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Last aircraft bought by Obasanjo used by four Nigerian leaders

•Any unforeseen circumstances will have national implications, findings reveal

Emmanuel Addeh in Abuja

Nigeria and not President Bola Tinubu needs a presidential private jet for several reasons, including the fact that the current one being used by the president was purchased during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration and has been used by four other Nigerian leaders, THISDAY can report.

There have been controversies over the proposed purchase of a new presidential jet, following the problems encountered by the airplane on separate trips to Saudi Arabia, The Netherlands and South Africa.

However, THISDAY can tell that aside from the fact that the presidential jet of any nation remains, in some way, the country’s projection of its national brand to other nations, for leaders of all modern democracies, a good presidential fleet also serves as a boost for robust international engagements.

The House of Representatives Committee on National Security and Intelligence had recently asked the federal government to purchase two new aircrafts for President Bola Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima.

Contained in a report of the committee’s investigation into the status of the aircraft in the presidential air fleet, the committee stressed that it was in the best interest of the country to procure the aircrafts to avoid a situation that would create a national crisis.

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The committee was mandated by the lower chamber of the National Assembly in May to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the aircraft in the presidential fleet to ascertain their airworthiness and technical status.

The assignment followed a motion by the House Committee Chairman on National Security and Intelligence, Satomi Ahmed.

It led to a heated debate on the floor of the House, when some lawmakers suggested that the president should travel via commercial aircraft or by road.

Also, the senate is said to be in agreement, with the Chairman of the Senate Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Shehu Buba Umar, said to be supporting the recommendation by the lower chamber’s committee.

The decision to purchase the aircraft has recently led to a national debate, with some Nigerians saying it was the wrong time to think of making any investment in any new presidential jet.

But many people have also argued that the pros outweigh the cons for not purchasing the aircraft.

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“The point is that people are mistaking a national jet for a personal jet. It is far from it. The nation’s presidential jet is a brand from Nigeria to the world and it can boost a robust foreign policy and global engagements.

The jet is not personal to Tinubu, it is for Nigeria.

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“Leaders of most modern democracies have their jets or robust national carriers, which provide a fleet for the presidency, like British Airways does. We don’t have a robust national carrier.

“So the presidential jet is what we have used in the 25 years of democracy to champion our return to the world. Despite recent hiccups in the economy, which happen periodically, we should not lose sight of why Nigeria needs a presidential jet,” a THISDAY expert said, albeit anonymously.

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For the record, 737 Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) was acquired  during the Obasanjo administration at a cost of $43 million and has since become a source of financial liability to the country due to old age and excessive use.

The continuous maintenance of the close to 25-year-year-old aircraft, according to sources, has become a guzzler of public funds running into several millions of dollars at a time the economy is also facing critical challenges.

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For instance, the Buhari administration, towards the end of the government took the same aircraft abroad for a detailed maintenance in preparation for the inauguration of his successor, but it wasn’t enough to put the aircraft back in a sound state.

“After the Sani Abacha misrule, former President Olusegun Obasanjo, re-launched Nigeria to the global space, where we acquired a new Boeing Business Jet, Boeing BBJ and that was used to revamp Nigeria’s pride of place globally.

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“After eight years, that jet continued to be used by four presidents after: Umar Yar’ Adua,  Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari and now Bola Tinubu.

“It is time to change it for both safety and national security reasons. The other day, the vice president of Malawi died in a plane crash, an aging fleet. We cannot wish that for our leaders. Should we, God forbid, lose a leader by such circumstances, it will hit Nigeria in a bad way.

“There will be battles and there will be growing instability  and then there’s the national security implication of such an incident.

“So, after so many years, the right thing for National Assembly to do is to pass a legislation and give a proper budget for a proper and fitting presidential jet,” the expert added.

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THISDAY has further gathered that aside the one-off wholesale payment, there could be other creative ways to ensure that the purchase doesn’t negatively hit the national coffers, given the arguments in certain quarters about the state of the economy.

The expert contended that, “There are many ways it can be done cost-effectively. It could be done by having a long-term lease, which will involve periodic payments, by having engine programmes and insurance, which will ensure that parts of the aircraft are duly insured and paid by insurers. So, there are many means of doing it. Sometimes, it is cost-effective.

“And we have enough central bankers and corporate finance gurus to support it, such that it’s not a whopping amount.

“So, besides the current economic challenges, we should not lose sight of a jet for Nigeria. It is not for president Tinubu, personally. It is for Nigeria. The last one, currently in use, was bought by the former president Obasanjo. We need another one at this time.”

ThisDay Report

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