By Femi Falana
On October 27, 2016 the Presidency confirmed the newspaper reports of the planned sale of the two Presidential aircraft, a Falcon 7x executive jet and Hawker 4000. In a press statement issued by the Presidency through the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu the Nigerian people were informed that President Buhari had directed that the aircraft in the Presidential air fleet be reduced to cut down on waste. The presidential spokesman reminded Nigerians that President Buhari was elected in 2015 on a commitment to crack down on the country’s systemic corruption, hence downsizing the outlandish presidential fleet had been among his campaign pledges. In particular, Mr. Shehu had said inter alia:
“When he campaigned to be President, the then APC candidate Muhammadu Buhari, if you recall, promised to look at the presidential air fleet with a view to cutting down on waste.
His directive to a government committee on this assignment is that he liked to see a compact and reliable aircraft for the safe airlift of the President, the Vice President and other government officials that go on special missions.”
President Buhari’s directive on the use of the presidential fleet which was adopted by the Federal Government was popularly acclaimed by Nigerians. Since then the national assembly has ensured that the annual Appropriation Bills enacted into law have made provision for the maintenance of the aircraft in the presidential fleet in line with the official policy. In the 2020 Appropriation Act the sum of N8.5 billion was earmarked for the maintenance of the aircraft in the presidential fleet.
However, on January 10, 2020, one of the daughters of President Buhari was reported to have travelled from Abuja to Bauchi in a presidential jet for a private engagement in utter breach of the official policy of the Federal Government. Many concerned Nigerians have expressed outrage over the breach because the presidential fleet is maintained at public expense. Instead of apologising for the breach of the official policy the Presidency has defended the use of the presidential jet for the private visit of a member of the first family. Thus, in a press statement issued on behalf of the Presidency, Mr. Shehu claimed that:
“The normal practice in existence for a long time is that the Presidential Air fleet is available to the President and the first family and four others. These four are the Vice President, the Senate President the Speaker and any other person(s) authorised by the President.”
With respect, the above statement credited to the Presidency is incorrect as it is at variance with the official policy of the Federal Government. In other words, the official policy does not authorise the children of the President to use the presidential jets to attend to private social functions. In fact, there is no precedent whatsoever for such privatisation of the presidency of Nigeria. Having publicly declared that his administration would maintain “a compact and reliable aircraft for the safe airlift of the President, the Vice President and other government officials that go on special missions” President Buhari is estopped from allowing members of the first family to use the jets for their private affairs.
The so called “normal practice” of using the aircraft in the presidential fleet by members of the first family to attend to private engagements is not backed by any extant law or official policy. Even the use of the aircraft in the presidential fleet by the Senate President, House Speaker and Chief Justice of Nigeria has not been approved by the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission which is the statutory body empowered by the Constitution and the Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission Act to determine the remuneration and allowances of all political office holders in Nigeria.
In view of the foregoing, we call on President Buhari to stop the members of his family from using any of the aircraft in the presidential fleet “with a view to cutting down on waste” A country that is said to be the headquarters of the greatest number of poverty stricken people in the world cannot afford to waste billions of Naira on the use of presidential aircraft and hiring of commercial jets by state governors that are owing workers several months of unpaid salaries.
*Femi Falana SAN is a Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist.