By OHIA ISRAEL
The growing propensity and penchant to acquire private jets by Nigerian wealthiest people is spreading in the political, entertainment, religious, banking and other sectors, and has continued astronomically.
According to detailed information obtained by this paper, in the last five to six years, top wealthy Nigerians have spent well over 6.5 billion dollars to acquire private jets, an act which also placed Nigeria as the biggest African market for the commodity.
Accordingly, the number of private jets owned by Nigerians has risen to 650 from year 2007 to year 2012. For instance it was learnt that in 2007 a total of 20 private jets were being owned by Nigerians, but this figure has risen to 650 in 2012.
According to DESERT HERALD findings, not less than 123 private jets have been bought by Nigerians alone, while majority of its citizen wallow in abject poverty owning to the dwindling economy.
Sources within the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), of the over 100 aircraft, more will be added in 2013 and 2014 as that is when they will mature. It was also gathered that a lot of young Nigerians have now taken over the purchase of jets to show off the mark of reaching the ‘big boy’ level.
However, the irony of it is this; the country is a nation with a huge trench between the rich and the poor, where statistics have shown that less than one percent of the over 167 million Nigerian are the affluent ones, while more than 60 percent live on less than one dollar a day. For instance, about 10 Nigerians are among those listed in Forbes’s Club of world billionaires. According to information obtained by this paper, these jets are packed in Lagos, Abuja and Port Harcourt.
“The rate Nigerians buy these jets seems as if it is pure water. It is like competition among young lads. Many of the owners are not known either by their businesses or actions. It is said that most of them are for government officials and oil and gas Turks who got rich by moving papers in the petroleum industry,” said a source.
Meanwhile aviation analysts posit that most of these jets cost a whopping $10m, even as he said that the high ranges like Bombardier costs from $20m upwards. According to him most of the charges are even more sapping as the acquirer of these jets remains untroubled, as most of them put them for hire by mostly bank MDs and state governors.
According to industry watchers, the spike, said the number of private jets bought by Nigerians have increased because many rich persons have resorted to private jets as alternative to commercial airlines in the country due to security and safety issues.
“They believe that flying on private jets are far safer than flying on commercial flights because they feel that private jets are better maintained than commercial aircrafts,” an industry analyst said.
He added: “You may have noticed that there is a drop on the number of rich people who fly first class on commercial flights. If you enter flights these days, you will not find any of the rich Nigerians in commercial flights because they are flying on private jets.”
This development has indeed led a lot of Nigerians including sitting governors to ask the police to wade into these matters and investigate the source of the wealth used in buying these jets.
A cursory look into the lifestyles of these people shows that people are living ostentatious lifestyles with acquisition of jets, luxury cars and exquisite mansions. An investigation also reveals that most of the jets are owned by top politicians, oil magnates and other business moguls in Nigeria. Before the meltdown of 2008, it had become fashionable for chief executives of Nigerian banks to own private jets.
Accordingly the economic meltdown in Europe and the United States of America now has placed Nigeria and China as two of the fastest growing private jet markets in the world.
According to aviation experts; “Two countries buying private jets now are China and Nigeria. Europe and America are going through turmoil; so, their people are no more buying. This accounts for the trend that whenever some of the private jet manufacturers develop any new jet, they take them to Nigeria and China.”
“It is difficult to get the real identities of owners of some of the private jets in Nigeria because they buy them through some foreign companies in North America, especially the US. The foreign company then leases it to another company in Nigeria.”
According to an official of FAAN who pleaded anonymity, many Nigerians have been registering their jets. He would not confirm whether they are 100 or more or less.
It will be recalled that recently Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State made a shocking disclosure that over 100 Nigerians are now owners of private jets. This was in his goodwill message during the opening ceremony of the Second Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) holding in Umuahia, Abia State capital, South East Nigeria.
Obi, while giving indices of corruption in Nigeria, lamented that this is happening in a country where many go to bed hungry. The governor declared that those who bought the private jets owe the public an explanation as to the source of their wealth.
“This year alone, 123 private jets have been registered in this country. Who own them? These are people who are receiving oil subsidy. It is time to stop them,” Obi said.
