Book Review: The Untold Story of The Muhammadu Buhari Enigma

By Shola Oshunkeye

The book: WORKING WITH BUHARI; Reflections of a Special Adviser, Media and Publicity (2015-2023)

01: The Buhari Software

The author, Chief Femi Adesina, minces no word about the nature of the book he is about to gift the world. Not a book about government policies-micro or macroeconomics, or those bitter concoctions about monetary management that the Bretton Woods institutions often forced down the throat of Third World countries. The 488-page book, published by Safari Books Limited, is the authentic Buhari story from the perspective of a man who served him for eight years. In Femi’s words, WORKING WITH BUHARI; Reflections of a Special Adviser, Media and Publicity (2015-2023) “is about the Buhari software, not the hardware.” It is the story behind the story.

Written in lucid prose, with precision and focus, Adesina, in 30 Chapters provides thrilling insight not only into his own struggles and vindications, frustrations and fulfillments, but also the human side of President Buhari that only few people know.

02: Love and the State of Flux

In the early chapters, the author traces his love story with Buhari to December 31, 1983 when the General stormed Nigeria’s political scene, the state of flux he (Femi) fell into following the announcement of his appointment on May 31, 2015, how he wept buckets as the reality dawned on him, and his baptism of fire in the first week of assumption of office. That baptism started with the ‘Parliamentary coup’ of June 9, 2015 that produced Dr. Bukola Saraki as Senate President and Hon. Yakubu Dogara as Speaker, House of Representatives. This sharply contrasted the party’s choice of Dr. Ahmed Lawan and Rt. Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila.

The writer recalls how Buhari returned from Germany in the wee hours of that June 9 only to be confronted with the crisis. The party hierarchy was mad. The President was angry, sad. Femi was in a quandary. He says he had wanted the President to issue a statement that though what happened contradicted APC’s position, “a constitutional process had been concluded, and he would work with the elected leadership.” That was when the author noticed how long the President’s index finger was. The President waved off the suggestion, declaring: “I won’t say anything.”

Femi was adamant. He reminded Buhari of the promise he made to him the day he assumed office: that though he was a General, and Generals don’t broach arguments, Femi should argue whenever necessary. Then, Buhari brought out his pen and inserted the word “somewhat” after “process”, and approved the statement.

03: Abba Kyari and the Other Tests

The author would confront bigger tests in the next eight years. The storms would come from all directions-the opposition, the traditional media, social media, vociferous netizens, and part of the Church, particularly prophets who see only death, doom and no bliss. Prophets, who after failing to secure appointment to see and ‘pray’ for the President, would suddenly see NAF One in a terrible turbulence, and would urgently urge Nigerians to pray against plane crash. Like many frequent travelers, Buhari encountered turbulence several times during the many hours he logged in the sky. Like a nasty landing that the Boeing 737 business jet had during a trip to Malta in November 2015 when it was buffeted by a wind shear. But none got anywhere near crashing, contrary to what a Lagos prophet (not T.B. Joshua) ‘saw’. (Pages 323-325)

The most virulent of the storms, as can be deduced from Adesina’s memoir, include the brouhaha over the President’s certificate and the protracted illness in his first term (Chapter 9), farmers/herders crisis, Nnamdi Kanu, and insurgency, and the Jubril of Sudan saga.

There were dramatic moments too. Like when Femi had an altercation with the late Chief of Staff, Mallam Abba Kyari, over a story that the latter said leaked and blamed the media department for it. Femi, a former MD of a leading national newspaper, President Emeritus of the Nigerian Guild of Editors and a pastor, took serious exception to the allegation and stormed out of Kyari’s office. They made up later. Readers will enjoy the author’s comparison of the two Chiefs of Staff he worked with: the late Kyari and Professor Ibrahim Gambari (Chapter 13).

04: Buhari as Bigot, Ethnic Irredentist?

Long before the advent of democracy, President Buhari had been perceived as mean, taciturn, non-smiling, totally indifferent to pain and pleasure. Later, Buhari’s traducers added bigotry, ethnic irredentism and nepotism to the list. However, Femi ascribes that pernicious profiling to people scared of retribution for their corrupt tendencies. Still, the opposition employed that to de-market Candidate Buhari in 2003, 2007 and 2011, and he lost. However, by 2015, those labels had reached their apogee and Buhari got a comprehensive victory.

