Article written by Senator Ben Murray-Bruce:
On the 10th of May 2015, I tweeted the following “Left to me, we must sell the Presidential fleet. Public servants, including the President must only use made in Nigeria Peugeot as official car!”. I really believe what I tweeted and was overjoyed when the media reported that President Muhammadu Buhari had ordered the sale of nine presidential jets. My joy was however cut short when the Presidency denied those reports and said the president had not taken such a decision. Nigeria may perhaps be the only country in the world without a national air carrier whose presidential fleet is larger than many airlines.
This was wasteful in the years of our oil boom, but in this current dispensation of reduced income from oil, it actually makes no sense to maintain the presidential air fleet. Recently, I tweeted that we should start compulsorily teaching our youths entrepreneurial skills from primary school through university and when they graduate they should spend their National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) years in an entrepreneurial finishing programme and upon satisfactorily completing of the programme each corps member should receive N5,000 in the form of a bank guarantee to pay for setting up a Small and Medium Scale Enterprise (SME).
A youth who liked the idea tweeted back at me and asked me how Nigeria could pay for this.
Well, Nigeria presently spends on average N5 billion (5.3 billion in the 2015 budget) to maintain the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF). This is not the value of the fleet. It is just the amount used to maintain the 11 planes in the fleet. This amount can be used to provide business start-up grants of over five N500,000 to 10,000 NYSC members. So, in answer to Okikiola Raymond @DonOkizle, who is the youth who asked me that question, Nigeria can pay for it with the money we are currently using to maintain our PAF and other wasteful expenditures.
We need a common sense revolution and though I know it is not practical, I almost wish President Buhari would appoint a minister for common sense!
Does it make sense that our presidential fleet is larger than that of the Queen of England?
Does it make sense that our president flies to a G-7 meeting to ask for financial and technical assistance in a presidential jet that is either as expensive or more expensive than the planes that conveyed some of the G-7 leaders to Germany? Nigeria has failed woefully to wean itself from oil and we really should begin taking drastic measures to wean ourselves otherwise we will suck mother Nigeria dry and then what! I always fly Arik to any destination I am headed. The only exception is where Arik does not fly that route.
Many people will be surprised to note that Aliko Dangote, the richest black man on planet earth, flies Arik just as I do. Yes, Arik has challenges, but those challenges are not insurmountable and they will be better able to surmount them if you and I patronise Arik. I do not have a single share in Arik, but I have stakeholder interests in Nigeria and Arik flies the Nigerian flag. When our big boys buy a British Airways ticket, they are helping to service the British economy and pay for salaries there. That money leaves Nigeria and circulates in England where it helps shore up the value of the British Pound Sterling.
Let me tell you of an experience I had. I once flew from Paris to Abuja (Arik doesn’t fly that route) on an Air France flight. An air hostess approached me and asked me to join their Frequent Flyer programme where upon I asked her if it was similar to British Airways’ programme. I was taken aback when she began appealing to me not to fly BA but stick to Air France. She brought her colleagues and they gave me gifts on board and ensured me they would look after me if I continued to fly Air France. This is the behaviour of people who love their country. They believe in her and sell her and promote her to others even where it does not bring any specific pecuniary interest to them.
I appeal to President Buhari to sell off our presidential jet and in addition to that he should consider issuing an Executive Order mandating all government officials to fly Nigerian airlines except in those cases where a Nigerian airline does not fly to the destination in which they are headed. President Buhari should take a cue from President Joyce Banda of Malawi who not only sold off that country’s presidential jet, but also sold off 60 Mercedes Benz limousines attached to her Presidency. So impressed was he by President Banda’s move that Andrew Mitchell, the UK International Development Secretary, immediately handed over 32 million pounds of British Aid to her government.
Malawi had only one presidential jet and 60 Mercedes Benz limousines. Nigeria currently has at least 11 presidential jets and hundreds of Mercedes Benz cars in her inventory. These are depreciating assets that add value to only a few people at the top. If we do the commonsensical thing and sell off these luxury items and apply the savings towards developing the entrepreneurial skills of our youths, we will spark off a revolution that will see our youths re-channelling their minds and energies away from Boko Haram terrorism, kidnapping, pipeline vandalism, Internet fraud into positive endeavours like enterprise and innovation.
Asked about her decision to sell off her presidential jet, Mrs Banda said “I can as well use private airlines. I am already used to hitchhiking”. That is a leader! She cuts her coat according to her nation’s cloth not according to its size. This is the best advice for Nigeria at this point in time. We can take it or we can continue to spend billions maintaining our Presidential Air Fleet!
• Senator Murray Bruce is the senator representing Bayelsa East and is the Chairman of the Silverbird Entertainment Group