Ogun State Governor and Ibikunle Amosun.
It was gathered that the visits were initiated by the guests who made requests which had to be reviewed by the president’s aides. Daura was present during the Tinubu and Akande’s visit. Daura, who holds no political office in the present dispensation, has repeatedly been touted as the most powerful person in the present government, prompting Buhari to publicly declare late October 2016 that, “I’m in charge, not Mamman Daura.”
Daura travels with the president and is often seen with him. Daura is believed to belong to the legendary ‘Kaduna Mafia’, an influential group of young northern Nigerian intellectuals, civil servants, business tycoons and military officers residing or conducting business in the former northern capital city of Kaduna. The group reportedly influenced government policies during the military era and previous civilian administrations. Other famous members of the group were Adamu Ciroma, Ibrahim Tahir, Mahmud Tukur, and former Central Bank of Nigeria Governor, Adamu Ciroma; former Minister of Internal Affairs, Ibrahim Tahir; former Minister of Commerce and Industry during the Buhari-Idiagbon regime, Dr. Mahmud Tukur; former Sultan of Sokoto, Ibrahim Dasuki; former Head of the Technical Committee on Privatisation and Commercialisation, Hamza Zayyad; a former minister, Umaru Mutallab; former presidential aspirant and number-two man, General Shehu Yar’Adua; a former Vice Chancellor, Ahmadu Bello University, Professor Ango Abdullahi; Professor Jibril Aminu and others.
Kyari is known to be one of the President’s closest aides. He plans Buhari’s schedules while ministers are said to queue in his office to see the President. Kyari’s influence became clear to many during a retreat organised by the presidency for the then ministers-designate. While declaring the retreat open on November 5, 2015, Buhari said, “In addition, all communications and appointments from you (ministers) to the Presidency should be routed through the Office of the Chief of Staff as it is the normal (procedure) in this presidential system.”
While much is not known about Sabiu, who was appointed shortly after Buhari’s election, he is reportedly related to Daura. Sources in government told our correspondent that the President ‘feels relaxed’ around him and has a lot of trust in him. The same was said of Aba, who was described as ‘quiet but one of the few people that can make anyone see the President.”
Presented with the names of the aides controlling access to the president, a source in the presidency confirmed the list. The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the subject, said, “The names you have are accurate and they are the ones controlling access to the President in London, even in Nigeria. Some ministers, aides and service chiefs tried to talk to the President on the phone, but they turned them down.
“The few people that have seen the President only saw him because they agreed to it. If they didn’t, it would never have happened, apart from Governor Amosun, who everyone knows is one of Buhari’s best friends.”
The source refused to give the names of those whose requests to see Buhari were turned down.
Meanwhile, Buhari on Saturday spoke with his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina, on the telephone for the first time since he embarked on his extended medical vacation on January 19.
Adesina, who felt elated about the development, confirmed the conversation on his Facebook page and Twitter handle.
He had during previous interviews said he was only speaking with those around the President.
Giving details of his discussion with the President, Adesina said Sabiu called him at exactly 2.43pm and asked that he hold on for the President.
On recognition of the President’s voice, Adesina said he screamed and said, “Mr. President, I have missed you. How are you sir?”
He continued, “He (the President) first laughed. That familiar laugh. Then he said, ‘I am still resting. Thank you for holding out against mischief makers.’
“I said it was my duty, the very least I could do, adding how happy I was to speak with him. He asked, ‘How is your family?’
“I said we were fine, and he asked me to extend his greetings to them. ‘I hope to call you again,’ Mr. President said, and I bade him farewell, adding ‘Best wishes, sir.’”
Adesina described the telephone conversation as a defining moment for him.
He said, “It was a defining moment for me. For more than a month, I had always spoken with aides who are with the President in London.
“Not once did I ask them to take the phone to him, deliberately so, because I didn’t need to speak with him to validate the fact that he was alive. And since he is on vacation, he has a right to his privacy.
“Of his own volition, President Buhari spoke with me. It made my day. Even if he hadn’t done so, he would have remained my President, my leader, and my man. Any day.”