GOVERNOR AMAECHI'S PRIVATE JET CONTROVERSY
The bid by Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, to purchase a $48 million private jet for his personal use has been generating ripples. The governor, who wrote a letter to the State House of Assembly requesting for approval for the purchase, justified the expenditure with explanations on his concern for his personal safety.
He said the government was trading in its old aircraft for a new improved version. The state, he added, had earlier sold its old DASH 8 Propeller aircraft to Cross River State at the cost of $9 million.
This explanation notwithstanding, the purchase of this luxury item at a time of fiscal stringency in Nigeria calls for raised eyebrows. It is necessary to ask if the purchase of aircraft should be a priority for any state governor at this time. We think such huge funds would be better committed to basic infrastructure such as roads that would have positive impact on the economy of the state and the lives of ordinary citizens.
The danger in the explanation from Amaechi is that it will provide other state governors ready excuses to commit public funds into purchase of private jets for themselves. After all, all state governors would also want to ensure their own personal safety and security.
The action of the Rivers State Government raises the critical question of what should be the primary concern of a governor: his own safety and security or the security and welfare of the people?
It should be instructive that the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, under the primary objectives and directive principles of state policy, says that the security and welfare of the people shall be the primary purpose of governance. This principle has apparently not been observed here.
It is clearly inexpedient that at a time that many state governments are complaining about inability to pay the new National Minimum Wage, a state governor finds it so easy to rationalize commitment of colossal public funds to the satisfaction of his personal taste and interest.
This is a bad signal from Rivers, and one that is sure to negatively influence other states to start nursing such unhelpful aspirations. This will only further distract them from their constitutionally assigned responsibilities.
Already, the Cross River State Government that bought the DASH 8 Propeller aircraft from Rivers State has been unable to complete payment for it since 2009. Although the state governor, Liyel Imoke, said the state bought the craft at $6 million (N900 million) for commercial flights to the Bebi Airstrip to ease access to its $20 billion Obudu Cattle Ranch Resort, we think that such funds would have been better utilised in the interest of the majority of the people.
There are very critical areas of need in which N900 million could make a huge difference in the lives of the people. The explanation of Governor Imoke that Cross River State has only paid N256 million out of the N900 million it agreed to pay for the aircraft over a period of two years in 2009 shows that the state cannot actually afford the aircraft. All political office holders should strive to be humble and pay greater attention to the welfare of the people.
The impression that has been created by the government in Rivers State by this private jet acquisition bid is that the state has surplus funds. This is not really so. Otherwise, the state budget would not be in deficit with borrowing to supplement it. In addition, the state would not be floating a N250 billion bond to fund projects. If Rivers has surplus funds, it should not be issuing a bond at all.
We unequivocally condemn the $48 million private jet bid. We fear for its domino effect on other states that are not as financially buoyant as Rivers. This example is clearly not a good one. It is even more worrisome given Nigerians' impression of Governor Amaechi as a young, newbreed governor who should introduce new ways of doing things that would be a departure from the antics of the old brigade of Nigerian political leaders.
We enjoin all political office holders to eschew profligacy. What Nigeria needs at this time are self-sacrificial leaders who would make the interest of the people and not personal comfort their top priority.