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The Story of Jet-Craze Governors

| November 4, 2012 More

Birnin Kebbi — In the face of hard economic situation, unemployment and poverty in the country state governors sink billions of naira into acquisition of aircraft and construction of airports, which critics consider wasteful.

Governor Chibuike Amaechi of Rivers State on October 7, 2012 acquired a new Bombardier Global 5000, N565RS, at the cost of $45.7 million (about N7.4 billion). This was after the governor had traded off, in 2010, the state’s Embracer Legacy 600, saying the aircraft was too expensive to maintain. The aircraft, Dash 8-Q200, was sold to Cross River State government at the cost of $6 million. Cross River, on its part, leased it out to Aero Contractors to undertake commercial flights to and from Obudu airstrip.

Since the acquisition of the new aircraft, Rivers State has not known peace. Opposition Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) took on the governor, saying the purchase of the new aircraft was a waste of public funds. The ACN described the acquisition as “ostentatious, unnecessary, luxurious and gross extravagance on the part of Governor Amaechi.”

The party queried the rationale for spending a stupendous amount of money on an aircraft for the exclusive use of the governor when virtually all the metropolitan roads in the state had been washed away by water and over 183 communities across four local government areas were sacked by floods.

The governor’s spokesperson, Ibim Semenitari, argued, however, that the state government actually bought the jet two years ago at the cost of $45 million and that due process was followed in the procurement. She said “The truth of the matter is that the government of Rivers State paid for the aircraft two years ago. The cost of the aircraft is $45 million. The government of Rivers State traded off two aircraft – the Dash 8 and the Embryo jet – for the new one. The government of Rivers State expects that in defraying the cost, the payment on those two aircraft will assist.”

She denied that the aircraft is used only by Governor Amaechi. According to her, it is the state’s Ministry of Transport that is in custody of it because it is charged with the responsibility of managing all vehicles that belong to Rivers State government.

A former governor of the state, Dr Peter Odili, in 2005, bought two aircraft. One was an air ambulance; the other was a passenger jet. The former governor claimed that the air ambulance would be used to handle emergency health challenges. The two aircraft were later converted into private use, especially during his presidential campaign. When Governor Amaechi came to power in 2007, he claimed that they would be too expensive to maintain. One was later sold to the Cross River.

The craze for jets has come into focus, because of the recent air crash involving Governor Danbaba Suntai of Taraba, who, though a trained pharmacist underwent aviation courses in order to qualify to fly the state-owned jet. Before the accident, the issue of the construction of an airstrip in country home and the massive investment in an airport project in Jalingo had raised so much dust in the North-Eastern state. Though Governor Suntai and his aides survived the crash near Yola a fortnight ago, questions are still being asked as to why he should commandeer and personally fly the plane.

In Akwa Ibom State, for instance, Governor Godswill Akpabio, in June 2011, took possession of the $45 million jet. The ‘state-of-the-art’ jet, which carries FAA registration number N224BH, was manufactured in 2011. The state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr Anikan Umanah, who confirmed that the governor bought the jet, however, denied that it was Akpabio’s personal property. It is owned by the state government. However, it is stationed at the Ibom International Airport, and used by the governor on international flights mainly.

Speaking with Sunday Trust, a member of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) in the state, Mr Efefiong Akpan, described the trend as “gross misplacement of priorities.” His words: “Personally, I don’t see any need for possessing an aircraft. That is gross misplacement of priorities. In a country where the poor masses are finding it difficult to feed three square meals a day, a governor should not engage in the luxury of acquiring an aircraft.”

As at now, the Bauchi State government does not have any aircraft, but the ongoing multi-billion naira airport project has come under heavy criticisms as a misplaced priority. This is in the context of the fact that Governor Isa Yuguda had faulted his predecessor, Alhaji Ahmed Mu’azu, for acquiring an aircraft for N3 billion. The plane was later leased to a private company. The aircraft never landed in Bauchi State, because it had no airport.

However, in October last year the government awarded the contract for a mordern international airport at the whooping cost of N7,998,595,433.13 to Triacta Company Nigeria Limited. It was expected to be completed within 18 months. Also, government spent N290 million to renovate Bauchi airstrip to enable commercial flights land in the state.

Opposition parties see the projects as a misplacement of priorities. The spokesman of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN) Bauchi State, Alhaji Nasiru Ibrahim Darazo, State chairman of CPC, Alhaji Aliyu Sa’idu, and the Chairman of the Democratic Peoples Party (DPP), Hajiya Sa’adatu Mamuda opposed it. According to them, Bauchi is bedevilled with decay of infrastructure, poor education, poor health care delivery and the lack of water in urban and rural areas. Government should deal with these issues instead of building an international airport.