According to our findings; Nigerians who own private jets include politicians, businessmen and pastors. Bishop David Oyedepo, Founding Bishop of Living Faith Church International a.k.a Winners Chapel, is known to have the most number of private jets in the country. His fourth private jet, a Gulfstream V, is worth $30m and he has announced plans to buy a bigger one.
Governor Obi in his speech also revealed that Nigerians seeking medical attention in foreign lands and those sponsoring their wards abroad for schooling spend about $10 billion doing so in a year. The remedy to this needless capital flight, he noted, lies in fixing and handing our schools and hospitals in the country to the missions with adequate support from governments at all levels.
In his words: “We have schools in this country but nearly $6 billion is paid for education outside this country every year. Who are those paying it? “In this country, we pay over $4 billion for hospitals in India every year. Who are those paying it? We can fix our hospitals, let’s put in money. Government cannot manage schools, government cannot manage hospitals. The ones we go to in India are not managed by government. Therefore, let’s give them to those who can manage them and then support them. The missions can manage schools, they can manage hospitals.
“The schools abroad that we take our children to are managed by missionaries; the hospitals we go to abroad are managed by missionaries. Let the missionaries here manage our own so that if they fail, we hold them responsible. That is what we should all work for.” Obi explained that domestic debts portends ill for the country. “What I want Nigerians to do is to resist the level of domestic debts that are being accumulated in this country by local, state and the federal governments,” he said, adding: “Domestic debt is very dangerous because it is Nigeria, your pensions, your future that we are burning out. The consequence is that in future, if they (the government’s borrowing the money) can’t redeem it, they devalue the currency and the naira will be worth nothing. Let us know who is borrowing this money and what is it being borrowed for.
“We borrow money in this country for consumption and not for productivity and who are those consuming, the same people who you must today hold responsible.”
Using the Middle East corruption and bad governance antidote, Obi said “People are blockading streets in the Middle East, let’s start doing it here. If anybody is not doing well, let’s block his house.”
DESERT HERALD investigations revealed that over 130 new private planes have been acquired since 2007 at an average cost of $50 million per plane. Common ones available in the country include Gulfstream 450, 550 and 650; Bombardier Challenger 604, 605; Global Express; Embraer Legacy and Falcons; and Hawker Siddeley 125-800 and 900XP.
However, the ploy used here is to use some foreign companies in the USA to acquire these jets and it is now these foreign companies that lease it to other companies in the country. For instance one of the world’s largest third airplane manufacturers, Bombardier, began what it called a 16-African city marketing tour, a tour which used four days to tour the African countries, with Nigeria being at the centre of the tour due to its being the most promising African market, according to a report by Ventures Africa. The tour was meant to showcase its latest offering, the $60 million Global 6000, in Nigeria.
Bombardier’s Sales Director for Africa, Robert Habjanic, told media correspondents that Nigeria was the company’s largest market in Africa. At the moment, about 35 Bombardier business jets are currently flying the country’s airspace. Habjanic also stated that the company already had orders for the Global 6000.
A visit to Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, shows that not less than 40 private jets were parked at the terminal, while according to one of the airline staff who pleaded anonymity, every time there is political meetings or big functions in Abuja, over 50 private jets were usually seen parked at the Abuja airport. These, he said, were different from the ones parked at the Lagos and other major airports across the country. “If you go to the old local wing at the Abuja airport, there is virtually no place to park private jets again,” he said.
The growth in the purchase of private jets in Nigeria has also led to the development of multimillion dollars private jets hangars, where repairs and maintenance could be done in the country. Some of these include Execujets Nigeria Hangar, Caverton Hangar and Evergreen Hangar, all located at the Lagos airport.
According to an editorial in one of the daily newspapers; “There is nothing wrong with people acquiring private jets or any property for that matter. Nigeria is supposedly a capitalist system. The constitution provides for the right to own property under the law. Therefore, the sharp rise in the number of private jets in the country is not by itself a condemnable act. In fact, it may well signify a positive and salutary upswing in the economy.
But on the contrary, facts indicate otherwise. Nearly all human development indices show a downward trend in the quality of life of the average Nigerian and poverty index is still in the range of 70 per cent. More crucially, with Nigeria rated among the most corrupt countries of the world, we wager that this streaming in of private jets can only be the reward of unbridled corruption. Unlike in other parts of the world, say China, which is the second largest economy in the world and which can boast of thousands of thriving conglomerates, business moguls and entrepreneurs that can afford private jets, Nigeria is still largely an impoverished country with an import-dependent mono-economy,” said the editorial.
