President Goodluck Jonathan has turned a blind eye to the massive political rallies being staged across the country by Transformation Ambassador of Nigeria [TAN], a group campaigning for his reelection in next year’s presidential election, PREMIUM TIMES can report today.
The President wouldn’t halt the rallies despite personally warning against such large gatherings as part of measures for checking the spread of the Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria.
“Religious and political groups, spiritual healing centres, families, associations and other bodies should, in the meantime, discourage gatherings and activities that may unwittingly promote close contact with infected persons or place others at risk,” Mr. Jonathan said on August 8 while declaring the control and containment of the Ebola virus in Nigeria a national emergency.
The president’s directive came on the heels of a similar one by the Lagos State Government, which has been working hard to stop the deadly virus from spreading in the country.
The state Commissioner for Health, Jide Idris, had while briefing journalists on August 6 advised churches, mosques and other religious organisations to suspend all activities that involve large gatherings of people until the Ebola outbreak is brought under control.
The Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, also said at the end of the weekly Federal Executive Meeting on Wednesday, August 20, that the Osun Osogbo festival as well as other major events in the country should be put on hold to curtail the spread of the virus.
But despite these directives, TAN has continued to stage pro-Jonathan rallies bringing together several thousands of people, with top administration officials and close aides of the president participating in their numbers.
No one has called the organization to order, suggesting that the President is ready to violate even important regulations he helped put in place provided doing so would boost his political fortunes and help his reelection cause.
TAN kicked off its series of zonal rallies in Awka, the Anambra state capital, on August 16, just a week after Mr. Jonathan recommended that such gatherings should be suspended across the country.
That rally held just two days after news broke that a nurse under observation for the Ebola virus had fled Lagos to Enugu, about 78 kilometres from Awka, the venue of the political gathering.
A week later, on August 23, the South-West version of the TAN rally was staged at the Liberty Stadium in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, about 136 kilometres from Lagos, where officials are battling to trace primary and secondary contacts of Patrick Sawyer, the Liberian-American, who brought the Ebola Virus to Nigeria.
Several thousand people, including ministers and top presidential aides, attended the rally.
While the government allowed TAN to continue its rallies, it made attempt to stop the Nigerian Bar Association [NBA] from proceeding with its annual general conference scheduled to begin on August 24 in Owerri, the Imo state capital.
The Minister of Health, Onyebuchi Chukwu, a professor, summoned the leadership of the NBA for a meeting following concerns raised by the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission [NHRC], Chidi Odinkalu, that it would be “ill-judged to continue with the conference in the circumstances of the present public health emergency prevailing in the country”.
The NBA was only allowed to proceed with the conference after it assured the federal government that it had, along with the Imo state government, taken measures to curtail the spread of the deadly virus that has killed five people in Nigeria.
No such demands was made of the organisers of the pro-Jonathan rallies who clearly have no anti-Ebola prevention measures for their large gatherings, PREMIUM TIMES understands.
When contacted Saturday, Dan Nwomeh, the spokesperson for the Minister of Health, said the ministry became concerned with the NBA conference because it would hold in a hall.
In spite of the fact that body contacts are more at political rallies than at conferences, Mr. Nwomeh argued that the TAN rallies were being held in open grounds and therefore posed less public health concern.
The presidency could not be reached to comment for this story. The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Reuben Abati, and the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Public Affairs, Doyin Okupe, did not answer or return repeated calls to their mobile telephones.
They are also yet to respond to text messages sent to them.