A towering babel of criticisms have greeted the decision by President Muhammadu Buhari to use the official Council Chambers of the State House in Aso Rock, Abuja to host last Thursday’s meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), attended by party bigwigs, including governors and principal officers of the National Assembly. Quite predictably, the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led the charge, saying Buhari taking advantage of his position as president of the federal republic to deploy national facilities for partisan political purposes was an abuse of office and executive privilege.
But the presidency at the weekend took strong exception with critics of the President, countering that the NEC meeting was “virtual” and the Council Chambers of the State House was the only venue that had the facilities for social distancing. Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said in a statement that the criticism of the president was borne out of ignorance and berated the PDP for resorting to political brinksmanship and empty public grandstanding.
“The stubborn opinion held by the critics of the administration is that President Muhammadu Buhari had called a political meeting in the “hallowed” chamber of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), as if there is a law that says the president is barred from holding meetings in certain sections of the vast Presidential Villa,” Shehu said, adding: “since the president lives in the Villa, no one can, legally speaking, choose or dictate to him where he can sit to hold meetings. So, what is wrong in the president presenting himself before a camera and a TV screen in a digital conference at a given location within the Villa? Just for the sake of the argument, this meeting, we say emphatically, was not convened at the Council Chamber. It was virtual, not a physical meeting.”
According to Shehu, Buhari was originally scheduled to address the APC NEC meeting from his office but eventually settled for the Council Chamber because the digital facilities for video conferencing are located there. His words: “President Buhari was billed to address the meeting from his office (just any of his offices) and chose the Council Chamber where the digital facilities are located, and other members, including the bulk of National Executive Committee members, state party leaders and members of the National Assembly were all linked using video conference calls. You saw them all on TV.
Admitting however that, other APC bigwigs including governors and leaders of the National Assembly were physically present at the meeting; which critics said discounted the argument of the meeting being “virtual”, Shehu said a majority of the participants were linked through video-conferencing. “Yes, it is true that governors and leaders of the National Assembly joined the president from the chamber from where he spoke. But the larger body of the members in attendance was all connected via video calls. Do not forget that these are not the normal times in view of the COVID-19 circumstances in which we have found ourselves. President Buhari placed health and safety above courtesy to the party by not going to its headquarters. In the end, a wise thing had been done because the president wants to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus disease.”
But the PDP is not buying the Buhari’s explanation and have called on the president to apologize to Nigerians. In a tersely-worded riposte, the PDP, in a statement by its national publicity secretary, Kola Ologbondiyan, described as outrageous and shocking, the claim by the presidency that the meeting was virtual despite the crowd of APC leaders in attendance. “Such a denial by President Buhari’s handlers has further exposed the decadence in the APC and the Buhari presidency. What Nigerians expected of the Buhari presidency and the APC, was to tender an unreserved apology to the nation and desist from further desecration of our national values and official conduct requirements.”
The main opposition party berated the presidency for the ridiculous claim that the NEC meeting was virtual; even when the media and the public space are awash with photographs and videos of the NEC meeting with APC leaders physically in attendance inside the FEC chambers. The PDP also said, it was laughable for Shehu to post such a denial when the whole world watched Buhari on live television addressing APC leaders; in addition to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), Abubakar Malami, administering the oath of office on the chairman of APC national caretaker committee, Governor Mai Buni, on the floor of the FEC chamber.
“Our party refers the Buhari presidency to reports already in the media where the AGF admitted administering oath of office to the chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee; an event that took place on the floor of the FEC chamber.” The PDP said contrary to Shehu’s claim, the meeting was physical and only virtual to the extent that some APC NEC members were linked via conference call; urging president Buhari to call his handlers to order to stop embarrassing Nigerians with easily verifiable lies.