By November 29, precisely six months after assuming office, President Muhammadu Buhari and his handlers would have be hard put to explain why images of corruption, inherited from former President Goodluck Jonathan's administration still cloud the nation's and airspace.
It comes to the news once again that the Federal Government would have been spending about N5.8bn on the 10-aircraft Presidential Air Fleet it inherited from the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration. The PAF is the third largest fleet in the country, coming after Arik Air and Aerocontractors Airlines which have 23 and 12 aircraft in their fleets respectively.Other domestic airlines including FirstNation, MedView Airlines, Dana Air, Air Peace and Overland Airways have less than 10 aircraft each in their fleets.
According to calculations done from estimated data obtained from aviation parastatals and domestic airline operators in the country, President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration will have spent about $58.58m (N11.598bn) on running and maintaining the 10-aicraft presidential fleet by May 29 next year when it turns one year in office. This means that the half of this amount, $29.29m (N5.799bn), is expected to have been spent in principle on the large fleet when administration turns six months in office by November 29.
A few weeks after his inauguration, President Buhari had reportedly ordered the immediate disposal of some of the planes in the PAF. However, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, later denied knowledge of such directive: “The story of the order for the sale of aircraft in the Presidential Fleet, about which so much interest is being expressed, is not known to us,” Shehu quipped.
Analysing the scenario then I wrote in the first paragraph in a piece entitled: "President Buhari, PAF and Images of Corruption" thus: "As the dawn broke over the nation in 2013, the plush lifestyle of former President Goodluck Jonathan and his propensity for frivolities and mellifluous came to the open. Bounded to the fantasy of presidential prestige and power, his obsession clings to its vanity. He swiftly abandoned his earlier pledge to “demonstrate leadership, statesmanship, vision, capacity and sacrifice, to transform our nation” in his May 29, 2011 inaugural address. But he never did."
And a few other paragraphs followed: "President Jonahan claimed that his government booked slots for the purchase of two new aircraft in 2010, and another two in 2011 and 2012, in line with his decision to drop some of the eight aircraft discovered to be too expensive to maintain due to old age. In 2010 alone three planes were added to the Presidential Air fleet, PAF, in a country where 70 per cent of the people live below the United Nations poverty threshold. It was a violent and brutal assault on his shoeless narration!
It didn't occur to him that eleven planes in the presidential fleet are too many for a poorly run country like Nigeria. Neither did he spare a thought that Uruguay’s President, José Mujica lives in a humble cottage, drives himself to work in a Volkswagen Beetle car and flies economy class. President Jonathan was too far disconnected from the world affairs to know that the government of Mujica provides free computers and education for every child in Uruguay through the university level.
He was too domesticated as a potentate to know that In Britain which boasts aircraft manufacturing companies that the Prime Minister and the Queen of England travel on commercial flights because the government’s aircraft for the PM lack transcontinental capability. He lacks the understanding that the President, Prime Minister and government officials in Singapore typically travel on regular scheduled commercial flights run by Singapore Airlines.
He was too blinded to have known that Japan and Netherlands have two aircrafts each in their fleets. It was beyond him to know that Hong Kong leaders travel on commercial aircraft. His naivety prevented him from knowing that countries like Ghana, Algeria and a host of others in Europe maintain only one aircraft in their PAF, yet these countries are better efficiently governed than Nigeria.
Interestingly, investigation at the time revealed that the PAF include 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. Others are one Gulfstream V, Cessna Citation 2 aircraft and Hawker Siddley 125-800 jet.
Each of the Falcon 7X jets was purchased in 2010 at a cost of $51.1m, while the Gulfstream 550 costs $53.3m. The factory price of the other aircraft in the fleet was not readily available then. However, airline CEOs put the average price of the Falcon 900 at $35m; Gulfstream IVSP, $40m; Gulfstream V, $45m; Boeing 737 BBJ, $58m; Cessna Citation, $7m; and Hawker Siddley 125-800, $15m. This brings a combined estimated value of the PAF to $390.5m (N60.53bn).
To the people's disappointment, concerns raised over the economic sense behind the large mix of brands of aircraft in the PAF were rebuffed. Going by the Nigerian Air Force’s website, the PAF’s current staff strength consists of 47 NAF officers, 173 airmen/airwomen and 96 technical and administrative civilians. More disheartening is the fact that several billion yearly budgeted for the PAF goes into the maintenance of the aircraft. At least 15 per cent of this amount is spent annually on operating the PAF, which means about $58.57m (N9.08bn ) is being spent annually on running the planes in the Nigerian PAF.
One of the greatest deliberate swindle of Mr. Jonathan government took place in the same sector. Two separate panels of enquiries - Presidential Panel and House of Reps Committee on Aviation - indicted the Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah, now a serving senator on the platform of PDP in Anambra north, Anambra State. Oduah approved expenditure of over N643m for the NCAA above her ministerial capability to procure 54 vehicles in that ministry for which two bulletproof BNW car for her protection was criminally purchased at N225. Now, Oduah sits gorgeously at the Senate Chambers to make laws for the rest of us"!
I therefore eulogised the appointment of Mr. Itse Sagay, a professor of law and civil rights activist by President Buhari to head the Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption cannot be more timely. The body is set to advise the country leader and his administration on anti-graft war and implementation of reform in the criminal justice system. Among the group’s responsibilities, as contained in the letter appointing the committee members, is development of comprehensive interventions for achieving its recommended reforms.
President Buhari had touted his integrity in the cause of the presidential contention on his commitment to eliminate public funds embezzlement in Nigeria and curb wastage. He seems to be currently taking active measures to fulfilling that promise. On the one hand, his government is working on returning the stolen funds. On the other hand, it is taking preventive steps to ensure corruption-free system in the near future. Strictly speaking, Nigerians want to truly have those images of corruption ridding off our airspace.
The President of Malawi, Mrs Joyce Banda's shining example should be instructive enough to the Prof Sagay's committee, even though she still lost her second term bid on account of cancerous corruption, as did President Goodluck Jonathan. At least she was prudent, but was unable to curtained his cabinet members who were quaffing and squiring the Malawian resources across borders. She took the unusual step — at least in the African context — of selling off the only presidential aircraft she inherited, alongside a fleet of 60 Mercedes limousines. This was a classic case of people oriented leadership per excellence.
It's clear that fighting corruption in a society like Nigeria is not an easy task. It will certainly fight back, and it is doing just that. The war against corruption can only be achieved if the danger it has created is sufficiently explained to the populace themselves who are its victims. It has not only lead to unimaginable poverty in the midst of plenty, lack of basic education, infrastructure decay, unemployment and that abject, self-debasing toga as a corrupt people, but has created a more dreadful monster known as insecurity. Money meant for armament and security personnels maintenance easily find itself in private account, unchallenged.
The other option available to President Buhari is to turn in the PAF as a national carrier under whatever name. The only airline larger than the 11-aircraft PAF is Arik Air which is the largest domestic airline in the country with about 23 aircraft. These images of corruption that remind Nigerians how little-minded and tunnel-vision the leadership has been must be dispossed off for the desired change to manifest.
Erasmus Ikhide, A Public Affairs Analyst writes in from Lagos, Nigeria
Follow me on twitter @ErasmusIkhide