Despite parading N61 billion presidential fleet and allotment of N1.5 billion on annual maintenance, President Goodluck Jonathan was embarrassed on Saturday, March 8, 2014, when the presidential jet, Air Force 001 (5N-FGT) developed technical fault and was grounded at Minna Airport, Niger State.
ENCOMIUM Weekly’s check revealed that the president and some of his top government officials escaped air mishap when the multibillion naira jet developed a technical fault while they were aboard. Thus, he was forced to jet out via a smaller jet.
According to our source, the presidential jet, Nigerian Air Force 001 (5N-FGT), had earlier conveyed Jonathan to Minna for the Peoples Democratic Party’s North-Central rally which held at the Trade Fair Centre, Minna. At the end of the rally, the president returned to the airport in company with top government officials, PDP state governors and party chiefs for a trip to Sokoto, from where he was scheduled to return to Abuja.
However, several minutes after Jonathan had bade farewell to those who accompanied him to the airport, and the door of the aircraft was shut, it failed to move.
After many attempts, crew members and engineers disembarked from the aircraft and made spirited efforts to fix the fault as armed security men took strategic positions around it.
While this was going on, Vice-President Namadi Sambo; President of the Senate, David Mark, all PDP governors, members of the National Assembly and members of the Federal Executive Council were watching under the scorching sun.
When it became obvious that the fault could not be easily fixed, the commander of the presidential air fleet, Air Vice Marshal Uko Ebong, ordered that a smaller presidential jet, 5N-FGW, which conveyed the vice-president to the state be brought to fly Jonathan.
Jonathan disembarked from the faulty jet at about 3.30pm and quickly moved to the smaller aircraft.
He later left the airport in the smaller aircraft at about 3:35pm, leaving behind some of his co-occupants in the bigger jet.
Sambo also had to join Mark in another smaller presidential jet, 5N-FGV, which had earlier conveyed the Senate President to the state. Senator Barnabas Gemade and a few other dignitaries also joined them.
Those who were with the president in the faulty aircraft before they disembarked included the National Chairman of the PDP, Adamu Muazu; Chairman of the party’s Board of Trustees, Tony Anenih; former chairman of the party, Ahmadu Ali; former Sokoto State Governor, Attahiru Bafarawa, and some presidential aides.
Some security men were left behind to keep watch on the aircraft. When asked for what was wrong with the aeroplane, an official of FAAN simply said, “The return engine refused to pick.”
Another source who pleaded anonymity, said the hot temperature in the city led to the fault.
“What the commander said was that the high temperature affected the engine of the aircraft,” he said.
When asked why the hot weather did not affect the two other presidential jets, the source explained that the Air Force 001 is more digitalised than others.
We reliably gathered that the visibly embarrassed president has ordered for official report and some of the officials are jittery that heads may roll over the unfortunate incident.
Earlier this year, President Goodluck Jonathan splashed over N5 billion on his presidential fleet. Information available to ENCOMIUM Weekly revealed that the Presidency made a proposal for an upfront deposit of N1.5billion for a brand new private jet, which will become the presidential air fleet’s (PAF) 11th aircraft. This figure is contained in the details of the 2014 Appropriation Bill presented to the National Assembly by President Goodluck Jonathan through the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. The Federal Government also budgeted another N1.52 billion for the maintenance of the 10 aircraft currently in the PAF.
Although the brand of the aircraft is shrouded in secrecy, speculations are rife that it’s a Bombardier jet within the range of N4.5 billion. We gathered that the proposal has generated heated debate amongst followers and critics of Mr. President.
And their argument was hinged on the fact that PAF already boasts of two Falcon 7X jets, two Falcon 900 jets, Gulfstream 550, one Boeing 737 BBJ (Nigerian Air Force 001 or Eagle One), and Gulfstream IVSP. Others are one Gulfstream V, Cessna Citation 2 aircraft and Hawker Siddley125-800 jet.
– FEMI OYEWALE