There are no fewer than 58 top politicians and party office holders in the country who spent millions of naira to visit the National Leader of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, in London, UK, according to the Daily Trust.
Tinubu, an influential member of the ruling party, has been in London for medical attention for the past three months. Former Lagos State governor has undergone knee surgery and has begun physiotherapy, according to his allies.
Since President Muhammadu Buhari visited him at his home in Duchess Mews, Portland Place, Central London, his political godsons, admirers, and supporters have turned the house into a Mecca. Buhari, like Tinubu, was in the United Kingdom for medical treatment.
APC leader Tinubu is rumored to be eyeing the presidency. There have been controversies over a reported pact between him and Buhari regarding the presidency in 2023.
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.
With the exception of President Buhari, Ganduje and three others who were in the United Kingdom for personal reasons, 53 people were in London for the former Lagos State governor.
Based on our travel agent findings, at least each visitor would have spent between N4m and N5m on First Class or Business Class return tickets to the UK.
Accordingly, N265m was spent by the 53 politicians who visited Tinubu.
This is in addition to other expenses such as hotel accommodations in London and food expenses. According to some travel and leisure companies, the average cost of a hotel room per night is between 150 and 200 pounds (N90, 000 and N120, 000).
It costs between $7000 (N4m at N570 per dollar) and $100,000 (N5.7m) for a British Airways non-stop first-class ticket from Nigeria to London.
The price of a Business Class ticket, on the other hand, varies between $4000 and $6000, depending on when it was booked.
Since Tinubu is not currently holding any political office as he is a private citizen, tongues have been wagging over the alleged use of taxpayers’ money by politicians to visit him.
Despite the fact that paying a visit to someone indisposed is not wrong, as a public affairs analyst, Comrade Toyin Raheem, says the majority of those visiting must have spent public funds.
Raheem, the chairman of the Coalition Against Corruption and Bad Governance (CACOBAG), said the money could have been spent on providing basic amenities for the people.
He said, “In African culture, there is nothing wrong with visiting someone who is sick, but it should not be at the expense of the masses. Currently, the majority of these people are using public funds to travel to Tinubu. These funds do not belong to them.
“Has that now become a part of their plans?” There are many things to be done. Despite the fact that there are a lot of infrastructures that need attention, many of them diverted funds meant for people to go see their leaders. Nobody says they should not visit their leaders, but it should come from their pockets and not from ours as a people. “That’s wrong,” he said.
The African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) Coordinator, Chido Onumah, said that those involved in the trip to visit Tinubu in London and spending state funds would probably claim they are not using state funds.
But it also reveals the nature of our ruling class’ politics. Members of that class are dependent on a few people at every turn.
“I believe the bigger issue is how public officers who can make a difference don’t see how important it is to fix the country’s health system,” Onumah said.
Malam Hamza B. Lawal, the Chief Executive of Connected Development (CODE) and founder of the ‘Follow the Money’ campaign, argues that the discussion over whether politicians use state resources to visit Tinubu is antithetical to the national discourse.
Using taxpayer money for such trips is certainly wrong, but what concerns us more should be the root cause of politicians acting with such impunity, and I believe it is a lack of proper accountability.
Therefore, we follow the money so that it doesn’t end up in private pockets or is misappropriated. We are going to keep discussing the moral justification or legal apparatus for government officials to use taxpayers’ money to visit their godfather abroad until we have solid institutions and systems in place,” Lawal said.
Responding to the allegation that the trips were funded with public funds, the Chief Press Secretary to the Lagos State Governor, Mr Gboyega Akoshile, told Daily Trust that those who visited did so on their own.
According to Abubakar Lado Suleja (APC, Niger), one of the lawmakers who visited Tinubu, each of the legislators spent around N1.2m.
“Everyone sponsored himself. Everyone paid for his or her own tickets and hotel reservations. Everyone paid for his or her own tickets and hotel reservations. Each person paid for his or her own tickets and hotel reservations. A lawmaker cannot spend three or five days in London? “We used our private funds,” he said yesterday.
Muhammad Puma, Chief Press Secretary to the Deputy Speaker of the House, also denied that Ahmed Idris Wase and other lawmakers spent public funds during their recent trip to London.
Puma said the allegations were laughable and that federal lawmakers should be able to pay for their trips.
Can’t a lawmaker afford to travel to the UK? According to him, this is not an issue anyone should be concerned about.