Since the return of democracy in Nigerian in 1999, Nigerians have consistently called for the reduction of the presidential air fleet.
It does not make sense for the leader of one of the poorest nations on earth in terms of per capita income, to have at his disposal, more jets than the US President, British Prime Minister, French President and the German Chancellor.
Because the All Progressives Congress (APC) had made a big issue out of the large fleet of presidential jets during the campaigns leading to the elections of 2015, most Nigerians had assumed that one of the first measures President Muhammadu Buhari would introduce was the sale of most of the jets. Sixteen months after, they are still there, consuming lots of dollars for maintenance, and calling to question the sincerity of the President and his party.
Early in October 2016, reports had it that two of the jets were up for sale at N7 billion. Given the enormity of our financial needs, N7 billion is just a drop in the bucket. But, that “drop”, if properly invested in agriculture and targeted towards the increased production of food crops, can work wonders in reducing food prices and beating back the increasing malnutrition in the nation.
But, just as Nigerians were getting ready to commend the President for bowing to pressure to scale down the presidential air fleet, the Presidency disclosed that it was transferring the two aircraft to the Nigerian Air Force.
According to the Chief of Air Staff, Air Vice Marshall Sadique Abubakar, while one of the planes will become a troops transporter, the other will be converted to an air ambulance.
Though the Air Force, which is seriously involved in military and security operations in the North East and the Niger Delta, will find these planes handy, we still think the presidential gesture does not amount to a proper disposal to cut the cost of governance. The simple reason is that the President, being the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, still has control over these aircrafts. Besides, they will be maintained with government funds. The transfer merely amounts to switching the aircraft from the president’s right hand to his left.
Nigerians were not calling for this kind of switch from one government institution to another. Even if we are to give away the two aircraft to the armed forces to enhance their operations, we still believe that the drastic cut-down in the number of planes in the presidential air fleet to not more than three or four out of the remaining ten, is called for.
The proceeds from such outright sale should be invested in ventures that will improve the living conditions of Nigerians.