More details emerged yesterday on why the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) resorted to chartering private jets for use by the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and other top officials of the corporation.
According to sources, the NNPC is empowered by law to own aircraft and actually had two jets in its fleet before 2012 before they became inoperative.
The sources, who spoke against the backdrop of the decision by the House of Representatives to probe the minister for allegedly spending N10 billion on private jet charter over a two-year period, said the two aircraft became unserviceable from 2012, when they started to malfunction and efforts to secure new ones had been stalled.
Shortly after the House last Thursday, mandated its Committee on Public Accounts to probe the transaction, VistaJet, the Swiss-based operator of the Bombardier Challenger 850 that the minister was accused of hiring for her trips, had hurriedly recalled the aircraft.
But the state-run oil corporation on Monday defended the minister against the allegation, saying it did not hire any jet for the minister’s exclusive use or for the use of her family.
It added that in line with the law establishing the corporation, NNPC, in the discharge of its statutory and commercial functions, engages third parties to provide services outside its core business and the practice is common and acceptable in the local and international business environment in which it operates.
But while the House committee is preparing to launch the probe, THISDAY gathered yesterday that the parliament has discovered that the minister was chartering another jet, other than the Challenger 850, for her foreign trips, at the cost of 600,000 Euros per trip, since she assumed office.
Sources, who spoke on the matter with THISDAY yesterday, corroborated the NNPC’s claims and spoke further on how it resorted to chartering private jets for its operations.
One of the aircraft, one of the sources said, lost altitude on at least two occasions while the other crash-landed at Osubi Airstrip, Warri, Delta State.
The aircraft, Hawker 4000, which crash-landed in Warri, the source said, was manufactured by Hawker Corporation but could no longer be serviced as the manufacturers were said to have gone bankrupt and were no longer in business to manufacture the spare parts.
Besides, the source confirmed that the plane no longer had a valid warranty and as such, remained within the precincts of Osubi airport after it crash-landed in 2012.
â€œIt has not been evacuated since then and its wreckage can be sighted within the precincts of Osubi airport,â€ the source said.
According to another source, the second aircraft in the fleet of the NNPC is 30 years old and had lost altitude on two occasions.
â€œThe HS125 jet had a sudden descent twice from 27,000 feet to 25,000 feet and from 22,000 feet to 20,000 feet respectively. It became risky to continue to fly such a plane and it was parked at one of the hangars,â€ he added.
He explained that one of the aircraft in the presidential fleet was made by the same manufacturer and the federal government had recently approved that the NNPC plane be converted to scrap to service the jet in the presidential fleet. What this meant, the source said, was that the NNPC had no serviceable plane, whereas its operations must not be hampered to avoid a ripple effect on the nationâ€™s economy.
THISDAY learnt that the NNPC had repeatedly told the federal government that it would require $70 million to buy a new jet that fits into its operational schedules and that it would also cost more to maintain the jet.
The sources however said it would take about two years to manufacture the plane if it was approved and paid for.
But he said President Goodluck Jonathan has been reluctant to approve any money for the purchase of new aircraft by NNPC. It was against this backdrop, the sources explained, that the corporation resorted to jet charters for operational and ministerial use.
â€œThere are instances when the corporation had to resort to using jets owned by some companies contracted by NNPC and we saw that this was not ideal.
â€œWe had to take note of the fact that NNPC is a parastatal of government and at the same time a business venture. It must conform to the challenges of the business environment if it must be seen to be in serious business,â€ the source added.
He dismissed the allegation by the House that the NNPC had spent over N10 billion on chartered flights, saying the figure was exaggerated and blamed the habit of running down members of the executive as an extension of the rivalry between the two arms of government.
He observed: â€œEven if we had to play politics, it must be measured. But this is not the case and it is unbecoming of an institution as critical as the parliament.
“They are not thorough but merely interested in running down the executive, whether or not their allegations are correct. They just want to give a dog a bad name in order to hang it. That’s all.â€
Notwithstanding the defence on behalf of the minister, it was learnt yesterday that the House had discovered another hired jet, with registration number OF-LGX GLOBAL EXPRESS, she had chartered in the past for foreign trips besides the Bombardier Challenger 850.
A source confided in THISDAY that the Public Accounts Committee of the House, chaired by Hon. Adeola Solomon Olamilekan, has unearthed the second chartered jet allegedly used by Alison-Madueke for her foreign trips, since she assumed office, at the cost of 600,000 Euros per trip.
The source said the latest discovery was made ahead of the impending probe instituted against the minister for alleging squandering over N10 billion on the charter of the Bombardier Challenger 850.
The committee, as part of its investigation, it was gathered, has resolved to summon all passengers whose names appeared on the manifest of the chartered jets.
The source said the name of the minister and three others surfaced regularly on all the flight manifests to various foreign country.
The flight manifest of the newly discovered chartered jet, according to the source, detailed the number of trips, dates and destination.
Olamilekan was however not available for comment on the new discovery, as he was said to be attending a meeting pertaining to the probe.