Despite the outcry over limiting resources in Nigeria in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown, Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the private jets charter service has continued to flourish as evidenced by the abundance of private jets that occupy the old terminal of the Abuja Airport.
Daily Trust reports:
Some state governors are spending billions of naira to hire private jets despite dwindling resources in their states, an investigation by Daily Trust on Sunday has shown.
Findings revealed that only a few governors use commercial flights to travel to Abuja and other parts of the country from their states as many of them pay for chartered aircraft.
While some of the trips are official engagements, others are for private engagements.
It was discovered that many of the states are in dire financial situations and can hardly pay salaries or meet other contractual obligations, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that even in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown last year, state governors embarked on interstate trips, mostly by private jets.
This was in clear violation of a ban to that effect, which they had agreed on as a measure to mitigate community transmission of the virus.
For instance, on Monday, June 1, 2020, Governor Godwin Obaseki of Edo State flew into Abuja to visit President Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, to formally inform him of his intention to seek re-election for a second term.
On that same day, the chairman of the Progressive Governors’ Forum (PGF) and governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Bagudu, led six of his colleagues to Abuja to meet with the then Comrade Adams Oshiomhole-led National Working Committee (NWC) of the All Progressives Congress (APC) on what was believed to be a last-minute effort to save Obaseki’s candidacy ahead of the party’s primary election in Edo.
Although some of these trips were said to have been related to security, it was gathered that they were undertaken through private commercial jets, which ran into hundreds of millions of naira.
On Friday, May 29, 2020, Governor Nasir El-Rufai (Kaduna) and his Sokoto counterpart, Aminu Tambuwal, visited the Presidential Villa, Abuja, over the challenge posed by armed banditry in their states.
On Thursday, April 30, Governor Mai Mala Buni of Yobe State met President Buhari over the ongoing counter-insurgency operations on the fringes of Lake Chad and the entire North-East. Also, on Thursday, April 9, Governor Zulum flew in to meet with President Buhari on the security situation in the state following the Chadian army’s onslaught against Boko Haram.
Govenror Hope Uzodinma of Imo State, is yet another regular private jet patron, with his recent trips to and from Abuja, three times within two weeks, done with private jets.
To underscore the sorry financial situation in the country, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), last week wrote to the Accountant-General of the Federation, warning that it would not be able to make remittances to the Federation Account in April for distribution to the federal, state and local governments in May because it needed to defray about N112billion cost of February’s subsidy on petrol.
Recent checks at the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) used for charter operations at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, and the private hangars at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), Lagos, revealed that governors still patronise private jets.
At the MMIA, Lagos, private hangers were busy when our correspondent visited recently, and many of those who patronised them were said to be governors who had one engagement or another in the state.
It was also learnt that many governors who patronise the private jet operators now go to the airports in vehicles without number plates, thereby making it difficult to identify them.
A source at the MMIA who spoke with our correspondent in confidence said, “I can confirm to you that the business is still booming despite the so-called recession.
“Many customers who can afford the cost of charter flights are still patronising us. They include businessmen, some artists, politically exposed people, especially state governors who come to Lagos from time to time.
“Some of them can even charter flights to overseas, which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“Charter flight service is a very lucrative business because many highly placed individuals still patronise us. Most of them don’t know recession.”
High cost of jets
Checks by Daily Trust on Saturday indicate that a one-hour flight costs between $5,000 (N2.4m at N485 to one dollar) and $10,000, depending on the size of the aircraft.
So if it is a return flight, a governor with members of his entourage could pay as much as $20,000 to charter an aircraft.
An operator who spoke with our correspondent on the condition of anonymity gave an insight into the economics of the private jet charter service.
According to the operator, all bookings are in dollars, but if anyone prefers to pay in naira, it is charged at the prevailing black market rate.
“Normally, a VIP, for instance, can decide to hire a bigger business jet, depending on the entourage.
“But if the team is not more than six, a smaller jet could be used, which costs less, and you can get it for as low as $5,000,” the source said.
Daily Trust on Sunday learnt that in view of the growing demand for private charter services by governors and other VIPs, a private jet operator recently launched a Lagos-Abuja daily flight at a cost of $4,500 (one way). The flight is said to be operated daily by 9: 00 am and 1 pm.
“What this means is that the demand for this premium service is no doubt high, but many governors would prefer to patronise it. But it is not only the governors that make use of private jets, we also have some officials in the Presidency,’’ our source added.
One of the private charter operators, ExecuJet, said business aircraft travel was the quickest means of commuting and reducing flying times. Flight plans can be altered to accommodate meeting schedule changes.
“Business travellers can reach two or more destinations in a single day, an option seldom offered to executives on scheduled flights,” the foremost operator wrote on its website.
Labour knocks governors
In an interview with one of our correspondents, the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, berated the governors for continuing to charter private jets despite their claims that the economy is still dwindling.
Describing such action as unacceptable, he revealed that the governors hide under personnel cost during budget presentations to their respective houses of assembly.
“It is part of what we have cried aloud because it is public funds (taxpayers’ money). This adds to the high cost of governance and overheads. To hire a private jet for one trip is not less than N9million.
“There are states that budget up to N10billion for hiring private jets. I remember that there was one state in the past four years that actually spent up to N10billion on private jets.
“In most cases, they lump this to personnel cost, and that is what is adding to the high cost of governance. This is unacceptable. This is the time we really need to cut the cost of governance. We need to be very transparent,” Wabba said.
He called on Nigerians to rise up and fight against such impunity by demanding accountability and transparency, saying the cost of governance should be drastically reduced, not cutting workers’ salaries.
He said, “If you check their budgets you will not see where it is hidden. Clearly, it is an abuse of office. What you cannot afford once you are out of office, I think it is not advisable and desirable that people should continue to have it when they are in office. They are doing it because it is a public fund.
“We have commercial flights working effectively on many routes. They should copy few other governors using commercial aircraft. It is high time citizens rose up to demand accountability and transparency in governance.
“Most of their people are trekking miles and using dilapidated vehicles but they are using our resources and claiming there is a dwindling economy.
“This is certainly not acceptable. They should think otherwise and be prudent in the management of our resources.”
In the same vein, the president of the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Quadri Olaleye, in a separate interview with Daily Trust on Sunday, wondered why government officials inflate anything budgeted for, including the cost of their flights, whether public or private.
“The amount they are paying may not be true because it is not as expensive as what they put. You know politicians will put money in everything,” Olaleye said.
He said Nigerian governors were living many extravagant lives, apart from chartering private jets, despite their claims on the economy.
When contacted for comment, the head of media and public affairs, Nigerian Governors’ Forum (NGF) secretariat, Abuja, Mr Abdulrazaque Bello-Barkindo claimed no knowledge of the use of private jets in the country.
Bello-Barkindo, who neither confirmed nor denied the use of private jets by governors, simply said, “I don’t know anything about the use of private jets in Nigeria. I appreciate your efforts in confirming your stories. It is remarkably professional,” he said.
Fidelis Mac-Leva, Chris Agabi, Saawua Terzungwe, Idowu Isamotu (Abuja) & Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos)