Rowdy session as Reps move to probe breakdown of presidential air fleet

 There was mild drama on the floor of the House of Representatives on Wednesday as lawmakers expressed grave concerns over use of chartered flight for the President and Vice President, despite multi-billion naira budgetary allocations approved for maintenance of Presidential fleets on yearly basis.

The motion was sponsored by Chairman, House Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Hon. Satomi Ahmed.

The motion seeks to “investigate the airworthiness of all aircrafts in the presidential Air fleet to forestall unwarranted national tragedy.”

 While leading the motion, Hon. Ahmed said it was a great security risk for the Presidential Fleet to be having faulty aircrafts that will be forcing the President and Vice President to opt for commercial flights.

 “The House notes that the Presidential Air Fleet was formed to primarily provide rapid, safe and comfortable airlift for the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Vice President and other very Important Person(s) as may be directed by the President through the Office of the Chief of Staff to the President. 

 “The House notes also the Fleet are mainly at the behest of the Presidency, National Assembly (Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives), the Judiciary (Chief Justice of the Federation) or in some instances to pursue the foreign policy goals via the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

 “The House further notes that the Budget of the Presidential Air Fleet is under the Office of the National Security Adviser as appropriated yearly by the National Assembly.

 “The House is alarmed by the report on various media platforms particularly Sahara Reporters of 28 April 2024 that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu was forced to travel to Saudi Arabia on a chartered flight for the World Economic Forum in Riyadh from the Netherlands where he had gone for a series of economic and diplomatic engagements because the presidential Jet developed fault in the Netherlands. 

 “The House is further alarmed by screaming news reports of May 6, 2024 by Business Day, Punch Newspapers, Thisday Newspapers etc that a faulty Presidential jet which occurred on Monday, 6th May, 2024 has aborted Vice President Kashim Shettima’s trip to the United States of America for the 2024 US-Africa Business Summit In Dallas Texas. 

 “The House is aware that this report was corroborated in the press release by Stanley Nwokocha – Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Communications, Office of the Vice President, stating that the Vice President Kashim Shettima who was originally scheduled to represent the president was unable to make the trip following technical fault with the aircraft, forcing him to make a detour on the advice of the Presidential Air Fleet’. 

 “The House is disturbed that these occurrences pose a clear present and imminent threat to the life of the president, the Vice President and other Very important personalities who use the Fleet from time to time. 

 “The House is gravely disturbed that any calamity which may arise if these aircrafts are not immediately put into premium operational status has the potential not only to cause major upheaval to the stability of democracy in Nigeria but may also significantly affect the security and peace of the country.

 “The House is worried by the seeming laxity of the technical management of the Fleet to keep the aircrafts in optimum condition for the safety of the President, the Vice President and other VIPs despite the appropriations for the maintenance of the fleet by the National Assembly.

 “The House is determined to arrest this ugly situation in order to forestall any fearful tragedy that might pose an existential threat to the peace and unity of this country.”

 In his contribution, Deputy Minority Whip, Hon. Ali Isah while supporting the call for investigation of the state of the presidential aircrafts, said the development should offer President Tinubu the opportunity to travel by road to enable him understand the state of road infrastructure across the country.

 He said: “I think this will afford our President and other leaders the opportunity to travel by road and appreciate the state of our roads.

 “This happens all the time in some countries of the world.”

 In his intervention, Minority Leader, Hon. Kingsley Chinda argued that: “In Britain, the Prime Minister flies British Airways. I don’t see anything wrong with a public officer using commercial transportation.”

 Hon. Chinda further advocated the resuscitation of a national career as a way out of the embarrassment.

 After the motion was stepped down, Hon. Ahmed who addressed Parliamentary Correspondents, explained that the Committee will summon the National Security Adviser, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu to explain the condition of the Presidential Fleet.

He said: “I didn’t step down the motion because it lacks merit or support; it is because I have the power to summon the NSA and the Commandant of the Presidential Air Fleet, which is the prayer in that motion for them to explain. 

“The Vice President last week was one hour airborne when the aircraft developed a problem and had to turn back. As I speak to you this morning, he used a commercial flight to Kebbi, and the aircraft belongs to an individual. 

“That aircraft belongs to the country, that is why the presidential jet is called the ‘Air Force 1’. So therefore, it is a shame! 

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“When Mr. President wanted to leave from Riyadh to the United Kingdom, he used a chartered plane. In 21st century? No! Not Nigeria! Let’s be serious please.

 “Our fight defines our capacity and we have appropriated enough funds to my understanding for them to maintain these aircrafts.

 “So, that’s why I say the NSA should come and I want it to be public when he arrives. What is happening? We have all what it takes as a country not only to maintain the aircraft.”

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