– Travel was the single biggest government line item from 2012 to 2014
– The Nigerian elite has a taste for luxury travel
– Either top government officials like president or even governor prefer to fly comfort private jets instead of commercial
The Financial Times, London based journal, has published a report on how Nigerian leaders are living flamboyant life while the country is groaning.
It said that according to figures unveiled by the financial ministry, travel was the single biggest government line item from 2012 to 2014, at N248bn ($1.25bn) for the three years combined. This is equal to an extraordinary 18 % of total government spending.
The ministry believes it can cut N4bn a year from travel costs by discussing number of airfares with carriers, or just under 5 % of the about N85bn yearly average.
It said in a statement: “The Efficiency Unit has engaged in negotiation discussions with local and international airlines for discounts commensurate with the large number of ticket purchases made by government annually.
“The savings generated will increase funding available to the government for capital investment.”
The journal further stated that unluckily these savings are a drop in the ocean. Nigeria is staring at a budget deficit that is set to double to N2.2tn in 2016.
President Buhari said that the country will get up to $4.5bn on foreign markets this year to close the gap. In January, it reached the World Bank and the African Development Bank for a $3.5bn emergency loan.
The report says: “The high cost of travel for government officials is unsurprising. The Nigerian elite has a taste for luxury travel, shown by the proliferation of private jets in the country.
“A 2012 investigation by Nigerian newspaper Punch found that wealthy Nigerians spent $6.5bn on private planes between 2007 and 2012, making the country the biggest market for them in Africa.
“Not all of them were bought with private funds. Under former president Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria’s Presidential Air Fleet (PAF) acquired several new private jets, bringing its total to 11.
“According to the UN, 46% of Nigerians live in poverty, rising to 70 per cent in rural areas.”
The presidential fleet is funded from the defence budget and overseen by the Air Force. Buhari has faced criticism for failing to cut down the number of planes more than a year after he was inaugurated.
The disclosure that the presidential fleet cost N5.8bn to personnel and keep in the first six months of his government caused a rage in the national media.
Meanwhile, the Nigerian 36 governors are not known to use commercial flights, either.
Under ex-governor Rotimi Amaechi, the oil rich southern Rivers state, for example, owned two private jets comprising a brand new $50m Bombardier jet bought in 2012, and operated several helicopters.
Amaechi is now the incumbent minister of transpport.
The cost of operating private planes is high. PrivateFly, a UK-based charter service, estimates fixed costs for a medium-sized private jet at around $1.8m a year.
“The biggest cost is the depreciation of the aircraft itself,” says CEO Adam Twidell.
President Buhari promised to cut the governance and if he is serious in his wish, targeting the government elite’s private air fleets might be a good place to start.
An average Buhari’s trip costs Nigerians between half a million and $1.2million in traveling expenses alone.
The last trips by the leader of the nation to Saudi Arabia and Qatar, cost over $3m.