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The Tinubu Bus Stop

Nigeria was last week swept up in a wave of emotions as a video emerged in South Africa of President Bola Tinubu appearing to be…

Nigeria was last week swept up in a wave of emotions as a video emerged in South Africa of President Bola Tinubu appearing to be on the receiving end of an embarrassing snub by the South Africa leader at his inauguration.

But Nigerians who are looking at that video are at the wrong political campaign venue.  They should be studying videos of how Mr. Tinubu views them.

According to SaharaReporters, Mr. Tinubu arrived in Pretoria on a private jet belonging to Gilbert Chagoury, his business partner and a man whose Hitech Construction Company he has trusted with the controversial N15 trillion, 700km Lagos-Calabar coastal highway.  The Nigeria leader’s son, Seyi Tinubu, sists on the board of Hitech.

Clearly, the concept of conflict of interest, or crossed wires, means nothing to the Tinubus. In the past 10 years, the party to which they belong, the APC, has sworn to eliminate the expensive presidential fleet of about 10 jets.

But populism is different, and Muhammadu Buhari, the champion of the political boast, could not find the character to implement his claims.  He settled into the presidential fleet for eight years, and was known to give some of the jets to members of the family who had private errands to run.

All the jets were available and running smoothly when Buhari was in power.  Since Tinubu assumed office, however, various reports have suggested that some of the favourite jets were developing maintenance “issues.”

And then, just days before he was due to jet off to Pretoria in a Chagoury jet, the National Assembly set in motion a process to purchase new jets for him and for and Vice-President Kashim Shettima.  On June 13, the House of Representatives Committee on National Security and Intelligence authorized the government to “immediately” buy new aircraft for the two officials.

Only two days later, the House’s counterpart committee on the Senate, speaking through a man who was away in Saudi Arabia performing the Hajj, threw its support behind the fait accompli, which had clearly come from the executive itself.

The matter was reminiscent of the vexed issue of the national anthem last month, with the legislature taking just a matter of days to grant approval to the old anthem becoming the new.  It emerged that two years ago, Tinubu had disclosed that he if got the chance, he would bring back the old anthem.

He got his wish.  And now it seems he will get his new jets as well: only one week after the House gave its approval, the government reportedly put three jets in the presidential fleet up for sale.

The mass media is often quick to fall for such news bulletins when the government distributes them.  They disburse them lavishly on the front pages and the top of the broadcasts, only to fail to follow up the story.  In this case, we’ll almost certainly never find out who buys these three “ageing” jets, let alone for how much.

But the media will help to receive and gloat over the new jets that are being acquired not simply despite Nigeria’s mounting economic crisis, but indeed to escalate it.

My view is that Nigerians should pay less attention to Tinubu’s South African tour and far more to his invasion of Nigeria because this is the real nightmare.  If they are buying those jets without publishing an investigation of the maintenance profile of the presidential fleet, somebody is playing a game.

What we have is a government which preaches sacrifice but taunts the people by squandering resources.  It is a government which came to spend, not to serve, and the evidence is significant that lacks the commitment to uplift the Nigerian people.

It is widely known, for instance, that Tinubu loves large, exuberant convoys.  They feature glittering, top-of-the-line SUVs at a time when petrol costs are extremely high.  He appears determined to make Nigerians feel the pain of his tenure: to watch him enjoy his best life at a time he is calling on them to sacrifice for the greater good.  There is no deeper hypocrisy.

The first question is why he needs new vehicles, given the barely-used pool he inherited from his predecessor.  The second is why he is insensitive to the cost of maintaining and fueling the fleets.

According to available data of the federal government, on the 22nd of June 2023, three weeks after assuming office and in a continuing pattern for State House, Abuja, the government paid:

  • ₦212,712,766.59 for the “purchase of vehicles;”
  • ₦161,250,000.00 for the “supply of five Nissan urvan bus high roof mt;”
  • ₦61,275,000.00 for the “purchase of vehicles.”

At the end of May 2024, it paid:

  • ₦1,200,000,000.00 for the supply of new vehicles to State House, Abuja, and
  • ₦200,000,000.00 to buy SUVs. (Notice just how round those numbers strangely are), and
  • On June 7, 2024, ₦191,497,674.41 for three Toyota Prado 4-cylinder SUVs.

Nigerians would recall that in the 2023 Supplementary Appropriation, Mr. Tinubu wanted N3bn to renovate into “State House complexes,” two luxury properties that had been forfeited to the EFCC in the Guzape and Mabushi areas of the FCT.  Nigerians widely criticized the proposal.

The new data reveals, however, that as of May 31, he had got his wish:

  • ₦1,354,258,408.58 has been paid for the “acquisition, renovation and rehabilitation” of the property at Guzape;
  • ₦773,423,288.50 for the “acquisition, renovation and rehabilitation of 2 nos efcc forfeited quarters;” (presumably Mabushi), and
  • ₦1,877,305,494.92 for the “renovation of residential quarters for mr president.”

Similarly:

  • ₦752,236,350.10 was spent on the “renovation of Dodan Barracks-official residence of mr president;” and
  • ₦3,500,000,000.00 was paid to construct an office complex within State House, Abuja.

Anyone who is interested may further examine this database for various curiosities, such as parallel supplies, or new constructions of aspects of the State House Medical Center, a N21bn ($45m) “world class” facility that the preceding government completed, equipped and inaugurated with great fanfare just days before its departure in May 2023.

I find fascinating, the repeated investments in motor vehicle tires, for instance, along with relentless and separate supplies of diesel not just to State House, but separately, to the Medical Centre.

Finally, the presidential jets.  According to the government’s data cited in this story, the existing fleet shows over N18bn in maintenance costs in the one year between July 2023 and June 2024, even as a clear pattern emerged of the determination of leaders of the administration to focus on themselves.  Buhari was incompetent, shallow and weak, but even he hesitated at conspicuous consumption of the market square kind.

Because of the track record Tinubu has established in the past year, I fully expect Tinubu to get his jets—and more—no matter the optics or what it means for the Nigerian economy.

No, it is not what the South African president, or any other world leader, thinks of our Tinubu.  It is what Tinubu thinks of his people and where he hopes to leave them after eight years in control that is his dream.

Think of the Tinubu Bus Stop on the global poverty highway.

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