The Chief Press secretary to the governor, Mr Ishola Michael Adeyemi, however, argued that “the essence of having an international airport is that it would improve the commercial activities, not only in the state, but in the North-East zone. It will also provide a conducive atmosphere to the investors in the state.”

Adeyemi said the administration was committed to the project and would not leave any stone unturned in ensuring that it was completed early enough for the 2013 Hajj airlift.

While Bauchi State is warming up to build an international airport, the one built in Niger State is wasting away due to under-utilisation and lack of maintenance. It is ostensibly patronised by only Governor Babangida Aliyu, two former military Heads of State and the Central Bank of Nigeria officials. Of the categories mentioned above, it is Governor Aliyu who uses it the most because of his frequent travels out of the country in the name of wooing foreign investors. He charters private jets on these frequent trips.

Speaking, the chairman of the Congress For Progressive Change (CPC), Alhaji Umar Shuibu, alleged that the governor travelled out of the country frequently on a chartered aircraft owned by one Ibrahim Wali, alias Babalawo, from Kontogora.

As it is in Minna, so it is in Makurdi, where Governor Gabriel Suswan is accused of making constant travels on chartered jets. Although he does not possess an aircraft, opposition parties are not comfortable with his frequent trips outside his domain. The state chairman, Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), Baba Agan, condemned the frequent foreign trips, describing them as “the highest level of insensitivity.”

He contended thus: “Suswam is always out of the state on the pretext of one form of economic trip or the other. Is that how to manage a state? The annoying thing is that, he has nothing to show for all these so-called foreign trips.”

Meanwhile, the governor’s spokesperson, Cletus Akwaya, dismissed the allegation that his boss was fond of globetrotting on chartered aircraft.

Akwaya explained that in the last six months, the governor had travelled outside the country only twice for official purposes in the company of President Goodluck Jonathan. “As a matter of fact, he has not even taken his annual leave this year. Everyone knows that the governor travels for hours on the road to attend to state functions. Suwam neither has an aircraft nor charters a flight, in contrast to what some of his colleagues do. We all know some own aircraft.”

Agan, however, believes that the Benue State House of Assembly had failed in their constitutional responsibility to caution the governor to travel less and stay at home with his people to move the economy of the state to an enviable height.

The international airport frenzy has hit Jigawa State, which is an one hour and fifteen’s drive from Kano, where there is one of the oldest international airports. In August, Governor Sule Lamido announced the award of a N7 billion contract to Dantata Sawoe for the construction of an elaborate airport.

According to the governor the airport would be located in Dutse and it is to be completed in 10 months. He explained further that the project is meant to attract foreign investors.

But, the opposition in the state is critical of the project, saying it is not in tandem with the expectations of the common man. Alhaji Tijjani Inuwa Tahir, a CPC chieftain, said the airport would be meaningless to the majority of Jigawa State population. He advised the state government to use the money on agriculture, because it Jigawa an agricultural state.

When contacted the owners of the land being used for the airport claimed they had not been paid any compensation. They appealed for commensurate compensation to their percels of land and houses before the project is completed.

In spite of the criticisms, some residents of Dutse who spoke to Sunday Trust claimed that the project would cause development get closer to the people, as it would boost commercial activities.

In Kebbi, the government is spending a whooping sum of N13.6bn on a new airport. The project will consume the state’s subvention from the Federation Account for six months. Monthly the state gets between N2.5 billion and N2.7 billion from the federal purse.

Sunday Trust gathered that the government is building the airport primarily for the annual airlift of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for hajj exercise. For years, Kebbi state pilgrims were airlifted from Sultan Abubakar III airport, Sokoto, a distance of one-and-a-half hours drive from Kebbi.

The state’s Commissioner for Information, Alhaji Sani Mohammed Kangiwa, addressed newsmen recently and said the project would be completed by March next year. He said the council had ratified and approved the contract for lots 1,2 and 3 of the project, which includes the expansion of runway, construction of tower, terminal building for N11.3 billion. The contract for the lot 4 of the airport, which comprises provision of Navigational aids, communication and metrological equipment, was awarded to Avsated Communications Limited at the cost of N1,074,629,695.

He said the council had also approved the contract for lot 5 of the airport project, which includes the provision of airfield lighting systems and power supply to General Engineering Company Ground Lighting Ltd at the cost of N1,331,116,076.

