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Even Pope flies commercial planes – Rights group tells Tinubu

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Prominent Civil Rights Advocacy group: HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA) is of the considered opinion that the decision to acquire a brand new jet for the President is an expensive gambit especially now that majority of Nigerians experience costs of living crises orchestrated by the hike in pump price of petrol and the devaluation of the Naira by the administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu.

Also, the Rights group faulted the position of the presidential adviser on information and strategy Mr. Bayo Onanuga who attacked the 2023 presidential candidate of the Labour Party Mr. Peter Obi for opposing the ill-informed, ill-timed plan to buy a new plane at a time that over 133 million Nigerians are facing hunger, massive poverty and deprivation.

The Rights group said: ” Let it be made clear from the onset that we are speaking as an independent and totally non-partisan organisation and so shouldn’t be identified as supporting either of the two parties in disagreement over the necessity or otherwise of buying a new plane for the office of Nigerian president.

“We make haste to say the aforementioned because in Nigeria now, many small-minded, myopic and extremely divisive persons who are otherwise ‘schooled’ often misconstrue positions of CSOs or non-governmental individuals as representing those of opposition politicians. We speak also on behalf of the suffering masses of Nigeria who have no voice in the media of mass communication”.

HURIWA recalled that the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi, on Monday, faulted the plan by the Federal Government to buy new aircraft for the presidential fleets.

He described the move as insensitive while Nigerians grapple with economic hardship occasioned by the Federal Government’s policies.

But the Presidency, in a swift reaction, described Obi’s comment as insensitive, wondering if he would rather have the life of the President jeopardised by flying faulty aircraft.

Speaking on Monday, the Special Adviser to President Bola Tinubu on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, said, “Does Peter Obi want the President dead? Is that his wish? Does he want him to continue moving around in a rickety plane and die like the VP of Malawi and Iran President? Let him tell us. This is a basic thing any sane government will do. You can’t toy with your President’s welfare.

“The plane he used now, I learnt, was bought during (former President) Obasanjo’s era. That was over 20 years ago and I learnt it was a very small plane. The plane developed a problem the last time he travelled to Saudi Arabia. The President had to go from there to the UK on a commercial airline. Even those managing them said the aircraft needed to be replaced.

“Why will any right-thinking person still want the President to move around in it? In any way, it is the National Assembly that officially recommended that new ones should be bought. Sometimes, Peter Obi opened his mouth to make unnecessary statements,” Bayo Onanuga said.

HURIWA described the reaction of the President’s Special Adviser on information and strategy, as highly uncouth, unsophisticated, and highly insensitive just as the Rights group said there was nothing wrong if the Nigerian president flies commercial flights during his foreign trips since even the Supreme Pontiff who is the Head of the over 2 billion strong membership and wealthy religious body: Roman Catholic Church doesn’t even have a private plane but flies often on commercial airlines. Besides, some heads of powerful and advanced economies do take commercial flights during foreign trips.

HURIWA challenged the Presidency to do just a little research to ascertain the fact that the Pope with all his majestic authorities over a flock of 2 billion people all over the World and as the head of the Vatican city which is a Sovereignty, but the Papacy has no private jet for the travelling conveniences of the Holy Father.

HURIWA therefore wonders what the big deal is if President Bola Ahmed Tinubu presiding over one of the poorest countries in the World with the biggest population of absolutely poor, hungry and impoverished population, should fly on commercial flight. HURIWA also submitted that most of the foreign trips embarked by President Tinubu are frivolous and have yet to produce any tangible benefits to the greatest percentage of thr citizens hence the president should stay more at home solving the economic predicaments his badly implemented policies have unleashed on the majority of the citizenry.

HURIWA citing authoritative information stated that the Vatican always charters a plane for the three or four foreign trips a pope usually makes every year, often using a different aircraft for each leg of the journey. These are regular commercial planes that were in use making the Rome to London run, or something like it, the day before the trip and will be again once it’s over.

The tradition is for the pope to take the Italian national airline, Alitalia, to wherever he’s going, and then fly the national carrier of that country on his return. When Francis travelled to Sri Lanka and the Philippines in January, for instance, he took Alitalia to get there and Philippine Airlines to get back to Rome.

