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•First Lady, two Govs, 547 civil servants, others make list
•President to speak at plenary session Tuesday
By Akinwunmi King/Lagos (With agency reports)
President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday arrived New York, United States of America, in company of a 600-man delegation, which he led to the United Nations (UN) 68th General Assembly.
He is expected to speak at the plenary debate scheduled for Tuesday.
According to an online news agency, the delegation, which included the President’s wife, Patience, and two state Governors, has 547 civil servants drawn from Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).
There were well advance team members who arrived in New York earlier to make preparations for the trip of the President.
The Nigerian delegation, which is said to be the largest of any nation at this year’s UN event, had Jonathan’s inner entourage comprising 26 people, including security aides, his wife, doctor and political associates.
Jonathan, as it was revealed, will lodge at The Pierre Hotel across from New York’s Central Park in a Presidential suite, which will cost Nigeria at least $10,000 (N1.6m) per night. According to the hotel’s itinerary which was seen by the news agency, Jonathan was booked for five nights.
Several other members of the Nigerian delegation are booked in hotels around the city by the Nigerian consulate and staff members of some of the ministries that arrived in advance.
The theme of this year’s Assembly is, ‘Post-2015 Development Agenda: Setting the Stage.’
The agency also reported that Jonathan began his official duties in New York on Sunday afternoon by engaging in an all-expenses paid lunch date with Nigerian professionals selected by Nigerian diplomats in the U.S.
It added that the invitation-only event was chosen after the President and his inner circle discarded a Town Hall plan for fear of protesters in the New York area.
However, Presidential spokesman, Dr. Reuben Abati, denied that the president travelled to the United States with 600 members.
“There is also no substance to the rehashed charge of profligacy which Sahara reporters annually makes against the President when he leads Nigeria’s delegation to the UN General Assembly.
“The truth is that less than 30 persons arrived in New York with the President this morning as members of his entourage. Other than them, the only other persons who are in New York for the UN General Assembly with the President’s knowledge and approval are relevant ministers and few essential aides.
“President Jonathan’s official delegation is definitely not out of proportion with Nigeria’s size, role and relevance in Africa and the global community.
“Sahara Reporters’ claim that the President’s delegation is the largest at this year’s General Assembly is an unjustifiable fabrication which can never stand any rigorous test of truthfulness.
“We are certainly aware that many Nigerian citizens are currently on visits to New York. These persons are here for their own purposes and neither President Jonathan nor his administration has any responsibility for the presence of these persons in New York.
“We will not be surprised if it is such persons who include Nigerian businessmen who are here for an African Business Roundtable event, members of non-governmental organizations and tourists that Sahara Reporters has been counting, for the sole purpose of mischief-making, as “members of the Nigerian delegation” Abati said.
On arrival at the JFK International Airport in New York early on Sunday, the President was received by the supervising Minister of Foreign Affairs, Viola Onwuliri, Nigerian Permanent Representative to the UN, Joy Ogwu, and the Nigerian Ambassador to the U.S., Ade Adefuye.
The President was later received at the city centre by Minister of State for Works and supervising Minister, National Planning Commission, Bashir Yuguda; Minister of Agriculture, Akinwumi Adesina, and Governor Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo State.
Jonathan was scheduled to meet with no fewer than 250 selected Nigerian professionals in the U.S. later in the day.
He is also expected to meet the U.S. President, Barack Obama, on a later date.
Jonathan is to hold five bilateral meetings that will cover the European Union (EU), Slovenia, Sri Lanka, Lebanon, as well as Trinidad and Tobago.
This year’s UNGA is a unique one for Nigeria as Jonathan will be among the four world leaders and the first African leader to address the UN General Assembly.
He will be speaking after the leaders of Brazil, U.S. and Turkey.
After the President’s address, the supervising Minister of National Planning Commission will be chairing the side event, organised by the Leading Group of Innovative Financing for Development, a global body which has 63 member nations and many international non-governmental organisations.