“Unlike in Nigeria where majority of the jet owners are top politicians, this class of people would be hard put to give account should they be found flying in private jets in places like China and the United States. And if by chance a U.S. top politician can justify his ownership of a private jet, he would have the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to contend with, in which case he would pay numbing taxes.
Ironically, we wager again, that it may well be the little tax paid by the little people that may have been converted into private jets for the Nigerian jet-set top politicians. There is also the issue of ostentatious lifestyles of the Nigerian rich. While a Chinese or Indian rich would build a factory first, his Nigerian counterpart would opt for a brand new private jet.
As Nigeria’s ‘new rich’ take to the sky, we must not fail to remember that the country’s national carrier was run aground many years ago; that aviation infrastructure is currently in dereliction and passengers are exposed to all manners of danger. Need we recount the state of Nigeria’s power sector, refineries, schools, hospitals and roads? It is otiose to note that those glistening metal birds competing for space in Nigeria’s substandard airports is no sign of a burgeoning economy.
On the other hand, it is a recipe for social upheaval when basic amenities are in regression and the ruling class basks in obscene ostentation. The auguries are ominous,” the editorial summed up.
However, a lot of questions are being asked as to who are the owners of these private jets? For now politicians, oil magnates and business moguls are. However, other wealthy citizens such as music stars have started to aspire to the ranks. Recently, Nigeria’s African music sensation, P-Square, struck a deal with a private jet company to rent their jets for their shows and engagements across the continent.
The acquisition of private jets by Nigerians, for business or pleasure, has increased in the last three years, according to the president of the National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers. He said in the last one year, the number of private jets acquired by wealthy Nigerians has more doubled.
At least 123 Nigerians which includes billionaire businessmen like Mike Adenuga, Ifeanyi Ubah, Aliko Dangote, Bishop Oyedepo, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, Peter Odili, Nduka Obaigbena, Barr. Jimoh Ibrahim, Sir Joseph Arumeni Johnson of Arik Air, Pastor Sam Adeyemi, ex bank MDs, politicians, business moguls, oil companies and banks have spent over N500 billion buying very expensive private jets.
In the last one year, at least five Hawker 900 XP jets have been bought and each cost $14.9million. Five 800 XP at $13 million and at least two Hawker 4000 at $21 million have been bought.
Many of these private jets are parked at the apron near Arik Air hangar and at the General Aviation terminal near Aero Contractor’s terminal. It costs at least N80 million to maintain these jets annually and over 500 expatriate pilots and engineers working on these private jets.
For instance in April 2010, Dangote bought a Canadian made Bombardier Global Express XRS with a Rolls Royce engine at an estimated cost of $45m (N6.75bn). The eight-passenger aircraft, with registration number, N104DA, according to the source, is regularly parked at the General Aviation Terminal near the Associated Airlines hangar whenever it is not in use while Adenuga equally purchased a Bombardier Global Express XRS. Both Dangote and Adenuga own at least two private planes each.
Also in March 2011, Bishop David Oyedepo acquired a Gulfstream V jet for $30m (N4.5bn). Oyedepo, who is the General overseer of Winners Chapel, now owns a private collection of four aircrafts. In addition to his latest acquisition, he previously owned two Gulfstream planes and a Bombardier Challenger Aircraft. He is also reportedly creating a private hangar to accommodate his jets, which could cost some millions of dollars to put together.
Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church of God is another proud jet owner. In March 2009, Adeboye spent $30m (about N4.5bn) on a Gulfstream jet amidst prevalent criticism. The jet is a transatlantic aircraft with registration number 707EA with capacity of 15 passengers, which will cost the church about N81, 264.06 as landing and parking charges during the day while the rate is slightly higher if the aircraft leaves the airport and returns at night, which is regarded as the pick period at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos.
A source close to the FAAN who confided in this paper, posits that for landing and parking charges, the church would pay N118, 717, which also depends on the weight of the aircraft as at the time of touching down at the airport. The charges to be paid on parking however depend on the state of residence of the owner of the jet. For instance, if the owner resides in Lagos, he would not pay parking charges for parking at the Lagos Airport, but if it is outside the state, the owner pays for parking at the airport.
