THE Federal Government on Wednesday reacted to the public outcry against President Goodluck Jonathan’s trip to Brazil at a time that two northern states–Kaduna and Yobe–were under siege of bombers and gunmen.
The government said Jonathan could rule the country from anywhere in the world and that his absence at the height of the crisis did not amount to negligence because he was on an official assignment to Rio De Janeiro to take part in a United Nations’ Earth Summit.
Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, who briefed State House correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting in Abuja, warned the citizens, especially politicians, not to politicise security issues in the country.
He said, “The President can take decision from anywhere in the world; his absence will not hamper his power to act.
“The Vice-President effectively takes charge of affairs once the President is out of Nigeria and he is in touch with the President on an hourly basis.
“There is no vacuum, the most important thing is that the President and the Vice- President work harmoniously and are in constant touch.
“If the President panics, what will the people do? We must stop making politics out of the unfortunate incident going on in Northern Nigeria.”
At the height of the public worry over the long absence of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua in 2010, the Attorney-General then, Micheal Andoaka, had similarly said his boss could rule Nigeria from any part of the world.
Jonathan jetted out of the country on Monday night, barely 24 hours after 75 persons were killed in the bombing of three churches and consequent reprisals in Kaduna.
A fierce gunfight between security operatives in the military Joint Task Force and suspected members of Boko Haram also led to the death of 25 people in Damaturu, Yobe State.
The two states are currently under a 24-hour curfew.
The House of Representatives, opposition parties and lawyers on Tuesday criticised the President’s trip, describing him as “insensitive.”
Joined at the briefing by his Housing and Urban Development counterpart, Ms. Amma Pepple, as well as the Minister of State for Finance, Yerima Ngama, Maku recalled that Vice-President Namadi Sambo had on Tuesday convened an emergency security meeting with security chiefs on the insurgence.
He said if Jonathan did not attend the summit, the same people who criticised him for attending would have gone against him.
He said rather than criticising the President at every opportunity, critics should come forward with practical solutions to the terrorism ravaging the nation.
“We should stop turning the tragedy in the northern Nigeria to politics. We are not being invaded by foreigners but it is our people killing themselves.
“The President has provided every leadership on this matter; let people make meaningful contribution to how to end this and not to play cheap politics and engage in political blackmail.
“For those turning this to politics, they should re-examine their level of patriotism to this country,” he said.
The House of Representatives had said the President could have delegated the trip to Sambo or any of his senior aides since the trip was “not special or of economic interest.”
“A trip like that could have been delegated by Mr. President so that he can stay at home to take charge of security. We know that security agencies are supposed to do their job, but we cannot afford to compromise security. If our security is compromised, it is a failure of governance,” spokesman for the House, Zakari Mohammed, had told our correspondent.
Mohammed had added that investors would not come to Nigeria if the country was not safe.
The Action Congress of Nigeria, in a statement by his National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, had also faulted Jonathan’s journey amid what it described as a “national tragedy.”
“We are constrained to ask whether this President is getting quality advice from the myriad of aides surrounding him, or whether, like his benefactor, Olusegun Obasanjo, he has decided he may not even take any advice from his advisers. In other climes, the usual thing is for leaders to cancel foreign trips or rush home from such trips when their countries suffer tragedies,” the ACN had said.
The Congress for Progressive Change had also slammed the President, saying it was wrong for him to leave the country at the time of the crisis. It said the President’s trip was “disappointing.”
“The action of the President is akin to the head of a family leaving his burning home to attend the village meeting on the cleanliness of the environment. Succinctly put, this is not the propitious time for frivolous travels,” the CPC had said in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Rotimi Fashakin.
Constitutional lawyer, Prof. Itse Sagay had said, “Honestly, I don’t know. The situation in the country is very serious. He should sit down and face it.
“The impression one has now is that he has lost control, his responses have been weak. We expected something more forceful. We expected a decisive attitude towards a very serious problem.
“I don’t think it is the right time for him to travel because the situation is very critical.”