Much Ado About Akpabio’s Position on New Presidential Jet

The ambiguous comment of the Senate President, Senator Godswill Akpabio last week on the proposed purchase of new presidential aircraft at an emergency plenary to extend both the 2023 Appropriation Act and the 2023 Supplementary Appropriation Act through two separate amendment bills, has continue to generate controversy. Sunday Aborisade reports.

President of the Senate, Senator Godswill Akpabio spoke on the position of the Senate on the purchase of of a brand new presidential jet proposed by the House of Representatives Committee on National Security and Intelligence after the Senate Leader, Opeyemi Bamidele, drew the attention of his colleagues to the controversial matter.

The House of Representatives Committee  had in a report, asked the Federal Government to immediately purchase new aeroplanes for the use of President Bola Tinubu and Vice President Kashim Shettima.

The Committee’s report, signed by its chairperson, Ahmed Satomi, and clerk, Makwe Eric, was based  on the outcome of its technical subcommittee hearing on the status and airworthiness of aircraft in the Presidential Air Fleet (PAF).

Part of the report read, “The Committee is of the strong and informed opinion that considering the fragile structure of the Nigerian federation and recognising the dire consequences of any foreseen or unforeseen mishap that may arise as a result of technical/operational inadequacy of the Presidential Air Fleet, it is in the best interest of the country to procure two additional aircraft as recommended.

“This will also prove to be most cost-efficient in the long run apart from the added advantage of providing a suitable, comfortable and safe carrier befitting of the status and responsibilities of the office of the president and vice president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” it stated.

The position of the House of Representatives Committee attracted serious condemnation among Nigerians but the Chairman, Senate Committee on National Security and Intelligence, Senator Umar Shehu Buba, in an interview reportedly threw his weight behind it.

Buba was quoted as saying, “Not to quickly overhaul the presidential air fleet could endanger the lives of President Tinubu and his deputy. Have you seen the report of the committee? The committee’s recommendations are clear enough. To arrive at those recommendations, the committee conducted an investigative hearing and interacted with officials of the Presidential Air Fleet.

“The committee obtained the necessary information, which led it to call for the overhauling of the Presidential Air Fleet. 

“It is true that our country is facing economic difficulty, but that will not be a justification to jeopardize or endanger the lives of our president, our vice president, other top officials of government and that of any citizen for that matter.

“We are all aware of the air mishaps in Iran and Malawi recently, which claimed the lives of the president and vice president of those countries, respectively. We commiserate with the people and governments of those countries.

“However, we must also, as a people, do whatever is necessary to lower the possibility of such disasters in our country.

“No sacrifice is too much to pay for the safety of our leaders and citizens. We elected them. So, we have a collective responsibility to protect them at all times.”

The reported backing of the procurement of executive presidential jets by the Senate panel chair drew the ire of many Nigerians which resulted in some online media, reportedly attributing Buba’s comments to the President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio.

Akpabio instantly distanced himself from any comments on the matter. He spoke when he led the principal officers of the Senate to Maiduguri, the Borno State capital on condolence visit to the the Chairman, Senate Committee on Judiciary, Human Rights and Legal Matters, Senator Tahir Mongunu.

He specifically clarified that there was no time he called for the purchase of executive aircraft for Tinubu and Shettima.

Akpabio also said there was no such  request before the red chamber, hence he couldn’t have spoken on an issue he wasn’t aware of.

An attempt by him to further give further clarification last Thursday did not clearly explain Akpabio’s position on the matter and the media report on the issue did not go down well with his media handlers.

Akpabio specifically made it clear in his speech that despite the fact that there was no such request before him, the Senate would not hesitate to grant such request not minding any form of blackmail from those he described as fifth columnists.

Similarly, one of the Senate President’s Media aides, Ola Awoniyi, also attempted further clarification on the matter in a statement he issued last weekend 

Awoniyi’s opinion on the matter was titled, “Presidential Jet Controversy: What Akpabio Said At Senate Plenary.”

He said, “About a fortnight ago, the Nigerian media widely reported that the House of Representatives Committee on National Security and Intelligence recommended, in a report, has given the green light that the Federal Government should purchase new aircraft for the use of President Tinubu and Vice President Shettima. 

“The House had in May mandated the Committee to investigate the conditions of the aircraft in the Presidential fleet. That assignment followed a motion earlier debated by the House.

“Since that House Committee’s report was made public, the issue of acquiring new aircraft for Tinubu and Shettima became a controversy and a running story in the mainstream media and social media. That is normal. But it became a mischief when the President of the Senate, Godswill Akpabio was unfairly dragged into the controversy. 

“Akpabio was reported to have said things that he did not say. And when he tried to correct the falsehood, the harder he tried, the more vested interests twisted his explanations. Their purpose is clear: mischief.

“Let’s go back to Thursday 27th June, 2024, when both the Senate and House of Representatives reconvened to begin a new legislative year of the 10th Assembly. That Plenary was held six days earlier than the date scheduled for the resumption of the lawmakers. 

“The resumption was brought forward primarily for the National Assembly to consider a request by the Executive Arm for an extension of the implementation of the 2023 Appropriation Act and the 2023 Supplementary Budget, which life spans were to elapse on Sunday, 30th of June, 2024. 

“But some media outfits wrongly speculated that the Plenary was called ahead of schedule for the National Assembly to approve the purchase of new aircraft for Tinubu and Shettima.

“It is normal for the media to speculate. But you must admit your error if events prove your speculation to be wrong. Regrettably, some of the leading national dailies involved refused to admit that they goofed. Instead, they tried to justify their error with falsehood.

“At the said Plenary, the Chairman of Appropriation Committee, Senator Olamilekan Adeola, spotted an online report with the headline: “Presidential Jet: Senate Holds Emergency Session to Consider the Supplementary Budget.” He drew the attention of the Senate to the report and requested permission to read out its first paragraph. It reads: “(Adeola) said, ‘The Senate held an emergency session to consider President Bola Tinubu’s Supplementary Appropriation for 2024 fiscal year which includes funding of acquisition of a new Presidential Jet.’

“The Senator said he was embarrassed by the report because it is false. He then moved a motion for the reporter of the story to be invited for his explanation before the appropriate committee of the Senate. The Senate unanimously granted the prayer.

“The Leader of the Senate, Opeyemi Bamidele, had earlier seen a similar report in the social media and also drew the attention of the Senate to it. 

“In response to the observations made by Senator Bamidele, the Senate President narrated his own experience to his colleague Senators. 

“However, Akpabio’s intervention immediately became another issue in the media. He was largely misrepresented. Most of the headlines did not match the stories on what he said. In some cases, the reports were embellished and took Akpabio’s contribution out of context.

“The comments made by the Senate leaders at the plenary were basically the same. That no request for the purchase of new aircraft for the presidential fleet was before the Senate. 

“That in the event of any such request in future, the National Assembly would look into it. That blackmail and propaganda by vested interests would not distract lawmakers from their statutory responsibilities. 

“Alas!, these comments curiously gave birth to headlines such as: “No Amount of Blackmail Will Stop Senate from Approving New Presidential Jet – Akpabio,” “Blackmail Can’t Stop Presidential Jet Approval – Senate,” “Akpabio Insists on Approving Purchase of New Aircraft for Tinubu, says No Blackmail will Stop Decision,” “New Presidential Jet: Tinubu’s Wish, Senate’s Command – Akpabio.”

Awoniyi then reproduced the verbatim recording of the remarks of the Senate President and Senate Leader but his intervention did not take away the confusion created by Akpabio’s ambiguous statement at the last Thursday’s plenary.

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