Home News FG spent N14.77b on presidential jets repair and maintenance in 11 months — State House report

FG spent N14.77b on presidential jets repair and maintenance in 11 months — State House report

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The Federal Government, under the administration of President Bola Tinubu, disbursed a total sum of N14.77 billion for the repair and maintenance of the presidential air fleet in 11 months, according to Sunday PUNCH.

The payments, made in 11 tranches between 16th July 2023 and 25th May 2024, were processed through the State House headquarters transit account labelled, ‘Presidential Air Fleet Transit Funds’.

This new development comes amidst plans by the National Assembly to approve the purchase of two new aircraft, after it was discovered that the President’s 19-year-old Boeing 737 and some of the other aircraft in the fleet, were dysfunctional.

The House of Representatives Committee on National Security and Intelligence listed the purchase in its technical subcommittee report, which may cost over $623.4 million or N918.7 billion, according to experts’ estimates.

“The committee is of the strong and informed opinion that considering the fragile structure of the Nigerian federation and recognising the dire consequences of any foreseen or unforeseen mishap that may arise as a result of technical/operational inadequacy of the Presidential Air Fleet, it is in the best interest of the country to procure two additional aircraft as recommended. This will also prove to be most cost-efficient in the long run, aside from the added advantage of providing a suitable, comfortable and safe carrier befitting of the status and responsibilities of the offices of the President and Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, the report read in part.

In recent times, there has been serious contention about the state of the air fleet despite enormous government resources spent on it during past administrations.

The unavailability has also forced President Tinubu to charter private jets, and Shettima to abandon international trips.

On 6 May 2024, Shettima abandoned his trip to the 2024 US-Africa Business Summit due to a technical fault with his official aircraft. The Vice President was scheduled to represent the President, who had to board a commercial aircraft to Saudi Arabia after his main luxury jet was taken for rehabilitation, and a second aircraft he was travelling in developed a technical snag in The Netherlands.

The Presidency currently maintains a fleet of six aircraft, namely a Boeing 737, a Gulfstream G550, a Gulfstream GV, two Falcon 7Xs, and a Challenger CL605; as well as six helicopters— two Agusta 139s and four Agusta 189s.

Buhari’s government spent N62.47 billion for the operation and maintenance of PAF during his eight-year tenure. Though Buhari promised to reduce the size of the fleet as part of his pledge to cut the cost of governance, checks reveal that his regime failed to live up to this promise. In the 2016 budget, N3.65 billion was allocated for the PAF, but this rose to N4.37 billion in the 2017 fiscal year. In 2018 and 2019, the allocation almost doubled, amounting to N7.26 billion and N7.30 billion respectively. Closer observation showed a slight drop of N503.75 million in 2020 when N6.79 billion was budgeted for the fleet. The allocation surged to N12.55 billion and N12.48 billion in the 2021 and 2022 fiscal budgets respectively, before the N8.07 billion allocation in 2023.

Meanwhile, checks by The PUNCH using GovSpend, a civic tech platform that tracks and analyses the Federal Government’s spending, showed that President Tinubu approved the disbursement of N14.77 billion within one year of assuming office. The amount is separate from expenses incurred during foreign and local trips by the President, Vice-President and other officials.

N1.52 billion was approved in July 2023 for maintenance and was followed by a payment of N3.1 billion in August. The next tranche was paid in November 2023 with a disbursement of N1.26 billion. The government also paid N2.54 billion in March 2024, N6.35 billion in April 2024 and N1.27 billion last month.

Defending the need for a new aircraft, the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, in an interview with The PUNCH, said the purchase of another aircraft was a necessity. He added that the proposal was a “basic thing any sane government will do”, because it cannot toy with the President’s welfare.

“Does Peter Obi want the President dead? Is that his wish? Does he want him to continue moving around in a rickety plane and die like the Vice-President of Malawi, and President of Iran? Let him tell us. This is a basic thing any sane government will do. You can’t toy with the President’s welfare”, he said.

Meanwhile, the leaderships of the Labour Party (LP) and the New Nigeria People’s Party (NNPP) have tackled the Federal Government over its plan to secure two new planes for the PAF.

The disagreement comes barely three days after the Presidency criticised Peter Obi, the Labour Party’s presidential candidate, for his objection to the demand for new aircraft.

