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Saturday, 8 April, 2000, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
Nigeria plane row takes off

President Obasanjo: Turned down Cuban offer of plane

By Lagos correspondent Barnaby Phillips

The president of Nigeria, Olusegun Obansanjo, has become embroiled in a row with parliament about the state of the presidential jet.

The assembly has blocked a request from the president for about $80m in order to enable him to buy an airbus from the Sultan of Brunei.

In response, he is flying by commercial flights on Sunday to Cuba, where he is attending the G-77 meeting of developing nations.

It is the latest twist in a long-running dispute behind which lies a serious breakdown in relations between the executive and the legislative bodies in the new democracy.

The president says he needs a new plane because his Boeing 727 is getting too old and because it violates new anti-noise pollution laws, which came into effect this month in the skies over European and American territory.

The national assembly says the request for $80m is extravagant and has instead authorised that money be spent on rehabilitating the Boeing 727.

In the meantime, the president has determined he will take commercial flights around the world, no matter the affront to Nigeria's dignity.

His spokesman said that President Fidel Castro had even offered to send a plane to pick up President Obasanjo, but that this offer had been politely turned down.

Distrust

Disputes over the the purchase of new presidential jets are nothing new in Africa, but behind this argument is a growing distrust between the president and the assembly that is almost paralysing Nigeria's new democracy.

The assembly accuses the president of behaving like a military ruler, who thinks he can push them around.

The president's supporters accuse the assembly of being more interested in its own welfare than Nigeria's recovery.

After months of wrangling, the assembly belatedly passed the year 2000 budget this week.

To the president's anger, his own version was amended by the assembly, which is reported to have taken the initiative of awarding itself some $280m for its own expenditure.

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