A human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana, has asked President Muhammadu Buhari to stop members of his family from using aircraft in the presidential fleet.
Falana said the use of aircraft in the presidential fleet by the members of the first family for private events is not backed by law.
The president’s daughter, Hanan Buhari, had flown in a presidential jet to Bauchi last Thursday for a private function.
Many Nigerians condemned the action, but the presidency defended it.
Presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu, said it was normal practice for the president’s family to use the presidential aircraft.
“The normal practice in existence for a long time is that the presidential air fleet is available to the president and the first family and four others. These four are the vice-president, the senate president the speaker and any other person authorised by the president,” Shehu had said.
But in a statement yesterday, Falana said there is no such practice, and that the “official policy” of the federal government “does not authorise the children of the President to use the presidential jets to attend to private social functions”.
He berated Shehu, for saying by tradition all members of the first family have the right to use the presidential jet for private engagements.
He described the use of the president jet for personal use as an abuse of office.
The senior advocate asked the presidency to apologise to Nigerians rather than justify the act.
He reminded Buhari that Nigeria, which is the poverty capital of the world, cannot continue wasting over N8billion yearly on maintaining presidential jets.
He said, “With respect, the statement credited to the Presidency is incorrect as it is at variance with the official policy of the federal government. In other words, the official policy does not authorise the children of the President to use the Presidential jets to attend to private social functions.
“In fact, there is no precedent whatsoever for such privatisation of the presidency of Nigeria. Having publicly declared that his administration would maintain ‘a compact and reliable aircraft for the safe airlift of the President, the Vice-President and other government officials that go on special missions’ President Buhari is stopped from allowing members of the first family to use the jets for their private affairs.”
“In fact, there is no precedent whatsoever for such privatisation of the presidency of Nigeria,” Falana added.
He said Buhari had promised to reduce the cost of maintaining aircraft in the presidential fleet, which according to him, stands at N8.5 billion in the 2020 budget.
“The so-called ‘normal practice’ of using the aircraft in the presidential fleet by members of the first family to attend to private engagements is not backed by any extant law or official policy,” he said.
“In view of the foregoing, we call on President Buhari to stop the members of his family from using any of the aircraft in the presidential fleet “with a view to cutting down on waste.”
“A country that is said to be the headquarters of the greatest number of poverty stricken people in the world cannot afford to waste billions of Naira on the use of presidential aircraft and hiring of commercial jets by state governors that are owing workers several months of unpaid salaries.”