Yar Adua: I’ll Tell My Story One Day – Segun Adeniyi

Segun AdeniyiThe arrival of President Yar’Adua on Wednesday was generally seen by many as a desperate act of survival in power. But that was not my reading of the situation as concerning the arrival of the president in the country.

I was not in Saudi Arabia but I am aware that no doctor would release such a high profile patient if he was not due for discharge. As to what happened in the Federal Executive Council, I think it was a culmination of several factors.

 One, I am aware the acting President had said Council would no longer take any memo that came after Friday of the preceding week and I gathered all the memos that came late and then the ministers who went to Saudi Arabia were still being expected. In the midst of all these, there was also the arrival of the president. It was a very difficult day and I thank God for the acting president, Dr Goodluck Jonathan because at the end of the day he helped us to diffuse the tension.


One day I will tell my story but contrary to what some people insinuate, on that day, I did not work against the interest of my country or that of the acting president, Dr Jonathan and he knows because he is someone to whom I am actually very close.

I have read several uncomplimentary remarks about me but I guess it is the price one has to pay for being in  public office but the fact remains that in a potentially dangerous situation in which we found ourselves some of us took a very big risk to protect our nation’s corporate integrity even at the expense of our own. By virtue of my position, there are things too sensitive for me to disclose and I am not even talking about the press statement alone but all that transpired that day which people would not know.

 We were faced with a very difficult problem for which we had to find a practical solution. This is a most sensitive issue I honestly would rather not talk about now but I also know that one day Nigerians will look back and appreciate the role that some of us played that fateful Wednesday in the interest of our nation.

The key message in my statement in which I referred to the acting president as vice president was that Dr Jonathan continues to run the affairs of state but what some people have fixation over is that I addressed him as vice president.

What should not be missed in all these is that it is neither inhuman nor criminal to be sick. Mr. President did not choose to be sick, and wouldn’t want to be away from the country that long if circumstances had not dictated so. My wife can testify that I have not been able to sleep in the last three days and this is not the sort of life I want to live but the point remains that we were able to resolve a very difficult issue in a manner we did even if I ended up carrying the blame. I will not say more than that.

Between the First Lady and the CSO, who gave me the statement I released…?

I honestly think we should allow this matter to rest, at least for now. I have heard several ridiculous tales but only by people who don’t know me. I doubt if any State House Correspondent would believe that someone would just give me a piece of paper and say “go and read this”.

I have been on this job now for almost three years so there are ways of reaching the president to secure his authority anywhere in the world. The way the system works is that even if anything happens at 3 am and I need to reach the president in his bedroom, I have ways of doing that to get a feedback immediately. That channel to reach the president for decision making is there for me and a few principal aides 24 hours of the day so no big issue here.

One thing I want to quickly say about this seeing or not seeing the president is that people should be a bit sensitive about the issue of ill health because anybody can fall sick and nobody should attempt to make a spectacle of the president.

As I said earlier, I don’t believe in the idea of making a spectacle of the man, when he is well enough to go public he will. In any case, it is not an issue on which I have control. So on that score, all I can do is to plead for compassion and Nigerians are compassionate people who recognise that issues of life and health are in the hands of the almighty.

Now this whole controversy which nearly tore the country apart arose because when the president was going to Saudi Arabia, he would not do a simple thing of writing the National Assembly so that the vice president can act. The impression being created is that he loves power so much he doesn’t care for the country, is that the correct position?

No, it is not. One thing I will say for now is that President Yar’Adua once wrote this same letter people talk about. I recall he was supposed to spend time in Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State and it had been planned. Of course, something happened along the line and the letter was not delivered because as it happened, we didn’t leave Abuja.

