237-day medical trips: Despite Buhari’s pledge to cut cost, presidential fleet racks up N64.15b
• What Buhari’s 237-day medical trips cost taxpayers
• Landing, fuel, parking charges gulp over N1.1 billion
• Experts lament capital flight lost to medical tourism
President Muhammadu Buhari returned to the country on Sunday night, marking his 10th medical return trips from London, and 237 days of either treating or checking undisclosed ailments abroad in the last seven years.
President Buhari’s medical tourism record, which is unprecedented in Nigeria’s history, as well, costs the country in medical bills and operating cost of the Nigerian Air Force One (NAF 001) airplane.
The Guardian estimate showed that the trips already cost between N1.1 billion to N5.4 billion in sundry operational costs, including fuel, landing and parking charges.
Stakeholders reckon that the presidential extravagance is fueling steady rise in the yearly budget of the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF) – contrary to President Buhari’s pre-2015 promises to cut running cost of presidential jets.
Indeed, the President has since 2016 been taking care of himself, religiously. Records show that between February 5, 2016 when he took the first vacation and on Sunday that he returned, there had been a total of 10 such visits to London with the President passing 237 nights.
Recall that after six days of vacation in February 2016, President Buhari left Nigeria to treat an ear infection on June 6, 2016. It lasted 13 days. On January 19, 2017, he wrote to the Senate on taking a 10-day vacation in the United Kingdom. Though the vacation was expected to start on January 23, 2017, President Buhari left for the UK same day. He did not return until 51 days after.
Barely two months after he returned, on May 8, 2017, he travelled to UK for medical attention with handlers asking “Nigerians to pray for him.” He remained in the UK till August 19, 2017, spending 104 days. On September 21, 2017, he made a detour from the U.S. to UK on medical grounds. He was there for four days.
Again, President Buhari returned to UK for medical reasons on May 8, 2018, where he spent another four days. The stay was longer in March 2021. He was there for 15 days, having “routine medical check-up.”
In July 2021, he travelled from an education summit to medical treatment, lasting 14 days. On March 6, 2022, the President jetted out to London for a two-week medical trip, which lasted 12 days. He just arrived from another 14 days ‘medical’ excursion in UK.
On each of the visits and vacation, he was accompanied by the Nigerian Air Force 001 (NAF 001), the official carrier of Mr. President. NAF 001 – a Boeing 737-700NG Business Jet (BBJ) – routinely attracts cost on fuel and sundry charges at the Luton Airport in London.
Findings show that to power the massive jet on a six-hour travel-time to London requires approximately 42,000 litres of fuel. At the current rate of N700/litre, each return trip did cost N58.8 million; a whopping N588 million in over 10 trips.
Luton’s Charges and Condition of Use manual for 2022/23 has breakdown of some attendant charges, including landing and parking the BBJ. Aircraft parking charge, per minute, is estimated at £0.042 per tonne.
With the BBJ weighing an average of 70 tonnes, it costs £4.233 (or N2.21 million @N521.48/£) each day, and cumulatively £1.00 million (N523.23 million) in 237 days.
Each landing is estimated to cost about £336.07 (N175.250) and cumulatively N1.75 million. Fuel, landing and parking charges account for a total of N1.11 billion.
Other sundry charges at the airport include navigational service charge, night operation charge, police services charge, CAA Aviation security charge, new security equipment charge, ground handling changes that may be as high as £5000, engine run-up bay charge, stand de-icing charge, marshaling charge and technical wash charge, among others.
Former Commandant of the Lagos Airport in the 90s, Group Capt. John Ojikutu (rtd), said at an average cost of N1 billion to N5 billion, including crew feeding and accommodation, “it is still tolerable, except there are reasons to believe that there are officials exploiting such trips.”
Ojikutu noted that the scenario did play out during Obasanjo’s administration, where an official was inflating Mr. President’s travel expenses and later got fired.
“Can such still happen today? Yes, and probably worse. Does Buhari know? I doubt that very much,” he said. Aviation enthusiast, Sunday Olumegbon, viewed the record differently. He said Buhari’s medical tourism footprints are “landmark and immoral.
“Constitutionally, he is at liberty to receive medical care wherever he likes. However, this is a President that promised Nigerians in 2015 to cut the cost of the presidential fleet once he comes to power. He came to power but he did not keep his promises, instead the cost started increasing. Interestingly, he has turned out to be the biggest beneficiary of the fleet, jetting out of the country at will. It is self-serving,” Olumegbon said.
A check did show that the budget for the presidential fleet has indeed been on the upswing in the last seven-year, except for that proposed for the finale, that is 2023.
On coming to power in 2015, President Buhari had ordered that the presidential fleet of 10 exotic airplanes be depleted to save cost. Two aircraft were put up for sale in 2016 but did not get buyers. However, the cost of managing the ‘depleted’ fleet continued to balloon.
In 2016, PAF was awarded N3.65 billion. From N4.37 billion in 2017, its vote rose to N7.26 billion in 2018. The 2019 budget provided N7.3 billion as fleet maintenance cost, and jumped to N8.5 billion in 2020. In 2021 and 2022, the Federal Government budgeted N25 billion for the fleet. For next year, the PAF has been awarded a reduced N8.07 billion.
Olumegbo said further, “worst is that, what has the President done to replicate in Abuja, Lagos or Daura, the type of hospitals he visits in London at our expense? Nothing. And in seven years, the only thing that has improved in this country is his health. That is the most selfish of any President.
“Note that his salary as president in eight years cannot foot the bills he has raked on receiving treatment in London. But he and his handlers have not seen any lesson in that. I think it is a big shame.”
In 2017, the Presidency had defended the retention of the aircraft in UK, citing national security and prestige accorded world leaders when they travel abroad. It also denied that the parking charge cost £4,000.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said “there is no world leader who travels abroad and is left without plans for immediate return or possible evacuation.”
The idling capacity, according to the Presidency, is in tandem with standard operating procedure and international protocol around foreign trips by heads of state globally.
The Presidency stated that the country’s Armed Forces as represented by the Nigeria Air Force could not therefore abandon the Commander-in-Chief in whichever circumstance he is in that country.
“For the avoidance of doubt, this President is not the first to have a presidential aircraft standing by for him, as he will certainly not be the last. All past heads of this country have had this privilege, and the part that surprises the most is that leaders who in the past travelled with three Nigerian aircraft did not suffer this trenchant criticism,” the Presidency noted.
The statement noted that, “aircraft conveying heads of state all over the world usually enjoy waivers even where payments for parking are differentiated by aircraft categories.
“We have been assured that where the waiver is not granted, payment will not exceed £1,000, which is a quarter of the amount being peddled,” the Presidency stated then.