President Uhuru Kenyatta Thursday cancelled an official visit to Nigeria at the eleventh hour after questions were raised over the large number of officials that had been lined up to accompany him.
Instead, Mr Kenyatta sent Deputy President William Ruto to represent him at the inauguration of Nigeria’s new president, Gen Muhammadu Buhari, today.
The President’s trip was cancelled a day after a list of 84 government officials who were to accompany him was leaked to the media. Questions were raised about the size of the delegation.
This is the second time in as many months that Mr Kenyatta’s trip has been cancellation at the last minute. Last month, his plane turned back mid-air in unclear circumstances shortly after the President had left the country for a trip to the US where he was to address a business conference.
The debacle behind the aborted trip has never been fully explained. The plane turned back while in the Ethiopian airspace.
Sources in Government told the Nation that senior members of a presidential delegation receive a daily out-of-pocket allowance of up to $400 (Sh40,000) while the government directly pays for their food and accommodation.
Every trip has different demands and a presidential delegation is drawn up depending on the agenda at hand. The security team is also drawn up depending on the specific needs of the foreign country that the President is visiting. The allowances and the joys of travel are what attract officials to scramble for trips, aside from the official assignments.
DECLINED TO COMMENT
State House spokesman Manoah Esipisu declined to comment on the cancellation and referred the Nation to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Mr Manoah later showed up at a news conference that Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho called to explain why the trip had been cancelled.
“Provisionally, the Kenyan delegation was due to be led by his Excellency President Uhuru Kenyatta. However, considering the situation in Burundi, and a decision by the East African Community to hold a regional summit in Tanzania on Sunday, President Kenyatta has decided to delegate the visit to Deputy President William Ruto,” said Dr Kibicho.
He said the invitation for the regional summit was received on Wednesday night.
Dr Kibicho also cited a crowded programme after the summit as another reason the President decided to skip the Nigeria trip.
He said the President would not be able to attend the inauguration in Nigeria and the EAC summit in Tanzania and be in time for the Madaraka Day celebrations on Monday which will be followed by a Northern Corridor conference in Kampala on Wednesday.
Mr Ruto, who left Nairobi yesterday, travelled with only ten officials.
Mr Esipisu said the said list of 84 officials in the President’s trip had nothing to do with mismanaged information within the government but could have been created by people with an ill motive.
Dr Kibicho Thursday said the list was “illegitimate” because it had names not native to Kenya.
“As a ministry that is responsible for this, obviously, we question the legitimacy of this and we wish not to be drawn into it,” he said. “I would expect that we act responsibly before we publish lists of these kinds... We don’t have Kenyans going by the names like Chinedu, Odili, Lawal… that we would be wanting to take to Nigeria.”
The fact that the identity and number of officials to accompany Mr Kenyatta is determined separately for each trip invites a scramble in government circles for officials to be included.
Mr Kenyatta’s last visited Nigeria in May last year to “strengthen bilateral relations” with the western African economic powerhouse.
Kenya’s High Commissioner to Nigeria Tom Amolo said at the time that the visit was winning Kenya multiple gains through bilateral deals.
“The reason why we are doing this is (that) Nigeria is Africa’s largest country in terms of population and economy. If you want business to succeed, make sure you are in Nigeria. That is why President Kenyatta is coming with one of the largest business delegations,” Mr Amolo had said.