Buhari, a bigot? The author rejects that profiling in its entirety, saying: “Bigot my foot!” Not the Buhari that has Christian cooks and drivers. Not the Buhari that will attend a predominantly Christian function and stay all through without the foggiest sign of discomfort; as he did in August 2013 when he flew to Lagos to attend the commendation service in honour of the author’s Mother who passed at 75. (Chapter 2). This is how the author describes his Principal on Page 18: “A man who never forgets a good turn, loyal all the way.”

The author also disagrees with the nepotism tag on Buhari as regards lopsidedness in appointments. The allegation, Femi argues in the book, is a product of malice by the opposition who sought to injure the President politically. Maybe. But do the records support that claim? The jury is still out on the matter.

The author recalls an incident that happened very early in the life of the administration in 2015. Buhari had sacked Mr. Ita Ekpeyong, a south-southerner, as Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), and replaced him with Mallam Lawal Musa Daura from Katsina State. Fearing a possible backlash, Femi says he laid his fear bare before his principal (Page 166).

“I had asked him,” the author writes, “Mr. President, you are removing Ita Ekpeyong from the South-south, why not replace him with someone from that region, for balance?”

Buhari answered: “Before people are recommended to me, a search must have been done by appropriate set of people or committee. And one, two or three people are brought forward, in order of performance and competence. Now, if someone comes first and I bypass him because of ethnicity or religion, Allah would judge me. But do not worry, the appointments would balance out.”

O5: Obasanjo or Buhari: Who Made Highest Foreign Trips?

Consider this poser: between former President Olusegun Obasanjo and former President Muhammadu Buhari, who made the most foreign trips? In January 2018, President Obasanjo confessed at Oxford that he made just 97 trips, essentially to convince the outside world that the military was gone for good and sell Nigeria as a good investment destination. But records later showed that Baba Iyabo made over 103 foreign trips within first 168 days of his first term. (The Nation)

And Buhari? The author provides the answer in Chapter 21 where he listed the international trips made by his Principal, naming the country, exact destination, period, and purpose. Between June 3, 2015 and May 6, 2023, President Buhari made 95 trips. You can do the maths and make your deductions.

06: Buhari on Predecessors

President Buhari rarely comments publicly on his predecessors. But in this work, Adesina deploys his journalistic prowess to get his boss talking. While the former President was effusive in his comments on Generals Yakubu Gowon and Abdulsalami Abubakar, as well as Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, he was less enthusiastic about General Ibrahim Babangida. (Chapter 13) “…He was the one who overthrew me,” he told the author. “He put me in detention for three years without any charges. When my mother died, some officers pleaded with him to release me.” But did he? Records show that IBB refused.

The preceding chapter contains Buhari on some issues that roiled the nation during his tenure, especially towards the tail end. Issues like the sudden agitation for an Interim National Government shortly after the 2023 general elections, the disastrous Naira redesign policy and why he did not fire Mr. Godwin Emefiele who, as incumbent Central Bank Governor, wanted to run for political office without resigning. Adesina will also not let the reader go without his reflection on the allegation by his predecessor, Dr. Rueben Abati, Special Adviser, Media, to then President Jonathan, that Aso Rock Presidential Villa was a haunted place where evil forces held sway (Pages 427-440).

As Adesina has established in his reflections, there were tempestuous moments on the job. But whenever the wind blew hard, he found succor in the counsel of the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Sa’ad Abubakar III, a long standing friend of his Friday Column in The Sun, who had forewarned: “Kulikulii (Adesina’s email), you have come to do a hard job, a thankless job. It has been so for most of your predecessors, but with you, it won’t be so.” (Chapter 3) And the new Special Adviser said a loud AMEN. By the time Femi left office on May 29, 2023, he had lost count of how many times he recited that prayer.

O7: In conclusion…

Save for a few typos and one or two pages with faint print, and despite the fact that Femi is generously sympathetic to his boss, the book, Working with Buhari… is a story well told. In simple but elegant language, he skillfully presents the soft side of Buhari, underscoring loyalty as a success factor in an intensely political and high security ambience like the State House.
Working with Buhari…is a treasure trove for those who earnestly seek to understand the Muhammadu Buhari enigma. I have known Femi for 34 years. He has a clean heart and his writing is very clean, honest and brutally frank. Therefore, this book will be a good companion for researchers, journalists, teachers, students of history, and those who thirst for knowledge. I was spellbound as I read the book. And I’m sure you will. So, don’t leave this hall without grabbing a copy.

Mr. President, Your Excellencies, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, my job is done. Thank you very much for listening.

• SHOLA OSHUNKEYE, an award-winning journalist, a former Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Ghana Limited, now Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Crest Online, delivered this review on Tuesday, January 18, 2024, at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Abuja.
• He can be reached on +234 805 618 0011; or,

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