Let me begin by telling a story. On June 1, 2015, the day I resumed work as an adviser on media to President Muhammadu Buhari, he had admonished me: "Adesina, always tell me the truth. That is what I want from you. In this type of position I have found myself, it is very easy not to be told the truth. People will just tell you what they think you want to hear. But from you, I want the truth. As a General, I may argue, but please argue with me. Tell me the truth always."
Based on that blank cheque I'd been given, I went to the residence one evening last year to see the President. That was the time there was the deafening talk of hunger from different parts of the country. I wanted to be sure that the talk was not being filtered from the President. Of course, I know him as somebody who reads newspapers religiously, and wherever we are in the face of the world, he asks for media highlights from Nigeria. So, he would not be unaware of what Nigerians were going through. But I still wanted to raise it with him.
"Mr President, there is hunger in the land, and people are complaining. I know the government is doing its best, but I just want you to be aware," I said.
Mr President responded: "I know, I know. I am aware of what people are going through. I have people in my own constituency back home, and I know the messages they send to me. But it is a passing phase. Our country was vandalized, and we found ourselves in this problem. But now that we are here, we will do our best. We will bring change to this country, and we are already seeing it in agriculture. This period of hunger will pass."
It was prophetic. The season of hunger will pass, and is indeed passing. Anyone that is honest will admit that things are looking up in Nigeria. The ravening clouds shall no longer be victorious. They shall not long possess the sky.
I went away with one conviction from that night's meeting: the poor matter very much to this President. He is not the type that people would tell they had no bread to eat, and he would tell them to eat cake instead. This is a friend of the talakawas, a man who loves ordinary people, and who wants their station in life to be improved. And those people know it. That is why they gravitate towards him, and repose so much confidence in him. He is their hero. Our hero.
President Buhari turns 75 years today. But some six months back, how many could confidently say this day would come for the ramrod-straight man from Daura? How many believed the President would come out of the severe medical challenge that had confronted him? It all began as a routine vacation cum medical check-up in January, and few days after, the rumour mill was on overdrive. The challenge lasted till August, before the President returned home finally, and since then, he has been looking better by the day. Each time you now see him, there is a fresher glow, and you cannot but give glory to God on his behalf.
But why was President Buhari kept alive, so much so that he is turning 75 today? Why did he pass through the sea of infirmity, and he was not swept away? Why did he pass through inferno, and the fire did not kindle against him? Big question. I don't have the answer, but I can hazard some guesses, based on divine principles.
Rigobert Song. Remember him? Song was the Cameroonian defender who played many years for the Indomitable Lions. He appeared at eight African Nations Cup tournaments, five as captain, and stood between Nigeria and victory many times. He became an idol, venerated by his countrymen and women. He retired to become a coach.
Then late last year, Song was not on song again on the soccer pitch. He had a near-death experience on October 20. He went down with brain aneurysm and was in a coma for two days. Doctors battled to save his life, and he was eventually evacuated to France.
While the travails lasted, the social media was abuzz with news of Song's passage. As someone who had followed his career over the years, I felt very sad. But this is the season of fake news. Song was not dead, he miraculously rallied back. He narrated his experience, which I found instructive, considering what our President also passed through:
"I did not know what was happening to me...I did not even know I was fighting between life and death...All these people, they put God in trouble. Because everyone in this situation, they were praying-this is what I keep in my mind-God would have been in trouble. Everyone was praying, asking, 'God, please don't do that, don't take Rigobert.' I say thank you, everybody, for making me come back."
What song was Song singing? One of thanksgiving. Cameroonians who loved him bombarded God with prayers, 'Please, don't take Rigobert now.' And God heard. He showed mercy.
That is the same reason President Buhari is alive today. Nigerians bombarded Heaven with prayers. With supplications, intercessions, pleas for mercy. Muslims prayed in mosques. Christians prayed in churches. President Alpha Conde of Guinea declared 24 hours prayer for his Nigerian counterpart. Prayers were going on everywhere, both at home and in the Diaspora. I can imagine God telling Himself: 'I must answer these prayers. These petitions are too many. I must answer.'
And God had mercy, a fact attested to by President Buhari himself. He said his return was a miracle, which only God could have done.
Why did God keep our President alive? The Holy Books answer:
"Blessed is he that considers the poor;
God will deliver him in the day of evil.
God will preserve him, and keep him alive,
And he will be blessed upon the earth;
And deliver him not unto the will of his enemies,
And raise him up from sickness." (Psalm 41:1-3).
And this one in Surah At-Tawbah 9:128:
"There has certainly come to you a Messenger from among yourselves. Grievous to him is what you suffer, for he is concerned over you and to the believers he is kind and merciful."
President Buhari is concerned about Nigerians, particularly the helpless, the ordinary people, and he has dedicated his life to serving them. And when he was near unto death, those ordinary people besieged Heaven with prayers. That Christian hymn says "dearer to God are the prayers of the poor." And God truly answered.
There is power in goodwill, we have seen it work. It worked for Rigobert Song, and it has worked for our President. Have a heart for men, particularly for the poor, the lowly, and the downtrodden. And see God rise on your behalf.
Consider Tabitha (Dorcas in Greek), who lived at Joppa. She was full of good works, always doing good, and helping the poor. One day, she took ill, and died. Peter, one of the apostles of Jesus, was invited. He came, prayed, and said: "Tabitha, arise!" And the woman came back to life. That is what is possible, when you have a heart for the poor.
In his New Year message last year, President Buhari told the country: "Living in the State House has not alienated me from your daily sufferings. These challenges are only temporary, we are working to make things better."
When news came a couple of months ago that Nigeria had exited from recession, what did the President say? "Until coming out of recession translates into meaningful improvement in peoples' lives, our work cannot be said to be done."
In another broadcast, the President had stated: "All my adult life, I have always earned a salary and I know what it is like when your salary is simply not enough."
That is the man we follow, and serve. Millions would today follow him into battle blindfolded. Millions upon millions would vote him again and again, if he throws his hat into the ring. Happy birthday, Mr President. You have shown us how to care for the lowly and the poor, how to bear them in our hearts at all times, and how such pleases God, and brings mercy our way. Thank you for coming this way, thank you for offering yourself for service.
.Adesina is Special Adviser on Media and Publicity to President Muhammadu Buhari