No fewer than 58 top politicians and political office holders in the country have spent millions of naira to visit the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in London, United Kingdom (UK), Daily Trust reports.
Tinubu, an influential member of the ruling party has been in London for medical attention in the last three months. Allies of the former Lagos State governor said he had undergone knee surgery and he is currently undertaking physiotherapy.
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Since August 12, when President Muhammadu Buhari visited him at Duchess Mews, Portland Place, Central London home, his political godsons, admirers and supporters have turned the residence into a Mecca of a sort. Buhari was in the United Kingdom like Tinubu for medical attention.
Tinubu is one of the top shots of the APC said to be eyeing the presidency. There have been controversies over the reported pact between him and President Buhari on the 2023 presidency.
Governors who have so far visited include Babajide Sanwo-Olu (Lagos), Dr Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti), Rotimi Akeredolu (Ondo), Dapo Abiodun (Ogun) and Umar Abdullahi Ganduje (Kano), who was in the United Kingdom for his son’s graduation.
Ganduje, his son, Muhammad; two lawmakers- Kabiru Alhassan Rurum and Aminu Babba Dan’Agundi visited Tinubu.
Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr Femi Gbajabiamila was also there. Traditionally, the speaker travels with some of his aides.
The Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Mudashiru Obasa and Rep. James Faleke (APC, Ikeja) were also there.
After Sanwo-Olu’s visit, a delegation of Lagos State government, comprising the Deputy Governor, Dr Obafemi Hamzat; Chief of Staff, Tayo Ayinde; Deputy Chief of Staff, Gboyega Soyannwo and Special Adviser on Education, Tokunbo Wahab was also there.
Others who have visited London to see the Asiwaju include Senators Tokunbo Abiru (Lagos East); Opeyemi Bamidele (Ekiti Central); Adeola Solomon (Lagos Central), Adelere Oriolowo (Osun West) and Mohammed Sani (Niger East). Former APC National Legal Adviser, Dr Muiz Banire (SAN), Adekunle Akanbi, National President of ALGON, Kolade Alabi and Lagos State secretary of the association, Rasaq Ajala.
The Isolo LCDA Chairman in Lagos, Otunba Adebayo Olasoju, Lagos lawmakers – Temitope Adewale (Ifako-Ijaiye 1); Nureni Akinsanya (Mushin 1); Sylvester Ogunkelu (Epe 2); a delegation of the Governors’ Advisory Council (GAC) comprising Senator Anthony Adefuye, Mr Wale Edun and Mrs Idiat Adebule, a former deputy governor, had also visited him.
Also in London for Tinubu were four former governors, Senator Aliyu Wamakko (Sokoto), Abdulaziz Yari (Zamfara), Senator Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun) and Senator Kashim Shettima (Borno). Senator Abu Ibrahim and Hon Usman Zanna were also there.
The latest visitors to him were members of the Northern Caucus in the House of Representatives led by Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase.
The entourage was made up of 20 lawmakers including the Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; Chairman, House Committee on Rules and Business, Abubakar Fulata; Chairman, House Committee on the Army, Abdulrazak Namdas; Blessing Onuh (APC, Benue), daughter of former President of the Senate, David Mark; Sada Soli (APC, Katsina), Abubakar Lado Suleja (APC, Niger) and 13 others.
N265m spent on trips – Estimate
Minus President Buhari, Ganduje and three others who were in the United Kingdom for personal reasons, 53 persons were in London for the former Lagos State governor.
With the increasing prices of tickets, at least each visitor would have spent between N4m and N5m on First Class or Business Class return tickets to the UK, based on our findings from travel agents.
This put the money spent by those who visited Tinubu at N265m for the 53 politicians.
This is in addition to other expenses on hotel accommodation in London, feeding, among others. An average room in a hotel per night costs between 150 and 200 pounds (N90, 000 and N120, 000), according to information obtained from some travel and leisure companies.
A British Airways non-stop return first-class ticket from Nigeria to London costs between $7000 (N4m at the rate of N570 to a dollar) and $10000 (N5.7m).
A Business Class ticket on the other hand costs between $4000 and $6000 depending on the time the booking was done.
