The Chairman of the Coalition of Civil Societies Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), Lanre Suraj, has said President Muhammadu Buhari must pay for the use of the presidential jet by his daughter. He described it as a gross abuse of office on the part of the first family.
Buhari’s daughter, Aisha Hanan Buhari, who flew in a presidential jet to Bauchi on Thursday, was on a “study tour” of Bauchi Emirate as part of her fieldwork for her ongoing Master’s programme in Photography at the same institution, PREMIUM TIMES has learnt.
The president’s daughter recently graduated with a first class in Digital Photography from Ravensbourne University, London.
Many Nigerians including the President of the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC), Ayuba Wabba, have criticised the president for “flouting his own touted policy on cutting cost of governance,” by allowing his daughter to fly the jet.
The president had in October 2019, reeled out fresh rules on the schedules of foreign trips for heads of ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) including his cabinet members. He also cancelled first and business class air tickets for some category of officials.
The measure, according to the presidency, was to reduce the cost of governance and shore up the country’s dwindling revenue.
A top government official in Bauchi State, who asked not to be named, said Ms Buhari was on a study tour in the state as part of her academic programme at the London university.
“Yes, she was in Bauchi on a personal visit. She was here for an assignment from school on Bauchi Emirate. She was received at the airport by both the wife of the Governor of Bauchi State, Hajia Aisha Bala Mohammed, and the commissioner for women affairs, Hajia Hajara Gidado.”
Ms Buhari, who completed her first degree in June 2019, was part of the university’s convocation ceremony on December 4. She then had her field work for her project in Kebbi State, where she researched into the Gwandu emirate.
NLC, CSNAC kick
In his reaction to the development, Mr Wabba said Nigeria would not change for good until “we change the way we do things.”
The labour leader said it is unfortunate that the president’s daughter could fly a presidential jet at a time many states have not been able to pay the new minimum wage. He said the development is not only condemnable but also demands probe.
Mr. Wabba said: “Certainly such cannot be good governance best practice. In many countries, even prime ministers use only one vehicle and probably one back-up car. Switzerland is one of the richest countries in the world, but their prime minister uses only one vehicle, and in most cases you don’t see these retinue of vehicles following them. Across many jurisdictions, you don’t find what is happening here taking place there. But in every facet of development, they are better than us. So our problems are actually human-made and not acts of God.
“Our problem is not the lack of resources but we are channeling our resources to the wrong directions, and so the issue of inequality has continued to widen between the poor and the rich. That is why we cannot provide for our teeming unemployed youth, our industries are not performing because we don’t have the conducive environment to stimulate the necessary growth. Many countries actually produce what they eat but our major problem which we have continued to emphasise is the lack of good governance which borders on rule of law and cutting down the cost of governance.”
On his part, the Chairman of the Coalition of Civil Societies Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), Lanre Suraj, said the president must pay for the use of the presidential jet by his daughter. He described it as a gross abuse of office on the part of the first family.
“Even President Obama and his wife when they went on a private visit using presidential jet, they had to pay out of their pocket. In this case, it can only be tolerated if the daughter had travelled with the father while the father was on a journey to the same location at the same time. Anything outside that is an abuse of office, and the father should actually pay for that trip from his allowances,” Mr Suraj said; adding that, “We cannot afford to revert to that level of degeneracy we had experienced in the past.”
Mr Suraj said as against the president’s acclaimed Spartan lifestyle, his cousin, Mamman Daura, was once discovered to have been living in the presidential villa.
“That was equally an abuse of privilege because the villa is mainly for the president and his immediate family.”
What the law says
A human rights lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, has said he is unaware of any law governing the use of the presidential jet.
He, however, noted that as an appurtenance of the office of the President, there are provisions of Nigeria’s criminal law that criminalizes the use of the seal of the president or governor for anyone other than those elected into the offices.
He said; “For the daughter of the president to use presidential jet on a private tour is an abuse. But as I have said, I’m not aware of any law regulating it. However, there should be protocols for such purpose. For example, will it be permissible for children of the president to be moving around with the presidential limousines or cars? That will not be permissible due to security implications and for the dignity of that office.
“You must be aware that even the presidential jet has the seal of the president on it. So does it mean the daughter should be using a facility dedicated to the president without the president on board? That was why the use of presidential jet by Asari Dokubo from Benin Republic to Nigeria sometimes in the past generated a fury.
High cost of maintaining Presidential Fleet
In his 2020 budget, President Buhari proposed to spend a total of N1.492 billion on the upgrading of some of the aircraft in the Presidential Air Fleet. The sum, according to the budget, is apart from other proposals for the overhaul, maintenance and running cost of the fleet.
As captured under the budget of the Office of the National Security Adviser, the Presidential Air Fleet is expected to gulp about N8 billion in 2020.
The allocation contains what is termed mandatory upgrade and installation of live TV, compliance with mandatory upgrade and installation of Internet service, provision of aviation fuel and lubricants, among others.
The president had in the past complained of the high cost of maintaining the fleet, and planned to sell off some of the aircraft but the idea seemed to have been jettisoned. He, however, donated two of the aircraft in the fleet to the Nigerian Air Force.
Presidency justifies use
When asked for his reaction to the development in a telephone interview, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina, said he could not hear this reporter clearly on the phone and suggested a text message was sent. However, hours after the message was sent, Mr Adesina failed to reply and never picked his phone again.
On his part, Mr. Adesina’s counterpart, Garba Shehu, initially said he was unaware of the development and so could not comment until Monday, January 12. He has since told other media houses that Ms Buhari, like any other member of the president’s family, is entitled to the use of the presidential jet.
He was quoted by Punch newspaper to have said; “It’s true that a member of the First Family was flown to Bauchi yesterday on a mission duly authorised. It wasn’t an impromptu or improper trip because it followed normal procedure. The Presidency informed the National Security Adviser of the mission who in turn informed the Commander of the Presidential Air Fleet.”