The Guardian
Email YouTube Facebook Instagram Twitter WhatsApp

Off-loading the presidential fleet


One of the jets in the fleet. PHOTO:

One of the jets in the fleet. PHOTO:

UNTIL 1999, the presidential fleet was under the control and supervision of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF). Before 1999, senior Air Force officers in their grey upon blue well-ironed uniforms were seen on the 11th floor of Federal Secretariat, which was then the office of the SGF, hanging around. But in June 1999, former President Olusegun Obasanjo transferred the fleet to be part of the schedule of the Chief of Staff to the President.

The argument was that the Chief of Staff, being conversant with the President’s itinerary, is in a better position to control the fleet adequately. I understand that the fleet is now under my friend, Col. Sabo Dasuki (rtd.), the National Security Adviser (NSA) whose loyalty and patriotism are never in doubt. Before 1999, the fleet was almost dormant for lack of use.

General Ibrahim Babangida (72) hardly travels outside the country, except to visit some states and Chief Ernest Oladeinde Adegunle Shonekan (79) whose tenure lasted less than 100 days, made use of the fleet only once when he attended the Commonwealth conference outside Nigeria. The second time he used the fleet was when he was overthrown and brought down to Lagos in company of Chief Dapo Sarumi.

General Sani Abacha hardly travelled outside Abuja, in fact during his era, pilots attached to the presidential fleet complained of under-utilisation, raising fears that they might lose their licences for not flying enough. In 1997, he made only five trips outside Abuja; in 1998, he made three trips, the fourth would have taken him to Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso on June 8, 1998 for the African Union Conference, the very day that he died.

General Abdusalam Abubakar, who spent less than 11 months in office, was too busy with his transition programme that he hardly travelled. He made four trips during his era, two to Niger Delta to inspect the oil spillage in that area. As for President Olusegun Okikiola Obasanjo, the Jagunmolu of Egbaland, he was a flying President. Even till today, when the presidential fleet is outside his control, he is still flying around the world. He loves to fly. That is the way he is. And the pilots attached to the presidential fleet loved him for that.

The presidential fleet still remains today the most important posting in the Nigerian Air Force. For example, the present Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshall Alex Sabundu Badeh, was a product of the Presidential Fleet, as he flew former Vice President Atiku Abubakar between 1999 and 2007 severally. Even the present Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Adesola Nunayun Amosu, was a product of the Presidential Air Fleet too. The Fleet has one of the largest aircraft in the world in comparison to other countries.

The British Prime Minister has no presidential aircraft. Members of the British government charter either British Airways or Virgin Atlantic most times. The government of Tunisia operates a Boeing 737 BBJ. An Airbus A340-500 has also been purchased and VIP-configured, but was never used for travel and has been stored since the 2011 revolution that ousted former dictator, Ben Ali. The Tunisian government is reportedly trying to sell both aircraft.

The government of Algeria operates an Airbus A340-500.
The Chief Executive of Hong Kong travels on commercial aircraft, usually operated by Cathay Pacific. He travels with helicopters operated by the Government Flying Service.
The Ivoirien government uses a Gulf IV as a VIP aircraft. A government Boeing 727-200WGL is also in service.

The State of Israel does not currently possess a specific jet for use of its Head of State. Wherever the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flies long distances (out of the country), the government leases an airliner from the state airline, El Al. Meanwhile, the President, Reuvin Rivlin, and other high-ranking dignitaries are relegated to El Al first class commercial service. As of 2014, the Knesset is considering the purchase of such an airplane dubbed ‘Israeli Air Force One’.

Kenya’s President has a Fokker 70 for use as the presidential jet. Fokker executive plane was purchased at a cost of $50 million. The 70-seater jet was reconfigured into telecommunications facilities. Prior to the purchase of the Fokker, the Kenya President primarily used Airways for his international travel.

The Saudi Arabian Royal Flight operates a Boeing 747-300 and a Boeing 747-400 for use by the King of Saudi Arabia.
The President, Prime Minister of Singapore and government officials typically travel on regular scheduled commercial flights run by Singapore Airlines. However, on rare occasions or short trips, government officials may travel on one of the few passenger-configured Fokker-50 operated by the Republic of Singapore Air Force.

