The move is a clear violation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive banning public officials from flying first class.The president had earlier this year directed the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, to issue a circular to all government agencies barring top officials from travelling first class, a measure put in place to cut the high cost of travelling by public officials.
According to PREMIUM TIMES:
The BA flight BA83 which took off from Gate 43 of Heathrow Terminal 5, London, on Tuesday, nearly an hour behind its scheduled 10.43pm departure time, arrived the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on Wednesday morning at about 5a.m, with Mr. Ali on board.
The reasons for Mr. Ali’s travel to London remained unknown as at the time of publishing this report, but customs insiders said the trip was official.
Several passengers on the flight told PREMIUM TIMES they saw Mr. Ali seated in the First Class compartment of the aircraft during the flight.
"It was a major talking point among some passengers whether the policy (barring public officials from flying first class) is being implemented with exceptions or whether it is meant for the shelves," one passenger on the flight told this newspaper.There were notable Nigerians on board and a number of them confirmed to this newspaper that the customs comptroller-general was in the first class cabin of the aircraft during the flight.
A first class ticket to and from London costs $11,423.23 (about N3.4million).
Besides being a close friend of Mr. Buhari, Mr. Ali, a retired army colonel, is a man seen by many Nigerian as frugal and incorruptible.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted the customs spokesperson, Wale Adeniyi, on Thursday, he confirmed Mr. Ali was on the BA flight, but that he travelled on a business class ticket. Mr. Adeniyi was not on the flight, and he responded to our reporter’s enquiry without checking with Mr. Ali. But our sources, some of whom travelled business class, said Mr. Adeniyi’s claim was inaccurate.
"That is not true,"one passenger said. "I was on business class, and I was awake most of the flight. So if you line up those on business class during that flight, I can identify them."