In the early hours of Saturday, August 19th, 2017, Ahmed Aliyu Tanko started hoisting new flags in the quadrangle of the Presidential Villa. The heavy down pours had improved the lustre of the greenery of the Villa, but the flags were all weather-beaten. Tanko, a State House staff, fondly called “OC Flag’’, meticulously ensured all the worn out flags were replaced with gaily new ones.
Before then, the “OC flag’’ had changed all the flags in the forecourt of the President’s office. “OC flag’’ knows the history and symbol of all the flags in the Villa, and he appreciates the value it brings to every ceremony. From handling events like the presentation of Letters of Credence and visits of envoys and Heads of State, he knows which flag was right for every presidential outing. For the President, the National flag and the Commander-in-Chief’s multi-coloured flags were non-negotiable symbols of authority. The presence of the flags usually indicated that the President was “on-line’’; a parlance in the Villa that connotes the President was around, or around the corner.
As “OC flag’’ got busy with the routine that he had been handling for close to twenty years, an atmosphere of celebration pervaded the Presidential Villa. The Special Adviser to the President, Femi Adesina, had stirred the hornet’s nest across the country, and the world, when he announced that President Muhammadu Buhari would arrive Nigeria after more than three months of being away for medical attention in London on Saturday. Adesina’s press statement went out at 7.55am, and in less than an hour it had spread like wild fire across the country, and the world. The world was hungry for such breaking news! And it came.
The feverish excitement went beyond the Villa and swept through streets, markets, religious houses and motor parks. In just hours, the entire FCT, and its environs, was already agog. Dance parties had sprung up, market stalls were hastily closed and many thronged the streets congratulating their neighbours on the survival of the President, and his expected return.
The President’s predicted route of return, Airport Road, was saturated with people before noon, and the long wait began with jubilation. TV stations were not left out in the fever, and soon networks had started live coverage from the airport, and drones showed sea of heads under the clement weather. The mood within and outside the Villa was the same; rejoicing.
“OC flag’’ was not bothered by any likelihood of a heavy downpour that could mar his handiwork. Unlike Abuja, the weather was friendly, and the usually hot sun had paled for a breezy, warm and friendly climate. As “OC Flag’’ later pointed out, “even the heaven understood the mood, and was in tandem with all Nigerians.’’
The new, colourful flags gave the Villa a more refreshing appearance, reflecting the excitement of the day. For majority Nigerians, the President’s recuperation and safe return, signalled another rising hope for the country. Expectations were high when he won the 2015 elections, and the ailment almost dashed the hope of the poor and the down-trodden.
President Buhari’s promise of squashing the dreaded Boko Haram terrorism was already receiving accolades by both well-wishers and detractors, at home and abroad. More dramatically, the war against corruption was also reaching a crescendo, which was unprecedented in the history of the country, especially with the introduction of the whistle-blowing strategy. Nigerians, for the first time, were upbeat that corruption could be tamed by the famed scrupulous leader. His sudden ailment in January almost tipped the scales.
On his arrival at the airport at 4.35pm, the President was received by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo, who complemented the mood of the day with a charismatic white and smart outfit. At the Presidential wing of the airport, new flags were also hoisted to capture the mood of the day.
Interestingly, a waiting white and green chopper at the tarmac was jettisoned after the President arrived. President Buhari, a man who always loves and fights for the ordinary man on the street, decided he would like to go by road so as to see Nigerians. The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for his movement was immediately altered, adding to the frenzy.
President Buhari always preferred travelling by road, but had settled for the chopper airlifting him home in Abuja from the airport, following complaints of long traffics any time he moved on the roads. On Saturday, he took a chance to see, and meet with Nigerians.
Flags were waiting on every corner of the road for the forty minutes ride to the Presidential Villa from the airport. Nigerians from all walks of life had already gathered. Appointments were either cancelled or rescheduled just to receive “Baba’’. The love for the highly revered leader was heightened by his absence for a long period.
The stunts by the outriders in the President’s motorcade provided a much needed side-attraction. Nigerians longed for such drama, after many months of sobriety and intercessory prayers. In their boisterousness, the outriders had their flags, green-white-green. And for some, their colourful and skilled performances were the icing in returning thanks to God for hearing the prayers of Nigerians. The President’s return, for many, was a national miracle and deserved celebration.
Nigeria is reputed for its religiosity across the world, and for the months the President was receiving medical attention, prayer meetings reigned ceaselessly in churches and mosques. Even the traditionalists wished the President well and a safe return. The rumours on the social media of his incapacitation only fuelled the zeal to pray more, instead of dampening spirits. The prayers were answered; President Buhari returned.
Amongst the list of visitors to the Abuja House, London, where the President resided, were his long time personal friend, Arch Bishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Justin Welby and General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye. Their visits were symptomatic of the love across religious lines for the President.
As President Buhari’s motorcade combed the streets leading to the Villa, Nigerians rejoiced and danced. The Nigerian flag was up everywhere. Interestingly, when Nigerians celebrate you hardly see the fault lines, like when they win a football match. President Buhari’s return heralded the same kind of jubilation that defied ethnic and religious colorations.
The President stopped the convoy before the gate to his Residence and disembarked for handshakes with political appointees and staff. The Brigade of Guards was on the ground to honour the President at the airport and the Residence.
To showcase his renewed strength, the President decided to walk into the Residence after all the felicitations by the gate. As he walked in, the fountain in front of his Residence reached its peak of rejoicing while the flags waved under the soothing influence of the evening breeze.
At the entrance to the Residence, he greeted more people warmly, mostly family members, always reiterating “thank you for your prayers’’, before stepping into the official quarters that he had not seen for more than three months. His wife, Aisha Buhari, children and grandchildren were all anxiously waiting; “Baba” is back.
Across the country, the same love reverberated. Drums were rolled out, canopies erected, DJs showcased their art, while fathers, mothers and children chatted gleefully into the night of the man they would love to meet some day. They were happy, and thankful that President Buhari made it back alive, and healthy to continue his service to the nation.
Inside his house, “OC flag’’ had done the terrific; all the flags had been replaced with gaily new ones.
Welcome home Mr. President!
Oche Echeija Egwa writes from Abuja
Office of the Special Adviser to the President,
(Media & Publicity)