The President of South Africa travels in a Boeing 737 (BBJ) operated by the South African Air Force’s 21 Squadron, which is based at AFB Waterkloof near Pretoria; the executive capital, i.e. the seat of the executive branch of the South African government.

The 21 Squadron also operates a fleet of two Falcon 50 and a Falcon 900B Fleet, 550/1 Citation 2, and a Global Express XRS is hired to escort the President on long flights as a back-up aircraft. The Falcon 900 is normally used by the Deputy President and high-ranking cabinet ministers.

The President of Zimbabwe travels in a charted Air Zimbabwe Boeing 767-200ER aircraft, which is part of the national airline’s fleet. Occasionally, the President will share the plane with commercial passengers on scheduled flights.
The Tanzania Government Flight Agency operates a Gulfstream G550 for VIP transports. There are two other VIP aircraft – a Fokker F-50 and F-28 for internal and regional destinations as well.

The President of Ghana flies on a Falcon EX 900 jet. The Botswana Defence Force operated a Gulfstream IV transport, but has since been sold and the Botswana Defence Force now operates a Global Express OK1. The government of Burkina Faso uses a special Boeing 727. A Falcon 900 has been added, and it is the type frequently in use now.

The Egyptian government operates an Airbus A340-200 as a VIP transport. The first presidential airplane was given as a gift from Saudi Arabia to Egypt.

The Pope is one of the richest and famous men on earth. He is the Head of the Catholic Church that has followership all over the world. Typically, the Pope flies on a chartered Alitalia fixed-wing aircraft when travelling to or from more distant destinations. Traditional protocol dictates that a Pope flies to a country he is visiting on a chartered Alitalia jet and to return on a jet belonging to a flag carrier from the visited nation; this may vary when he is touring multiple nations.

The Nigerian Presidential Air fleet is being maintained by over 10 billion Naira budget yearly. Poor states like Osun, Gombe, Ebonyi, Ekiti get less than two billion Naira every month from the Federal Revenue Mobilisation and Fiscal Commission as allocation. The presidential fleet is the third largest aircraft fleet in the country, coming behind Arik, which has 22, and Aero Contractors, which has 14. The Presidential Air fleet has 10 aircraft. They include two Falcon 7X jets, two Falcon 900 jets, Gulfstream 550,one Boeing 737 BBJ (Nigerian Air Force 001 or Eagle One), Gulfstream IVSP.
Others are one Gulfstream V, Cessna Citation 2 aircraft and Hawk Siddley 125-800 jet.

Each of the two Falcon 7X jets purchased in 2010 cost $51.1m, while the Gulfstream 550 costs $53.3m. However, airline CEOs put the average price of Falcon 900 at $35m, Gulfstream IVSP at $40m, Gulfstream V at $45m, Boeing 737 BBJ at $58m; Cessna Citation is $7m and Hawker Siddley 125-800 at $125-800 at $15m.

The question before us is, can we maintain the Presidential Air fleet in the face of our dwindling economy? The answer is no. The alternative is to sell some of the aircraft so as to reduce cost. It is even cheaper to charter planes for some of our top officials than to maintain the Presidential Air fleet as it is now.

The other angle is to let the Nigerian Air Force face other challenges, instead of the present rivalry among senior officers over postings to the presidential air fleet. I think we have many projects to tackle, besides the temporary comfort of our leaders. All these are for the consideration of the in-coming government of Major-General (rtd.) Muhammadu Buhari.

In his Essays of Innovation, Francis Bacon wrote: “And he that will not apply New Remedies must expect New evil; for time is the greatest innovator.”

Teniola, a former director at the Presidency, stays in Lagos.

Receive News Alerts on Whatsapp: +2348136370421

  • Kayode Jegede

    If the Presidential Fleet has ten aircraft, that is not to mean that the Presidency uses ten planes. I know that headship of the National Assembly and the Ministers have access to the fleet. A vast country like Nigeria with diverse interests and issues cannot but have many Aircraft. It is not luxury to use a Private Jet, but out of necessity. Apart from Corporate organizations, State Governments even individuals keep private jets for their use within the country. If the President-Elect does not have plans to travel, others with him will do. Lets thread with caution, please.

    • Truth Evolving

      What nonsense contribution. what a colossal waste of money.

