By Bankole Wright
The Presidency on Thursday said the retention of the Presidential Aircraft, NAF 001, in the UK, where President Muhammadu Buhari is currently receiving medical treatment, was for reasons bordering on “protocol, ensure national security, diplomacy and prestige.”
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said this in a statement made in Abuja.
Shehu was reacting to recent media reports alleging that an outrageous fee was being paid for parking the aircraft in London since May 10 – when Buhari embarked on his second medical vacation for the year.
He said there is no world leader who travels abroad and is left without plans for immediate return or possible evacuation.
Shehu said, “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.
“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 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.”
The presidential spokesman also downplayed the parking fees being reported, saying presidential aircraft enjoy waivers worldwide.
He added that where a waiver is not granted, such fees do not exceed £1,000.
He urged Nigerians to discard the report which he claimed is emanating from the camp of opposition.
“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.
“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. All past Heads of this country have had this privilege, and the part that surprises the most is that leaders who in the past travelled with three Nigerian aircraft did not suffer this trenchant criticism.
“We appeal to Nigerians to ignore opposition campaign aimed at derailing this administration’s big plans for the country.
“We are a government that has saved this country an annual loss of two trillion Naira 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.”