Aircraft in the Presidential Air Fleet are at the risk of being impounded by foreign creditors, Saturday PUNCH has learnt.
Findings indicated that the PAF was indebted to several service providers for various upgrades carried out on the 10 aircraft in the fleet to meet the required airworthiness.
The PAF provides secure airlift to the President, the Vice-President, their immediate families and other top government officials.
However, due to inadequate funding, it was gathered that some installations on the aircraft had again been postponed to 2023.
The PAF Commander, Air Vice Marshal Abubakar Abdullahi, who stated these in his budget defence presentation at the National Assembly, also complained that only N1.5bn was allocated for the maintenance of the aircraft out of the proposed N4.5bn.
The PUNCH had earlier reported that the budgetary allocation to the PAF had risen by 121 per cent in eight years.
Findings indicate that the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had since 2016 allocated N81.80bn for the PAF maintenance and foreign trips.
The amount includes N62.47bn for the operation and maintenance of the PAF, N17.29bn for foreign and local trips, and N2.04bn earmarked for other related expenses.
The Presidency has maintained 10 aircraft since the inception of the Buhari regime in May 2015.
They are Boeing Business Jet (Boeing 737-800 or NAF 001), one Gulfstream G550, one Gulfstream V (Gulfstream 500), two Falcons 7X, one Hawker Siddeley 4000, two AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters and two AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters.
Though Buhari promised to reduce the size of the fleet as part of his pledge to cut the cost of governance, checks revealed that his regime had failed to live up to this promise.
However, the National Security Adviser, Maj. Gen. Babagana Monguno (retd), delivered the two AgustaWestland AW101 VIP helicopters in the presidential fleet to the Air Force.
But addressing the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence during the budget defence session, the fleet commander explained that the average age of the PAF aircraft was 11 years and in aviation, the cost of maintenance increases proportionally with the age of the aircraft.
Based on the fleet’s experience, Abdullahi explained that the cost of maintaining each aircraft was between $1.5m and $4.5m, depending on the level of maintenance due.
Additionally, the commander revealed that 2023, being an election year, would translate to more missions and spares’ requests for the aircraft due to increased usage.
He also told the lawmakers that the N250m approved for aviation fuel out of the requested N4bn was grossly inadequate; reminding them that aviation fuel, which sold at an average cost of N390 per litre in January, was now being dispensed at N915 per litre.
The fleet commander argued that the N8.072bn allocated for the fleet in the 2023 budget out of the proposed N15.5bn was inadequate to cater for the needs of the fleet.
He, therefore, pleaded for an upward review of the budget.
In the 2022 budget, the PAF proposed N19.4bn, but only N12.4bn was appropriated out of which N11.13bn (98.07 per cent of the total approval) had been released as of October.
Abdullahi stated, “It is pertinent for this honourable committee to note that for successive years, the fleet has been grossly underfunded, which has made it difficult to operate. From the fleet’s records, debts from preceding years are usually carried over into the following budget year and it is becoming a tradition.
“Permit me to also state that most of these debts are owed to service providers overseas. Considering that over 85 per cent of the fleet’s expenditure is forex transactions, the actual budget figure in dollar terms is further diminished.
“The fleet is currently indebted to some of its service providers due to insufficient funding from budgetary allocations and the situation makes it bad for planning. As stated earlier, we currently have to have some mandatory upgrades done on our aircraft so as to meet airworthiness requirements.”
Highlighting the aircraft upgrades that had been paused due to paucity of funds, the air vice marshal disclosed that two of the fleet’s Falcon 7X aircraft with registration number 5N-FGU and 5N-FGV were due for upholstery refurbishment to give the 11-year-old planes a new look.
Abdullahi added, “They are projected for refurbishment in their next maintenance due in December 2022 and July 2023, respectively, which will cost $2.5m each. Furthermore, the fleet’s personnel and aviation insurance premium for the year 2022 amounting to $5.1m is also due for renewal in February 2023. The fleet may not be able to fund these due to a shortfall in the budget.
“The consequences of underfunding the fleet could have adverse effects on safety operations. It may also lead to our nation being embarrassed in the international community either through seizure of the PAF aircraft at foreign airports or maintenance facilities. Moreover, other states may deny the PAF aircraft necessary over-flight permits for foreign missions.”
The senior air force officer noted that aircraft maintenance accounted for 46 per cent of the overall budget proposal and was integral to the overhead cost, adding that the shortfall in the overhead greatly affected aircraft maintenance activities in the fleet.
From the releases made so far, 14 capital projects out of 22 line items were said to have been completed 100 per cent, while the remaining eight are ongoing.
In its 2023 overhead estimates, the fleet plans to spend N1.5bn on aircraft maintenance; N256m on international travels; N200m on international transport and training; N96m on electricity; N160m on refreshment; N100m on maintenance of office and residential buildings; N28m on local travels; and N25m on local training, among others.
The fleet commander disclosed that some mandatory upgrades were carried out on credit based on the fleet’s longstanding relationships with the maintenance companies, while others have been moved to the 2023 budget.
He stated, “This committee may wish to note that the quality of aircraft maintenance conducted is directly proportional to flight safety and its critical importance cannot be emphasized.
“The fleet is mindful of the meagre financial resources in the face of competing national demands. Thus, be assured that this budget is on a need-only basis. Nonetheless, if the fleet is to meet up with its statutory obligation, there will be a need for the budget appropriation to be reviewed upward to meet PAF’s requirements.”