    • FirecloudOFGOD

      The Queen charters her plane, so does the Pope. These assembly GUYS you are advocating for, who hardly passed more than 20 laws a year, earn over $1 million a year, they can afford to fly first class anywhere in the world1 They are there to serve and not be served whilst they milk the Nation dry!

      • honesty

        Thank you again, Some people think we are even richer than America .American law makers do not earn $1 million a year.

    • honesty

      There is too much poverty in the land.We cant afford 10 presidential jets. Nigeria is biting more than he can shew

    • Ola Abiodun Falade

      Bros Kay, shuoo! A ‘vast’ country like Nigeria. Hmmm…that’s really cool. Now how do you define the geographical land mass that is the USA or Russia, or China or India? Some of these nations have 2 or more time zones for crying out loud! Should the US Govt now rank 3rd position among the airlines in fleet acquisition in order to pander to the inordinate and insatiable taste of the few in governance? Should that be the case, bear in mind that not only does the US possess the financial clout to procure the aircraft in whatever quantum that takes their fancy, the requisite requirement for their maintenance would be sourced for in-country. In our case, the bulk of the N10b maintenance budget is gulped up abroad whenever these machines require mandatory ‘C’ or any other alphabetically tagged check. Remember, we are looking at fast diminishing foreign reserves and the weighty loads of internal and external debts bedevilling the nation. Mr Jegede, you strike me like one of the ‘others with him’ – the President-elect, who would have ‘have plans to travel’ even if the ‘President does not have plans to travel’. Should this be the case, that is, if you are one of these ‘others’, I am jittery and very concerned that we may have to start sourcing for more funds to procure additional luxury aircrafts. It is my fervent prayers that God Almighty would guide the President-elect and shield him from the hoards of ‘others’. Good day,sir.

  • Ola Abiodun Falade

    Sir, your analysis is right on spot. A N10 billion annual maintenance budget may well be a conservative figure if we have to contend with the huge number of government officials most whom with equally huge taste for good living particularly when the bills are to be paid from the commonwealth of the people. While it is important to accord the Office of the President the appropriate status it deserves, the process of retaining an maintaining the present fleet should be reappraised. A a matter of fact, number and type of aircrafts ought to be predicated on the President’s travel itineraries particularly in the area of his comfort and security. It is also necessary to define the key personalities in the Presidency that are statutorily entitled to the use of the aircrafts. When we say key personalities, we talk about individual office holders, excluding the retinue of aids, some of whose sole responsibility is passing on a folder to a principal or adjusting the chair to be sat upon. The current system whereby the aircrafts taxi on and off the runways ferrying all manners of officials to and fro wedding, burial and confirment of chieftaincy title ceremonies may actually require procurement of more of them. So, if we are concerned about the dwindling economic fortunes and genuinely seek to plug the perennial leaking drainage in the system, GMB must cut the cloth of the officials not according to their size, but to the size of the cloth. It would definitely endear the voting masses to him and convince them that it is one measure demonstrative of a deviation from the usual fixation on state, rather than people security. I suggest a maximum number of 3 aircrafts…..let them all work their schedules around these ones. Oh, a chopper should be added to the fleet to be used to ferry the President to and fro the airport. This would surely reduce the number of high octane guzzling SUVs and limos in the presidential convoys. God bless Nigeria.

    • honesty

      We are copying the developed world system of government .Can we honestly afford it ? Empty barrels makes the loudest noise In the advanced country you will see most of the government officials driving themselves. You hardly notice when a governor passes by. Nigeria !!!!!!! our value system must change. Can we still afford 3 jets? There is too much poverty in the land .

  • Kayode Jegede

    If the Presidential Fleet has ten aircraft, that is not to mean that the Presidency uses ten planes. I know that headship of the National Assembly and the Ministers have access to the fleet. A vast country like Nigeria with diverse interests and issues cannot but have many Aircraft. It is not luxury to use a Private Jet, but out of necessity. Apart from Corporate organizations, State Governments even individuals keep private jets for their use within the country. If the President-Elect does not have plans to travel, others with him will do. Lets thread with caution, please.

    • FirecloudOFGOD

      What? Lets thread with caution?

      – 10 dormant Presidential Aircrafts for a third world country!
      – Over 75 million youth unemployed!
      – Nigeria, the worst and most dangerous place to be born 2013 in the world!
      – Global average income is about $25 per person per day, in Nigeria, about half of our citizens live under $2 a day; on the threshold of poverty!
      – Two thirds of the population lives under or around $1.25 a day – in extreme poverty., and you want Nigeria to thread with caution whilst continuing to maintain 10 aircrafts at billions of Naira expenditure a year in the face of ALL these challenges?
      Where is the morality?

