President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday took up critics of his trip to Brazil to attend the United Nation’s Earth Summit Rio+20 despite the troubling security situation in Kaduna and Yobe States, which both came under terrorist attacks a few days to his departure.
Jonathan, in a statement by his Special Adviser, Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, from Rio de Janeiro, dispelled criticism that his trip amounted to abdicating his responsibility to Nigerians.
He also cautioned the opposition against cashing in on every crisis in the country to score political points.
His trip also got the backing of the Federal Executive Council (FEC), which after its weekly meeting yesterday in Abuja, said through the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, that the president could discharge his responsibility from anywhere in the world, given the technological advancements in telecommunications.
The president has come under fire since he left for the summit on Monday, a day after Boko Haram, in coordinated attacks, bombed three churches in Kaduna and Zaria.
The attacks, carried out by suicide bombers, triggered reprisals that forced the Kaduna State government to impose a 24-hour curfew on the state.
However, since his departure, the House of Representatives, Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) and the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC), among others, have strongly condemned the trip, contending that it was unnecessary given the security situation in the country.
They had insisted that the president could have delegated any other government official to represent him at the UN Earth Summit.
But the president faulted the position of the opposition, saying that before his departure for Brazil on Monday, he had met with security chiefs and was satisfied with their plans to control the security situation in Kaduna and Yobe, where Boko Haram had launched attacks on troops deployed in the state, shortly before the president’s departure.
“The crisis in Kaduna and Yobe occurred almost on the eve of the president’s departure for this event and commitments had been made,” the presidential statement said, adding: “The conference, Rio+20, is very important and nobody can doubt that.
“The issues that will be discussed at this conference are also issues that are relevant to Nigeria’s interest. It is also an opportunity for Nigeria to promote its interest in terms of its place in global community.
“In any event, it is not as if government has abandoned the situation at home. Security agencies are there, they are on top of the situation. Before the president left, he met with security chiefs. The business of leadership cannot just stop because there is a crisis there.
“I think what we can do is to appeal to the opposition not to always play politics with everything; that is the major challenge we face, people always want to play politics with everything.
“If the president had refused to come to Rio, the same persons will turn around and say that there was an important conference attended by world leaders and the Nigerian president stayed away from it.
“It is as if there is nothing you can do to please our people. It is not that Nigeria is going to lose anything by Mr. President’s presence here; rather, the country is going to gain a lot from his presence here.
“He is here serving the interest of Nigerians, it is not as if he has abandoned his responsibility,” the statement said.
Jonathan, who met with the Nigerian community in Brazil soon after his arrival, assured them that Nigeria would make faster progress in its quest for development if all Nigerians back his administration’s efforts to transform the country.
Also Wednesday, Maku told State House correspondents at the end of the FEC meeting that there was nothing wrong with the president’s trip to Brazil in the face of the security situation in the country as his absence had created no vacuum in governance.
Maku flayed critics of the Brazilian trip, saying Vice-President Namadi Sambo has the constitutional backing to take over whenever the president is absent.
“The president can take decisions 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 incidents going on in Northern Nigeria. The world is now a virtual society; that the president is out of the country, doesn’t mean he cannot make decision on a matter,” Maku said.
He said that the president has provided leadership on this matter, adding, “Let people make meaningful contributions on how to end this and not 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.”
Maku accused the president’s critics of ignoring the terrorists and haranguing the president, adding that the debate had not shown solidarity with the president.
“What is required at this time is cooperation with the president. He is on a working visit to Brazil and not on a holiday,” he added.
On whether the government would continue to subsidise petrol, Maku said if the government continues to do that, the endemic corruption in the sector would not abate.