Nigerian business aviation hits back over political fraud scandal
Business aviation in Nigeria has been hit by major scandal regarding the alleged improper use of business jets by the country's petroleum minister and the governor of one of the country's largest states.
But industry experts and political commentators warn that the allegations are politically motivated (elections are due next year) and stem from an misconception about business aviation and its use as a business tool.
Nigerian newspaper reports suggest some $57million were spent by the energy minister, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, on “charter and maintaining” a Bombardier Challenger 850 owned by Vistajet. A second Global XRS was allegedly used for her private use costing the Nigerian taxpayers a further £1.2 million.
Meanwhile, Governor Godswill Akpabio of the Akwa Ibom State, was accused of spending $10 million over twenty-five trips on a Vistajet Challenger 604.
Local media reports accused the Swiss-based charter company of “fleeing the country” with the aircraft when the scandal broke.
However, speakers and delegates at the Nigerian Business Aviation Conference (NBAC) this week described some of the figures being bandied around as ‘preposterous” and the former director general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority Dr Harold Duggeren said there was “ a huge gap in perception” of the role of business aviation in the country.
Pictured below: The Vistajet Challenger 850 was on planned missions within Europe and not 'fled the country' as reported by Nigerian media, the company said.
A spokeswoman for VistaJet said that there had been no request for information by the Nigerian media. “Our operations in the country are legal. Regarding the Challenger 850, the aircraft was scheduled to fly in Europe, which is why it was moved. The basis of our operations worldwide is that our aircraft are in constant movement to meet demand,” she said
The management of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, also denied reports that it chartered aircraft for the personal use of the minister. In a statement, Dr. Omar Farouk Ibrahim, defended the use of business aircraft . "There is nothing prohibiting NNPC from owning or chartering an aircraft," he said.
"Operations in the oil and gas sector are time sensitive and often require prompt attention, which cannot be achieved using regular scheduled flights. It is standard practice for large oil and gas Corporation such as NNPC to make use of the most efficient means of transportation to ensure the effective and efficient coverage of the vast scope of critical oil and gas assets under their purview.
"NNPC has always availed itself of the use of owned or chartered aircraft for the purpose of its business, which includes the transportation of its top functionaries.
" In this regard, it is pertinent to note that the international oil Companies operating in joint ventures with NNPC, regularly charter aircraft as dictated by the exigencies of their business. Indeed some have moved from owning their own aircraft to suing the charter opinion. Other national oil companies, such as Sonangol of Angola, have also chosen the charter option.
"The advantages of the charter option include zero capital and maintenance costs resulting in a lower financial outlay and thus an improved cash flow."
Business Aviation is growing rapidly in Nigeria. At NBAC reports showed as many as 150 private jets are now operating in the country. Business and general aviation has outpaced commercial aviation, although many of the business aircraft are registered outside of Nigeria.