Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, says “a lack of understanding of protocol around foreign trips by heads of states” is responsible for the criticism of the parking of the presidential jet in the UK, where President Muhamadu Buhari has been receiving treatment for the past 52 days.
It had been speculated that the the President’s trip was costing the country £4000 or $5000 every day (amounting £208,000 in the 52 days of Buhari’s UK stay) but Shehu said the figure was no more than £1000 daily.
Using the official exchange rate of N392 to £1, the reports claimed a total of N81,536,000 had been spent on an idle presidential jet alone.
However, using Garba Shehu’s explanation that the country was paying at least £1000 daily on the Buhari’s aircraft, it means the costs had accumulated to a figure in the region of £52,000 (or N20,384,000) as of Thursday.
“The presidency is constrained to decry criticisms, mostly on social media, on the retention in London of the presidential aircraft, NAF 001 as mostly informed by lack of understanding of protocol around foreign trips by heads of state all over the world,” Shehu said on Thursday.
“It is important to state that for reasons of protocol, national security, diplomacy and prestige, there is no world leader who travels abroad and is left without plans for immediate return or possible evacuation.
“From the operational point of view, this country’s armed forces as represented by the Nigeria air force are not to abandon their commander-in-chief in whichever circumstance he is. This is a standard operating procedure.
“We have also read claims about outrageous fees allegedly paid by Nigeria. The published amounts are totally untrue. Aircraft conveying heads of state all over the world usually enjoy waivers even where payments for parking are differentiated by aircraft categories.
“We have been assured that where the waiver is not granted, payment will not exceed £1,000, which is a quarter of the amount being peddled.”
Shehu urged Nigerians to ignore the campaign of the opposition, saying Buhari is not the first president to enjoy such privilege.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this president is not the first to have a presidential aircraft standing by for him, as he will certainly not be the last,” he said.
“All past heads of this country have had this privilege.
“We appeal to Nigerians to ignore opposition campaign aimed at derailing this administration’s big plans for the country.
“This is a government that is constructing the Second Niger Bridge, the Mambila Power Plant, the East-West and the North-South standard gauge railway lines.
“We are a government that has saved this country an annual loss of N2 million from fraudulent petroleum subsidy schemes by influential citizens and their children, and rid the public service of about 50,000 ghost workers. The Buhari administration certainly deserves a chance.”