When the Pope traveled to the United States, he took Alitalia to Washington and then American Airlines the rest of the way.

Besides, HURIWA carpeted Bayo Onanuga for deploying gutter, uncouth, unpolished and primitive diatribe against Mr. Peter Obi when he could have very well offer logical and sophisticated explanation from his official points supporting the move by the President to get a new plane but no, the power drunk Presidential Adviser opted for the deployment of street or roadside language to address such a very weighty matter.

“If we may ask, just less than a year ago, when Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu wasn’t the president of Nigeria, does he not fly commercial airlines? Have all of us flying commercial planes that most of them are over 30 years old after manufacturing, have we all died? Why should Onanuga think in such a way as to mention dying whilst addressing issues around the President?”

HURIWA also criticised Bayo Onanuga thus: “Why will anyone wish the President dead and have all the people using commercial flights all over the World died? Why will Bayo Onanuga condemn the over 9 or 10 planes in the presidential fleets as ‘flying coffins’ and by saying so, has made it impossible for any sane person to buy any of the 9 or 10 jets in the Nigerian presidential fleets as it were since he believes that they are no longer safe to fly?”

“This bellicose manner of attacking citizens who express their views as citizens to government is absolutely reprehensible, despicable, irrational, irresponsible and condemnable.

“Bayo Onanuga’s thoughtless statement in which he said the current jets in the presidential fleets are no longer safe to fly will make it practically impossible for the Country to recoup or recover any kind of revenue from the sale of those jets in the presidential fleets at the moment. Who in his correct senses will buy those jets when someone working for president Tinubu has condemned them as unsafe?

HURIWA stated that there was nothing wrong for the president to fly on commercial airlines if that is the best way to conserve funds or alternatively, the jets in the presidential fleets should be sold so two or three new planes are purchased for the use of the offices of President and vice president.

In support of the aforementioned facts, HURIWA stated that facts are sacred but opinion is free just as it recalled that information available shows that the British Prime Minister and other high-rahking members of the British government travel commercially whenever possible.

For instance when David Cameron was PM, he reportedly turned heads when he boarded a commercial British Airways flight en route to his first bilateral meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama in 2010. Cameron said he wanted to set an example for the country by cutting his own official travel costs.

British prime ministers had previously chartered Boeing jets or travelled with the Royal Air Force.

When the then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper travelled abroad with Canadian media he uses the

CC-150 Polaris known as the Airbus. He sometimes uses Challenger jets for shorter trips to the U.S.

The Prime Minister’s Office says that, unlike his British counterpart, Harper cannot travel on commercial airlines for security reasons.

U.S. President travel on U.S. Air Force jets (Air Force One) and U.S. Marine Corps helicopters (Marine One).

As President, Richard Nixon boarded a commercial flight while in office. He only did it once.

New Zealand government officials, including Prime Minister John Key, generally travel using Air New Zealand whenever possible. Some of the flights are chartered; others are regularly scheduled commercial trips.

When in New Zealand, the Royal Family is flown by the Royal New Zealand Air Force. Government officials also have access to Air Force transport.

Donald Tsang, the chief executive of Hong Kong, flies Cathay Pacific (pictured) and Dragonair airlines when travelling outside the territory. For domestic travel, he uses government planes.

Fernando Chui, the chief executive of Macau, flies Air Macau when travelling internationally or to mainland China.

Macau is small enough to not require air travel for domestic trips.

Norway’s air force provides some of the air travel for the country’s royalty and government officials, but President Jens Stolfenberg most often travels by commercial airliners.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has a fleet of five aircraft provided by the Rossiya airline.

The main plane is an Ilyushin II-96-300PU, though other models ate used for medium- and short-range flights.

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong travels on commercial flights run by Singapore Airlines.

In 2010, the French government approved the purchase and refitting of an Airbus A330-223 for the use of President Nicolas Sarkozy. The plane features a bedroom, an office and a missile defence system.

France’s air force is responsible for transporting the president, prime minister and other high-ranking) government officials.

In July 2011, Slovenian President Bout Pahor vowed to start taking commercial flights instead of privately chartered planes as part of the country’s cost-cutting measures.

The Thai royal family, including King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is flown by the Royal Thai Air Force within the country.

On international flights, the royals fly Thai Airways International.

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