President Muhammadu Buhari’s closed 75th birthday celebration last Sunday, December 17, 2017, had Vice President Yemi Osinbajo written all over it.
The plan to celebrate Buhari at 75 was hatched, designed and implemented from the VP's office.
“The plan was to mark it as low-key as possible. The president wouldn’t have loved an elaborate celebration so Osinbajo made sure not to make it one”, an aide in the Vice President’s office told Pulse on the basis of anonymity, because he hadn’t been granted permission to speak on the subject.
Back stage in the VP’s office, staff had gone to work on the president’s birthday celebration weeks before December 17.
A handful of State Governors were told to fly into Abuja ahead of the gig. Memos were dispatched, cold calls were made and logistics progressed apace. Dignitaries were forewarned to keep the event a closely guarded secret.
“We didn’t want Baba (Buhari) to have the slightest inkling that a small party was going to be organized in his honour. He would have pulled the rug from underneath our feet. He had told anyone who wanted to listen that birthday celebrations aren’t for him and that this wasn't the right time for a party”, the aide added.
As Osinbajo and the rest of the presidency persisted with their surprise birthday for the president, First Lady Aisha Buhari and the president’s domestic staff were also co-opted into the secret planning.
Everyone was told not to spill the beans.
On the afternoon of the president’s birthday, secret guests of a secret birthday party began trooping into the villa; almost in tip toes.
The president was completely unaware of what was going on.
Among the guests were Kano Governor Abdullahi Ganduje, Governor of Nasarawa Umaru Tanko Al-Makura, Ogun State Governor Ibikunle Amosun, Osun State Governor Rauf Aregbesola, Chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum Abdulaziz Yari of Zamfara State, Governor Aminu Tambuwal of Sokoto State, Governor Abiola Ajimobi of Oyo State, Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha, Kaduna Governor Nasir El-Rufai, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and his wife Dolapo, First Lady Aisha and a handful of presidency aides.
The president was tricked into his living room and was going to ask a question or two when chants of “happy birthday to you” from the kids and dignitaries, engulfed the place.
“He was a bit embarrassed and flustered to see everyone clapping and singing", the aide told Pulse of the president’s demeanor, in between chuckles. “He wasn’t expecting it”.
Buhari descended the stairs, shook hands with Osinbajo while flashing a knowing smile, walked into a wall of applauding dignitaries and made his way behind one of a few giant cakes brought in by the guests; a smile playing on the corner of his lips.
Back to business
“I wish him strength, wisdom…he has several more years of service to this great nation. I wish him well”, Osinbajo said afterwards.
Moments later, the presidency announced that Buhari would be embarking on a trip to the Republic of Niger for a ceremony to commemorate the 59th independence anniversary of that nation.
The president’s birthday was over in a flash and it was back to business as usual.