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Private jets: House probe, and matters arising

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By LAWANI MIKAIRU
THE recent upsurge in the acquisition of private jets by individuals and government officials has attracted the attention of Nigerians with the ongoing probe by the House of Representatives of the alleged unofficial use of chartered planes by the Petroleum Minister,Mrs Diezanai Alison-Madueke.

Mrs Madueke is alleged to have “expended more than N10 billion on charter and maintenance of a Challenger 850 aircraft.” Findings revealed that more than 42 private jets land at the Muritala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, everyday.

Diezani-Alison-Madueke,
Diezani-Alison-Madueke,

One report said “private jets acquisition has cost wealthy Nigerians more than one trillion naira in five years. The luxury trend actually rose by 650 per cent between 2007 and 2012. This has increased the rate of private jet acquisition from 20 in 2007 to more than 150 in 2012 which has placed Nigeria and China as the fastest growing private jets markets in the world.”

The Regional Vice-President, Sales, Middle East, Africa and Turkey, Bombardier Business Aircraft, the Canada-based aircraft manufacturing firm, Mr. Khadar Mattar, who   spoke on the sidelines of Nigerian Economic Summit organised by London-based Economist in Lagos was quoted as saying that his company delivered 88 out of the 138 aircraft currently flying in Nigeria.

According to Mattar “In Nigeria, we are looking at another 60 to 70 new business aircraft within the next five years; that is about 10 airplanes a year. There are 138 airplanes in Nigeria at the moment. Bombardier is currently leading the market in Nigeria and Africa. Twelve new ones should be delivered this year.

Medium and large size private jets

“Most medium-size and large-size private jets currently go for between $30m and $65m. Taking an average price of $40m per aircraft, the 12 new private jets slated for delivery in Nigeria this year are expected to cost about $480m (N76.8bn).” The Bombardier senior official also said he expected the 138 private jets currently in the country to double to 276 in the next 10 years because of the manner the business aircraft market was growing in Nigeria.

Former Governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, was quoted as saying during the opening ceremony of the Second Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria held in Umuahia in September 2012, “that more than 123 private jets were registered in the country in that year alone.”

According to Adeniyi Kolawole, Secretary, Concerned Citizens of Nigeria “ Some of the most modern jets are owned by serving and former governors, even governors of poor states that hardly afford to pay the salaries of their workers. Something is definitely wrong with our value system. It is sad that this is happening in a country where more than 70 per cent of the people live below poverty line.”

He further said, “ But that is not all, several Nigerians, especially those in public offices, have equally resorted to the hiring of private jets for regular trips within Nigeria and around the world often at astounding costs to the country. According to findings by Transparency Action Group, those who regularly hire private jets include private and government officials.”

It is interesting that some members of the House are also flying chartered jets regularly. And it is believed that this may prevent the House from carrying out a holistic probe of the alleged N10 billion the Petroleum Minister is said to have expended on the maintenance of the chartered plane.

It will be recalled that the House of Representatives has been probing the Petroleum Minister over an allegation that she “has expended over N10 billion on charter and maintenance of a Challenger 850 aircraft.” However, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, has denied the existence of a chartered aircraft for exclusive use of the Minister .

The former NNPC Acting Group General Manager, Group Public Affairs Division, Dr. Omar Farouk Ibrahim, had in a statement said that “contrary to the information being peddled is some quarters, Mrs. Alison-Madueke has not chartered any aircraft for her personal use or the use of her family.” Dr. Ibrahim also insisted that the Corporation is empowered to own or charter airplane to ensure prompt discharge of its activities in line with global best practice

He said, “NNPC, however, notes that in consonance with the legal instrument which establishes the Corporation as a commercial entity to engage in the oil and gas sector, the NNPC in course of discharging its statutory and commercial functions engages third parties for the provision of services outside of its core business.”

What observers are saying is: If the House must probe the minister, the probe must be extended to all government officials who are using public money to take chartered flights instead of going on scheduled commercial flights which are cheaper.

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