The Presidency has made a proposal for an upfront deposit of N1.5billion for a brand new private jet, which will become the Presidential Air Fleet’s (PAF) 11th aircraft. This figure is contained in the details of the 2014 Appropriation Bill presented to the National Assembly by President Goodluck Jonathan through the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The Federal Government has budgeted another N1.52b for the maintenance of the 10 aircraft currently in the PAF in 2014 and it is now set to spend just about that amount on a new one. This prodigious squandering of taxpayers’ money is reckless and unacceptable.
The PAF already boasts two Falcon 7X jets, two Falcon 900 jets, Gulfstream 550, one Boeing 737 BBJ (Nigerian Air Force 001 or Eagle One), and Gulfstream IVSP. Others are one Gulfstream V, Cessna Citation 2 aircraft and Hawker Siddley 125-800 jet. The combined estimated value of the PAF is about $390.5m (N60.53bn). According to industry experts, it costs a minimum of 20 per cent of that figure to maintain them annually. So we’re looking at about $58.57m (N9.08bn) yearly for maintenance. Private jets are money guzzlers either in the air or on land.
The proclivity of this administration for frivolous spending is well documented. The government has been severely criticised in the past for the colossal amount of embezzlement, rip-off and wastage that have been its hallmark. The rationale behind this new aircraft in the PAF must be condemned .
Apparently to hush the cacophony of voices that will rise in opposition to the proposed new jet, the Presidency in its usual deceitful manner, has made part payment for what can best be described as a completely unnecessary toy of comfort. The Nigerian PAF is already bloated. If he can’t travel in any of the 10 jets in PAF’s possession, then there’s absolutely no need for an eleventh one.
At a time we would think the numerous editorials and op-eds have succeeded in curbing waste and frivolities which this government now symbolises, then came this new proposal. We must continue to resist their recalcitrance. This lavish lifestyle must be checked.
The waste in government is also demonstrated in the large entourage that accompanies Mr. President on his foreign trips. One can only imagine the millions spent on hotel bills and estacodes that accrue to the government officials. According to reports, world leaders are stunned at the strangely large number of such entourage. The recent trip of President Jonathan in the first week of January this year to Kenya and the hullabaloo about his entourage are apt.
It is shocking that the same people who have budgeted millions for this new flying toy are aware that the country has no national carrier as I write. It is shameful that the PAF has about the third largest fleet of aircraft in the country with a total of 10 aircraft, coming closely behind Aero Contractors with 12 and Arik Air, the largest commercial airline in Nigeria with a fleet of 23 aircraft. Nigeria happens to be one of the few countries in the world with such a large PAF. It is ridiculous that this is happening in an aviation sector that is dominated by foreign airlines. Nigerian carriers are going under due to cash constraints. Countries with visionary and focused leadership like Malaysia, Ghana, South Africa and a host of others across Europe maintain only one aircraft in their PAF.
As the much publicised take-off of the proposed national carrier before the end of the year failed, it won’t be out of place to make a case for the government to seriously consider converting the PAF to a national carrier, retaining one or two for use by Mr. President and his co-travellers. The private jets can form the hub of the charter aircraft.
What better example than the one given by a national leader like British Prime Minister, David Cameron, in 2010 when he slummed it in business class of a commercial airline flying from London to Washington. He was caught on camera swanning around the world in hired jets. He flies around the world on British Airways! Had it been in Nigeria, security risks, flight delays are few of the sundry reasons government officials would have given for not flying commercial airlines. The U.S. President, Barack Obama, reportedly pays for his food, ours spends almost a billion naira to entertain himself and members of his government yearly.
It amazes many Nigerians who watch in utter disbelief the profligate nature of government.
This government has embarked on some white elephants like mere renovation of official residences with billions of naira. We can recall the uproar that greeted the N2.2billion allocated to the construction of a plush banqueting hall, last year, with the lame excuse that what the country had was way smaller than what other tiny African countries have.
In this part of the world, only citizens are asked to cut costs, make sacrifices; the pains of today are incomparable to the joy of tomorrow are some of the ‘blues’ we get daily from government. In the same breath, political office holders, to our chagrin, take their spending to absurd heights. Sacrifice is a language that the over 60 per cent impoverished population must understand while our leaders continue their obsession with living in opulence. They sacrifice nothing. In these circumstances, how do you convince the various labour unions who are waiting on the flanks to embark on strike to press home their demands that there are no funds to meet their grievances? Downturn in government’s finances would be a hard sell in a situation where the Presidency is competing with individuals for private jets.
It is lamentable that at a time when we still haven’t seen the infrastructural dividends promised with funds freed up from the partial fuel subsidy removed, the President is more concerned with splashing billions on banqueting hall, renovation of residential apartments and covert medical tourism trips abroad.
This waste in the face of limited resources extends to the federal bureaucracy that has brought about an increase in the number of ministries from 21 to about 40 with the number of ministers jumping in equal quantum or even more.