By Omololu Ogunmade
The presidency at the weekend defended President Muhammadu Buhari’s decision to hold a political meeting in the Council Chambers of the Presidential Villa last Thursday, saying the chambers was chosen because the meeting was virtual, and it had the facilities for social distancing.
The president had hosted the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the council chambers on Thursday, with politicians, including governors and National Assembly leaders in attendance.
However, the decision has been criticised by some Nigerians who believe that the president is taking advantage of his position in the State House to deploy national facilities for party affairs, a situation they viewed as abuse of privilege.
But Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Malam Garba Shehu, while defending the decision in a statement, said the criticism was borne out of lack of understanding, arguing that no law specifies the type of meeting that should be held in the State House and which should not.
According to him, the meeting was virtual and the council chamber was found suitable for it because the conference hall at the party secretariat was small and would not be conducive for social distancing in view of the necessity to observe COVID-19 regulations.
“It is necessary that we put records in their correct perspective concerning the recent meeting held by the National Executive Committee of the All Progressives Congress, APC, which has, unfortunately drawn criticism due to lack of understanding.
“The stubborn opinion held by the critics of the administration is that President Muhammadu Buhari had called a political meeting in the “hallowed” chamber of the Federal Executive Council, as if there is a law that says the President is barred from holding meetings in certain sections of the vast Presidential Villa.
“Since the President lives in the Villa, no one can, legally speaking, choose or dictate to him where he can sit to hold meetings. So, what is wrong in the President presenting himself before a camera and a TV screen in a digital conference at a given location within the Villa?
“Just for the sake of the argument, this meeting, we say emphatically, was not convened at the Council Chamber. It was virtual, not a physical meeting.
Why was it a virtual meeting? The idea was to observe social distancing in view of health concerns. Knowing how small the conference hall of the party is, social distancing would only have been observed in the breach,” he said.
Shehu explained that the president was originally billed to address the meeting from any of his offices but eventually settled for the council chambers because the digital facilities for video conferencing are located there.
Admitting that political leaders such as governors and leaders of the National Assembly were physically present at the meeting, the statement said the larger group of people who participated at the meeting got connected through video calls.
It also said these are not normal times in view of the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the country and hence, such decision to use the venue was therefore part of measures aimed at observing safety regulations.
He said: “President Buhari was billed to address the meeting from his office (just any of his offices) and chose the Council Chamber where the digital facilities are located, and other members, including the bulk of National Executive Committee members, state party leaders and members of the National Assembly were all linked using video conference calls. You saw them all on TV.
“Yes, it is true that Governors and leaders of the National Assembly joined the President from the Chamber from where he spoke. But the larger body of the members in attendance were all connected via video calls.
“Do not forget that these are not the normal times in view of the COVID-19 circumstances in which we have found ourselves. President Buhari placed health and safety above courtesy to the party by not going to its headquarters. In the end, a wise thing had been done because the President wants to curtail the spread of the Coronavirus disease.”