 But I can recall that when the idea to write the letter came and some people expressed reservations about it, his response was: what is the problem with writing a letter to the National Assembly? I have a copy of that letter for my record because in the letter he stated clearly that while he is on vacation, Vice President Goodluck would act as president. It is there in the letter. The Yar’Adua that I have known for almost three years now is a procedural person who believes in due process and rule of law and sees power as a transient thing. Now, the circumstance of this whole trip and what followed may have complicated matters but I was not in Saudi so there are things I also do not know. But I can say authoritatively that President Yar’Adua is neither a desperate man nor a power monger. 

I read about some imaginary cabals in the newspapers said to be dedicated to using the ill-health of the President to hold the nation to ransom and preventing people from seeing the president and these people should be able to defend themselves but I can defend my colleagues.

Yusuf Tilde, the CSO and the ADC, Colonel Mustapha Onoyiveta is two of the best men I have ever worked with, fantastic human beings. They are also thoroughbred professionals who love their country and are fiercely loyal to their boss as their professional duties demand. This should not count against them. I believe they have handled a most difficult assignment with uncommon grace and they should be commended and not vilified by the public.

On the part of the First Lady, there is a feeling that she has hijacked power and is now in control at Aso Rock so much so that the acting president defers to her. But that is not true.

The acting president does not defer to her. What I know about President Yar’Adua is that he and his wife are close and this should be a plus so it is natural that she would want to protect him, especially at a time like this. But in terms of governance, she plays no role in Aso Rock and the acting president takes no instruction from her. Why will he do that?

Many people took an exception that when the acting President told the FEC he was going to see the First Lady, but what the acting president said at the meeting was just a normal thing.

He said the president had arrived but he had not seen him and knowing that the man is just coming from the hospital, he said he would go and greet the wife and possibly see the president. It is not to go and take instruction, why would he do that? Even when I know Ima Niboro has clarified the matter so much is still being made out of what is a non-issue and I think it is unfair to both the acting president and the First Lady.

Now that Dr Jonathan is acting president, all the aides of the president and that of the acting president have always worked together so I foresee no problem. It is one presidency and so it will remain. We will all work together under the acting president, Dr Jonathan.

I am not going to be the spokesman to the acting president, No, but in terms of hierarchy, I think my friend Ima Niboro understands that I am the boss even though I have to remind him of that every day. But jokes apart, he is the spokesman for the acting president while I can only assist him from the background if he needs me.

But on a personal note, I never planned to spend the entire four years in government. I had planned that somewhere along the line I would disengage and go to school not only to retool but also to write my memoir and plan my future. I didn’t envisage that I would even stay this long but I think the former Chief of Staff, Major General Abdullahi Mohammed (rtd.) is responsible for me staying this long in government because on the day he was leaving office he called me for what could be described as a father-and-son discussion I will always cherish and that changed my perspective about public office. 

The past few months have been the most difficult one for me but I just had to stay around for my boss. I thank God for surrounding me with good people who not only counsel but pray for me. At a point when the nation was in serious crisis about this issue I was more or less at a crossroads but someone sent me a quotation credited to the guy who wrote the book, Habits of Highly Effective people, where he said integrity means staying loyal to those who are not present. That quote strengthened me to conclude that regardless of how I felt, integrity means I had to stay for the president who has shown me trust and love.

President Yar’Adua is a very good man who unfortunately has health challenge and it would be immoral for me to abandon him now. I will hang around until he fully recovers then I can have an honest conversation with him about my own future but to be candid with you, I have seen enough of government to last me a lifetime. I thank God for the opportunity the president has given me but I hope to go to school sometimes later this year and when I come back I will return to the newsroom where I intend to be reporting, writing books and possibly teach. I won’t deceive myself that it will be an easy transition, it will not. I know by virtue of being in government I must have burnt a few bridges and made some mistakes, it’s all in the nature of the terrain but God knows I love my country and I have tried my best to stay true to values that endure.  

Presidential Spokesman, Olusegun Adeniyi who has been at the centre of the information management of the President’s ill health

Based on an interview he granted to Ike Abonyi of THISDAY