‘Yahaya, how are you doing?’ I asked. ‘Fine, oga‘ he responded. Its been a while I last called my friend, Yahaya, who works at one of the Bureau de change in Yaba, Lagos. Ever since the depreciation of the naira, clients have stopped paying in dollars, most have attributed the move to the strict Central Bank regulations on foreign currencies but today, luck seems to have found me or so I thought.
Few days ago, I got an invitation to attend the “Meet The President’ event organised by a group called Participate, Vote, Country (PVC). On the special invitation was clearly written ‘A Once in a lifetime Event’ and though the invitation came with the emblem of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), I made up my mind to attend the event despite my nonpartisan disposition for three reasons.
For Individuals like myself who have spent years criticizing governments, public office holders and policy makers, such event avail us the opportunity to take the bull by the horn and challenge these public servants one-on-one, throw punches at them and leave them gasping for answers. Secondly, a meeting with a president is indeed a unique gathering and one with that of the President of the most populous black nation in the world to paraphrase what the organizers called it, is a lifetime opportunity.
Lastly, there have been rumours and reports in the media recently on how the president moves around with bullion vans and dole out dollars in millions at every meeting as honorarium. So, when the invitation to be part of such meeting came, you wouldn’t blame me for calling Yahaya to get an update on the exchange rate between the dollar and naira at the black market. Infact, I was so robed in the rumour of this distribution of largesse and the anticipation of a dollar-choked ‘brown envelope’that the thought of calling the Divisional Police Officer (DPO) to request for two fully armed mobile police officers repeatedly crossed my mind. I thought to myself, ‘you can’t risk moving around Lagos unprotected with such volume of cash’ but after a second thought I decided to let the DPO enjoy his peace.
The atmosphere was cool and calm consisting of mainly youths mostly in their late thirties say for few who apparently should almost be hitting menopause. As I moved to take a seat, I was approached by a waitress who offered to serve me a drink. I gently asked what was on the menu hoping to have a taste of the well rumoured flamboyant presidential lifestyle where Vodka Martini are served on the rock while Moèt Champagne are generously mixed with it. I was disappointed when she told me all they have were the everyday soda available in traffic and shops.
In the past few days, the President seems to have been giving a good account of himself. Public perceptions which seems battered before the postponement of the election is taking a new shape and since his campaign started this year, these past days has shown the birth of a new determination to win the election as against his previous disposition of being able to railroad his way via incumbency factor. Rumour has it that the president has made some urgent changes in his kitchen cabinet. With the inclusion of the former Governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel, into the fold of advisers, little wonder why the tide is suddenly turning.
After few hours of waiting, President Jonathan came in dressed in a polo shirt with a customized facing cap branded ‘GEJ‘ apparently to fit into the lifestyle of the youths. He sat quietly between the two moderators of the event. I had expected a serious gathering where serious issues that bothers on national development and policy implementation will be asked but instead the organizers wasted an appreciable portion of the day talking about what he loves eating, how he sleeps and so on. The look on the president’s face shows a man though tired, obviously from rounds of meetings and counter meetings, disappointed on the questions being asked. Even though he answered each diligently, I felt unease where I was seated, but why won’t I? Before leaving home I already prepared just one question for the President and even rehearsed a pose.
‘Mr. President’ I would start, ‘ Right after the subsidy protest, you promised to ensure our refineries are back to life, a promise if kept would have impacted greatly on our economy, the prices of petroleum products for Nigerians would have reduced and even the naira wouldn’t be gasping for value as it is now. Why are we still importing refined petroleum products?’ Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to ask.
Away from the tea questions asked by the moderators which made most of us look stupid, some of the questions asked by some of the attendees who had the opportunity to engage the President were issues based. Far from the man many had (including myself) described as shallow in thought, the President as if in a new body was spontaneous with his responses and sharp in providing answers. If there is one thing the tension of this election has achieved, it is the bringing into life a long-buried quality President Jonathan may have forgotten he has. Apart from his smilish posture, he appears confident and well in control of his space.
I reached for my glass of juice and before I could take a sip, my stomach started rumbling, I remembered its been almost 12 hours since I last had something to eat and though buffet was provided at the venue, I decided to starve myself a bit in anticipation of a war with the president. In the part of the world I grew up from, you don’t eat in the house of a man who you plan to declare war on. Now I have to pay for it.
As if there isn’t enough salt on my injury, when the waiters started distribution of the heavy goodie bag, to my utmost dismay the contents were books, pamphlets and compact disc of the achievements and strides of the Jonathan administration. I hissed.
I already instructed Yahaya to close late for my sake and now I will have to compensate him for the disappointment. My driver waited five hours beyond his closing time which means extra pay as overtime. I glanced through the books while Mr. President takes his leave.
I have to call my lawyer, Dapo. There must be something in those big law books at his chamber which can be used to sue the federal government for falsely placing me on high hopes.