The presidency on Thursday said the presidential aircraft, NAF 001, that conveyed President Muhammadu Buhari to London where he is being treated for an undisclosed ailment was parked at Standsted airport, London, for reasons of protocol, national security, diplomacy and prestige.
It said “no world leader who travels abroad and is left without plans for immediate return or possible evacuation”.
Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, said these while reacting to criticisms, mostly on social media, that the retention in London of the presidential aircraft, NAF 001, is gulping huge sums of money from tax payers.
He wrote-off the speculations concerning the presidential aircraft, saying they were mere plot by the opposition to score cheap political points.
According to the presidential spokesman, the standard practice all over the world was that presidential aircraft ought to be parked in close proximity to wherever the president might be.
He also explained that presidential aircraft enjoys special demurrage for parking and if the Federal Government was to pay any fees for NAF 001 it will not exceed £1,000 daily.
It would be recalled that the social media had been awash for some days with claims that tax payers’ money was being used to fund the president’s ill health, including his aircraft, the NAF 001. Some of the critics alleged that £4,000 was being spent daily to keep the aircraft in London.
“The presidency is constrained to decry criticisms, mostly on 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 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 the 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”.
President Buhari left the shores of Nigeria on May 7, 2017 for further medical treatment after receiving the 82 Chibok school girls kidnapped by Boko Haram sect in 2014.
He left at the prompting of some Nigerians who argued that he needed to travel back to London to take adequate care of his health.
In the initial journey in January this year, the president spent 49 days. Upon his second return in May this year, he has so far spent 55 days making 99 days. This means the Federal Government must have spent about N42.5 million on parking fee of the aircraft for 104 days Buhari’s stay in London so far.