Another luxury Nigeria cannot afford, By Majeed Dahiru

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The first indication that Nigeria’s apex political leadership is about to take their insensitive profligacy to an all time high was when news filtered in that the National Assembly is considering making budgetary provisions for the purchase of a new presidential jet for the use of the President Ahmed Tinubu. According to reports, the current presidential fleet of about a dozen aircrafts has aged and the aero safety and security of the number one citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can no longer be guaranteed. Considering the current economic crisis that has plunged Nigerians into an all-time low socio-economic destitution, poverty, hunger and misery, I had thought that this was a humourless joke. But what started as a joke that is not funny may be becoming a cruel one.

In an exclusive report by Premium Times Newspaper, it was revealed that the Nigerian government is already making a bid for an Airbus A330 luxury aircraft. This aircraft was said to have been repossessed one from an ‘’unnamed’’ Arabian business man, who used it as a collateral for a loan from a German bank after he defaulted on his repayments obligation. Now in the possession of L&L International LLC, an American aviation company, this ‘’tokunbo’’ aircraft is said to be worth about $600 million [N902, 000,000,000], While the Nigerian government is reported to have offered about $100 million [N150, 450,000,000]. With a rubber stamp National Assembly waiting to return the favour of having their budget for luxury SUVs worth hundreds of millions of naira approved the executive branch; President Tinubu may soon be flying round the world in a luxury Airbus A330 luxury aircraft as soon as his government strikes a deal with the sellers of the second hand aircraft.

In addition to his refusal to cut the cost of governance, reduce waste, shun profligacy and tame corruption after he removed subsidy on petrol, devaluation of the naira, raising tariffs on electricity and imposing all forms of levies and taxes on the citizens, President Tinubu has raised the bar of insensitivity and leadership irresponsibility when he even contemplated the thought of buying a new presidential jet for his use at this time in Nigeria. Whereas, the economic policies or should I say idiocies have created an unprecedented levels of economic problems that have culminated into a cost of existence crisis that President Tinubu appears clueless about how to resolve, the official squandering of Nigeria’s limited financial resources has continued in a manner that clearly shows that Nigeria’s political leaders are like drunken sailors in charge of a sinking Nigerian ship of state.

The high point of President Tinubu’s calamitous economic policies, is that whereas, it has driven the cost of existence to the highest in living memory through out of the roof inflation, the devaluation of the naira in addition to the prevailing inflationary rates have combined to erode the finances of government leaving it high on what Prof Soludo terms the ‘’money illusion’’. This most far reaching effect of this money illusion is that President Tinubu’s government is unable to pay Nigerian workers even ‘’existence wage’’. It is currently lost at sea as to how to navigate its finances to arrive at a minimum wage of that is overdue for a review. While he has not been able to resolve the issue of the much needed upward review the national minimum, which currently stands at $19 [N30, 000] a month, President Tinubu is prioritising the purchase $600 million luxury aircraft for the use of the first family.

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I have heard arguments about the projection of the image and might of the Nigerian state through the acquisition and use of a prestigious presidential aircraft for the Nigerian leader. I have also followed the arguments on the aero safety and security of the President hence the need to replace Nigeria’s aging fleet of presidential aircrafts. Some have also talked about foreign engagements that are needed to attract Foreign Direct Investments [FDIs] into the local economy with all the accompanying benefits to the Nigerian people. And public opinion seems to be divided between President Tinubu’s needs and wants in the on-going debates about the desirability or otherwise of this expensive venture.

However, at the foundation of this argument is that Nigeria cannot afford the purchase of a new luxury presidential aircraft as it is a want that is not needed by President Tinubu in the Nigeria he has created in the last one year. And to project the image and might of Nigeria will not require a luxury presidential jet but a productive economy that has ensured peace, security and prosperity at home. a leader will not be judged in the international arena by the high cost of his luxury jet by the high standard of living of his citizens back home.  A leader who appears in the international arena with luxury jets but is unable to a pay a living wage to his impoverished, hungry and miserable citizens will be likened to an irresponsible father of hungry, naked and unsheltered children who is riding in a luxurious Mercedes Benz car around town attending parties.

Whereas, President Tinubu and governors of the 36 states have embarked on costly foreign trips in the last one year, the inflow of FDIs have declined significantly as a result of the impossible business environment that has been worsened by the current administration’s policy directions. Clearly, a president does not need to fly a presidential jet to attract FDIs; rather what is required is for him to sit down at home and do the hard work of heavy lifting investments in enabling structures and institutions that can clear the way for both local and foreign investors to thrive. In a report by the Punch newspaper in January 2024, it was revealed that about 14 states are said to have spent N24 billion between 2021 and 2023 on foreign trips of their respective governors without attracting a single FDI. These states include, Cross Rivers, Bayelsa, Borno, Bauchi, Zamfara and Benue.

 According to the World Bank,’’Net FDI inflows are negative, reflecting net withdrawals of equity foreign investors. FDI and FPI flows into Nigeria do not compare favourably with similar economies of the world, reflecting  difficulties with FX availability, security concerns, and other structural challenges in recent years’’.  And yes, despite the many trips of President Tinubu in the last one year, no significant FDI inflow has been recorded, rather his economic policies are suffocated pre-existing FDIs out of Nigeria in ways that cannot be remedied by an Airbus A330 luxury aircraft.

And now that the aging presidential fleet has raised safety and security concerns this is the time to do what should have been done a long time ago; sell of the aircrafts and disband the presidential air fleet to save the country the cost of its maintenance. The presidency of a poorly governed and thoroughly mismanaged country such as Nigeria that is home the largest number of poor people in the world does not deserve and cannot afford a fleet of aircraft for the use of its leaders and their family. President Tinubu should use this opportunity to show a good example of how to sacrifice in the face of economic down turn by not only disbanding the presidential fleet but also jettisoning the idea of replacing them with new aircrafts. The recent crash of the Iranian president’s helicopter and Malawian vice president’s air crash clearly shows that presidential aircrafts are not immune from air mishaps.

Therefore, President Tinubu should henceforth fly commercial airlines whenever it becomes absolutely necessary to travel. And in flying commercial airlines, President Tinubu neither chatter private jets nor fly first class as these are luxuries a country that is unable to pay above $19 a month minimum wage to its workers cannot afford.

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