EXCLUSIVE: Nigerian lawmakers want urgent purchase of new aircraft for Tinubu, Shettima

The lawmakers say the cost of maintaining the 19-year-old aircraft used by Mr Tinubu is high, leading to longer aircraft downtime and higher fleet running costs.

ByBakare Majeed

 June 13, 2024

The House of Representatives Committee on National Security and Intelligence has asked the federal government to immediately purchase new aeroplanes for the use of President Bola Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima.

The Committee made the call in a report issued after its technical subcommittee conducted a hearing on the status and airworthiness of aircraft in the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF).

“The Committee is of the strong and informed opinion that considering the fragile structure of the Nigerian federation and recognising the dire consequences of any foreseen or unforeseen mishap that may arise as a result of technical/operational inadequacy of the Presidential Air Fleet, it is in the best interest of the country to procure two additional aircraft as recommended,” the report read in part.

“This will also prove to be most cost-efficient in the long run apart from the added advantage of providing a suitable, comfortable and safe carrier befitting of the status and responsibilities of the office of the president and vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”

PREMIUM TIMES exclusively obtained the report, signed by the Committee’s chairperson, Ahmed Satomi, and clerk, Makwe Eric. Some lawmakers say the document has since been forwarded to the presidency for action.

A troubled Presidential Air Fleet

According to the report, the presidential fleet has six aircraft: one Boeing 737, a Gulfstream G550, a Gulfstream GV, two Falcon 7Xs, and a Challenger CL605. The committee said three of the aircraft were unserviceable as of the time it conducted its hearing.

In addition, the fleet has six helicopters: two Agusta 139s and four Agusta 189s. The committee, quoting the Commander of the Presidential Air Fleet, Olayinka Oyesola, an Air Vice Marshal, said the two Agusta 139s are currently unserviceable.

The committee states that the president’s 19-year-old Boeing 737 is unserviceable and currently undergoing annual maintenance. Conversely, the vice president’s 13-year-old Gulfstream G550 is in good condition.

Also, the Gulfstream GV is 23 years old and currently unserviceable. One of the Falcon 7Xs is serviceable, while the other is not.

The Challenger CL605 is 12 years old and serviceable. The Agusta 139 helicopters, classified as unserviceable, are 17 and 18 years old, respectively.

In its recommendations, the Committee said the cost of maintaining aged aircraft is high, leading to longer aircraft downtime and higher fleet running costs. The panel said buying new aircraft for the country’s top leaders is the best option.

Former President Muhammadu Buhari had promised to significantly reduce the number of planes in the fleet by selling off some of the aircraft. However, that did not happen. Instead, the government increased the cost of running the fleet by 190 per cent between 2016 and 2020, a report by this paper in 2020 showed.

By 2022, the government stated it was spending between $1.5 million and $4.5 million on each plane’s maintenance.

The Presidential Fleet and a heated debate

On March 23, the chair of the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Mr Satomi, moved a motion on the floor of the House to investigate the breakdown of planes in the presidential fleet. He cited the reported malfunction of Mr Tinubu’s plane during a trip to the Netherlands and Mr Shettima’s cancellation of a U.S. trip after his aircraft broke down.

Some lawmakers, notably opposition members, vehemently opposed the motion. After heated deliberations on the matter, the House’s Deputy Speaker, Ben Kalu, who presided over the session, ruled that the motion should be withdrawn and asked Mr Satomi to exercise his committee’s discretion to probe the fleet’s status.

On 20 May, members of the Committee conducted an investigative hearing during which they received briefings from M. Galadima, a major general and director at the Office of the National Security Adviser; the commander of the Presidential Air Fleet, Olayinka Oyesola (air vice marshall); M.M. Abdullahi, a group captain and the PAF fleet logistics officer.

Based on the submission from the ONSA officials, the committee resolved at the end of the session that the government should prioritize the president’s and other VIPs’ safety when overhauling the presidential air fleet.

The committee also constituted a five-member panel to liaise with ONSA to determine the status and airworthiness of all aircraft in the PAF. The panel completed its assignment on 4 June, issuing a report that strongly argued for the replacement of the aircraft currently being used by President Tinubu and his deputy.

The panel said a new aircraft “befitting the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should be procured, taking into consideration the country’s leading role in the West African, African, and global scheme of affairs.”

“That for ease of administration and in order to guarantee a secure and dedicated main and backup fleet for the office of the president at all times, it is recommended that a new aircraft akin to Air Force Two of the USA be procured for the office of the vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the subcommittee added. “This can also serve the office of the presiding officers of the National Assembly, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, etc., as appropriate.”

The larger committee accepted those recommendations and has since forwarded its advisory to the presidency for necessary action.

June 18, 2024

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