President Goodluck Jonathan raised one of his most outsized delegation yet for his ongoing trip to the United Nations General Assembly in the United States, drawing up personalities apparently irrelevant for the meeting, with likely cost implications in several millions if not billions of naira.
Several members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party for instance, joined the train to New York, so much that the party halted its activities since Monday, PREMIUM TIMES confirmed.
On Tuesday, PREMIUM TIMES also confirmed several ex-militant leaders, and known supporters of the president, and several others are presently in the United States for the same mission.
“I can tell you everyone I called today are in New York,” an associate of President Jonathan said. “Several ex-militants are also there, although there are claims they paid their way there.”
The source, who did not want to be named out of concern the disclosure he made might anger Mr. Jonathan, gave some names of militants he said travelled to New York with the President. We are withholding the names because we could not independently verify them as at the time of filing this report.
The sidekicks that accompanied the president are separate from the nearly a dozen ministers travelling with Mr Jonathan, several aides, hangers on with clearly no relevance to the trip.
Mr. Jonathan has managed to build a notorious reputation for travelling for international events with huge entourages that often put him up for stinging criticisms since taking office in 2010.
That year, the president reportedly travelled with 120 people to New York.
In February 2013, officials who travelled with the president for an African Union meeting in Ethiopia, averaged 200, making the Nigerian delegation the largest to the meeting.
When concerns flared again this time about his team to the current UN meeting, with allegations that as many as 600 may have travelled with the president to New York, the presidency scrambled a denial, saying those who travelled officially with the president were less than 30.
The response, in a statement issued by spokesperson, Reuben Abati, however admitted more people were in New York but said they were “for their own purposes”.
“We are certainly aware that many Nigerian citizens are currently on visits to New York. These persons are here for their own purposes and neither President Jonathan nor his administration has any responsibility for the presence of these persons in New York,” Mr. Abati said.He said those include Nigerian businessmen for “an African Business Roundtable event, members of non-governmental organizations and tourists”.
PREMIUM TIMES could however not ascertain the exact number of those who travelled with the president this time.
But our reporters who visited PDP headquarters on Monday and Tuesday confirmed several party members were on the trip. All events were accordingly suspended at the party office.
Presidency sources also confirmed former militant leaders who since become loyalists of the president, were on the trip.
So awkward was the Nigerian team accompanying Mr. Jonathan that at the president’s meeting with Mr Obama on Monday, the ministers were left standing by the sides, apparently as seating arrangements were not made for the large number.