While the House of Representatives is probing petroleum resources minister Diezani Alison-Madueke, the number of public servants accused of committing the same “crime” of using charter flights is increasing. They may become too many for the lawmakers to handle. Fingers have been pointing to other ministers, state governors, leaders of the House itself, and heads of government agencies that have piled up debits for the public treasury by their uncommon lifestyles.
Alison-Madueke is accused of spending N10bn on a luxury bird – the Challenger 850 – within two years, in the course of performing both official and familial functions. She is now accused of using not one aircraft but three.
Anger against the minister has been tempered by the NNPC’s explanation that it bought the jets and that they are being used by the minister and others for official functions. As the head of a sector that is the cash cow of the nation, Minister Alison-Madueke is said to be very busy and deserves to fly to any part of the globe at short notice. What is more, she was recently elected the first female leader of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)!
We have nothing personal against Alison-Madueke, nor do we consider the use of private or charter jets a crime. It is the extravagance of Nigerian public officials that stirs the stomach. Almost all her predecessors in office are said to have enjoyed the same privilege of travelling in charter flights. If, indeed, a petroleum minister needed charter flights in order to meet delicate and risky arrangements associated with the office, then, the uproar over Alison-Madueke would be unnecessary. There is no doubt that jets save time. And there is need for our public officers to arrive at meeting venues within and outside the country on time.
All the same, the House should continue its investigations if it feels the probe would yield dividends. It is its constitutional duty to probe anything. But the emphasis should not be on personalities. The NNPC has accepted that it charters jets for the safety and comfort of managers of the nation’s petroleum sector. Finding out how the jets have been put to use shouldn’t be difficult. It would be pedestrian, however, if the questions asked revolve around any person’s private life. The more important questions about the missing $20billion, kerosene subsidy and petrol subsidy are yet to be answered, at least not satisfactorily.
Now that more revelations about other public officials that have been flying private jets at taxpayers’ expense have been made, all those involved should be brought into the big picture. It is known that over 200 private jets have been acquired by Nigerians; most of them are not public officeholders. What were their owners’ sources of funds? Is there nobody to regulate the use of these jets?
Until it becomes illegal for public officeholders to use charter flights, it may be difficult to convict alleged offenders. Under Nigerian law, it is not yet a crime for anybody to use charter or private jets. Officials in the oil sector may even be considered the least offenders because over 90 per cent of the nation’s earnings comes from the sector.