Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Another presidential jet for Nigeria, not again!

The covetous man pines in plenty, like Tantalus up to the chin in water, and yet thirsty

—Thomas Adams

Am I suffering from auditory hallucination? Could it be true that President Jonathan is planning to acquire another jet for his comfort and that of his lieutenants and cronies? How well does this serve the country and address the issue of unemployment, poverty and underdevelopment in our dear country? I am dumbfounded that Jonathan has chosen this path of ostentation rather than prudence given the story of his life he regaled us with during his campaign in 2011 when he said he was shoeless when going to school. He promised fresh air and transformation of the country. The president’s opulent lifestyle portrays him as someone who lacks sympathy for the majority poor Nigerians whose lives have been made miserable by dearth of opportunities to meaningfully fend for themselves.

Media reports have it that in this year’s budget, the presidency has earmarked a princely sum of N1.5bn or thereabout as the initial deposit for the purchase of additional aircraft that will bring the number of aircraft in the presidential fleet to 11. At present, the aircraft in the Presidential Air Fleet  are two Falcon 7X jets, two Falcon 900 jets, a Gulfstream 550, one Boeing 737 BBJ (Nigerian Air Force 001 or Eagle One), and a Gulfstream IVSP, one Gulfstream V, Cessna Citation 2 aircraft and Hawker Siddley 125-800 jet. Each of the Falcon 7X jets purchased in 2010 is said to cost about $51.1 million, while the Gulfstream 550 was purchased for $53.3 million. I joined The Nation to ask the question: What does the President need an 11th presidential jet for? As observed by the newspaper, “Jets are money guzzlers, whether on air or on ground. This is clear from the planned expenses on the items to be purchased by the PAF”.

The PUNCH in an earlier editorial published on December 29, 2013 had observed that “The Federal Government has budgeted N1.52b for the maintenance of the 10 aircraft currently in the Presidential Air Fleet in 2014”. PAF is said to have the third largest fleet of aircraft in the country, coming closely behind Aero Contractors Airlines, which has a total of 14 aircraft. Arik Air, the largest commercial airline in the country, has a fleet of 23 aircraft. According to the newspaper, “The government has also earmarked N458.5m for international training for the fleet’s personnel. Another chunk of the budget for the fleet is the N675.9m budgeted for the rehabilitation/renovation/repairs of PAF Barracks. A whopping N405.5m is also proposed for the completion of a hangar project under the PAF budget for the year while N106m is earmarked for tyre bay tools and equipment. The PAF’s security vote (including operations) is N259.55m; insurance premium — N445.7m; as well as cleaning and fumigation services —N58m”.

Additionally, “N71.74m is budgeted for 797 units of LG 2HP air-conditioners for PAF Barracks; N40.5m is earmarked for three units of Toyota Coaster buses and N26.4m for four units of Toyota Hilux. Motor vehicle fuel will gulp N29.6m, other transport equipment fuel cost — N26.5m; plant/generator fuel cost N14.5m as well as cooking gas/fuel cost — N2m. The N67m devoted to miscellaneous included refreshment and meals — N28.9m; postage and courier services — N15m; medical expenses — N12m; corps members kitting, transport and feeding allowance N3.7m and honorarium and sitting allowance — N3.6m”.

Still using The PUNCH as a guide, the newspaper in its editorial of July 16, 2013 did a comparative analysis of what obtains in other well-endowed countries. It reported that “British leaders often take commercial flights and, occasionally, trains when travelling for state functions. Japan, with its Gross Domestic Product of $4.52 trillion and per capita income of $36,200, (at Purchasing Power Parity), has only two aircraft – Boeing 747 – 400 – for use of the prime minister and the emperor; the Netherlands, with GDP of $770.2 billion and PCI of $42,300, has two; the British Queen, Elizabeth II, and Cameron travel on chartered British Airways flights, despite their country’s $2.32 trillion GDP and PCI of $38,700; South Africa has just one presidential aircraft with its GDP of $678.6 billion and PCI of $11,300, though it expects another soon, while Malaysia has one, but has also ordered a second; but with its GDP of $492 billion and PCI of $16,900, like others cited, Malaysia is ahead of Nigeria with a GDP of $450.5 billion and PCI of $2,700”.

In June 2013, the presidency dispatched one of the jets in its fleet to fetch the Malawian President, Joyce Banda, to attend a Global Power Women Network Africa summit in Abuja. It turned out that Malawi does not even have a presidential jet as the only one she had was sold off by her president, Mrs. Banda. Besides selling the presidential plane for $15 million, Banda also sold off a fleet of 35 Mercedes Benz limousines reserved for the president and the cabinet. She equally cut her own salary by 30 per cent, among other austerity measures.

I couldn’t agree more with the submission of The PUNCH that: “Jonathan has no excuse to continue keeping 10 aircraft and our under-performing legislators have no reason to keep approving new purchases or the billions of naira they appropriate for their maintenance each year”. It behooves us as Nigerians to mount pressure on the National Assembly to deny approval for this offensive request for another presidential jet in the 2014 budget. In fact, the National Assembly should pass a resolution compelling the president to sell off at least eight of the present 10 aircraft in its fleet. The proceeds from the sales should be invested in revamping our education and health sectors which are at present comatose.

I must hasten to say that the request for additional presidential jet is not the only absurd thing in the 2014 appropriation bill. Several others including the sum earmarked for travels, acquisition of animals for the presidential zoo, maintenance of presidential guest houses and the likes should be deleted from this year’s budget. State governments that are buying jets for their governors’ use and ordering fleet of bulletproof cars for their comfort at the expense of the suffering masses are doing a lot of disservice to their people.  It is quite ironic that these frivolous requests are being made in the budgets of different levels of government even in the face of dwindling income and when much of the budget is being financed with local and international debts. As posited by The Nation in its January 3, 2014 editorial, “Leaders should learn to cut their coats according to their country’s purse. It is not only the citizens that should make sacrifices in times of economic adversities.”