When Aso Rock staff got a circular on Wednesday morning directing them to attend an “emergency meeting” with President Muhammadu Buhari, they were thrilled.
Many of them thought it was going to be a heart-to-heart talk, and had planned to discuss burning welfare issues with the president.
Indeed, many of them were glad they would see him closely for the first time in their lives.
They were conveyed to the fore court of the president’s office in Coaster buses.
“You can then imagine our shock when the State House permanent secretary (Jalal Arbi), who led us to the meeting, told the president we only came to welcome him back from his medical trip,” one of the workers told TheCable.
Femi Adesina, presidential spokesman, had said staff from 12 departments of State House came to bid Buhari a “warm welcome”.
He then invited the permanent secretary to speak.
Arbi said: “This is the congregation of your children privileged to work in the Villa. We have gathered to welcome you and reassure you of our commitment to integrity, accountability and most importantly fear of God. We pray God to continue strengthen you and give you peace of mind and tranquility to govern.”
The bewildered staff could not believe it when they were not allowed to ask any questions or make any comments.
They believed they were lured to meet the president as part of the “sycophancy” of senior officers who want to be in the good books of the president.
“If I had known, I would not have bothered to leave my office,” another worker said.
The staff, who had earlier chanted “Sai Baba” as Buhari emerged from the mosque, even applauded and called him “father” when he noted that they were under the sun sweating profusely.
At the end of the meeting, the staff left dejected.
“You mean we were brought here just to welcome the president who has been back to the country since Sunday?” a worker asked.
Others were seen laughing and clapping sarcastically at the “fraudulent way” the “welcome” meeting was organised.
Buhari, meanwhile, told them his government would not go after anybody who does not steal public funds.
He said that his administration’s ongoing war against corruption would be vigorously sustained to rid the country of the debilitating effects of the wanton looting of public funds in past years.
He assured them that he would continue to lead the country with patriotic zeal, integrity, dedication and commitment to improving the living conditions of ordinary Nigerians.
“I have never in my life believed in corruption. If we make any mistake in what we are doing and compromise our integrity, the country will be further dragged back,” he said.
“We’ll not touch anybody that did not touch public funds. If you behave yourself, you will sleep soundly; your children and families will enjoy respect.
“But if you have short-changed the treasury, you will be caught and you’ll have your day in court.”
Buhari thanked the staff for their service to the nation and urged them to remain patriotic and eschew corruption in the discharge of their duties.
“I’m asking you to re-dedicate yourself to your country. As I said thirty years ago we have no other country than Nigeria. We are determined to rehabilitate the country for coming generations,” he said.
“The process of change is not easy but with your dedication, we can deal successfully with the issues that currently confront us.”