COMPTROLLER General of Customs, Hamid Ali, expressly violated President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive banning cabinent ministers and key public officials from flying first class. Ali, a close ally of the president was spotted on Tuesday flying first class on British Airways flight from London to Abuja, in clear violation of the President’s directive against flying first class in the face of excruciating cash crunch. According to Premium Times report, 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 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, on Wednesday morning at about 5a.m. Insider sources confirmed that the trip to the UK was official. Several passengers on the flight told PREMIUM TIMES that 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 said. There were notable Nigerians on board and a number of them confirmed 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 Buhari, the CGC 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 Premium Times 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.” 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 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, remains unclear how the Ministry of Finance is monitoring and enforcing compliance with the circular on travel expenses by officials.

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