25 September 2012

Nigeria: Our Jet-Set Compatriots


Speaking at the opening ceremony of the second plenary session of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State called on the relevant agencies to investigate Nigerians who owned private jets, saying that such luxuries were products of fraud and at variance with the current economic realities of the country. According to him, 123 private jets were registered this year by Nigeria's aviation authorities. The damning aspect of his disclosure is that most of the jets were acquired by some of the people involved in fuel subsidy scam.

We find this distasteful. Much as we are not opposed to Nigerians enjoying legitimate luxury from their hard work, a situation where people exploit the masses and loot the commonweal to become owners of private jets and live very obscene luxuries does not augur well for national development. It is much worse and shameless for a country that prides itself on being the giant of Africa, yet does not have a national carrier like less privileged states on the continent. There are eight jets in the presidential fleet and Nigerian passengers account for the heavy profits posted by some of these African, Asian and European airlines.

Between March 2010 and March 2011, six private jets worth a combined price of about $225m (N33.75bn) were registered by aviation authorities in the country; the owners were known business magnates and religious leaders. It is against this backdrop that Gov. Obi's revelation becomes intriguing. Who are these 123 new jet-set bourgeois? An average Canadian-made Bombardier Global Express XRS that a leading Nigerian businessman acquired in April 2010 cost $45m (N6.75bn).

If the new jet owners are really people who have things to do with the oil subsidy regime (that we all know to be flawed) or government officials, the people have a right to know. It would be good to know the kind of taxes they pay and the parking and maintenance arrangements they made with our civil aviation authorities. That could be a veritable source of revenue for the ailing industry. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) needs no prompting to go after the owners of the jets, at least to verify their sources of income vis-à-vis how much they pay as taxes and for parking the aircraft on our national hangars.

We also need some legislative actions on our Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) as it concerns non-profit-making ventures. The experiences of a London-based Nigerian clergyman suspected of fiddling with mission funds to finance personal fancy is instructive and can arouse concern about some of our jet-set preachers. Where those who enjoy the luxury of tax holiday indulge in this kind of needless ostentation or where they have been indicted in subsidy fraud or any other malpractice, there is already a prima facie case to confiscate their aircraft.

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