Lavish receptions organised by the Nigerian High Commission for the wife of President Muhammadu Buhari, Aisha, and her entourage, during her visits to the UK, were nothing more than “simple protocol” for a personality of her status, her spokesperson has said.
Mrs. Buhari initially denied abusing privileges offered by the commission in London as reported by Sahara Reporters.
She adjusted her statement after the newspaper presented evidence indicating the budgeting of several thousands of pounds for her trips to the UK.
After the first story reported that the High Commission spent up to £7,000 and provided other privileges each time Mrs. Buhari travelled to the UK, the first lady denied abusing any privilege and described the report as false.
“Mrs. Buhari had never travelled with a large entourage to London as reported by the Sahara Reporters,” her spokesperson, Adebisi Olumide-Ajayi, said in a statement.
“It is on record that the Nigerian High Commission in London did not receive Aisha Buhari at the Airport with any official distinction or privilege as it was accorded other first ladies before her.
“She never complained or raised dust about any of these act by the High Commission because of the understanding as clearly spelt out and practiced by her husband that public office must be separated from the private lives of the occupants. Even her drivers are privately arranged without any recourse to embassy for staff,” the statement added.
A follow-up report by Sahara Reporters on Saturday showed budgets for lavish reception by the High Commission for at least two visits.
One document showed that in July 2016, Mrs. Buhari traveled to the UK with nine people in her delegation. The commission spent at least £15,000 for the trip, covering bookings at Windsor Suites at Heathrow Airport.
In October 2016, Mrs. Buhari visited London again. During this trip, the High Commission budgeted £10,000 for expenses that included VIP reception on her rival at the airport. The High Commission paid £1,500 per passenger for VIP treatment at Windsor Suites. At least 10 women including the wives of several state governors accompanied Mrs. Buhari on the trip.
In her second statement issued on Saturday, Mrs. Buhari said she was not in “direct contact” with the High Commission, and was not involved in the business of providing for those privileges.
Describing, the evidence presented by Sahara Reporters as a “conjecture of a purported internal memo”, the first lady said did not demand the privileges.
Mrs. Buhari added that the said VIP treatment was “simple protocol for a personality of her status”, saying it was the practice all over the world.
Below is the statement in full:
“The continuous publication of unfounded stories by Sahara Reporters against the Wife of the President, Mrs Aisha Buhari, is becoming a great concern. After our last rejoinder, we expected the paper to come out with concrete evidence of deliberate fraud or abuse of privileges, or be bold enough to own up and apologise for such hazy and unsubstantiated report.
“Alas! What Sahara Reporters came up with was another conjecture of a purported internal memo within the consulate, which has no direct link to Her Excellency. The new accusation, however, has still not been able to substantiate where Aisha Buhari made any direct contact with the mission for anything. The High Commission has its internal administrative procedure, and it’s not within the purview of the wife of the president to ask for diplomatic files.
“Furthermore, that the said memo showed little or no knowledge of Her Excellency’s itinerary proves the simple fact we earlier submitted that she had no direct business with the embassy to warrant the accusation of waste or corruption insinuated in the report. Part of the wife of the president’s trips abroad are for her NGO, which is not funded by the government, and It is not uncommon to have stop over in Britain like any other country as the case may be.
“According her VIP treatment is simple protocol for a personality of her status, which is done all over the world, and at no point was she offered anywhere else. The High Commission provided the lounge and Hajiya Buhari was not involved in the transaction. This is even a far cry from the £32,000 expended in the past as landing fees for private jets of former first ladies.
“Attending an international women function with the Governors’ wives couldn’t have been linked to the bogus allegation of corruption made by Sahara Reporters’ spurious headline earlier on, as these are approved trips. It will be to the credit of Sahara Reporters to carry out a thorough check if the so called monies (£3,500) spent for whatever reason by the High Commission has any direct link with Hajia Aisha Buhari. That is responsible journalism.”