President Goodluck Jonathan met his Chadian counterpart Monday in that country’s capital, Ndjamena, travelling in the company of former Borno State governor, Modu Sheriff, accused of funding extremist Boko Haram.
A photograph released by Mr. Jonathan’s office Tuesday shows Mr. Sheriff seated for a key security meeting with the president, alongside Idris Derby, the president of Chad.
An earlier statement by the presidency said the talks were aimed at strengthening agreements reached with Nigeria’s neighbours regarding joint border patrols, intelligence sharing and the prevention of the illicit movement of terrorists, arms and ammunition across shared borders.
The talks were also to further discussions in Nairobi last week at the African Union Peace and Security Council Summit, attended by Mr. Derby who is the current Chairman of the Council.
The talks came as many Nigerians demand Mr. Sheriff’s investigation, following claims by an Australian negotiator that he and a former army chief, Azubuike Ihejirika, backed the radical Boko Haram, responsible for more than 13,000 deaths.
A spokesperson for the State Security Service, Marilyn Ogar, dismissed the allegations against Mr. Ihejirika, but admitted Mr. Sheriff had been questioned before over terrorism links, and will be quizzed again in the light of the recent claim.
The initial statement said Mr. Jonathan was to be accompanied to Chad by the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki; Minister of Communication Technology, Omobola Johnson; Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Nurudeen Mohammed; and the Director General of the National Space Research and Development Agency, Sheidu Mohammed.
But a series of images posted on Twitter by Mr. Abati show Mr. Jonathan arriving in Ndjamena to a rousing welcome by Nigerians based there, and the president later seated in a meeting with Mr. Derby, and Mr. Sheriff.
It is not clear why the Sheriff image was released. Mr. Abati could not be immediately reached.
The photograph has sparked outrage with many Nigerians lambasting the president’s decision to travel with Mr. Sheriff despite calls for his probe.
In a statement, the main opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, accused Mr. Jonathan of exhibiting a “shocking act of indiscretion by hobnobbing with an alleged Boko Haram sponsor”.
“This action by President Jonathan confirms what the APC has always believed: That the President either knows more than he is willing to admit on the issue of those who are behind the Boko Haram insurgency or he is willing to sacrifice the battle against terrorism on the altar of political expediency,” the party said. “Either way, this action by the President is the height of indiscretion at best, or a palpable exhibition of callowness at worst.”
The party added: “If this is a joke, it is one joke taken too far, especially at a time that Nigeria has been losing territories after territories to Boko Haram; at a time that the same Modu Sheriff has been fingered by another source other than the Nigerian Defence Adviser in Chad, and at a time that calls are being made for an independent investigation into the allegation that Modu Sheriff and former Army Chief Azubuike Ihejirika are Boko Haram sponsors.
Mr. Sheriff has been accused before of links to the terrorist group, Boko Haram. He denies any links.
An April 2, 2012 report by a Cameroonian daily, L’Oriel du Sahel, said the former governor, now a member of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, was arrested in 2012 upon entering Cameroon from Chad on his way to meeting the governor of that country’s northern region.
The report said Cameroonian police authorities questioned Mr. Sheriff for hours and only released him later following pressure from senior government officials in that country.