Journalism is cool by me.
The joy of journalism is that one can afford to do the impossible.
With the help of many powerful sources, this reporter can get into circles where mere mortals can only dream of.
During the heydays of President Olusegun Obasanjo, for instance, there was once the opportunity of flying out of Lagos early in the morning, getting to Aso Rock to interview the then President and getting back in Lagos before sundry workers could well get to their Lagos offices!
Let’s start the matter in the present tense.
9.42 AM. Friday, May 20, 2005. Aso Villa, Abuja. A well-modulated voice announces the coming of the leader of the nation.
The five men and one woman in the hall rise as His Excellency Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, strides in.
His colorful agbada radiates against the soft amber of the hall as Mr. President walks to his chair with that characteristic swagger that is all his.
He sits expansively, scans the hall and turns to his right to ask his Senior Special Assistant, Media, Mrs. Remi Oyo: “How much time do we have?”
Mrs. Oyo is fast with her response: “Thirty minutes, Sir.”
Mr. President adjusts his cap and asks jocularly in Pidgin English: “Se my cap dey well?”
All say “Yes, Sir” with laughter.
“Why only men?” President Obasanjo queried. “No woman?”
Before we could answer Obasanjo said: “Next time, you must come with women.”
The interview with Mr. President was a case of running against time. It had earlier been fixed for 2 O’clock in the afternoon, but because of unforeseen pressing presidential matters the interview had to be brought forward to 9am in the morning at very short notice.
For someone who had to travel from Lagos that very morning it literally meant running a marathon at the speed of a sprint.
Getting out of bed in the pre-dawn hours and making it to the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, before making the long journey from Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja, to the seat of power in Aso Villa called for all the effort and coordination in the world.
Taiwo Obe, fondly known as TO, who had coordinated the pre-interview sessions sent out a text message at exactly 4am that it was time to get up for the journey to the airport. The construction site at Iyana-Ipaja impeded my journey to the airport and I was forced to make a detour through Agege, that is, after losing a bag in the melee!
Even so, TO was always in touch with me until I boarded the Chanchangi flight to Abuja. The journey in an unmarked taxi to Aso Villa was another matter entirely, a very fast race not unbefitting of a Formula One racer!
There was no time in my mad rush to send the message to TO back in Lagos that I made it after all before submitting my mobile phone to the security apparatchiks at the last door in the Villa.
Alhaji Ibrahim Ida (CON), C.K. Alabi, Tommy Odemwingie and Ken Tadaferua were already seated waiting for the arrival of Mr. President.
Of course when it dawned on us that we had only 30 minutes to exhaust a score or so questions, there was an immediate re-ordering of priorities.
Mrs. Oyo was quick to point out that the President would not take kindly to undue flattery – each interviewer should go to the meat of the question immediately, not going round in circles.
The appearance of Mr. President belied the “tough” image always portrayed in the media. He was as relaxed as can be, showing a kind of media savvy he had never been given credit for. He advised us not to allow ourselves to be bullied by Mrs. Oyo while hurling our questions at him. After making sure that his cap was sitting well on his head, he waved at us, the interviewers, to start the encounter with the pidgin word “Oya!”
The interview took more than the allotted time, with President Obasanjo allowing for more questions even when Mrs. Oyo felt we had had enough.
The Chief of Staff and other stalwarts had to come into the hall, and wait a little while, before Mr. President genially answered the clinching question: “If the Confab recommends a third term for you, will you accept?”
The answer he gave was used as an upfront quote by the Third Term promoters in their first newspaper wraparound advertorial!
For a man who remonstrated against us for not coming with a woman, Mr. President was quite accommodating to the “male chauvinists” who had come to interview him.
At the photo session that followed the interview, President Obasanjo amiably exchanged banters and pleasantries only to leave us stranded without the gift of even a biscuit or the transport to get out of Aso Villa!