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FG spent N14.77bn on presidential jets 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 N14.77bn for the repair and maintenance of the presidential air fleet in 11 months.

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 $623.4m or N918.7bn, 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 Tinubu to charter private jets, and Shettima to abandon international trips.

On May 6, 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 N62.47bn 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, N3.65bn was allocated for the PAF, but this rose to N4.37bn in the 2017 fiscal year. In 2018 and 2019, the allocation almost doubled, amounting to N7.26bn and N7.30bn respectively. Closer observation showed a slight drop by N503.75m in 2020, when N6.79bn was budgeted for the fleet. The allocation surged to N12.55bn and N12.48bn in the 2021 and 2022 fiscal budgets respectively, before the N8.07bn allocation in 2023.

Meanwhile, checks by our correspondent using GovSpend, a civic tech platform that tracks and analyses the Federal Government’s spending, showed that Tinubu approved the disbursement of N14.77bn 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.

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

Opposition tackle APC

Meanwhile, the leaderships of the Labour Party and the New Nigeria People’s Party 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.

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