6th November, 2013
The ethnicisation of the call for probe of Mrs. Stella Oduah, the Aviation minister, is a wrong approach to the whole issue. In other words, it is not about ethnicity; it is about corruption. We believe that 53 years after Nigeria became independent, trying to bring tribal sentiment into a fight against vice does not serve the country well.
On Saturday 26 October, hundreds of youths staged a protest march at the Akanu Ibiam airport, Enugu, against calls for the probe and sack of Oduah. The protesters accused a “cabal” of working feverishly to do the woman mischief, especially, to stop her from going ahead with her transformation agenda in the aviation sector.
According to the group: “This is a woman that has given the aviation sector a new face since she came into office. Today, our airports can compete with airports in foreign countries.”
Before she came, the protesters argued, they had been hearing about international airports but today it has become a reality in their own area. “We are ready to swim and sink with her.”
A newspaper quoted the people of Ogbaru as saying also, that the war against Oduah was not about the issue on ground but the 2015 presidential election.
Some people, the protesters said, not comfortable with the transformation agenda of the President, ganged up to tarnish the image of his ministers. “They also want to rubbish the President ahead of the next elections,” they submitted. The attacks against Oduah, as Ogbaru people argued, were not based on genuine grounds, but were politically motivated.
We disagree. The calls for the probe of Oduah are in the interest of Nigeria.
Apart from the President’s panel, the Aviation committees of both chambers of the National Assembly have also been empanelled to probe the controversies surrounding the acquisition of the cars. Indeed, Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, has submitted a petition to the EFCC in which he asked the anti-graft agency to investigate the controversies surrounding the purchase of the cars. “The investigation of economic and financial crimes in Nigeria is the exclusive responsibility of the EFCC. Last week, I submitted a petition on this issue to the EFCC. The panel that has been set up is defined to overreach the EFCC and cover-up this monumental scandal,” Falana said.
The composition of Jonathan’s administrative panel of enquiry itself, chaired by Alhaji Isa Bello Sali, the immediate past Head of Service of the Federation, with Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retd), the National Security Adviser and Air Vice-Marshall Dick Iruenabere (retd) as the two other members, does not give much room to cheer. The three are men steeped in officialdom. Thus, rather than carrying out independent investigations, many believe, they are likely to tailor their report, which is expected in two weeks, to their interpretation of the President’s body language on the issue.
And not a few Nigerians believe that the President’s disposition is keeping Oduah in his cabinet in spite of the controversies. The fact that the minister was part of the presidential entourage to Israel, even in the midst of the raging controversies over the purchase of the two BMW cars, many insist, is a clear indication of this.
Before landing herself in the current mess, Oduah was believed to be one of the ministers who have the ears of the President, a situation attributed to the vital role she played as coordinator of the organisation that raised the finance and organised the campaign for Jonathan’s election.
The setting up of the administrative panel itself is a triumph of good sense over deliberate whipping-up of political and ethnic sentiments in defence of Oduah by aides desperate to divert national focus from the cars purchased which, apart from being unbudgeted for, were bought at highly inflated prices. Reports backed up with documents that exposed how Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, the apex regulatory body in the aviation industry had, in August this year, bought two bullet-proof BMW cars for Oduah at the staggering sum of $1.6 million or N255 million.
Aides of the minister and information officers in the aviation sector initially denied the claim. Yakubu Dati, who was imposed as spokesperson of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, by Oduah after working with her in the campaign for President Jonathan’s election, claimed that the minister was too rich to request or accept car gifts from the NCAA. However, Joe Obi, a media aide to Jonathan, later owned up, with the excuse that the cars were bought for the Minister because of the security challenges she has been confronted with since she assumed office. This intensified calls for Oduah’s sack.
Fola Akinkuotu, director-general of NCAA, two days later, further muddled up the issue with claims that the cars were not bought for the Minister of Aviation but rather, because of the security challenges in the country, to move around high-profile foreign visitors the agency regularly plays host to.
Even with the claims and counter-claims, the Minister and her aides have shied away from addressing the issue of inflating the cost of the cars bought at $800,000 (about N127.5m) each. Automobile dealers said each of the cars should have cost no more than $167,000 or thereabout. According to one estimate, had the prices of the cars not been inflated, Oduah would be able to save about N195 million of taxpayers’ money.
These go to show that the ethnic coloration to the whole saga is illogical. This can only come up if there were no facts on ground.
Another reason disproving the charge of ethnicity in the call for Oduah’s probe, is that the media did not shy away from reporting the corruption cases against Dimeji Bankole, former speaker, House of Representatives, and Tafa Balogun, one-time inspector-general of police. They belong to a section of the country where many media establishments operate. In fact, the media did not even spare former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is also from that part of Nigeria. And when there have been corruption accusations to be reported concerning any individual from the North, the media have also done so, to set agenda for relevant authorities to act on.
Therefore, it is our advice that those whipping up primordial sentiments should stop it and let all Nigerians work together to fight graft. Otherwise, the rest of the world will leave Nigeria at the train station.