Aircraft For The President

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For many, Michael Jackson’s April 16 1996 song, “They Don’t Care About Us” which is part of his album, “History: Past, Present and Future,” would pass as one of his hit songs waxed to thrill millions of his fans worldwide. To the contrary, it is a protest song against racial injustice, poverty and corruption in government.

The song’s lyrics address various social issues, including police brutality, media manipulation, and the struggles faced by marginalized communities. The song’s title and chorus, “They Don’t Care About Us,” refers to the systemic indifference and neglect faced by many people, particularly those in the African-American community.

Widely regarded as one of the late Jackson’s most politically charged and socially conscious songs, its message remains relevant today and is archetypal perception of bad governance. As the debate in Nigeria over the purchase of aircraft for the president and vice president continues, I am reminded of the song’s message.

The government’s focus on taking care of those in power, rather than the masses, is a clear indication that they don’t care about the citizens they serve. Peter Obi, the Presidential candidate of the opposition Labour Party in the 2023 polls, has criticized the move to procure aircraft for the president, describing it as ill-timed and suggestive of the government’s indifference to the masses.

“At a time when our country is on the front page of global newspapers for facing its worst economic crisis, marked by high inflation, a falling currency, and widespread poverty, the government is contemplating buying new presidential jets. This demonstrates extreme insensitivity to citizens’ struggles,” Obi contended.

How much is enough?

But how many aircraft does a president needs? The Presidential fleet consists of six aircraft and six helicopters. The aircraft include one Boeing 737 (19 years old, currently unserviceable and undergoing maintenance); one Gulfstream G550 (13 years old, in good condition), one Gulfstream GV (23 years old, unserviceable); two Falcon 7Xs (one serviceable, one unserviceable), and one Challenger CL605 (12 years old, serviceable).

The helicopter fleet includes two Agusta 139s (17 and 18 years old, both unserviceable) and four Agusta 189s (no information on their condition).

It is true that some are unserviceable due to maintenance issues. Rather than rushing to recommend the purchase of new aircrafts. lawmakers should be asking probing questions about the fleet and its maintenance.

In a country facing huge debt burden, rising insecurity, poverty, hunger, and hardship, it is irrational to contemplate procuring a presidential jet instead of working out immediate and long-term measures to address these challenges. The leadership’s priorities are misplaced, and it is time for a true change.

But it seems there is something about public office in Nigeria that detaches one from reality. If not, why should anyone be talking about purchasing presidential jet at a time the nation is grappling with huge debt burden and the citizens are facing the worst hardship ever experienced in the nation’s history?

How come we have some aircraft that are unserviceable in the presidential fleet? Rather than rushing to recommend the purchase of new aircraft, is it not high time our lawmakers asked probing questions about the fleet that consists of 12 aircraft and helicopters, none of which is good enough?

Pay back time

It is not surprising that the move to purchase the jet is spearheaded by the lawmakers who insisted that the purchase was a necessity. This shows a disconnect between the government and the people, and is seen as a payback gesture by lawmakers who have benefited from the executive’s approval of N57.6 billion for the purchase of SUVs.

True to type as one knows the Nigerian government, it is likely that in the days ahead, the nation would wake up to welcome the arrival of newly purchased jets for the president and his vice in addition to the already bloated presidential fleet.

Nigerians who view the latest move by the lawmakers as a pay back time cannot be faulted considering the fact that the executive extended similar gesture to the lawmakers not minding the condemnation that trailed its decision at a time Nigerians were grappling with economic difficulties.

Nigerians can make all the noise they can. It won’t change anything because these people don’t listen. If they do, we wouldn’t have been leaving with the fact that billions of naira was spent buying sport utility vehicles for members of the National Assembly. If they do listen to public outcry, billions of naira wouldn’t have been expended on building, or was it completing, an official residence for the Vice President at this critical time.

Is it rational for a nation that is bogged down by rising insecurity, poverty, hunger and hardship faced by a significant percent of its citizens to be contemplating purchase of a presidential jet instead of working out practicable, immediate and long term measures of addressing these challenges?

The decision to procure additional jets shows clearly that there is a disconnect between the government and the people. It is either those governing us don’t know the enormity of the hardship the citizens are facing or they don’t really care about us! It is ironical that having slipped to the not so palatable position of the fourth-largest economy in Africa, with a GDP of $252bn amidst a per capita income of $1,080, in the face of a huge debt burden and borrowing to service debts, we have no qualms contemplating purchase of new jets for the president and the vice president.

I can bet with my last kobo that the nation is dealing with a leadership that thinks more about what benefits it as a group than what serves the collective good of the citizenry. Rational thinking presupposes that with the prevailing situation of inflation and economic hardship, rising poverty, insecurity among other negative indices, leadership should prioritize effective resource utilization.

While they talk about purchasing jets among other needless expenditures, let’s remind them that they have not done enough. And here is why. When they came in, Nigeria was number one in terms of size of economy, now it is projected to be number 4. The government inherited an inflation rate of 22.41%, now it is 33.95%. Last year the food inflation was

24.82%, now it is 40.66%. They met an exchange rate at about $1/₦633, but took it to $1/ ₦1,473. The monetary policy rate was 18.5%, now it is 26.25%. At exactly one year ago, the foreign reserves stood at $34.66bn, now it is $33.20bn. This is not a good record!

Certainly, contemplating the purchase of presidential aircraft like the purchase of SUVs for lawmakers and the spending of N15bn to complete the VP’s residence, among other similar expenditure, does not present the current leadership as being deliberate with resource allocations. Instead of using money that ordinarily should have been channeled to addressing some more pressing needs, why can’t the government dispose half of the presidential aircraft and raise money for the new purchase?
Whether government does that or not, one thing is certain: they don’t really care about us.