The Federal Government has allocated the sum of N5.095 billion for the purchase of a presidential yacht under the capital expenditure of the Nigeria Navy.
The proposed 2023 supplementary budget submitted by President Bola Tinubu to the National Assembly contains a capital expenditure of N42.3 billion for the Nigerian Navy and a recurrent expenditure of N20.42 billion.
The Tinubu administration has drawn the ire of many Nigerians for its plan to buy a presidential yacht at a time when the fallout of its economic reforms have worsened the hardships in the country.
The acquisition of an executive yacht took place between 1967 and 1975, with the purchase of a magnificent ship named Ogina Bereton by Governor Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff, a young military of the old Rivers State.
Governor Diete-Spiff bought the yacht to house the members of the State Executive Council on working visits to the nooks and crannies of the Old Rivers State because there were no hotels and guest houses in the newly created state.
The military regime of Murtala Muhammed saw the yacht acquisition as “too luxurious”, and a panel chaired by Governor Zamani Lekwot recommended that it be transferred to the Navy.
With the transfer of Ogina Bereton to the Nigerian Navy, it was renamed ‘NN Ruwan Yaro’ and converted to a Nigerian Navy Cadet and Midshipmen Training Ship. After the transfer, Admiral JO Ayinla became the first captain of the ship.
Although the proposed ship is called a ‘presidential yacht, Tope Ajayi, senior special assistant to President on media and publicity, said the plan to acquire it did not originate from Tinubu.
He said: “It is important to state clearly that President Bola Tinubu did not ask for a presidential yacht, and I doubt he needs one to perform the functions of his office. From what I know, the request for a yacht, however named or couched in the budget, is from the Navy and they must have operational reasons for why it is required.
“The budget office should be in a position to also explain to the public why such expenditure should be accommodated now, considering the economic situation of the country.”
The Nigerian Navy currently has a training ship named ‘NNS Prosperity,’ which is why some people have wondered why it needs a presidential yacht.
A lawyer and war historian said: “Nigeria does have a presidential yacht and has done so for decades. Whether it is seaworthy is a different matter. Whether there should be one at all is an even bigger question.
“If Britain, far richer and with the Western world’s most storied naval tradition, gave up the Royal Yacht, “Brittania”, decades ago for economic and value-for-money reasons, a demise that made a whole Queen Elizabeth II literally shed tears, I see no reason why we should keep that boat and budget for it.
“NNS Nigeria, now NNS Obuma, has indeed been decommissioned. This is the second or third time I’ve seen news about a budget provision for a ‘presidential yacht’. So, if the boat has been converted and decommissioned, what is the justification for a budgetary provision and how were previous provisions spent? Is this yet another phantom budgetary provision through which money is sucked out of the treasury?”
“The way things are now, we do not need a presidential yacht. While a politician will say Yes, I will say NO as an old sea dog! It’s debatable but when we lay all the points bare on the table, those who propose it will not have the day. But my points for rejection are majorly along the lines of security, not prestige,” said a retired naval officer.
He added: “So, what will be the return on the investment of N5 billion on a yacht? Most likely to be a used one also called Tokunbo. I will tell you for free that the proposed vessel will go the way others have gone. It’s not easy to maintain a seagoing vessel. I like naval scholars who say that ‘the outlook of a navy is a function of the economy of the nation that owns it’.”
An oil and gas consultant said N5 billion for a presidential yacht sounds a bit insensitive, “especially when it’s about the same tab as for student loans”.
“Hundreds of citizens die every year in passenger boat mishaps due to a lack of access roads and safe water transportation,” he added.