They spent public funds on trips – CSOs
While Tinubu is currently not holding any political office as he remains a private citizen, tongues have been wagging over the alleged deployment of taxpayers’ money by politicians to visit him.
A public affairs analyst, Comrade Toyin Raheem, said while there was nothing wrong in paying a visit to someone who is indisposed, the majority of those visiting must have spent public funds to embark on the visit.
Raheem, who is the Chairman of the Coalition Against Corruption and Bad Governance (CACOBAG), said the money could have been better spent on providing basic amenities that would benefit the masses.
He said, “In African culture, there is nothing wrong in visiting somebody that is sick but it shouldn’t be at the expense of the masses. Now, the majority of these people going to visit Tinubu used public funds. The money they spend does not belong to them.
“Has that now become part of their projects? There are a lot of things that need to be attended to. There are a lot of infrastructures that are crying for attention, yet many of them diverted money meant for the people to go and visit their leader. Nobody says they should not go and visit their leaders but it should be from their pocket, it shouldn’t be money that belongs to all of us as a people. It is wrong,” he said.
Dr Chido Onumah, Coordinator, African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL), said that those engaged in the trip to visit Tinubu in London and spending states resources would probably claim they are not using state resources.
“But it is also a pointer to the nature of the politics of our ruling class. How members of that class are beholden to a few people at every moment.
“For me, the bigger issue is the fact that public officers who have the opportunity to make a difference do not see the importance of fixing the country’s health system,” Onumah said.
On his part, Malam Hamza B. Lawal, the Chief Executive of Connected Development (CODE) and founder of the ‘Follow the Money’, said that by discussing whether or not politicians are using state resources to visit Tinubu, is dwelling on issues that should be of no importance in the national discourse.
He said, “There is no question that using taxpayers’ money for such trips is wrong, but what should concern us is the root cause of politicians acting with such impunity and if you ask me, it is lack of proper accountability.
“This is why we ‘Follow the Money’ so that it doesn’t enter private pockets or is misappropriated. Until we have solid institutions and systems where every naira and kobo used in public offices are accounted for, we are going to keep debating the moral justification or legal apparatus for government officials to use taxpayers’ money to visit their godfather abroad,” Lawal said.
No public fund spent on trips – Lagos gov, lawmakers
Reacting to the allegation that the trips were funded with public funds, the Chief Press Secretary to the Lagos State Governor, Mr Gboyega Akoshile, in a chat with Daily Trust, said those that who visited went on their own.
Contacted, one of the lawmakers who visited Tinubu, Abubakar Lado Suleja (APC, Niger), said each of the lawmakers spent around N1.2m.
“Everybody sponsored himself. We bought our tickets and booked for our hotels individually; nobody sponsored us. Haba! A lawmaker cannot travel to London and spend three or five days? We used our private monies,” he said yesterday.
Also, the Chief Press Secretary to the Deputy Speaker of the House, Muhammad Puma, debunked the allegation that his principal, Ahmed Idris Wase and other lawmakers spent public funds on their recent trip to London.
Puma, who described the allegation as laughable, maintained that federal lawmakers should be able to fund their trips.
“Can’t a lawmaker afford travelling to the UK? I don’t think this is an issue anybody should raise concerns about as far as I am concerned”, he said.
Ex-Lagos gov may return next week – Ally
An ally of Tinubu told one of our reporters that his friend is undergoing physiotherapy after knee surgery in London.
The associate, who does not want his name mentioned, said Tinubu may return to the country next week.
“He went through knee surgery and he is undergoing physiotherapy. He was walking with staff but now he is not walking with one. When President Buhari visited him, he was using it. During my visit recently, he was not. He walked for about seven minutes together with me,” he said.
Asked whether his friend’s presidential ambition is intact, he said, “I can’t say if he still has the ambition to contest for the presidency but I will prefer when he is fully healthy and that should be the determining factor. If he is healthy, he has the connection and political organisation that will help him to win the election. He told me he would be back next week as he can walk well now.”
According to the American Association of Hip and Knee Surgeons (AAHKS), it can take up to three months to recover completely from a knee surgical procedure. Patients can normally drive again after four to six weeks and return to work after six to eight weeks.
By Ismail Mudashir, Abdullateef Aliyu, Itodo Daniel Sule & Abbas Jimoh