In spite of the notoriety and lack of character often exhibited by a few of our governors, it is still hard to believe that some would divert part of the bailout meant for clearing arrears of unpaid salaries of their workers towards maintaining private aircrafts as was reported by some newspapers last Sunday. If this were true, the planned national carrier has got a boost. A few of the states listed as having either aircrafts or helicopters include Rivers, Taraba, Akwa Ibom, Osun and Lagos. Altogether, the states are proud owners of eight aircrafts and three helicopters with a net worth of about $200m. If we however add the potentials of other states the newspaper did not mention to that of the federal government which has a presidential fleet of about 10 aircrafts including two Falcon 7X jets, two Falcon 900 jets Gulfstream 550and and a Gulfstream iVSP, Boeing 737 BBJ (Nigerian Air Force 001 or Eagle One), Cessna Citation 2 and a Hawker Siddley 125-800 at a total cost of over $350m, the nucleus of the proposed national carrier is already in place.
It is an open secret that cruising around in private jets by wealthy Nigerians including governors, and prosperity prophets became a fad in the Yar’Adua and Jonathan years. Nigeria, according to Bombardier, the Canadian aircraft manufacturer ranks behind the United States, United Kingdom, and China among countries that top their orders for the supply of its aircrafts. The figure of privately owned jets according to a Forbes publication some two years back, jumped from 20 in 2007 to 150 in 2012. The Guardian on its part, quoting a top official of the NCAA claims that the ‘ownership of the state-of-the-art jets in Nigeria had grown to over 200 in 2012 from 50 in 2008’.
Of course I don’t think anyone should begrudge Nigerians whether politicians or prosperity prophets who are wealthy enough to regard aircrafts as toys. What should agitate our minds is the source of the wealth of some of the names on the list of private jet owners published by the authoritative Forbes. By strange coincidence, it also happened that some of the proud owners of these private jets are also those indicted by the House of Representatives committee probe on privatization which recommended some privatized firms they fraudulently bought be returned to the state. Also on the list are some of those involved in the theft of N1.7 trillion through the fuel subsidy fuel scam who have been shielded from prosecution by government in the last three years on the excuse that ‘the wheel of justice grinds slowly in our country’. Similarly featured are prosperity prophets and ‘merchants of grace for sale’ who claim their private jets were gifts from unidentified benefactors.
In the Jonathan era when ‘stealing was not corruption’ and when implementation of court ruling and House probe recommendations were routinely ignored, government saw nothing abnormal with elected governors and appointed public officials clogging our air space with their shining private jets. Not even the near fisticuff between Governor Mimiko of Ondo and Jimoh Ibrahim, a PDP stalwart at the Akure airport tarmac over who was flying the most expensive private aircraft attracted more than a passing attention from Jonathan government whose only worry was compliance with flight regulations. Thus during the grounding of Amaechi’s jet due to his disagreement with President Jonathan, Ahmed Gulak, his adviser on political matters issued a statement saying “If you are a governor and you are flying a private jet, you must do it within the extant laws…because you are a governor does not give you the license to flout the laws governing your country”. Obviously Jonathan who sometimes moved out for party mobilization along with his vice, the senate president and other PDP stalwarts using four presidential jets did not see anything wrong in governors attending burial or marriage ceremonies using state-funded aircrafts.
Now, we have been told there is a new sheriff in town who believes ‘stealing is corruption’, declares his readiness to step on toes if that is the only way to implement House probe recommendation that those who confiscated our common patrimony give them up, and who also says keeping a presidential fleet of 10 aircrafts even when leaders of advanced economies fly commercial flights like the rest of those they are elected to serve is an economic crime against the people.
Part of his campaign promise was to sell off the presidential fleet. That will no more be necessary with the inauguration of a 12-member Ministerial Committee on the establishment of a National Carrier which according to government is justified not just by “economic considerations, but also strategic national interest, national pride and job creation potential”. Since the proposed national carrier will be based on the Public Private Partnership, nine of the 10 aircrafts can be converted to equity in the proposed national carrier. Some of the states that recently took a bailout to pay salaries at 9% interest repayable over 20 years should also be forced to convert their jets to equity on behalf of the taxpayers of their states that currently bear the burden of maintaining them.
The proposed national carrier will also benefit from a possible confiscation of the shining private aircrafts of those who after benefiting from government bailout of N300b went on to pile up toxic debt of $700m currently being held in trust for our children by AMCON. Governance is all about justice and fairness. And since the new sheriff has said he is answerable to Nigerians and not wheelers and dealers, retrieving parts of our national patrimony confiscated by those elected to keep them in trust for our children through the exploitation of our weak institutions is the reason we have government in place. The alternative will be the law of the jungle which is ‘the survival of the fittest’, which Jonathan and PDP applied in the last six years without ‘giving a damn’.
Of course, the new sheriff in town must expect vicious attack from apologists of privatization who have for 16 years engaged in wars of attrition among themselves over how to keep what they have immorally confiscated. Kema Chikwe in an effort to outwit Atiku Ababakar who was alleged to be interested in buying off the Nigerian Airways established in 1958, came up with ‘Air Nigeria’ using two Pakistanis who according to Chris Aligbe, an aviation consultant and an insider, came ‘without even an Air Transport License, let alone an aircraft’ as fronts. Her “Nigerian Global” alternative failed just as Yuguda’s attempt to bring in South Africa Airline collapsed. Branson of Virgin Atlantic was frustrated out leaving a debt of $260m for Nigerian taxpayers by those who fraudulently claimed to be fighting our battle. Then Jimoh Ibrahim bought Nigeria Airways after claiming liquidation of the N35b owed UBA only for his Air Nigeria to collapse shortly after taking his N35b share of the government N300b aviation sector bailout. PDP hawks did not even allow Princess Oduah’s Air Nigeria One to take off.
In the weeks ahead they are going to deploy resources towards discrediting the new sheriff’s efforts. They don’t want a national carrier but their own private airlines which will be declared bankrupt after partaking in government bail-out, leaving their toxic loans for AMCON who will keep same in trust for Nigerian taxpayers and their children. What they want is buying off the energy sector after government investment of taxpayers’ money only for them to go back requesting for government bailout and appealing to government for equity participation in companies freshly unbundled by government based on their recommendation. But since Buhari has made a choice to stand by the Nigerian people, he should remain steadfast as the people according to Abraham Lincoln are always right.