(SaharaReporters) – President Jonathan will on Wednesday morning begin a two-day trip to London to participate in Thursday’s International Conference on Somalia being hosted by Prime Minister David Cameron.
The conference will be attended by heads of governments and representatives from 40 countries, multilateral organizations and Somali authorities to agree on how the international community could step-up efforts to tackle the root causes and effects of the problems in Somalia.
According to Mr. Reuben Abati, the president’s spokesman, Mr. Jonathan will be accompanied on the visit by the First Lady, Mrs. Patience Jonathan; the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Amb. Olugbenga Ashiru; and the National Security Adviser, Gen. Andrew Azazi.
Mr. Jonathan, who will return to Nigeria on Friday morning, will also hold bilateral talks with Mr. Cameron before his return.
Nigerians who may be pleased about what appears to be Jonathan’s considerably slimmed-down entourage may be interested to know that he and 47 other Nigerians obtained United Kingdom visas late last week.
Quoting State House Abuja sources, Japhet Omojuwa of Omojuwa.com, said that 43 of the visa applications were filed on February 16. The following day, State House sent yet another five passports to the High Commission at about noon. Those five visa requests were supposedly for pilots, but the forms accompanying them contained no details whatsoever.
It is unclear why the visas were being rushed at the last minute last week, as the applicants listed their trip as starting on Saturday. While the President’s form indicated he would be away for five days, the other applicants specified two weeks as their length of stay.
Presidential spokesman Reuben Abati was not on the the visa request lists last week as he was said to possess a current visa, as does several other regular State House travelers. This would mean that the President’s entourage for this trip would in no way be under 50, particularly as the First Lady is involved.
Only last month, Mrs. Jonathan had 23 people apply for visas to travel with her to the United Kingdom on a tour of Europe. She had the same number of hangers-on when she applied for and got a 10 year UK visa for herself just a week after last year’s Inauguration in May.
Late in January, when Mr. Jonathan travelled to Ethiopia for the 18th African Union Summit, his 25-person delegation was smaller than his wife’s, which contained 32 people. Although our report was contested by Mr. Abati, who promised to supply the official list to demonstrate we were wrong, he has yet to do so.
It was only two weeks before that trip that Mr. Jonathan, facing mass national rallies in response to his abrupt hiking of the price of petrol, pledged to substantially reduce the large size of his travel parties. At the Commonwealth Summit in Australia in December 2011, his entourage was 200.
Nigerians are worried that Mr. Jonathan’s travel patterns have continued to be the same despite his promises, while his behavior has followed the old patterns.
“What if he was not desperate to cut waste?” one angry writer asked today.
“Would this list be as large as the Australian over-200 delegation? And since the President did not travel as stated on Saturday to the UK, could it be that the visas had simply been [obtained] just for the 47 people to make their visa request easier for them?”
Another analyst told SaharaReporters, “We all know that the leopard does not change his spots. The crowd of entrenched estacode hunters and feasters on the national treasury from the PDP has already gathered and there is no sign that Jonathan is man enough to disperse them.”
As we prepared this story, it was learned that 12 senior government officials were already airborne on a flight to the UK for the visit, most of them in First Class and a few others in Business Class aboard British Airways. A First Class Abuja-London return ticket on BA, according to its website, costs nearly $10,000 per person.