President Goodluck Jonathan and some top government officials on Saturday escaped an air mishap at the Minna Airport, Niger State, when a presidential jet developed a technical fault, while they were aboard.
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, the aircraft 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.
At the time of filing this report, engineers were still battling with the faulty jet on the tarmac in the deserted airport while officials of the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria were seen taking notes.
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.”
The incident occurred despite the fact that in the past four years, at least N48bn has been allocated to the Presidential Air Fleet, a range of 11 luxurious aircraft which are at the disposal of the President.
According to the 2014 Appropriation Bill presented to the National Assembly by President Goodluck Jonathan through the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, in December 2013, a total of N4.91bn was earmarked for the Presidential Air Fleet.
For the maintenance of the 10 aircraft currently in the Presidential Air Fleet, N1.52bn was allocated.
This was apart from the N747m earmarked for the purchase of aviation fuel for the aircraft already in the fleet.
The government earmarked the sum of N2.66bn for other expenses on the PAF, including international trainings for the fleet’s personnel, rehabilitation/renovation/repairs of the PAF Barracks, completion of a hangar project, tyre bay tools and equipment, insurance premium, cleaning and fumigation services, 797 units of LG 2HP air conditioners for the PAF Barracks and refreshment and meals.
For the year 2013, a total of N7.5bn was allocated the Presidential Air Fleet, while in 2012, N15.6m was allocated for personnel costs; N969m for overheads, which included spare parts, checks, aviation fuel; and N16.8bn was allocated for a brand new plane for the presidency.
In 2011, an N18bn allocation to the PAF was tucked under a N105bn budgetary allocation to the “Intelligence Community.”
Also, in the 2010 proposal, the Presidency had proposed the acquisition of four new aircraft for the presidential fleet and had made a budget provision of N23.4bn in that budget for them.
Experts have put the combined estimated value of the 10 planes in the presidential fleet at about $390.5m (N60.53bn).