President Goodluck Jonathan has denied travelling to Chad with a former Borno State governor, Ali Modu Sheriff, for a meeting with the Chadian President, Idris Derby, on terrorism issues.
The President said he was fully aware of allegations of Boko Haram sponsorship levelled against the former governor, adding that he was only waiting for the outcome of his probe by security operatives.
The presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, who said this in a statement on Thursday, insisted that the extent of participation of Sheriff in President Jonathan’s mission to N’Djamena, the Chadian capital, was limited to his being part of Nigerians who welcomed the President to the foreign land.
Sheriff has been accused of sponsoring Boko Haram, a terrorist group, who had by its insurgent campaigns especially in the North-East killed thousands of hapless citizens and left thousands of others, who had been made to flee their homes, helpless.
The Department of State Services recently confirmed that it was investigating Sheriff for alleged sponsorship of the terrorist group following the allegation by an Australian clergy and negotiator, Stephen Davis.
Davis, who was said to have been previously engaged by the Federal Government for the release of the schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram in Chibok, Borno State on April 14, named Sheriff and a former Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika, as part of the sponsors of the fundamentalist Islamic sect.
Criticisms especially by the opposition All Progressives Congress and many Nigerians had followed the alleged inclusion of Sheriff in the President’s entourage to Chad to discuss the nation’s security problem.
The criticisms were sparked by a photograph released by Abati on his twitter handle on Tuesday, showing Sheriff, Jonathan and the Chadian President in a sitting arrangement interpreted as a moment during their crucial meeting on the security issue.
But Abati said in his statement on Thursday that the photograph was taken at the airport.
He said, “The APC and others who rushed to condemn President Jonathan for a non-existent indiscretion would have found, if they took the least trouble to double-check, that there was absolutely no factual basis for their accusation.
“Those who associate with Senator Sheriff know that he has longstanding interests in Chad and often spends a lot of his time there. He happened to be in Ndjamena at the time of President Jonathan’s visit and joined other Nigerian residents of the Chadian capital in coming to the airport to welcome their President.
“That was the full extent of his participation in the visit and it was also at Ndjamena Airport that the pictures which formed the basis of the bogus allegation of President Jonathan hobnobbing with an ‘accused sponsor of terrorism’ were taken.
“The former governor’s presence in Chad was certainly not at President Jonathan’s instance and he did not participate in any of the President’s discussions with President Idriss Deby or his other engagements in Ndjamena.”
Abati, who noted “with surprise, the unnecessary hue and cry raised by the All Progressives Congress and other bigoted critics of the Jonathan administration” said the belief that Jonathan was “ “hobnobbing” with Sheriff, was “erroneous.”
He maintained that the President had not taken any step capable of jeopardising the ongoing investigation of the former governor.