Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Amaechi and Akpabio’s controversial new jets

November 7, 2012 by Editorial Board

The recent acquisition of private jets by the governments of Rivers and Akwa Ibom states is as reckless as it is highly insensitive. The massive waste of money is coming at a time when the rate of poverty and deprivation is worsening in the country. It is indefensible for state governors to add acquisition of jets to the life of luxury they are already known for. State Houses of Assembly should check such executive excesses.

The Rivers State Governor, Rotimi Amaechi, was reported to have taken delivery of a brand new Bombardier Global 5000 (N565RS) on October 7, 2012. Earlier in June this year, Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State also reportedly acquired a new $45m Gulfstream jet. Initial media reports indicated that the Rivers State government purchased the jet for $45.7m from Bombardier Inc of Canada for Amaechi’s personal use. But the state government later denied buying any new jet, claiming that the reported jet had been bought two years ago at a cost of $45m after trading off two older state-owned aircraft – Dash 8 and the Embraer jet.  It said the jet was not for Amaechi’s exclusive use.

The justification offers scant comfort.  It is difficult to defend this strange sense of priorities and the arrogant attitude on display.  In 2006, the United Nations Development Programme described the Niger Delta region, to which Rivers and Akwa Ibom states belong, as “a region suffering from administrative neglect, crumbling social infrastructure and services, high unemployment, social deprivation, abject poverty, filth and squalor, and endemic conflict.” The 2012 Niger Delta Development Forum report says, “There is empirical evidence to show that traditional approaches to poverty reduction have not resulted into sustained improvements, income and employment for the people of the region”.

The funds could have been better spent elsewhere. In addition, maintaining a jet will definitely be a constant drain on the public purse. The money, for instance, can repair a number of roads that have been washed away by floods in recent times. It can put smiles on the faces of the indigenes of over 100 communities ravaged by flood recently in different parts of Rivers State. It will rejuvenate many health and educational institutions begging for attention in the two states. It will go a long way in bringing about potable water and power supply, which the citizens desperately need. It will also provide decent and affordable housing to a good number of the citizens. Even if all the roads in the capital cities, Port Harcourt and Uyo, are paved with gold, (and this is not the case) what of roads in the rural areas?

What about further developing marine transport, which will benefit a good number of the people? It is said that water-related diseases and waste disposal practices constitute serious problems throughout the area. It is painful to note that the same Amaechi, earlier in the year, signed into law the controversial Governor and Deputy Governor Pensions and Fringe Benefits Bill 2012. The law stipulates that an elected former governor or deputy governor is entitled to a house each in Rivers and Abuja and a pension for life as part of their retirement benefits.

The profligacy is so sickeningly familiar. Is a Nigerian governor’s job schedule more challenging than that of the United Kingdom’s prime minister? What is the per capita income of Rivers compared with the UK’s? It is a tale of hubris and mismanagement that echoes in most of our states. In the North, fiscally irresponsible states are relying on the Federal Government to take about 10 million almajiri children off the streets. Despite the poverty and underdevelopment in the northern part of the country for instance, some of the governors in that region would rather spend their state resources buying sallah rams for some citizens, building worship centres and providing limousines and palaces for traditional rulers. These governors have not realised that they hold the resources of their states in trust for the people and should not in any way fritter them away.

Our profligate governors have only succeeded in exposing their poor governance performance to the outside world. A former United States Ambassador to Nigeria, John Campbell, wondered why Amaechi and others were obsessed with private jets when the King of Norway and the prime minister fly commercial airlines when they travel. Even Britain’s Prime Minister does not have official jets. He flies in chartered aircraft, sometimes privately chartered, but often he flies British Airways.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has sometimes, travelled in commercial airlines. It saves taxpayers at least $300,000 each time Cameron takes a commercial flight. Incidentally, while Norway, which produces about the same amount of crude oil as Nigeria, is among the richest countries in the world with one of the highest standards of living, Nigeria is among the poorest.

In Africa, Malawi’s President, Joyce Banda, earlier in the year, announced that she would sell her country’s sole Presidential jet and a fleet of 60 Mercedes Benz limousines. She said she would henceforth use private airlines instead. In the past, Nigeria has produced some selfless leaders who had the interest of the country at heart.  Such leaders as Murtala Mohammed, Aminu Kano, Tafawa Balewa and Michael Adekunle Ajasin, never engaged in lavish lifestyles at the expense of the citizens. These are leaders our wasteful governors should emulate. Our land is again hungry for them.

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