Some opposition lawmakers on Thursday questioned the non-inclusion of one of them in the National Assembly delegation that recently visited President Muhammadu Buhari.
The lawmakers, including House Minority Leader, Leo Ogor, suggested there was a decision to exclude members of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, from the visit even though one of them – Ike Ekweremadu – is the Deputy Senate President.
Notwithstanding, the PDP lawmakers —exactly a half dozen in total— who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES in separate telephone interviews ,Thursday evening, said they were happy to learn from the media that the visit was productive and the president was in good health.
The reactions came a day after Senate President Bukola Saraki travelled to the United Kingdom with Speaker Yakubu Dogara and Senate Majority Leader, Ahmed Lawan, to see Mr. Buhari in London.
The trio arrived in London around Wednesday evening and met with President Muhammadu Buhari.
Mr. Buhari left Nigeria for London on annual vacation January 19, with a promise to return on February 6. He also noted that he would see his doctors while there and handed over power to Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
But on February 5th, a day before he was due to return, the president sent another letter to the National Assembly, informing lawmakers of his intention to extend the trip until his doctors complete ‘a cycle’ of medical examination on him.
The prolonged absence, which came amidst raging economic crisis, got many Nigerians worried.
Although he had telephone conversations spread over several days with individuals, including Messrs. Saraki and Dogara as well U.S. President Donald Trump, startling rumours about his health persisted.
But the visit by the National Assembly leaders on Wednesday helped convince many Nigerians that the president was not dead or bedridden.
Mr. Saraki declared in a Twitter update shortly after seeing the president that there was “no cause for alarm.”
Mr. Dogara reported Mr. Buhari was “fit as a fiddle.”
But some PDP lawmakers said Messrs. Saraki and Dogara should have included at least one member of the opposition on the trip.
Even though the lawmakers did not allege foul play or cover up during the visit, they raised concerns about absence of one of them.
Mr. Ogor likened the visit to a similar one paid by APC leaders, Bola Tinubu and Bisi Akande.
“You’re aware that the first visit was done by Tinubu and Akande,” Mr. Ogor told PREMIUM TIMES. “There was no PDP member that participated in that visit, so you can clearly see that it is more of a political party thing.”
Mr. Ogor, from Delta State, said he got wind of the visit early enough and was elated to see the president in good spirit.
“I have a hint of the visit much earlier. I saw the president smiling. I saw the Senate President smiling. I saw the Speaker smiling. And when I saw that picture, I also smiled.
“We thank God for his live. We wish him well,” Mr. Ogor said.
But he insisted that those who made the journey did so in their own personal capacity because there was no consensus amongst lawmakers delegating any group of persons for the journey.
“But I am convinced that that visit was purely based on political colouration. So, it is totally inconsequential because we were not invited.
“It is at the discretion of the president to invite whoever he wants to see him.
“It is not a National Assembly delegation. It is like a private visit to see the president. First, you know we’re not in session. Neither was there any resolution of the House or that of the Senate to go and see the president,” he said.
Mr. Ogor’s position was echoed by another lawmaker from Kogi State.
“I did not hear about this visit before,” the lawmaker said. “I read it last night on PREMIUM TIMES and I was initially shocked, but then said to myself: ‘no need to be surprised about anything these people do.”
“Since we weren’t told ahead, I think it’s very clear that they weren’t making the trip on our behalf,” the PDP lawmaker, who sought anonymity so as not to be seen criticising the House leadership, said. “And they’ve clearly expressed that in the manner they picked those who went on the trip.”
A source in Mr. Ekweremadu’s office claimed the Deputy Senate President was not informed about the trip.
“They didn’t invite the Deputy Senate President on the trip,” the source said, refusing to be quoted. “They bypassed him down to the Senate Leader for reasons we still don’t know.”
The source’s claim could not be independently verified.
The source said Mr. Ekweremadu just returned from a trip abroad but would have followed them to London if invited.
“Yes, he just returned from abroad, but that could not have hindered him from being part of the delegation if they had extended him the courtesy,” he said. “If only to make him be the representative of the southern part of the country instead of all the northern politicians that made the trip.”
The House spokesman, Abdulrazak Namdas, and his Senate counterpart, Sabi Abdullahi, did not respond to requests for comments Thursday evening.
The spokespersons for Messrs. Saraki and Dogara also declined comments.
But Nicholas Ossai, a PDP lawmaker from Delta State, said he had no reservations about the makeup of the delegation.
Mr. Ossai said even though adding a PDP member would have been good, it would not make much difference since the delegates were duly elected by all lawmakers to represent the National Assembly as an institution.
“We believe in the Speaker and the Senate President,” Mr. Ossai said. “We have confidence in them that they’ll tell us the true position of things.”
“We didn’t elect them as APC Speaker or Senate President of the APC. We elected them on the basis that we have confidence in them and we believe in them to tell us the truth.”
“This is a leadership of complete explanation and transparency. Probably taking an opposition along would have been a boost, but, all the same, we believe in our leadership,” Mr. Ossai said.