Reps push for new planes for Tinubu, Shettima

Reps push for new planes for Tinubu, Shettima

The federal government will soon buy new aeroplanes for the use of President Bola Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima, if the recommendations of the Committee on National Security and Intelligence in the House of Representatives get the nod of the Presidency.

A report by the Premium Times revealed that the committee made the proposition in a report issued after its technical subcommittee conducted a hearing on the status and airworthiness of aircraft in the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF).

The report was signed by the committee’s chairperson, Ahmed Satomi (APC, Borno), and the clerk, Makwe Eric.

Some lawmakers say the document has since been forwarded to the presidency for action.

“The Committee is of the strong and informed opinion that considering the fragile structure of the Nigerian federation and recognising the dire consequences of any foreseen or unforeseen mishap that may arise as a result of technical/operational inadequacy of the Presidential Air Fleet, it is in the best interest of the country to procure two additional aircraft as recommended,” the report, exclusively seen by Premium Times, read in part.

But Daily Trust reports that indications of the plan to buy new aircraft for the president and vice president came to the fore as early as February this year.

One of the reports by this newspaper published on February 20, 2024, quoted some credible sources as  saying that the federal government was tired of spending humongous amount of money in maintaining the aircraft in the fleet. 

A senior official familiar with the maintenance of the presidential fleet said that between the routine maintenance and purchase of parts, the aircraft had been guzzling huge amounts of money.

The source said it was not a new trend as it had been going on for a while, making the erstwhile Presidential Air Fleet Commander, AVM A. A. Yaro to recommend that the aircraft should be demobilised.

But other sources told our reporter that those around President Tinubu were not unmindful of the backlash any move to buy new aircraft for the presidential fleet would cause, considering the economic downturn in the country, as millions of citizens battle every day to feed owing to impacts of some of the reforms of the current administration. 

The Air Force 001, being used by President Tinubu, is a 737 Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) bought during the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the cost of $43 million.

Boeing began the production of the BBJ in 1998, and it initially cost $36 million for the unfinished aircraft. It now sells for about $41 million for a used one and $71 million for a brand new aircraft.

About a month to the expiration of the tenure of former President Muhammadu Buhari, the aircraft was sent for a comprehensive maintenance ahead of the inauguration of the Tinubu government.

Sources privy to the operation of the presidential fleet confirmed to Daily Trust that the aircraft had amassed over $5 million in maintenance bills, constituting nearly half of the over $10 million liabilities inherited at the presidential fleet.

The Reps committee’s justification

While justifying their call for new aircraft for Tinubu and Shettima, members of the House of Representatives Committee on National Security and Intelligence said their recommendation was based on available facts.

“This will also prove to be most cost-efficient in the long run apart from the added advantage of providing a suitable, comfortable and safe carrier befitting of the status and responsibilities of the office of the president and vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the committee said.

According to the report, the presidential fleet has six aircraft: one Boeing 737, a Gulfstream G550, a Gulfstream GV, two Falcon 7Xs, and a Challenger CL605. The committee said three of the aircraft were unserviceable as of the time it conducted its hearing.

In addition, the fleet has six helicopters: two Agusta 139s and four Agusta 189s. The committee, quoting the current Commander of the Presidential Air Fleet, Olayinka Oyesola, an Air Vice Marshal, said the two Agusta 139s are currently unserviceable. 

The committee states that the president’s 19-year-old Boeing 737 is unserviceable and currently undergoing annual maintenance. Conversely, the vice president’s 13-year-old Gulfstream G550 is in good condition. 

Also, the Gulfstream GV is 23 years old and currently unserviceable. One of the Falcon 7Xs is serviceable, while the other is not. 

The Challenger CL605 is 12 years old and serviceable. The Agusta 139 helicopters, classified as unserviceable, are 17 and 18 years old, respectively.

In its recommendations, the committee said the cost of maintaining aged aircraft is high, leading to longer aircraft downtime and higher fleet running costs. The panel said buying new aircraft for the country’s top leaders is the best option.

Former President Buhari had promised to significantly reduce the number of planes in the fleet by selling off some of the aircraft. However, that did not happen. Instead, the government increased the cost of running the fleet by 190 per cent between 2016 and 2020, a report by Daily Trust in 2020 showed.

By 2022, the government stated that it was spending between $1.5 million and $4.5 million on each plane’s maintenance.

The Presidential Fleet and a heated debate

On March 23, 2024, the committee’s chairman, Satomi, moved a motion on the floor of the House to investigate the breakdown of planes in the presidential fleet.

He cited the reported malfunction of President Tinubu’s plane during a trip to the Netherlands and VP Shettima’s cancellation of a U.S. trip after his aircraft broke down.  

Some lawmakers, notably opposition members, vehemently opposed the motion. After heated deliberations on the matter, the House’s Deputy Speaker, Benjamin Kalu, who presided over the session, ruled that the motion should be withdrawn and asked Mr.  Satomi to exercise his committee’s discretion to probe the fleet’s status. 

On the 20th of May, members of the committee conducted an investigative hearing during which they received briefings from M. Galadima, a major general and director at the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA); the commander of the Presidential Air Fleet, Olayinka Oyesola (air vice marshall); M.M. Abdullahi, a group captain and the PAF fleet logistics officer.

Based on the submission from the ONSA officials, the committee resolved at the end of the session that the government should prioritize the president’s and other VIPs’ safety when overhauling the presidential air fleet.

The committee also constituted a five-member panel to liaise with ONSA to determine the status and airworthiness of all aircraft in the PAF. The panel completed its assignment on June 4, 2024, issuing a report that strongly argued for the replacement of the aircraft currently being used by President Tinubu and his deputy. 

The panel said a new aircraft “befitting the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria should be procured, taking into consideration the country’s leading role in the West African, African, and global scheme of affairs.” 

“That for ease of administration and in order to guarantee a secure and dedicated main and backup fleet for the office of the president at all times, it is recommended that a new aircraft akin to Air Force Two of the USA be procured for the office of the vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” the subcommittee added. “This can also serve the office of the presiding officers of the National Assembly, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, etc., as appropriate.”

The larger committee accepted those recommendations and has since forwarded its advisory to the presidency for necessary action.

There’re older aircraft in other climes

An aircraft engineer, who did not want his name in print, had told Daily Trust Saturday that: “Even the US president’s aircraft is older than our president’s. Is the US president not flying a 747? That aircraft (being used by the US President) cannot be less than 30 (years). You can actually put a brand new engine on an aircraft and it becomes new.

“Again, we must acknowledge that the president is an important personality. So, you cannot micromanage things for him. He deserves something better, but when we know the history and maintenance record of the aircraft, we can decide to say, ‘Okay, this is what we should do,’” the source said.