The President-elect, Asiwaju Bola Tinubu, on Monday, returned to the country after holidaying in Paris, France, for 34 days.
Tinubu who was accompanied by his wife, Remi and son, Seyi, arrived at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport at 4.40 pm to a rousing welcome by All Progressives Congress governors, National Assembly leaders and scores of party loyalists.
The ex-Lagos State governor departed the country on March 21, a few weeks after he was declared the winner of the presidential election.
According to a statement by his media aide, Tunde Rahman, the trip would enable Tinubu to rest and plan his transition programme ahead of his inauguration on May 29.
Rahman added that the President-elect would also head to Saudi Arabia from Europe to partake in the Lesser Hajj and Ramadan fasting period.
Weeks after his departure, there were speculations that he was admitted to a hospital in France for an undisclosed ailment.
But addressing the mammoth crowd which thronged his Asokoro home, the president-elect debunked the rumour that he was rushed abroad for treatment, saying he was strong after his vacation.
Dressed in a flowing blue agbada, Tinubu was received at the airport by the Vice President-elect, Kashim Shettima; House of Representatives Speaker, Femi Gbajabiamila; Governors Simon Lalong (Plateau); Abubakar Sani-Bello (Niger) and former Borno State Governor, Ali Modu Sheriff.
Others were former Governor of Edo State, Adams Oshiomhole; ex-Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu; APC Deputy National Chairman for North, Senator Abubakar Kyari; Deputy National Chairman for South, Emma Enekwu, and National Woman Leader, Dr Betta Edu.
There were also a considerable number of Senators such as Barau Jibril, Adeola Yayi, Opeyemi Bamidele, Dayo Adeyeye, Sabi Abdullahi and Adelere Oriolowo as well as the Director of Media and Publicity in the recently-dissolved Presidential Campaign Council, Bayo Onanuga.
Other loyalists at the airport included a former APC governorship aspirant in Ondo state, Chief Olusola Oke; former PCC member, Dr Ene Ogbole, and veteran actor, Zack Orji.
Prior to his arrival, Tinubu’s campaign office in the Central Business District was a beehive of activities on Monday morning as hundreds of party faithful rushed to get accredited in preparation for his arrival.
As the accreditation of supporters and journalists commenced at about noon, stern-looking operatives were seen manning the entry and exit point of the campaign office.
Addressing the tumultuous crowd who followed him home from the airport, Tinubu urged them to ignore the speculations making the rounds in the last month that he was rushed abroad over alleged ill-health.
According to him, he left the country on March 21 for a vacation after a hectic campaign and election season.
He said, “I am happy to be back. I have rested, I’m refreshed and I’m ready for the task ahead. Forget about what the rumour mill may have told you. I’m strong, very strong.”
He also reassured that while in Paris, he never stopped working as he was ‘consulting and planning’ in order to put together a strong team so he could hit the ground running once he assumed office on May 29.
The former governor also teased his supporters and party loyalists, saying, “Allow me some rest, to eat Amala and sleep. Work will commence tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, a close ally of the president-elect and the Secretary of the defunct APC Presidential Campaign Council, James Faleke, disclosed that the former Lagos governor spent more of his time consulting with stakeholders.
He stated that the majority of the party faithful were excited to see him.
Continuing, the lawmaker representing Ikeja Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives disclosed that the campaign team lost a number of undisclosed supporters.
He said, “We are excited about his arrival. As you can see, everybody wanted to go to the airport to receive him. Why? Because there was a restriction at the presidential lounge. But those who had access to the place were at least happy to see him looking very refreshed and ready to actualize the ‘Renewed Hope’ campaign slogan.
“For me, I think that the president-elect had time to think over all the issues that we raised during the campaign and all the issues that are germane to Nigerians for the survival of this country.
“We give God the glory that he has come back to meet all of us. In between (when he travelled and returned), we lost some people and we pray that God will accept their souls.
“Remember that Asiwaju said that he has yet to finish consulting with the people. You know that he’s a man of consultation. Before the primaries, he consulted. Before the election, he repeated the same thing and he is still willing to consult. You know, nobody can fault Asiwaju when it comes to consultation.
“He’s not going to start telling you that I am consulting Mr this and that. I’m sure while he was there resting, he was also making consultations on issues and things that are before him that he wants to execute. I think that we should just wait until after May 29 to see how this agenda will roll out.”
In a related development, the Senior Special Assistant to the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) on National Social Investment Programme, Ismaeel Ahmed, has berated critics speculating about the ill-health of the president-elect.
