Amaechi and PDP’s fad for private jets

Owning private jets have become a fad among PDP governors who have access to free state money and their rich friends in the oil and financial sectors. The only thing that has changed in the 13 years of PDP administration is our new status as the third or fourth nation with highest number of private jet owners in the world. Our record as a nation where about 80% of the citizens live below two dollars a day remains unchanged.

The curious thing however is that neither the presidency, said to control between 9 and 11 aircrafts in its presidential fleet, nor government body such as the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has been able to tell us the exact number of private jets owned or operating in Nigeria.

Forbes publication for instance claims the figure of privately owned jets jumped from 20 in 2007 to 150 in 2012. The Guardian, on its part, quoting a top official of the NCAA claims that the ‘ownership of the state-of-the-art jets in Nigeria had grown to over 200 in 2012 from 50 in 2008’. The figures of the Nigerian Institution of Estate Surveyors and Valuers, (NIESV), a body that insisted it is trained to assess properties, agrees with that of The Guardian.

But as far as the NCAA is concerned, there are only 10 private jets registered in Nigeria. According to Sam Adurogboye, the body’s spokesperson, all others including the Canadian-made Bombardier jet with US registration number N431CB, a gift to Ayo Oritsejafor, the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), are not owned by Nigerians because ‘they carry foreign registration credentials rather than Nigerian registration’.

The only fact not in dispute however is the claim by Bombardier, the

Canadian aircraft manufacturer that Nigeria ranks behind the United States, United Kingdom, and China among countries that top their orders for the supply of its aircraft type.

Tragically, the concern of ACN that has been behaving like a mourner who weep louder than the bereaved has been to defend Rotimi Amaechi.

First we are told, as if we didn’t know, that the grounding of his private aircraft by NCAA was “a glaring case of political witch-hunt”. Amaechi as a PDP star does not need Lai Mohammed or any outsider to tell him the consequences of anyone crossing the path of President Jonathan.

Amaechi as a veteran of many PDP family wars, starting with Obasanjo who insisted he was then not a PDP material for governorship, the verbal battle with inpatient Patience Jonathan over his demolition of houses for schools in Okirika, the Rivers and Bayelsa battle over disputed oil fields, and the ongoing battle of wits between him and the presidency over the chairmanship of the governor’s forum, knows his enemies.

Those who are setting him up against an unforgiving President Jonathan by attempting to sell his record of performance in power generation, infrastructural development and security in his state are only going to increase Amaechi’s nightmare. Such achievements count for very little among PDP leaders where ex-PDP governors who stole their states blind moved on to become senators, member of kitchen cabinet of a new president or received state pardon after an indictment by the judiciary.

In any case, Ahmed Gulak, the president’s adviser on political matters has summarised the PDP government position on one of its stars: “If you are a governor and you are flying a private jet, you must do it within the extant laws. There are laws governing the usage of private jets in this country and the world over and because you are a governor does not give you the license to flout the laws governing your country”.

I don’t think anyone should pick a quarrel with the presidency for saying ‘no governor is above the law’. Jonathan has after all, not said PDP governors and individuals including obstructive journalists cannot fly their private jets. I think it would have been more helpful if ACN had merely appealed to the presidency and PDP to live by their precepts.

But I think the Amaechi case has thrown up a more fundamental issue that should be of concern to Nigerians. This is why those defending him should look beyond personality and focus on what has become a national malaise. It is bad enough we have some Nigerians who acquired their private jets by exploiting government weak institutions, some ‘self proclaiming’ prosperity prophets who buy theirs through exploitation of fears of their congregation and through sales of grace to fraudsters, but it is a national embarrassment when there is no one to call to order our elected political leaders who junket around the nation while those they were elected to serve wallow in poverty.

It is therefore a disservice to the nation for anyone attempting to separate Amaechi, a man who in spite of his disagreement with his PDP family shares the same PDP predilection of freely spending the taxpayer’s money as if they are answerable to none.

It is on record that Rivers State owns an AW139 helicopter, which it leased to a commercial airliner. It is also on record that Rivers State sold its Embraer Legacy 600, claiming it was too expensive to maintain. It has also been said that Rivers State government last year sold its Dash 8-Q200 aircraft to Cross River State for $6 million which the later then leased to Aero Contractors to undertake commercial flights to and from Obudu airstrip. It was also reported by the authoritative Guardian on October 7, 2012 that Amaechi acquired a brand new Bombardier Global 5000 (N565RS) from Bombardier Canada for $45.7 million (N7.3 Billion) through the Bank of Utah Trustee account.

Defenders of Governor Amaechi should tell Nigerians what the poor people of Rivers State who coughed out N7.3b benefited from his last flight to Akure before being caught up in PDP family war often fought over sharing of posts and spoils of office. Perhaps they should also tell us the immediate benefits of the poor people of Taraba where Suntai Danbaba’s near suicide left five other Nigerians dead. The flight that led to the crash of a Nigeria Navy executive Augusta 109E helicopter, which killed Kaduna State Governor Patrick Yakowa, former NSA Andrew Owoye Azazi and four others, was not undertaken to better the lives of the poor who live on polluted waters of the Niger creeks or the people of Kaduna confronted at all times by religious and political strife arising from economic deprivations. Like Amaechi’s last flight in his state-of-the-art jet, it was undertaken to join presidential aide Oronto Douglas, a mere presidential aide who was burying his father. It is an embarrassment that while leaders of advanced economies use commercial flights for their official engagements, huge resources needed for development are tied up by PDP stars like Amaechi, Danbaba and their tribe joined by even fraudsters who clog our air space with private jets. Our greatest tragedy is that we have no leadership that can call them to order by leading by example.

In this regard, a cursory survey of the list of private jet owners as published by the authoritative Forbes will show very clearly that PDP has failed our nation. We have on the list some indicted by the House committee probe on privatization The report which recommended that some privatized firms fraudulently bought by these con men be returned to the state was buried by PDP and the presidency. On the list also are some of those involved in fuel importation scam that in a sane society should be in jail Both the Farouk and Ribadu committee recommendations were rubbished The favoured Aig Imokhuede’s report has been sabotaged by the presidency, PDP and the judiciary. And featured prominently on the list are also some merchants of ‘grace for sale’ patronized by fuel and financial fraudsters.

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