The officials, who requested that their names be withheld so they are not victimized, rose in stout defence of presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, who made policy announcements President Jonathan denied on Sunday.
“It has just struck some of us that this President is not an honourable man,” one of the officials said this morning. “I can confirm to you, and I think I should know, that the President approves every policy statement Dr. Abati releases to the media. It is shocking that he could say something different on TV.”
“We just can’t understand what came over the president,” another official fumed. “He told barefaced lies and a lot of us are ashamed to be working for him. It means when he asks us to do stuff, he could turn around to deny us tomorrow. It is unfortunate.”
Mr. Jonathan had on Sunday contradicted some policy announcements made to the media by his spokesperson.
During the media chat that lasted two hours, the president contradicted what his aides, particularly his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati, said on the issue of power, the first lady’s health, and security.
On Wednesday, November 14, Mr. Abati released a press statement to the media on behalf of the president in which he said the president cancelled the transmission contract awarded to Manitoba.
“Mr. President has cancelled the Manitoba power contract with immediate effect,” Mr. Abati said in the statement, a claim Mr. Jonathan has denied.
“Manitoba contract has not been revoked,” the president said Sunday, explaining that his administration observed that the company “did not follow the law strictly,” when it got the contract.
Manitoba Hydro, a Canadian state-owned firm, emerged the highest bidder, in April, to manage Nigeria’s transmission network, under the Transmission Company of Nigeria, for three years.
But Mr. Abati later announced that the contract had been cancelled.
But when the matter was raised yesterday, Mr. Jonathan said the contract was never cancelled but is being regularized as due process was not fully followed in the award.
Presidential aides however said Mr. Jonathan ordered the contract cancelled, and then instructed Mr. Abati to release a statement on the matter.
After reports emerged that a man claiming to be a spokesman for the dreaded Boko Haram made a call to journalists stating the group’s willingness to negotiate with the Federal Government under some conditions, Mr. Abati again said the government was already having some form of discussion with the Boko Haram group.
On Sunday, August 26, Mr. Abati told State House correspondents that the government was in talks with the Boko Haram through “backroom channels.”
“When government says it is already talking to Boko Haram, the form of that dialogue must be properly understood.
“The form of the dialogue is that backroom channels are being used to reach across with the sole objective of understanding what exactly the grievances of these persons are,” Mr. Abati said.
Three months later, on Monday November 12, Mr. Abati again confirmed to Punch Newspapers that the government was in talks with the sect.
“I can confirm to you that talks are ongoing at the background. But the talks are not the kinds being envisaged by Nigerians,” Mr. Abati said. “The ongoing talk is a back channel one in which those who know members of the group are talking with them on behalf of the government.”
President Jonathan dismissed Mr. Abati’s claims.
“There is no dialogue between the Boko Haram and government,” Mr. Jonathan said during the media chat.
“Boko Haram is still operating under cover, they wear masks, there is no face. They operate under cover. No dialogue that is going on anywhere,” Mr. Jonathan said.
The President also confirmed that the first lady, Patience Jonathan, was ill and treated abroad contrary to presidential aides’ claims that she only travelled abroad to rest.
Ayo Osinlu, a media aide to Mrs. Jonathan, told journalists on September 3 that the First Lady was not sick but travelled out of the country to take a “moment’s rest.”
“If you look at her itinerary in August, you would be wondering how she was able to accomplish that. In the course of this week, she will be back home. But remember, it all depends on her plans,” Mr. Osinlu told Punch Newspapers.
Mr. Abati also denied the first lady’s illness describing it as a rumour.
“(Illness story) was a rumour and there is nothing like that,” Mr. Abati said.
During the presidential media chat on Sunday, Mr. Jonathan refuted the claims by both officials.
“She was ill, she received treatment,” Mr. Jonathan said of his wife’s trip to Germany.
“When she returned, she had to further recuperate,” the president said while explaining the first lady’s seeming absence from public glare since her arrival in the country on October 17.
But presidential officials who spoke to us said it was the same Mr. Jonathan who instructed Messrs Osinlu and Abati not to confirm his wife’s illness to the media.