The Comptroller General of Customs, Hamid Ali, a well known ally of President Muhammadu Buhari, was spotted on Tuesday flying first class on British Airways flight from London to Abuja, in clear violation of President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive banning public officials from flying first class.
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 sources 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 sources contacted the customs spokesperson, Wale Adeniyi, on Thursday, he confirmed Mr. Ali was on the BA flight, but that he traveled on a business class ticket.
Mr. Adeniyi was not on the flight, and he responded to inquiries without checking with Mr. Ali, according to sources.
“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.”
President Buhari had in April caused the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun, to issue a circular to all government agencies barring top officials from travelling first class.
The measure was to cut the high cost of travelling by public officials, Mrs. Adeosun said.
The minister said even travels with Business Class tickets remained strictly restricted to only ministers, permanent secretaries, chairmen of Federal Government committees as well as chairmen and chief executives of parastatals and agencies.
That means other categories of government officials, including directors and special assistants, are to travel on economy tickets.
Mrs. Adeosun said the measure was part of the recommendations by the Efficiency Unit of her ministry to cut travel expenditure by about 20 per cent.
The recommendations were as a result of the review of the provisions of some extant government circulars on overhead expenses on official travels, the minister said.
The review was carried out in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) and the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation (OHCSF).
Administration insiders said the appointment letter issued to Mr. Ali by the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation indicated clearly that he could only fly on business class tickets.
It however remained unclear Friday how the Ministry of Finance is monitoring and enforcing compliance with the circular on travel expenses by officials.