THE recent disclosure that a presidential aircraft has been parked on the tarmac in a London airport since May 10, 2017 and the explanations offered by an aide to the President, Mr Garba Shehu have raised issues which must be resolved now in order not to establish a precedent that will come back to haunt this nation in the future.
The report claimed that it costs Nigeria $4,000 everyday in parking fees to keep the aircraft on standby for Buhari, or a total of N80 million for the first 50 days since returned to London for treatment. But Shehu said even if the usual waivers were not granted it would not cost more than $1,000 a day or N20 million for the period.
Nobody denies that the President of Nigeria deserves private aircraft in order to perform his functions with utmost security. The controversy has always been about the prudent number of aircraft which should be in the presidential fleet given the nation’s poor economy.
As a candidate, Buhari campaigned vigorously against what he regarded as waste when former President Jonathan operated a fleet of ten. As an elected president, Buhari only reluctantly gave up two of the aircraft to the Nigerian Air Force after a lot of angry denunciations. Even that, the transfer was not real because, as the Commander-In-Chief of the Armed Forces, the two aircraft are still under his control.
We would not join issues if it were merely a matter of the aircraft waiting for the President for a few days or even weeks. The main issue here is that the President is away for an indefinite period, an indefinite medical vacation can cost the nation dearly and avoidably in parking fees.
This is against the spirit of prudent use of public property and spending of public finance, which the President campaigned for as a candidate for election.
A second reason for supporting the return of the aircraft to Nigeria pending when it is needed to bring back the President, is that its presence at the British airport is attracting unfavourable global attention to the fact that Nigeria is incapable of providing adequately at home for the health needs of its people, including its leader.
For now, on compassionate grounds, we do not want to join issues with those putting pressure for constitutional instruments to be raised in determining the President’s ability to continue in office. We need to allow him more time to recuperate. But in the meantime, the presidential aircraft should be returned to Nigeria and called back to duty whenever it is needed to bring back the President.