President Goodluck Jonathan, Vice-President Namadi Sambo and many ministers have concluded plans to travel abroad shortly after the May 29 inauguration of a new government.
While Jonathan had said he would travel out of the country for a much deserved rest after the May 29 inauguration, Sambo is planning to travel to London on May 31, two days after the inauguration of Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s new President.
It was learnt that the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, had also concluded plans to return to the US after the President elect’s inauguration. However, her Petroleum Resources counterpart, Mrs.Diezani Allison-Madueke, has already travelled out of the country.
Though sources close to the minister said she would return to the country to attend the last Federal Executive Council meeting of President Jonathan’s administration, the minister would leave the country after the FEC meeting.
A senior Presidency official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, however, told one of our correspondents that the vice-president was planning to rest in London.
According to him, Sambo will only rest for about two weeks abroad before returning to the country.
The Senior Special Assistant to the Vice-President on Media and Publicity, Umar Sani, however, said the planned trip could not be attributed to any fear of persecution by the incoming government.
Sani said if Sambo was afraid of Buhari, he would have left the country before the May 29 inauguration day.
He said, “There is nothing to fear. Vice-President Namadi Sambo is not afraid of any persecution or victimisation by the incoming government. His planned trip has nothing to do with fear. If he is afraid of anything, he would have gone before May 29.”
Like Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Health, Dr. Khaliru Alhassan, also planned to travel abroad, but he said he would leave for the ongoing World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland.
He stressed that he would be back in the country when the exercise is over.
When asked if the trip was to avoid Buhari’s manhunt for perceived corrupt public officials, the minister said, “It is strange to me and I have not heard anything like that.”
But the Minister of Education, Mallam Ibrahim Shekarau, said no amount of road block could stop him from travelling to any country of his choice.
Shekarau also dared the incoming administration to proceed and mount a checkpoint for him in the crusade against corruption, adding that he had nothing to hide.
His Special Assistant (Media and Communications), Mr. Nnamdi Olebara, said, “Shekarau has no skeleton in his cupboard; if he is travelling, it is not because of any arrest because he has nothing to fear.
“Anybody who knows Shekarau right from ages knows that he has nothing to fear. Asking of when he will travel is digging into somebody’s privacy. Let Buhari mount a checkpoint if he knows that Shekarau has committed any crime.
“If Shekarau is going to his mother’s house, he doesn’t need any permission; if he is going to Saudi (Arabia), he doesn’t need anybody’s permission. He is not escaping to anywhere because he has nothing to fear. He is a committed patriot who has revolutionised the education sector, brought sanity and a lot of development.”
The Minister of National Planning, Dr. Abubakar Sulaiman, said there was nothing wrong for members of Jonathan’s cabinet to travel abroad after the May 29 inauguration of the new government to rest.
He said though he would be returning to the classroom as a lecturer at the University of Abuja, there was no reason for anybody to think that any member of the current administration that travels out after May 29 is afraid of probe.
In a telephone interview with one of our correspondents in Ilorin on Friday, he explained that it is normal for people to take rest outside the country after strenuous political and administrative engagements.
He also said none of them is afraid that the incoming administration would jail them.
Sulaiman said, “I am not travelling out. I am a lecturer. After May 29, I will resume work at the University of Abuja.
“There is nothing anybody can do. This is democracy for God’s sake and there is rule of law. People have liberty, right and freedom to seek redress. Nobody can intimidate anybody. If Jonathan has worked for five or six years, there is nothing bad for him to take a rest outside the country. If Sambo has worked for four years, there is nothing wrong in him taking a rest; so also the ministers. Taking a rest is good for everybody.
“Taking a rest is not borne out of any fear that the incoming government is going to witch-hunt anybody. I am not afraid of probe. If anybody wants to ask questions, there are procedures to do so. The era of putting people in jail cannot come again. It is gone forever. We have a right to live and go and rest anywhere and when there is time for questions, we can come back and answer them. I do not think that people are leaving the country for fear of being probed.”
But the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Musiliu Obanikoro, plans to travel abroad for a two-week vacation after May 29.
Obanikoro, who spoke with one of our correspondents on Friday, said he might go to Ghana or South Africa or the United States to take “a deserved rest.”
He said, “I think it is a wise thing to take a rest after all said and done. I will start with a six-week executive course in Harvard University and I will follow this up in August by starting a degree course in History at the same prestigious institution.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Olusegun Aganga; Minister of Information, Senator Patricia Akwashiki, and their Foreign Affairs counterpart, Amb. Aminu Wali, ruled out plan to leave the country for fear of prosecution.
Aganga, who spoke through his Special Adviser on Communications, Mrs. Yemi Kolapo, said, “The minister has been in office since all this while and he is currently in Lagos meeting with some businessmen. So, there is no reason to do that.”
Also the Special Assistant to the Information Minister on Media, Mr. Joseph Mutah, said Akwashiki would not leave the country because of the fear of the incoming government.
He said, “Why would she travel out of the country because another government is coming to power? The minister will remain here before and after the inauguration of the new government.”
The spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ahmedu Ogbole-Ode, was emphatic that Wali did not plan to travel out of the country.
“Where is he going to? He has no plan to go to anywhere, he is staying put in the country, you can quote me on that,” Ogbole-Ode said.