President Buhari, PAF and Images of corruption

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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 clung to vanity. Accordingly, he swiftly abandoned his earlier pledge to demonstrate leadership, statesmanship, vision, capacity, sacrifice, and above all, to transform our nation in his May 29, 2011 inaugural address. Regretfully for a long time, he basked in the reverie of self adsorption and toyed with the people’s mandate.

2014 was the most ridiculous budgeting in recent Nigeria’s history. The previous year’s budget included the N2.2 billion for a befitting banquet hall in Aso Rock Villa. N34.5 million was earmarked for feeding the lions in Aso Rock Villa Zoo. In the same laughable order, the 2014 budget was encased with N1.6 billion as deposit for the purchase of a new aircraft to boost the existing luxurious presidential fleet which was already in the region of 10 and one of the most endowed leaders with such array of personalized air travelling means,

In line, President Jonathan’s vague defense of such needs was even more mind-numbing as he said, “…the President of Nigeria must be transported safely at all times. The cost may seem exorbitant now, but it would be impossible to put a price tag on good governance and an efficiently run country”, he concluded. He further advised Nigerians to be “constructive in their criticisms so that they do not inadvertently encumber the rebuilding of their nation.”

President Jonathan claimed that his government booked slots for the purchase of 2 new aircraft in 2010, and another 2 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 certified 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!

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. 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.

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 curtain 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 personnel maintenance easily finds 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 disposed off for the deserved change to manifest.

Erasmus Ikhide writes in from Lagos, Nigeria

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