      • honesty

        Thank you 100times

    • honesty

      What caution?

    • Upbeat Tempo

      are you dense or just momentarily suspended the ability to think sensibly? What the hell does the speaker of the house or Senate president need a jet for? Are the country’s’ interests as diverse and strategic as that of the US Senate president? what sort of travel does he need to maintain a jet for that office for? where is he traveling so urgently outside Abuja that he needs to get there 20mins ahead of a commercial airliner speed that his schedule can’t be worked to accommodate such a need?

  • emmanuel kalu

    complete waste of money. the american president has two planes, and one for the vice president. why is it that in nigeria we are wasting money to maintain this fleet. by leasing a plane from commericial airline when in need, we would help promote local content. the govt of nigeria needs to understand that they are the biggest consumer, they should use the money and their demand to help grown local companies.

  • Rev

    Can you imagine…Another waste of money…As I have said, this is another indication that Nigeria, given proper leadership could have easily been the richest if not one of the richest nations in the world…
    How can the common and collective wealth of a nation, be so massively squandered!

  • Hajenu

    This is one of the absolutely silly mistakes of Jonathan. Every year, a new plane was added to the Presidential fleet! Patience. Had her own jet, David Mark sef! Buhari should clear out more than half of those jets and transfer the money to fund social services!

  • honesty

    I think Jonathan wanted to make sure every member of his cabinet has a jet.It is absolutely criminal.

  • RumuPHC

    The presidential air fleet is an unnecessary and uneconomic possession of the presidency. Owning and maintaining a large fleet of aircraft for the President and other govern ViIPs is not only expensive but also a distortion of sort to the fortunes of the civil aviation market as well as to the career plan available to top ranking NAF officers and personnel who operate and service the fleet.

    The cost to benefit ratio of a large presidential fleet like ours is untenable. A fleet valued at about $500m requiring close to N10bn as yearly running cost is certainly a drain on the meagre resources of a country where more than 70% survive on less than $2 a day. Furthermore this expenditure for the comfort and security of Mr President and other VIPs is unfair to tax payers especially if there are cheaper but safer alternatives to fly the president locally and on foreign trips.

    The amount wasted on the purchase of the fleet including running cost is the loss of our civil aviation sector. No wonder our airlines are perpetually indebted to financial institutions. The President and VIPs patronising commercial airlines will boost the
    profits of the aviation firms as well as help to improve service delivery including safety. Tax payers money will therefore help to improve the ability of the aviation sector to thrive and contribute further to the treasury.

    Rather than spend N150bn for the acquisition and operation of the presidential fleet for 10yrs, the FG may not need to budget more than N50bn over the same period for a more efficient way to fly our government VIPs on public assignments.

    An unduly high economic cost of the presidential air fleet is even the lesser of the evil if we consider the effect on the morale of senior airforce officers who are unfortunate not to be associated with this fleet. Apparently being part of the presidential fleet is now a stepping stone to Chief of Air staff. Close association with political leadership gives an undue advantage for promotion.

    Flying cargo or passengers has never been a top career choice for pilots in the airforce: it is more about flying fighters or bomber aircrafts. Obviously our top airforce officers are products of the more lucrative but professionally less demanding Presidential fleet rather than razor sharp tactical fighter command bunch. Role models of junior officers are therefore politically connected officers with villas in Abuja and London .

    Government resources are inadequate to sustain a large presidential fleet while our Airforce is too small to manage its operation without damaging consequences. The damage to the nation and professionalism in the military is not worth the services rendered to the presidency by a large fleet of jets. The presidential fleet should be scrapped and a much more sustainable and effective way should be adopted to fly Mr President and other VIPs within and outside the country.

  • GMB

    Buhari should select the best three aircraft and sell off the remaining seven ones

  • iranse

    Buhari do not need a single aircraft!. Let us start to buld up this antion from scrape. This can only be achieved if all is willing to sacrifice . Also, focus should be on other ministers to sell off such possesions like armoured vehicles, personal jets, etc. we should not allow ourselves to be cheated all over.