The presidency at the weekend took issue with critics of President Muhammadu Buhari over the virtual meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) that held last Thursday in the State House, Abuja.
It anchored the decision to use the Council Chambers of the State House for the political gathering on the fact that the meeting was virtual, and the venue had the facilities for social distancing.
Besides, it said as a legal occupant of the seat of power, there is no law that specifies where Buhari must hold any meeting.
But the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) rejected the president's explanation and urged him to accept his wrong.
The NEC meeting was attended by APC bigwigs, including governors and National Assembly leaders.
However, the decision to host the meeting at the venue drew criticisms from some Nigerians, who accused the president of taking advantage of his position to deploy national facilities for party affairs, a situation they viewed as an abuse of privilege.
But in a riposte, Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, said in a statement that the criticism was borne out of lack of understanding.
He added that no law specifies the type of meeting that should be held in the State House and which should not.
He said the meeting was virtual and the council chambers 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 (FEC), 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 stated.
Shehu explained that the president was originally billed to address the meeting from any of his offices but eventually settled for the Council Chamber because the digital facilities for video conferencing are located there.
Admitting that political leaders such as governors and leaders of the National Assembly were 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 were 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 was 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."
Accept You're Wrong, PDP Tells Buhari
But in a swift reaction, the PDP faulted the explanation from the president, describing as unfortunate that the presidency would post a denial even when the media and the public space are already awash with photographs and videos of the NEC meeting with APC leaders physically in attendance inside the FEC chambers.
The PDP, in a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Mr. Kola Ologbondiyan, said it was shocking that Buhari could claim the meeting was virtual despite the crowd of APC leaders in attendance.
According to the PDP, this is even when the world watched the president addressing and applauding APC leaders, in addition to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF), Abubakar Malami, administering the oath of office on the Chairman of APC National Caretaker Committee, Mai Buni, on the floor of the FEC chamber.
The PDP said contrary to the claim of the presidency, the meeting was physical and only virtual to the extent that some members of the APC NEC members were linked via conference call.
"Our party refers the Buhari presidency to reports already in the media where the AGF admitted administering oath of office to the chairman of the APC Caretaker Committee; an event that took place on the floor of the FEC chamber.
"Such a denial by President Buhari's handlers has further exposed the decadence in the APC and the Buhari presidency.
"What Nigerians expected of the Buhari presidency and the APC, was to tender an unreserved apology to the nation and desist from further desecration of our national values and official conduct requirements," the main opposition party said.
The PDP urged the president to call his handlers to order so as to protect the integrity of his presidency from further damage.
Caretaker Committee Mulls Dissolution of State Working Committees
Meanwhile, THISDAY gathered yesterday that the 13-man National Caretaker Committee of the APC may dissolve all the party's executives from the ward to state levels after its inauguration today.
It was gathered that the caretaker committee last Friday reached out to the party secretariats in the 36 states and Abuja to submit lists of 12-party members for appointment as members of the caretaker committees in both the state and ward levels.
A source said each of the state and ward had complied with the directive while those whose names were on the list have been asked to come to the national secretariat of the party in Abuja today with four passport photographs for documentation.
One of the party chieftains from Lagos State told THISDAY yesterday that he had been nominated by his state to represent the party "whether at ward or state level."
According to him, "we are here in Abuja and will storm APC secretariat by 11am on Monday on invitation and we are here with our passport photographs for further directives by the newly inaugurated caretaker committee
"We heard it from the grapevine that the executive at both the ward and state levels may be dissolved and this informed why the party is asking the state to come with 12 names for this purpose".