Two sources at the Presidency have told SaharaReporters that a spirited statement by Laolu Akande, the spokesman for Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, to the effect that the VP had not made a final decision to travel to New Delhi India was a false claim to cover up an embarrassing protocol gaffe that would have seen both President Muhammadu Buhari and the VP outside of Nigeria at the same time. Had the country’s two top citizens been absent, embattled Senate President Bukola Saraki would have assumed the posture of acting President
Mr. Akande’s statement sought to refute a report by SaharaReporters that a blunder by the protocol department at the Presidency had compelled Mr. Osinbajo to abort his trip to New Delhi where he was billed to represent Nigeria at an important international event in order to avert an embarrassing situation where Mr. Saraki could temporarily be at the helm of Nigeria’s affairs.
After the denial by the VP’s spokesman, an investigation by SaharaReporters revealed that the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF)in Abuja had confirmed that Mr. Osinbajo was billed to fly to India on a presidential Jet Gulfstream G550 with call sign NGR-002. The jet was scheduled to take the VP and 12 other officials to India. In fact, an advance team of 12 had already departed Nigeria, led by a protocol officer.
In addition, SaharaReporters ascertained that the plane was scheduled to depart Abuja at 0030hrs on March 13, 2016. Besides, the flight had already obtained diplomatic over-flight permits to fly through the airspace of at least seven countries-Chad, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Pakistan and India-before it was abruptly canceled.
One of our sources added that the cancellation of the flight was relayed to the pilots who were on standby as well as the PAF ground crew via telephone call from the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA). The Presidential Air Fleet used to be under the control of the State Chief of Protocol.
However, on coming to office, President Buhari moved it to the office of the NSA while the Department of State Security continues to handle his land transportation needs.
Shortly after SaharaReporters revealed the gaffe, Mr. Akande admitted that Nigeria was going to be represented by a minister in India, but claimed that a final determination had not been made for the VP to travel to India.
However, a source at the Presidency insisted that Mr. Akande’s claim was “totally false,” adding that it was “aimed at covering up the incompetence of the protocol staff at the Presidency.”
The event, the first of its kind, which was dubbed “CII- EXIM Bank Conclave on India-Africa Project Partnership” was to take place in New Delhi, India with Nigeria as a major partner. A delegate list obtained by SaharaReporters shows that the Nigeria delegation led by the VP had confirmed final participation as of March 9th 2016. The VP would have been accompanied by three ministers, namely : Okechukwu Enelamah, Minister of Industry, Trade & Investment, Dr. Kayode Fayemi, Minister of Solid Minerals and the Minister of Health, Professor Issac Adewole.
The source reaffirmed that the desire not to allow Mr. Saraki to become the most senior political office holder in Nigeria while the President and VP were traveling was “an important political consideration” in canceling the VP’s trip to India.
The Nigerian government lost over $250,000 to VP Osinbajo’s trip cancellation.
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