Within Abuja, Jonathan, Sambo, others fly in jets to official duties

President Goodluck Jonathan, Vice President Namadi Sambo and other top government functionaries are removed from the citizens’ daily challenges because even within Abuja, they fly in jets from one district to the other.  MUSA ADAMU witnessed one such trip from the Aso Villa to Mpape, a short distance from the Villa, and reports on the trend

In the course of plying my trade as a journalist, I have seen so many odd things.  But to think that President Goodluck Jonathan would hop into one of his many jets to Mpape a district just behind his Aso Villa was unthinkable.  But this is exactly what happened during the official inauguration of the Solar Power Project.  While I felt embarrassed, my colleagues, to say the least were not amused.

The President flew on a chopper into the village and I wondered why he could not make the trip by road so that Nigerians leaving there could see and wave to him and vice versa?

I also wondered most especially why he chose to fly instead of driving through the hilly, often crowded and rough road from Maitama into Mpape so that he would have the opportunity of having a firsthand knowledge of the road without intermediaries. I thought that the experience would have afforded him the opportunity of knowing the traffic situation that residents go through on a daily basis.

Why did he choose to miss the opportunity of extending the “Fresh Air” of his administration to the electorate in Mpape?  Or is it that the much mouthed “Fresh Air” is a mere mantra? Shockingly, some journalists on the entourage made excuses for Mr. President.

Some said it was un-presidential for him to drive on such a dingy road, others said it was not a good security measure for him to drive on the road. And yet others said it was better for the president to fly to neighbourhoods than shut Abuja for up to an hour whenever he’s going out of the Villa. “The Central Business districts and all routes that the president passes through are always locked down without any movement whatsoever. Not even ambulances and pedestrians are allowed to move as armed security personnel man all such routes”, the journalist observed and further raising another legitimate question: should the president lock down the city every time he comes out of the comfort of his Villa mansion?

This might not have been the president’s first time, even though I was witnessing it for the first time in Abuja. My first experience was in Omotosho, Ondo state, when Mr President went to commission the Omotosho NIPP plant.
Hours after we left our various Hotel rooms in Akure, Ondo state capital to converge there for the commissioning, Mr President arrived on two choppers to the venue.

By that action, Mr. President missed the opportunity of assessing the progress of work on the Benin-Ore express way; he had to depend on the Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, to tell him what he deemed important for the president to hear.  He also missed the opportunity of enjoying the bumpy ride on the express way. What a leadership!
Just the other day, the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, flew into Gwagwalada, an outskirt of the capital city, to attend an event organised by the Nigerian Atomic Energy Commission (NAEC). He deployed the services of two choppers for that occasion. He did not make the trip by road.

Again, the President of the Senate flies to his country home in Benue state in a chopper whenever he wants to spend the weekend at his now famous multi-million Naira golf course. This is in addition to a convoy of not less than five SUVs and other expensive cars that would ply the road to join or wait for him there.
By flying, Mr Mark carefully avoids the hydra-headed Mararaba-Nyanya gridlock experienced on a daily basis by other Nigerians on whose behalf he enjoins the pecks of his office. He misses the opportunity of being in a position to legislate on matters concerning that road from informed position.

Flying also saves him a ride on the snaky, hilly, and tortuous Akwanga-Lafia road which contract for the expansion was awarded to a nebulous construction company since 2013 and which work is still under construction. He does not have to queue up on end waiting to drive his way because trucks which could not make it up the mountain had broken down.
These examples have raised questions on the propriety of elections at all if those elected live differently from the electorate and in sharp contrast with leaders in other climes? Why does leadership in this part of the world mean enjoying the good things of this world to the detriment of the led?

The 2014 budget, currently before the National Assembly, contains provisions such as feeding costs of wild life in Aso Rock running into millions of Naira; billions for the renovation of the  president’s domestic conveniences; millions for the President’s feeding and so on. Yet, we were told how the economy would crumble if university lecturers’ demands for pay rise were met. Government also says it is not feasible to maintain N4, 000 social welfare allowances for unemployed graduates.
Writing on this line of thought recently, Denrele Animasaun, captures the thinking of our leaders and their idea of leadership when he enumerated the number of aircrafts on the presidential fleet and with yet a proposal in the 2014 for one more,

He said: For our President, one plane was never going to be enough. Our ten-plane President, if it is to be believed, is to add to the fleet for a procurement of a brand new private jet, which will become the Presidential Air Fleet’s (PAF) 11th aircraft. The PAF already boasts of two Falcon 7X jets, two Falcon 900 jets, Gulfstream 550, one Boeing 737 BBJ (Nigerian Air Force 001 or Eagle One), and Gulfstream IVSP.

“Others are one Gulfstream V, Cessna Citation 2 aircraft and Hawker Siddley 125-800 jet. The combined estimated value of the PAF is about $390.5m (N60.53bn).

“Imagine how  many  hospitals and schools  that can build, talk less of  the  amount  it  takes to  maintain  the  oil  guzzlers and  stand-by  crew  and  administration. To put this in context, the US president does not personally own a single plane but has access to two, yes, I said, two customised 747s. The UK Prime minister, David Cameron does not have a single plane; he often has to charter BA or Virgin Atlantic planes. So why can’t they emulate the US and UK?

“While the  masses are struggling  and  GEJ would,  like  many of us  believe  that he knows how  the  average  Nigerian feels. I think not.  He  has  not  got  a clue and  in fact he  is not in  touch   with  the  average  Nigerian.
“As a Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati said, in  defence of the president’s ten-plane: “A presidential jet is not difficult to identify. It bears a clear mark.” Yes, of course, one of complete incompetence and utter arrogance.  It shows their overblown level of self-importance and self-aggrandisement…”

Perhaps, even the rest of the world has started noticing our leaders’ lust for things that bear no direct value on our lives. Recently a Kenyan parliamentarian threw diplomatic finesse to the dogs and took to the internet to lampoon our president for gracing that country’s 50th independence anniversary with “seven private jets” apart from the one he flew in himself.
Also contributing, Executive Director, Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria (HURIWA), Emmanuel Onwubiko, decried our leaders’ penchant for luxury at the expense of other Nigerians.

“The use of private jets by politicians at public cost is outrageous and unacceptable.  The practice is a clear demonstration of the chasm between the rulers and the governed. The practice promotes corruption and economic crime and does not guarantee good governance.

“Nigerians must show a sense of outrage at the callousness of politicians and demand accountability and transparency from their leaders.  A nation without active followers is a failed state. Institutions for the enforcement of anti-corruption tendencies must be consolidated and legal framework against corruption and economic crime must be enforced.

“Whistle blowing must be institutionalised and patriots exposing corruption must be protected and encouraged,” he said.
Some people argue that it is an international standard practice for people occupying such lofty offices to travel that way; but wait a minute! Is it not also a standard international practice for these people to sell off some of their luxury toys after considering the weight of owning and maintaining such on the country? The Malawian President, Joyce Banda did it. British Prime Ministers do it, where on earth is this craze for opulence coming from?

What stops Nigerian leaders from shedding some of the pecks of their offices just so that they could be deployed to fixing our education, health and roads. Why is it only convenient to cite international standard practices when it suits them personally?

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