Governor Rotimi Amaechi of Rivers was blocked by presidential bodyguards from exchanging pleasantries with President Goodluck Jonathan at a dinner hosted by the president on Wednesday night to avert a possible breach of security, the Special Adviser to the president on Political Matters, Ahmed Gulak, has said.
The Punch newspaper quoted Mr. Gulak as saying the President arrived the event before the governor and was already seated before Mr. Amaechi and his entourage arrived and that it was a breach of protocols for the Rivers governor to approach the president after arriving late.
He suggested that the bodyguards only did their job, which is to protect the president and other officials at the event.
Mr. Gulak was responding to comments by the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria, which criticized the president over the incident.
The paper quoted Mr. Gulak as saying, “The President has a good relationship with all state governors and he meets with them regularly. The case in point is a pure security issue and it should be treated as a security issue that should not be politicised.
“The question the ACN and others who may want to politicise this issue need to ask is whether the President arrived at the venue of the dinner and was already seated before the governor arrived.
“Usual practice across the world is that once the President arrives a place, nobody whether a governor or not, is allowed entrance. That is the protocol. Even(Barack) Obama of the United States cannot be on his seat and a governor will be allowed to come in.
“If that was the situation in this case that the President was already on his seat, it would have been a breach of protocol and security for any security person to allow the governor access to the President. Such a security person would have been sanctioned if he had done that.”
The ACN, had in a statement by its spokesperson, Lai Mohammed, berated President Jonathan over the incident, and called for a probe.
Mr. Mohammed said, “We are making this call because we do not believe that, in spite of the reported frosty relations between the two, President Jonathan – as the father of the nation – will lend the weight of his high office to such a demeaning action as exhibited by the presidential security personnel.
“To believe that anyone occupying the esteemed office of the President of one of Africa’s most important nations will be a party to a situation in which any security aide will wilfully fence a state chief executive from paying his respect to the President at such an open gathering will be to think the worst of the occupier of that office.
“That is why we have chosen not to believe that this indeed occurred, and why we are calling on Mr. President to tell Nigerians that ‘it ain’t so’ “We shudder to think of what efforts are being made – including the use of national institutions – to undermine Gov. Amaechi if the treatment reportedly meted out to him at the dinner has the approval of the powers that be. We are even more worried at what will happen to a governor from the opposition who falls out of favour with the President, if a governor from the same party as the President can be so publicly humiliated.”
A presidential bodyguard had on Wednesday night stopped Mr. Amaechi, from getting close to President Jonathan to pay homage.
Mr. Amaechi, who is the chairman of the Nigeria Governors’ Forum (NGF), and his loyalists arrived the venue when the event was already in progress.
They came in from the Rivers Governor’s lodge where they met earlier for about 15 minutes and then adjourned to honour the President’s invitation.
On his entourage were Governors Kayode Fayemi (Ekiti); Ibikunle Amosun (Ogun); Adams Oshiomole (Edo); Sule Lamido (Jigawa); Rabiu Kwankwanso (Kano); Abdulazeez Kyari-(Zamfara); Muritala Nyako (Adamawa) and Magartakada Wamakko (Sokoto).
Governor Amaechi, after settling down, got up and made his way towards where President Jonathan was seated in company of Presidents Joyce Banda of Malawi and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, apparently to pay homage.
However, the bodyguard blocked the governor from meeting the President. The Governor resisted for a while but had to return to his seat when it was glaring the bodyguard won’t allow him.
The Rivers Governor has in the past months been ostracized by the presidency and his party, the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, a development usually blamed on the suspicion that Mr. Amaechi was positioning himself for a vice-presidential slot in the 2015 election.
Already, the governor has been suspended from the PDP after he won reelection as chairman of the NGF, despite opposition from his party and the presidency.
Federal aviation authorities have also grounded an aircraft belonging to his state, claiming its importation papers were not in order. The state government has denied the allegation.