Jonathan defends purchase of three presidential jets

President Goodluck Jonathan has advised those criticising his administration’s decision to acquire three aircraft to beef up the Presidential Air Fleet to be “constructive.”

Jonathan, in his first reaction to some Nigerians, political groups and civil society organisations that flayed the action, said his safety and the need to run the country efficiently ought to be considered first by them.

His comment titled, “The plane truth,” was posted on his twitter blog on Wednesday but sighted on Thursday by our correspondent.

Jonathan, who admitted that people were entitled to their opinions, said while the cost of the three jets might appear high, the price of good governance could not be quantified.

The blog reads in part, “The President of Nigeria, must be transported safely at all times. The cost may seem exorbitant now, but it would impossible to put a price tag on good governance and an efficiently run country; a promise that this administration is determined to deliver.

“Let us be constructive in our criticisms so that we do not inadvertently encumber the rebuilding of our nation.”

The Federal Executive Council had on August 11 approved $154m (about N23.07bn) for the purchase of two Falcon 7X and one Gulfstream G550 aircraft from Messrs Dessault Aviation of France and Messrs Gulfstream Aaerospace Corporation of the United States.

The first Falcon 7X aircraft is expected to arrive in Nigeria by the end of December, while the second is to be delivered in the second quarter of 2011. The Gulfstream G550 is also expected in the country by the second quarter of 2011.

The sum of N21bn was provided in the 2010 budget for the purchase of the three aircraft.

The Minister of Information and Communication, Prof. Dora Akunyili, had told journalists after FEC’s meeting in Abuja on August 11, that the council approved the purchase of the aircraft after considering a memo from Jonathan.

Although Akunyili did not disclose the number of aircraft in the PAF, information available indicates that the fleet comprised eight aircraft as at November 2009.

FEC had at the end of its November 25, 2009 meeting announced that the government had commenced a phased replacement of aircraft in the PAF.

The government explained on November 25, 2009 that the decision to drop some of the eight aircraft followed the discovery that they had become too expensive to maintain due to old age.

It said then that it had already booked slots for the purchase of two new aircraft in 2010, and another two in 2011 and 2012.

Dr. Mansur Muktar, who served as the Minister of Finance during the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua, had also told Nigerians that the new aircraft were not for the use of the President but for other principal officers of the government.

Muktar had said, “They are to be operated as a fleet and will be deployed appropriately to serve other purposes, especially serving principal officers of the Federal Government. This includes the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.”

Shortly after Akunyili announced the ordering of the three new aircraft, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Ima Niboro, reaffirmed Muktar’s claim on who would use the jets.

He said, “Note that it is not the President’s plane that is being changed. It is some old aircraft on the fleet that are being replaced.

“The fleet services the entire apparatus of governance from the Executive, the Legislature and the judiciary as well as certain levels of the security services and more.”

But Jonathan’s comment on his twitter page indicated that he might also make use of the new aircraft.

He made reference to his experience last month in Kampala, Uganda, where his aircraft made an air return after developing a fault. He described the incident as “undignifying.”

The President’s comment reads, “A national daily on August 12, 2010 had the following headline: “Governance cost rises, N21bn for three presidential jets” and it was immediately apparent that some people were less than impressed or indeed pleased with this development.

“This necessitated a statement from Mr. Niboro explaining that the expenditure was for the replacement of old aircraft in the PAF.

“Do people have the right to be indignant at such expenditure given the general state of affairs in the country? People certainly have the right to their opinions; after all we live in a democracy.

“Perhaps some insight would help give a balanced perspective of the situation. Let’s look at the whys and hows that may have led to the decision to purchase the new planes:

“One, the President’s recent outing at the just concluded 15th African Union General Assembly meeting in Entebe, Uganda encountered a setback on the return leg of the trip as the President’s plane had technical difficulties and this led to an undignifying compulsory layover until the problem was resolved. It is moot to point out the risk to the President and his aides under this circumstance.

“Two, the expenditure is based on earlier recommendations of the Airforce who is charged with flying and maintaining the planes. Also, the expenditure had been approved in the 2010 budget.

“Three, after the trying months, this nation faced during absence from office of the late President Yar’Adua, it is essential that our President can resume his duties in Nigeria when he is required to and most certainly should not be prevented from doing so due to technical problems with his transportation (in this case a plane).

Source: Punch Newspapers – www.punchng.com