In early November 2023, Nigerians were thrown into a frenzy when a supplementary budget document was released with N5 billion earmarked for a presidential yacht listed in it. Of course, the news did not go down well with most Nigerians who questioned why the presidency needed a yacht when the country was groaning under economic turmoil. The previous news about Nigerian federal lawmakers budgeting N57.6 billion to buy luxury vehicles for members did not help matters.
Since the subject has cropped up across Nigeria, many are wondering what a presidential yacht means and its significance in Nigeria, considering the current economy. This article provides a better insight into how a presidential yacht crept into Nigerians’ consciousness.
What is a presidential yacht?
A presidential yacht is a vessel of a country’s navy which would be specially used by a country’s President. The vessel is mostly operated by the navy of the host country. The presidential yacht is largely used for leisure and pleasure, including hosting world leaders and other foreign visitors and dignitaries for diplomatic meetings.
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The features of a presidential yacht, depending on the level of luxury, include a helipad, garden, spa, cinema, library, personal museum, sports centre, pools, suites and hospital. Some popular presidential yachts include the Savarona, later named USS Sequoia, USS Mayflower, Al-Mirqab, Honey Fitz, USS Potomac, USS Williamsburg, Morning Glory, BRP Ang Pangulo and Galeb, HRM Britannia.
Note that a presidential yacht is not the personal property of a president but one of the perks that comes with the job. Hence, it can be modified to suit the tastes and needs of whoever is the president at a particular period.
Presidential yacht controversy in Nigeria
On November 2, 2023, the Federal Government reportedly allocated the sum of N5.095 billion for the purchase of a presidential yacht under the capital expenditure of the Nigerian Navy. The allocated sum was part of the proposed 2023 supplementary budget submitted by President Bola Tinubu to the National Assembly, which contains a capital expenditure of N42.3 billion for the Nigerian Navy and a recurrent expenditure of N20.42 billion.
However, it is worth noting that Nigeria once had a presidential yacht. The first presidential yacht was Ogina Bereton, which was purchased by Alfred Papapreye Diete-Spiff, the military governor of the old Rivers State. Governor Diete-Spiff reportedly bought the yacht to house the members of the State Executive Council on working visits since there were no hotels and guest houses in the newly created state.
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However, the yacht was decommissioned by the military administration of Murtala Muhammed which saw the acquisition as “too luxurious”. Hence, the yacht was handed over to the Nigerian Navy where it was renamed ‘NN Ruwan Yaro’ and converted to a Nigerian Navy Cadet and Midshipmen Training Ship. Admiral JO Ayinla became the first captain of the ship.
Today, the Nigerian Navy has a training ship named ‘NNS Prosperity’, which can be likened to a presidential yacht. With the announcement of a proposed payment for a new presidential yacht, many Nigerians are wondering if it was necessary when the navy already has one. Many Nigerians also called out the presidency for being insensitive to the hardship biting the citizens due to economic problems in the country.
A retired naval officer said of the proposed purchase: “The way things are now, we do not need a presidential yacht. While a politician will say Yes, I will say NO as an old sea dog! It’s debatable but when we lay all the points bare on the table, those who propose it will not have the day. But my points for rejection are majorly along the lines of security, not prestige.”
He added: “So, what will be the return on the investment of N5 billion on a yacht? Most likely to be a used one also called Tokunbo. I will tell you for free that the proposed vessel will go the way others have gone. It’s not easy to maintain a seagoing vessel. I like naval scholars who say that ‘the outlook of a navy is a function of the economy of the nation that owns it’.”
A lawyer and war historian told Business Day: “Nigeria does have a presidential yacht and has done so for decades. Whether it is seaworthy is a different matter. Whether there should be one at all is an even bigger question.
“If Britain, far richer and with the Western world’s most storied naval tradition, gave up the Royal Yacht, “Brittania”, decades ago for economic and value-for-money reasons, a demise that made a whole Queen Elizabeth II shed tears, I see no reason why we should keep that boat and budget for it.
“NNS Nigeria, now NNS Obuma, has indeed been decommissioned. This is the second or third time I’ve seen news about a budget provision for a ‘presidential yacht’. So, if the boat has been converted and decommissioned, what is the justification for a budgetary provision and how were previous provisions spent? Is this yet another phantom budgetary provision through which money is sucked out of the treasury?
The presidential candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 general elections, Peter Obi, also faulted the proposed purchase of the presidential yacht, saying that such a proposal shows insensitivity on the part of the government.
In the statement, titled ‘Observations on the Supplementary Budget’, the former Anambra State Governor wrote, as quoted by Vanguard: “A supplementary budget is a budget made for very important national welfare needs of the people which were not captured originally in the main budget, or do not have adequate funding.
“Admittedly, some items in the current budget may not have taken into consideration the needs of a new administration, but it is expected that a supplementary budget this late in the financial year should reflect mostly urgent items of national welfare. No item of urgent social welfare has yet featured in the supplementary budget being orchestrated by this government.
“Instead, the items being made to dominate public discourse on the budget include a mysterious Presidential Yacht, Presidential Jets, the furnishing of already lavishly furnished presidential quarters and offices, fleets of luxury SUVs etc.”
He added: “This portrays a Government that is uncaring and insensitive to the suffering of the majority, and indifferent to the mood of the nation.”
However, Tope Ajayi, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, said the plan to purchase the presidential yacht did not come from President Tinubu.
He said: “It is important to state clearly that President Bola Tinubu did not ask for a presidential yacht, and I doubt he needs one to perform the functions of his office. From what I know, the request for a yacht, however named or couched in the budget, is from the Navy and they must have operational reasons for why it is required.
“The budget office should be in a position to also explain to the public why such expenditure should be accommodated now, considering the economic situation of the country.”
On November 8, 2023, President Tinubu assented to the supplementary budget at his office in the Presidential Villa Abuja, despite the agitations of the Nigerian people. He signed the bill in the presence of Senate President, Godswill Akpabio, and Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tajudeen Abbas.
However, the purchase of the yacht has been suspended by the Presidency.
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