Aviation experts react
Commenting on the PAF’s indebtedness to foreign service providers, the Chief Executive Officer, Top Brass Aviation, Captain Roland Iyayi, said the presidential jets were seen as sovereign entities of Nigeria, noting that it would be difficult to seize them.
“I don’t know if that will be easy enough; if it was another asset of Nigeria, it is different, but a presidential jet; it’s like saying a country wants to seize the United States President’s aircraft over debt. It is considered an extension of the sovereignty of the state; so, that may not be as easy as it sounds,” he stated
Similarly, the Secretary-General Aviation Round Table, Olumide Ohunayo, said it would be difficult to seize the presidential jets because they were seen as diplomatic property.
He, however, noted that those who maintained the aircraft could refuse to release them if they were not paid for services rendered.
The aviation expert stated, “Aside that, you will need a top government official or the approval of the court where the aircraft has landed to remove the diplomatic immunity.
“In such a case, the government of the country where the aircraft has landed will be involved before a judgment can be taken. For a company to do that against Nigeria, it will also need the judgment of that country where the aircraft is. This cannot happen when the President or any government official is on a visit to another country. It can only happen when the aircraft is going for maintenance.”
The Deputy Chairman of the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Adejoro Adeogun, blamed the reduction in the PAF budget on the Federal Government’s envelope budgetary system, inflation, devaluation of the naira and the forex crisis.
Adeogun noted that most of the items needed to run the aviation business, especially aircraft, were being imported.
“If everything they are buying is in naira, it would have been easier. But they buy things in dollars. And the (exchange) rates are not stable. You can have 10 aircraft, then reduce it to five; it does not simply mean that your cost will reduce, because the cost of maintenance of the aircraft may keep increasing,” he said.
NSA on insecurity
Meanwhile, the NSA, Monguno, has urged the House of Representatives to work with the security agencies towards ending the pains Nigerians suffer from the growing insecurity in the country.
Describing as enormous the challenges being faced by the security agencies, Monguno said a commitment had been drawn from the President of the Senate, Ahmad Lawan; and Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, to provide legislative interventions towards tackling the problems.
Monguno said this while leading heads of the intelligence community to defend their respective 2023 budget proposals before the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence.
He said, “I am also happy to inform you that in the recently conducted ministerial retreat, which was organised by the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation on behalf of the President, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives were there and I highlighted briefly some of the problems confronting us and they have all agreed to help us.
“We are appealing to you in good conscience; all of you represent different parts of this country and I know you have the interest of Nigeria at heart. Our people are suffering; they are weeping, they are wailing, they are moaning, they are gnashing their teeth. We must help them. We have our own limitations as intelligence agencies. The rest can only be done through legislative drive.”
According to the NSA, the President is committed to leaving a safe country for his successor to govern.
Before the session went behind closed doors, Monguno added, “I must also say that the type of insecurity that confronts us is not peculiar just to Nigeria, but it is a global thing. And in today’s context, we can only overcome this problem when we recognise the importance of intelligence as being the driver and the propellant of all activities in the whole of societal approach.
“It is important that all the problems I present are taken into consideration by this very important committee. We hinge all our hopes and aspirations on whatever action you will take in solving the myriad of problems that confront us. And I want to assure you that the problems are quite enormous.
“The successes we have been recording so far in overcoming the security challenges, especially in the last four to five months, are basically rooted in the efforts of the Department of State Services, National Intelligence Agency and the Defence Intelligence Agency, having been able to provide timely intelligence to the operational element. I want to commend their efforts and I also want to, by extension, commend the efforts of their counterparts in the operational sphere.
“Please, honourable members, I want to put aside whatever other competing considerations there are. President Muhammadu Buhari has the desire to hand over to whoever is going to inherit what he is working on right now, a safer Nigeria.
“It is true and I have to be very honest with you that dealing with asymmetric warfare, overcoming asymmetric problems are completely different from what we experienced in the last century. Everything revolves around intelligence. And the intelligence we are dealing with is a broad spectrum, which goes all the way down to the local level.
“We deal with human beings. And if we are not supported in the right way, no matter how emotionally and how psychologically we are prepared, we cannot overcome this problem without legislative support.”
The Chairman of the House Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Ibrahim Sharada, earlier in his welcome address, charged the security agencies to provide a safe environment for the conduct of the 2023 general elections.
Sharada also decried the reduction of the budget proposed by the intelligence community under the envelope budgeting system.
He said, “It is instructive to note that the total budget of the Intelligence community was slightly reduced from N212,764,192,844 in 2022 to N195,018,115,836 in 2023. This is as a result of economic challenges primarily caused by global economic instability and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Despite the fact that this committee had appealed to the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning to consider the removal of the agencies under the intelligence community from the envelope budgeting system to strengthen their operational capacity, which can only be guaranteed through adequate funding, this committee will require the agencies to make a presentation of the 2023 estimates for further legislative action.
“This methodology will also require analytical presentation of the status of implementation of the previous budget to justify the sustenance of the coming allocation, which, in reality, does not call for any significant modification.
“In this regard, it is deserving of appreciating the Federal Government, through its numerous security and intelligence agencies, in response to serious national security challenges such as kidnappings, banditry, terrorism, secession and border crimes.
“We are calling on you to put more efforts at ensuring a secured Nigeria, especially before, during and after the forthcoming elections. The role of the government in ensuring the corporate unity of Nigeria and sustainable internal security, especially in recent times, cannot be overemphasized.”