The First Lady, Aisha Muhammadu Buhari, yesterday extended an invitation to host all Presidential aspirants of various political parties tomorrow at the State House Conference Centre, Abuja, for the break of Ramadan fast dinner (Iftar).
It was gathered that the invited personalities were instructed to drop their mobile devices at home and only carry their invitation cards, which would serve as the only entry permit for the event.
So far, those who have indicated interest to contest the Presidential election include Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo; former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar; the All Progressives Congress (APC) national leader, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu; former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi and former Presidents of the Senate, Anyim Pius Anyim and Bukola Saraki respectively.
Others are the governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike; his Kogi State counterpart, Yahaya Bello and that of Ebonyi State, Dave Umahi; that of Sokoto and Bauchi states, Aminu Tambuwal and Bala Mohammed respectively.
Former governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha; Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige; Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, businessman Isa Hayatudeen, among others have also indicated interest to contest the presidential elections next year.
However, it was gathered that the directive to them not to approach the venue with phones would not apply to Osinbajo and other governors and ministers, who are expected to be at the meeting.
Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Office of the Wife of the President, Aliyu Abdullahi, who confirmed the development, said: “There is no issue here. This is a standard operational protocol in the Villa when you are having either of the three occupants of the Presidency in attendance. If they are coming for an event, this is supposed to be DSS-enforced.
“Because outsiders will come. That’s the security and standard protocol whether the President is having an event or the Vice President or the First Lady is having an event. The dropping of phones does not apply to the Vice President. How can you expect that to apply to the Vice President or even ministers?” he asked.
MEANWHILE, some critical stakeholders and opinion moulders, yesterday, shared divergent views over the invitation. While some view the development as strange and unwarranted, wondering in what capacity the President’s wife is meeting with aspirants, others said the woman has demonstrated a kind of maturity and understanding, which her husband lacks and had failed to show in the last seven years.
Although the majority of senior members of the ruling APC, especially from the Southern region, bluntly refused to react to the development, stakeholders from opposition parties said the First Lady has simply demonstrated her managerial and accommodative spirit, which the President lacks.
Commending Aisha for the move, spokesman of Middle Belt Forum, Dr. Isuwa Dogo, said: “With what she has done, I feel Nigeria would have been better administered if she was the president. This is motherly care and love for the country, basically on the fact that she simply wanted the aspirants to eschew campaign of calumny against one another, but rather concentrate on their promise and vision, instead of being desperate to bring down one another.”
Dogo added that since it was an invitation and not a summoning, whoever is not interested can as well distance him or herself from the meeting. “It has nothing to do with the Constitution and she has not really gone out of her way. Her intention is clear, which is simply to fraternise with aspirants to eschew bitterness as we are beginning to witness among them.”
Similarly, National Chairman of the African Democratic Congress (ADC), Ralph Nwosu, commended the move, saying: “At least, President Buhari’s family must have begun to realise some of its mistakes and now trying to make corrections at the twilight of the administration.”
Nwosu, in line with Dogo, said the intention behind the invitation is not bad. “She is only going to let all the presidential aspirants understand the fact that despite belonging to different political platforms, the country that they are all aspiring to rule, peradventure if they win, is one and same.
“This is a good gesture, especially now that the division in Nigeria is obvious and dangerous. The meeting is like a kind of reunion of political parties and hopefully, those that will be in attendance would pick one or two things from it.”
Also, Emeritus President General of Aka Ikenga, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike, has said the controversy over the First Lady’s directive was unnecessary.
He said the directive ordinarily should not have generated controversy but for the “overzealousness” of those working with the wife of the President, since it was a normal practice for visitors to enter the villa without mobile phones, except with exemptions.
Uwazuruike said: “I think that order or release was given by an overzealous Aso Rock staff, because if you have ever gone to Aso Rock, what you do is to leave your phone in your car or at the gate. You don’t enter there with your phone. So coming to tell those people not to come there with their phones is not necessary.
“Making such a statement is not necessary and even if that is the procedure in Aso Rock, there is a way you do that when the person must have arrived at the meeting. It is supposed to be a small dinner but somebody has now made it controversial. It is a case of having staff not well-groomed in the protocol. The adverse publicity the invitation is receiving could have been avoided if there were no overzealous people working with the First Lady.
“Over the years, the issue of going into government house anywhere with the phone has always been restricted. You don’t need to write it on an invitation card; rather, there are ways you can make the person keep the phone either in his car or with his aide.”
Uwazuruike, however, stated that the development should not worry any of the aspirants invited to the meeting, stressing that “even if it was not spelt out in the invitation card, there is no way they could be allowed to go into the dinner with their phones.”
But sharing a divergent view, the Yoruba Ronu Leadership Forum said Mrs. Buhari has no capacity to summon presidential aspirants and that those who honour such invitation are not worthy of being elected as president.
President of the forum, Akin Malaolu, described the invitation as an insult to party politics and if allowed to scale through without being interrogated, Nigeria may be heading towards a one-party state with some arm-twisting tactics of the ruling party.