Adeboye’s aircraft weighs 65, 000 and has two cockpit crew, two cabin crew and aeronautic engineers attached to it with the fuel capacity at 6,164 litres, while the fuel capacity shortfall is 3,003 litres. Besides, oil merchant, Femi Otedola, recently purchased a Challenger Global 5000. This aircraft, with a Rolls Royce engine, has a luxurious seating for 14 passengers and an interior that merits the description of an aero palace in the air. It reportedly costs about $51m. Every aircraft has some rotables, which are time-bound parts in aircrafts that have to be changed regularly. Those parts either used or not are changed after every 12 or 15 months. Same thing applies to private jets. Unlike the commercial aircrafts that are charged per hour, private jets are charged daily.
Besides these three, the Chagoury Group, a firm owned by a prominent Lebanese business family, reportedly has two private jets in its fleet. Investigations show that private jet owners in Nigeria spend at least $52.3million (N7.8billion) annually on maintenance and expatriate pilots.
It was gathered that about 80 per cent of these private jets carry foreign registration, with most of them registered in South Africa, United States and some European countries. This means that about 56 jets are being flown and maintained by expatriates. According to industry experts, annual maintenance of a private jet costs an average of $550,000. This translates into about $30.8million for the estimated 56 foreign-registered aircrafts.
An expatriate pilot also takes home an average of $8,000 monthly (about N1.40 million), according to experts. This means that Nigeria loses at least $21.5million annually to expatriate pilots. These pilots are flown into the country every three weeks. Their return air tickets, as well as hotel and feeding costs, while in Nigeria, are borne by the owners of the private jets.
According to experts, 70 per cent of the foreign-registered private jets flying in Nigeria carry South Africa’s registration; hence, a significant number of the jets are being flown and maintained by South Africans. They, however, said minor maintenance, called A & B checks in aviation parlance, was mostly done in Nigeria by expatriates from the countries where the private jets are registered.
Indigenous chartered jet operators were said to have raked in at least N2.52billion in 10 weeks from politicians, who make use of their services to move from one campaign venue to the other before the April 2011 general elections. Investigations revealed that each of the four major indigenous chartered jet operators, which conveyed politicians to various parts of the country for electioneering, made about $420,000 (N63 million) every week.
According to industry sources, each of the operators worked for about 70 hours a week with the fee for each hour fixed at about $6,000 (N900, 000). This meant that each operator made around $420,000 (N63million) weekly, while the four operators made $1.68million (N252million) weekly.
Thus, the four operators may have made not less than N2.52billion in 10 weeks conveying politicians from their respective bases to the different campaign venues and back. The four major indigenous chartered jet operators in the country are Kings Airlines, Wings Aviation, Top Brazz Aviation and Overland Airways.
However, findings showed that other airlines, including Associated Airlines, also engaged in chartered services occasionally, while some non-aviation companies, which own private jets, rented them out to their politician friends for chartered services. One of the operators, which craved anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the matter, said that the N2.52billion made by the chartered jet operators represented only a fragment of what came into the sub-sector since January when the last election campaigns began. According to him, the business is currently dominated by foreign operators who handle about 70 per cent of the deals coming into the sector.
Investigations also revealed that three out of the four banks (names withheld), which had acquired private jets before the 2009 shake-up in the banking sector, have put them up for commercial use. It was gathered that the banks opted for commercialization of the jets to cover increasing maintenance cost and maximise profit. According to investigations, as chartered jets companies, some of the banks charge about $6,000 (N900, 000) per hour for the use of their private jets.
“All the banks, which own private jets do charter except for one of them, whose jets are no longer seen in the country. They maximise profit from this. Sometimes, they are patronised by senators and ministers. Some of them charge as much as $6,000 per hour, while some charge below that, depending on the personality of the person involved in the charter and his relationship with the bank,” the source, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak officially, said.
However the questions remain: why the penchant for the acquisition of these private jets? Can the owners of these jets claim that the money for their acquisition is from their sweat and not from the pilfering of the nation’s or state’s resources alike?
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