While stating that Buhari was subjected to the same treatment, the APC chieftain maintained that there was no evidence that Tinubu was flown out in an air ambulance or placed on life support.
He said, “How often do you get a president-elect coming back to the country that people do not go to visit or welcome? I think that is the question you should be asking.
‘’How many presidents-elect that travelled abroad and people do not welcome them? I will give you an example. In 2015, we went out and cheerfully welcomed President Muhammadu Buhari before he was sworn in and nobody said anything.
“Now Tinubu said he was hale and hearty. Of course, he is hale and hearty and we always know that he is. I think you heard people who are high up in the campaign, for example, the minister of works and housing (Fashola) spoke on your show and also said that he had spoken to the president-elect who was fine, hale and hearty. Tinubu just needed to take some time off and take stock of what was going on.
“I cannot be responsible for people’s speculation. People just speculate because there are people who are naysayers, always wanting to bring negative stories to certain situations. His health issue has always been something people talked about even in the campaign. So, I cannot be responsible for people who want to speculate on certain things that do not have a basis or fact. He is hale and hearty. You have seen him when he left. He left in a way that he didn’t leave in an ambulance. There is no evidence anywhere that the man was sick. He came back hale and hearty and the party people went to receive him.”
Ahead of the inauguration of the 10th National Assembly, Tinubu and the APC National Working Committee members are expected to meet the lawmakers-elect over the National Assembly leadership.
The planned meeting is against the background of the jostle for the president of the Senate and the post of the Speaker of the House of Representatives by interested aspirants.
On Monday, a pressure group known as ‘New Dawn’ expressed the intention of its members to contest for the leadership of the House.
It said it was profiling all the aspirants for the position of Speaker and other positions and would thereafter consider giving bloc votes to its favourite candidates.
The PUNCH reports that the group is being spearheaded by the newly elected members of the House with membership across political divides.
The ‘New Dawn’ was convened by a House of Representatives member–elect for Esan West, Esan Central and Igueben federal constituency and Speaker of Edo State House of Assembly, Marcus Onobun.
A notice of the meeting of the group signed by the member-elect for AMAC/Bwari federal constituency, Joshua Obika, indicated that the members held a meeting at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel in Abuja.
In a related development, members-elect have said they would allow the APC to decide the zoning of the leadership positions in the 10th National Assembly.
The aspirants for the Speaker positions, who spoke in separate interviews with our correspondent on Monday, stressed the supremacy of the APC in this regard.
The lawmakers, who called for fairness and equity in the distribution of offices and positions, noted their willingness to abide by the decisions of the party on the 10th National Assembly leadership.
So far, the aspirants for the speakership, many of whom have yet to officially declare their ambitions, are now over 10.
The contenders include the Deputy Speaker, Ahmed Wase; Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa; Chairman of the House Committee on Navy, Yusuf Gagdi; Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations, Aliyu Betara; Chairman of the House Committee on Science Research Institutes, Olaide Akinremi; Chairman, House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Benjamin Kalu; and Chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Land Transport, Tajudeen Abbas; Chairman of the House Committee on Emergency and Disaster Preparedness, Abdulraheem Olawuyi; Chairman, House Committee on Water Resources, Sada Soli; Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on Defence, Makki Yalleman; and Sani Jaji.
An aspirant from Plateau State, Yusuf Gagdi, dismissed the calls to jettison zoning, recalling how the Peoples Democratic Party zoned offices when it was in power and was the majority in the Senate and the House.
Gagdi, who is Chairman of the House Committee on Navy, stressed that it is the party that should determine which zones should get what offices, and not its members.
He said, “I am a party man. I want the party to zone (the positions). If the party zones, I will respect the zoning. But it is not within the powers of the aspirants to say whether they like zoning or they don’t want zoning. The party produced the aspirants; it produced the members.
“So, the party is supreme. Confirm from the party whether they want to zone (positions) or not, not from the aspirants.”
The lawmaker, however, noted that an aspirant from another zone could contest against candidates from the zone in which an office was allocated.
“At every point in time, there are aspirants that have rejected zoning. Even if a party zones (a position), those that don’t want to respect zoning should go ahead and disrespect it,” he stressed.
Another aspirant from Abia State, Benjamin Kalu, also backed zoning “as long as it is done without diversity insensitivity but with all national inclusion elements well factored in, to inspire and stimulate national loyalty, cohesion and non-coerced patriotism.”
Kalu, who is Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Publicity, said, “The party gave us a platform to become who we are today or will become after the inauguration of the House. They stood by us during the primaries because they wanted to work with us as a team for nation-building.’’