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N5billion Pleasure Yacht And Our Crooked Leaders By Kazeem Akintunde

Nigeria is gradually becoming a huge joke the world over. This is due to the kind of news emanating from the country which many sane people find funny. One of such is the purported acquisition of a presidential yacht by the Nigerian Navy without budgetary approval.

A yacht, going by its definition, is a sailing or power vessel used for pleasure, cruising or racing. Again, Collins Dictionary 2020 edition, defines a yacht as a large boat with sails or a motor, used for racing or pleasure trips. Going by the definition above, the Nigerian Navy may not necessarily be in need of a yacht at this critical point in time in the nation’s history. None of its officers is involved in yacht racing, and definitely none should be thinking of a pleasure trip on a yacht now.

However, a tidy sum of N5billion found its way into the supplementary budget of the Navy sent by President Bola Tinubu to the National Assembly for approval. Although members of the House of Representatives did the nation proud by expunging the N5 billion set aside for the yacht and adding the amount to students’ loans scheme, Senator Ali Ndume, the Senate’s Chief Whip, has said that the yacht has already been ordered and delivered, and that we may still have to pay for it.

This takes the cake for me. This can only happen in a Banana Republic where anything goes. Who gave the approval for the purchase of the yacht without NASS approval and cash-backing? Is the Procurement Office in the know? Was it taken to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for consideration? Which companies, local or foreign, bided for the purchase of the yacht, and which amongst them eventually won the contract? Since we have been told that the yacht has been purchased and delivered, can we see proof of the procurement process, where the yacht is anchored on Nigeria’s territorial waters, and can the media be taken on a guided tour to see whether it is a brand-new yacht or another Tokunbo as was the case with a presidential jet bought when President Olusegun Obasanjo was in power?

We’ve also been told that former President Muhammadu Buhari gave approval to the Navy for the purchase of the yacht after its predecessor, ‘MV Amaria’, was classified as old and unbefitting of the status of a presidential yacht.

The Director of Information at Naval Headquarters, Commodore Adedotun Ayo-Vaughan would be in a better position to tell Nigerians and the entire world how many past presidents made use of MV Amaria before it was classified as old and can no longer fit to serve the vanity of a sitting president. Did President Olusegun Obasanjo ever go on a cruise with the yacht while he was in government throughout his eight-year tenure? Did the late president Umaru Musa Yar’adua take his wife and first family on a boat ride while in government? President Goodluck Jonathan is still alive and kicking, to the Glory of God. He should come out and tell the world the number of occasions he took a ride on MV Amaria with Dame Patience Jonathan.

President Buhari who gave the approval for a new Presidential yacht should also be kind enough to tell us how many times during his eight-year rule that he and the First Lady, Aisha, or any other member of the First family cruised on the yacht and found it unworthy, for him to approve the request for a new one.

If the now defunct MV Amaria has never been used by any of our past leaders, then tagging it a ‘presidential yacht’ is misleading. A pleasure or cruise yacht, for the top brass of the Nigerian Navy, with their wives and side chicks would be more appropriate.

With the heat coming from many quarters, Naval spokesperson has come out to defend the indefensible. This is what he said: “The Presidential yacht is an integral part of the Navy fleet and the Federal Government had approved, supported, funded and driven the Navy’s fleet recapitalisation and renewal effort for well over eight years. The yacht has always been there. That’s what the public needs to know”.

No, Sir, you need to tell Nigerians more. That N5 billion is coming from our commonwealth and justification must be made for why we have to pay for it. Do you know the number of schools that that amount will renovate all over the country? Do you know the number of Primary Health Care Centres or roads N5billion will put into good shape all over Nigeria? You must tell us more by providing answers to all the questions above.

If the yacht has been bought and delivered as claimed by Senator Ndume, we need details of who gave the order for its purchase without cash-backing. We are not running a Banana Republic. Of what use is a pleasure yacht at this time when thousands of our young boys and girls are in the war front, battling Boko Haram fighters and insurgents? Many of them are losing their lives and limbs due to far inferior weapons to what the terrorists have.

Should a pleasure yacht be a priority to us as a nation at this time when citizens can barely afford a meal in a day? Unless the Navy is not telling us the whole truth and that the so-called presidential yacht is more or less a war ship, many Nigerians will never take the establishment seriously again, starting with me.

Now that the House of Representatives has expunged the purchase of the yacht from the supplementary budget, are we not likely to run into another trouble if we cannot or decide not to pay for the yacht that has now been delivered? I pray that the contractor will not drag the country to court for failure to honour its obligations. That was how we almost lost $11 billion in the P & ID case until a London Appeal Court saved the nation.

It still beggars’ belief that a presidential yacht will be smuggled into a supplementary budget when we should be thinking of military hardware’s that can quickly bring to an end, the over 10 years civil war with the Boko Haram sect. Many of our troops on the front lines are complaining about lack of adequate basic weapons, food and medical support. The welfare of those at the frontline should be the priority of our military establishment at this critical time, and not a pleasure yacht.

President Bola Tinubu cannot wash himself clean of the foul odour emanating from the purchase of the yacht as he could have put a stop to the whole sordid affair, but the Tinubu that I know would want to please the military establishment by approving many, if not all of their requests to protect his Presidency. However, he should be told that Nigerians are not smiling, as all his actions and inactions would be put under a microscope and scrutinized. Nigeria of 2023 is different from when he was the Governor of Lagos State between 1999 and 2007. He should think deeply and also consult widely before taking any decision.

Many of his compatriots can no longer afford to feed their families and life has been hell for most since he took over government. How to improve the welfare of the masses should be uppermost in his mind rather than funding the vanity of the military.

Going forward, he should take a second look at the 2024 budget which is about to be sent to the National Assembly for issues that could embarrass his government, and take them out. It is high time the war against Boko Haram and insurgents in the North be decisively tackled, and put to rest, there are wild allegations that the war has become an avenue for military generals to line their pockets.

In the last 10 years, a huge chunk of our budget has been devoted solely for the prosecution of the war in the North west and North east at the expense of other pressing national issues. The education sector is grasping for breath due to poor funding while hospitals have moved from being mere consulting clinics to mortuaries. Despite the huge fund for the defence ministry, it is curious and disturbing that the insurgents are still holding the country by the jugular without any headway. Are we going to be in a state of war forever? Travelling by road in most parts of the country is now like embarking on a death trip as you are not sure whether you will return alive. If the bad roads doesn’t send you to your early grave, marauding kidnappers are laying-in-wait to kidnap you for ransom. Ransom collection is now big business, with some of our security agencies being part of the evil enterprise.

Again, it is heartwarming that the House of Representatives have removed the N5billion budget for the yacht from the budget. It should stay so. The Navy that ordered for the yacht without budget backing should source for funding for it on their own. If they can’t, they should return the yacht to where it came from. Nigerians are not in the mood to tolerate any pleasure yacht at this point in time. The masses have been told to bear the ongoing hardship with equanimity. Those in government should also tighten their belts. It is they, in fact, who should cut down the ridiculously high cost of governance. If they don’t do that, then it means we are running a crooked nation, and all allegations of corruption “in high places” are true.

We should continue to give hope to our youths and not turn Nigeria into a hopeless case that most of its citizens already feel it is.

See you next week.