Commenting on the project, the Secretary to the CPC, Barrister Shehu Marshall, described the project as a ‘white elephant project’: “The airport project has no bearing to people’s needs or even development. It is a complete lack of focus and misplacement of priorities. The government should rather focus and formulate policies that will create wealth and jobs for our teeming unemployed youth.”

“I cannot imagine that a government that cannot even provide fertiliser for its farmers will use local government funds to construct an airport worth over N13 billion,” he said.

Sunday Trust learnt from aviation experts that the growing penchant for private jets acquisition has cost wealthy Nigerians a whopping sum of $6.5billion, about N1.2 trillion in the last five years. An aviation expert, who does not want his name in print, told our reporter that it is very expensive to maintain a private jet, considering all the rules on rebuilding engines, cost of paying a pilot and crew members , aviation fuel and hanger charges which cost as much as $3,000 a month .

Another pilot describes the craze for the acquisition of jets as a waste. He said, “the plane that Rivers State disposed of was worth over $20 million, and it was still functional. I don’t know why they had to sell it off in order to acquire a new one. It takes between $5 million and $10 million to keep an aircraft flying in a year. The insurance costs a lot of money, not less than $500,000. Also, you must pay the pilot, and this is not funny. The fact is that the planes are for the convenience of the governors. What they should have done was to sign an agreement with an aviation company to fly them whenever they were on trips.” Another expert confirmed that an expatriate pilot earns as much as $8,000 monthly.

Engineer Isaac Balami, the President of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), explained to our correspondent on the phone that, “the checks (on aircraft) can be hourly or per calendar time. There are some checks that you must do on a daily basis. In fact, there are some checks that you must do as soon as the aircraft takes off and lands (a cycle of flight). You call them pre-flight or post-flight inspections.”

He also noted that “for the major aircraft, you also do checks after 250 hours of flight (1A inspection), and the checks would be done after every 250 hours and approved by the NCAA.

On maintenance costs, he explained that “it is difficult to say how much it costs to maintain an aircraft annually. But I can tell you, it is in millions of dollars over time. Because even the engineers who will do it, you pay them per hour or monthly. This is excluding parts and other things. So it is in millions.”

On the cost of hiring an air taxi, Engineer Balami explained that it depends on the aircraft of the company you are leasing from, the aircraft type and carrying capacity. If it is the aircraft that carries less than 10 passengers, it is between $6,000 to $10,000 per hour,” he said.

At the aviation school, he continued “we have the private licence and commercial license. The private license permits you to fly smaller aircraft, may be, aircraft that carries just six or seven people. Here I’m required to pass my exams and may have flown for about 50 hours alone successfully before I’m licensed to fly privately. But if I’m to fly commercially, I would fly for at least 200 hours successfully.”

Further checks with the Nigerian College of Aviation Technology, Zaria (NCAT) showed that to train for a private pilot license, one needed a minimum of five credits, Maths, Physics, Chemistry and English mandatorily, and a minimum of 18 months rigorous training, costing N7.5 million. All ages qualify for this, provided you are fit enough.

On maintaining a private airstrip, Balami also explained that the International Civil Aviation Authority is clear about all those things: “Private airstrips are allowed. Go to South Africa, you have over 5,000 airstrips. For instance, if I live in Ibadan and work in Lagos, if I can afford it, I can buy a small aircraft and have an airstrip and be flying to work. Also, some other people like flying as a hobby, but you must go through all the rigorous processes. There is nothing wrong with having my airstrip and small aircraft,” he said.

Commenting on the new trend, Mr Osita Okechukwu of the Conference of Nigerian Political Parties (CNPP), described the new dimension as opposed to good governance.

He said, “Ownership of jets is far from genuine and pressing needs of all the states of the Federation, for there is no state in Nigeria free from gross unemployment, decayed infrastructure and failed social services. The craze for purchase of jets could be traced to unconscionable Food is Ready policy adopted from the Chief Olusegun regime, a regime whose motto was share the money and philosophy Food is Ready.

“The negative effect of ‘share the money’ is that most governors and other public officers are under the illusion that the funds are their personal money, which they can dispense with at their whims and caprices.

Mr Okechukwu argued that instead of buying jets and building airports, the funds should have been channelled into the construction of modern railways traversing north and south, Mambilla Power Plant, Coal Power Plant, refineries and other viable projects.

Other reporters  Chris Agabi, Ahmed Mohammed, Patrick Odey, Aliyu M. Hamagam, MHope Abah, Umar Akilu Majeri, Ismail Mudashir.

Category: Bauchi State News

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