In March 2023, I wrote a short article advising the then governor-elect, Pastor Umo Eno, on what he should do as the 5th elected governor of Akwa Ibom State. Among the few suggestions that I made, I asked him to dispose of the state executive aircraft that is exclusively used by the governor. I reasoned that selling the aircraft would save costs, and since the state has an airline, Ibom Air, which is actually the nation’s most preferred airline, the governor does not need the executive jet. It was one piece of advice that I didn’t expect the new governor to take.
Nigerian politicians tend to place their personal comfort and privileges above the welfare of the people. A few months after I wrote that piece, I met a prominent Akwa Ibom son at Hilton Hotel, Abuja. He told me that he had a good laugh when he read my suggestion. ‘’Every governor will want to enjoy the perks of office which his predecessor enjoyed. Umo Eno will also want to enjoy the aircraft’’, he told me. We both laughed.
I was therefore very surprised when I read early in the week that the governor had asked the SSG, Mr. Enobong Uwah, to determine ways in which the cost of maintaining the aircraft could be better managed. I immediately got in touch with the SSG and asked if the story is true. ‘’Yes, it is true’’, Uwah told me, adding, ‘’as I told you earlier, the governor is going to simplify governance. He prefers to use commercial flights instead of wasting public funds on the maintenance of the state aircraft at alarming forex rates’’.
I couldn’t believe it. A governor dumping a private jet to fly commercial just to cut costs? This is the best and most inspiring piece of news that I have heard in this country this year, and I wish to commend Gov. Eno for this altruistic, humane and bold decision. This will save the state billions of naira and reduce cost of governance. The decision also buttresses the widely-held notion that the governor is indeed a selfless, humble and caring leader.
I asked the SSG for the details of the cost of maintaining the aircraft, but he declined. But based on my discussions with industry operators, I can speculate that with fueling, crew salaries and allowances, insurance premium, parking fees, maintenance and other incidental costs, the government spends about N300 million a month (about N4 billion per year) to keep the aircraft. The costs keep rising as the aircraft ages. That is huge.
I do not know whether the aircraft would be sold off or put up for charter as it’s being speculated. Both have their advantages and disadvantages. I will wait for the government to make the best decision in the interest of the state. For now, I am just elated that the huge costs of keeping the aircraft is off our books.
In a recent meeting with the governor, I applauded his focus on people-centric initiatives, such as revamping primary schools and upgrading health centres. I commended the abandonment of elitist symbols, like the aircraft, signalling a shift towards a more inclusive governance. Urging continued action, I emphasised the need for refurbishing public schools, substantial investment in education, and a goal to elevate the state’s WAEC ranking from 17th to the top 5 in four years. Additionally, I called for investment in rural infrastructure, supporting farmers, artisans, and small businesses, aiming to prioritise the broader population over the elite class for lasting impact.
The aircraft was bought in 2012 by the administration of Gov. Godswill Akpabio for about $50 million (this included the cost of the aircraft plus avionics and other installations). Akpabio said then that he needed the aircraft for ease of movement in and out of the state, even though we had had our own airport then and three (and sometimes four airlines) were operating therein.
Gov Akpabio used the aircraft for three years; his successor used it for eight years, and Pastor Umo Eno for just a few months. The intense usage of the aircraft under Gov. Udom Emmanuel (he even used it for a nationwide tour during his presidential campaign, sometimes giving it out for use by other PDP politicians) led to its rapid depreciation. Gov. Udom Emmanuel was practically living in the air! He loved the machine.
Gov. Umo Eno will not have any problem getting in and out of the state. Ibom Air has eight aircraft currently (eight more to be delivered soon). There are eight and sometimes 12 daily flights in and out of Uyo to Lagos and Abuja. The governor will certainly suffer some inconveniences flying commercial, but the savings are worth it.
Leadership requires sacrifices and public service could be very tough. It was Chief Obafemi Awolowo who advised politicians in those days not to seek to enjoy in government houses what they couldn’t afford in their personal homes.
Gov. Eno has shown uncommon courage, humility and pragmatism in the choice he has made.
May God guide him!