The presidency Thursday lampooned individuals and groups who have been critical of the prolonged stay of the Nigerian Air Force (NAF) 001 presidential airplane assigned to President Muhammadu Buhari at a London airport, saying they lack understanding of the workings of presidential foreign trips.
The social media at the weekend was agog over the high cost of maintaining the aircraft at the airport everyday, alleging that since May 7 when the president returned to London to treat an undisclosed ailment, the nation has been spending £4,000 daily to keep the aircraft in London.
But the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, had said aircraft conveying world leaders usually enjoy waivers and where waivers are not granted, payment would not exceed £1,000 daily, in contrast to the claim of £4,000 made by critics.
Describing the claim as misplaced, Shehu reeled out what he described as achievements of the Buhari administration’s justifiable reasons for the development and asked Nigerians to ignore the critics and give the government a chance.
“The presidency is constrained to decry criticism, mostly on the 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 an 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.
“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. This is a government that is constructing the Second Niger Bridge, the Mambila Power Plant, the East-West and North-South standard gauge railway lines.
“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,” he said.