Obi described the move as unfortunate, saying it was coming at a time when Nigerians were grappling with economic hardship caused by the Federal Government’s policies.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Saturday PUNCH, the National Publicity Secretary of LP, Obiora Ifoh, maintained that Nigeria could not afford to be seen lavishing scarce resources on ‘luxury’ at a time when the masses were experiencing untold hardship.

He said, “I think that the office of the President needs a ‘functional’ aircraft. But, as of the last count, we are aware that there are more than 10 aircraft in the presidential fleet.

“What any responsible government should do is refurbish them. One or two manufacturers, such as Boeing or whoever built the aircraft, could service them and return them to Nigeria.

“Is this not the same presidential fleet that is used to carry the children of the president, vice president, their wives and their cronies around? We see them everywhere.

“It is a misplaced priority for this government to think of taking loans again, despite the billions of dollars in debt that we have found ourselves in. A new presidential jet is a luxury”.

Opposition making noise – APC

In its reaction, the APC stated that the opposition was making a noise.

While not dismissing the current hardship in the country, the National Vice-Chairman (South-East) of the party, Dr Ijeoma Arodiogbu, argued that the safety of the President was paramount.

Among other things, Arodiogbu cited the death of the Iranian President, Ebrahim Raisi; the country’s foreign minister and other top government functionaries, who recently died in a helicopter crash as enough reason not to allow any Nigerian, let alone the president, to travel in faulty aircraft.

He said, “We appreciate the concerns of the opposition about the hardship in the country, which is also real. But, I believe the administration is doing its best to ameliorate the pains of the Nigerian people. With that said, no country will compromise the safety of its president. You can see that in recent times, there have been plane crashes that killed a couple of world leaders.

“The prime minister of Iran also died in an old helicopter. People had attributed a lot of conspiracy theories on how he possibly died. Some blamed Israel. But, the truth remains that the aircraft was a very old one. I guess it was bought or made in the 1970s, and due to their peculiar problems, they were unable to buy a new aircraft.

“Recently, Malawi’s vice president’s aircraft also crashed. I wonder why we want to compromise the safety of our president. If our pilots and aeronautic engineers have said those planes are old and unsafe for whatever reason, we can’t expect our president to be trekking to the places he needs to go.

“It is still a sacrifice the country has to make for the safety of our President if we love him. But again, it is the job of the opposition to criticise anything done by the administration, and make it look insensitive and unpopular. Peter Obi, for one, is doing it very strongly, airing his voice on every issue, whether it’s worthy or not, to rouse the sentiments of Nigerians against the president or the APC administration in the country today”.

NNPP slams FG

Also reacting, the New Nigeria People’s Party did not share the sentiment of the APC government, which it claimed has been toying with the emotions of Nigerians.

Speaking in an interview with Saturday PUNCH, the spokesman for the NNPP, Ladipo Johnson, said the timing for buying new aircraft was wrong.

“Whatever it is, the timing is not good. This is coming at a time when Nigerians are facing challenges. It seems like this government has not cut its costs in any way, hence they have to tighten their belts. People are not happy over the removal of fuel subsidy, the hike in electricity tariffs, and food inflation”.

Aviation experts disagree

In his submission, the President of the Association of Foreign Airlines and Representatives in Nigeria, Dr Kingsley Nwokeoma, said though it was expedient for the president to have functioning aircraft for his trips, there should be moderation in the financial budget to maintain the presidential fleet.

“If you spend that kind of money, there should be value for it. Yes, the president should have aircraft that are in good condition, as he needs to travel here and there. But, we should also consider the fact that times are hard for Nigerians, as everybody is complaining now. So, whatever has to be used and whatever money has to be appropriated for such things have to be duly deployed, so that it doesn’t look like wastage. This means everybody should be accountable. We all know that the times are not good. And, this should reflect in anything we do as a country”, Nwokeoma said.

Another aviation expert, Mr John Ojikutu John, backed the Federal Government, stating that the funds to be spent were not much.

He said, “The money (for the repair) is nothing. It is about $14 million when converted to dollars. At that level, they cannot spend anything less than $2 million on each one if they have about five to seven aircraft.

“I don’t know how many aircraft there are. But, I am looking at five aircraft minimum, and they will spend about $2 million on each of them”.

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