PRESIDENTIAL JETS: TO WHOM MUCH IS GIVEN
As part of the plan to beef up the presidential fleet, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) has approved a whopping N21 billion ($154 million) for the purchase of three new aircraft. The cost of the new planes, which will bring to eight the number in the presidential fleet, has already been factored in the 2010 Appropriation Act.
The aircraft are two Falcon 7X aircraft from Messrs Dassault Aviation of France and one Gulfstream G550 aircraft from Aerospace Corporation of the United States.
Giving details of the deal, the Minister of Information and Communications, Prof. Dora Akunyili, explained that the two Falcon jets would cost $102 million, and the Gulfstream jet, $53 million, all totaling $154 million. The minister also said that a committee set up to negotiate the purchase of the aircraft got a reduction of $2.9 million from the proposed price of the two Falcon jets, and a reduction of $5.4 million from the price of the Gulfstream jet. While the Falcon jets will be delivered by the end of the fourth quarter of this year, delivery of the Gulfstream jet has been scheduled for the end of the second quarter of next year.
Government also said that the new aircraft would be operated as a fleet and deployed appropriately to serve other principal officers of the Federal Government, including the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Other reasons given for the purchase include the need to gradually replace the aging aircraft in the presidential fleet, some of which are said to be as old as 18 years. Some of the aged planes were also said to have become expensive to maintain.
The recent near air disaster involving President Goodluck Jonathan's aircraft while returning to the country at the end of the 15th African Union General Assembly held in Kampala, Uganda, might have prompted the urgent move to acquire the jets. Although the amount of money involved in the purchase is huge, anything done to improve operational efficiency of the presidential fleet is desirable. More so, there is the need to ensure the safety of those at the commanding heights of the nation's leadership.
However, to whom much is given, much is also expected. Now that the nation has committed such hefty amount to the purchase of planes for our leaders they should reciprocate this kind gesture in equal measure by ensuring that the welfare of all Nigerians is uppermost in the scheme of things. Just as it is good for the top echelon of the nation's leadership to have comfortable means of transportation, it is equally good that other Nigerian citizens be provided with good and comfortable means of transportation.
In this wise, government should, as a matter of urgency, fix all dilapidated Nigerian roads. That these roads have become death traps where many Nigerian citizens and foreigners are daily killed, is sad and pathetic. It is restating the obvious to say that Nigerians are in dire need of well-paved roads, good vehicles and good rail system for their everyday safe transportation. Government should commit huge amount of money to ensure efficient road and rail systems. The rail system should link all the major cities across the six geo-political zones in the country.
Apart from the transport sector, the government should invest heavily in other critical sectors of the economy to accelerate industrial growth and development. These include education, energy, industry, health and agriculture, among others.
Beyond this, government should always prioritize its spending. There is no doubt that if this issue was thrown open for debate, Nigerians would have rejected buying three jets at a go, when there are more pressing needs begging for attention. Adding just one jet would have been okay, and economical.
The purchase of the three jets calls for more vigorous debates on budgets presented to the National Assembly, so that the nation's money could be deployed to priority areas. Moreover, Nigerians should be involved in budgeting and budget debates so that their input could be factored in every year's Appropriation Act. Definitely, this is a wrong time to spend such hefty sum on jets when many critical areas that could quicken the nation's industrial development are neglected. All the same, let the jets be put to good use and adequately maintained.