By Obi Nwakanma
I like Stella Oduah. Her fierce feline eyes – those bold saucers by which we enter into her soul –leaves one in no doubt that she is a force of nature. It is not for nothing that she is considered one of the most powerful ministers in the Jonathan administration. As minister for Aviation, she has certainly taken very bold steps; made tough and demanding decisions, and accomplished quite some visible milestones.
Evidence of her work and accomplishment in office can be seen in the new developments in the various Airports across the country. Under Oduah in Aviation, these Airports have been given bold face-lifts, and things seem to be in real motion. Perhaps one of her greatest achievements has been to instrumentalise the take-off of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport in Enugu, and pursue with vigour, the vast rehabilitation of the Port-Harcourt International Airport, which opens up the opportunities for International air travelers from the East and parts of the Nigerian Mid-belt. She had shaken up Aviation; cancelled obnoxious treaties and contracts; revised deleterious agreements, and stepped on very powerful toes.
She even recently became the object of a certain Mr. Fani-Kayode’s eyes and lust for the ethnic “other.” Whispered hints suggested that it all had to do with Oduah raining on FK’s Bi-Courtney parade or some unfinished business involving certain personal interests at Aviation. In all these, Ms. Oduah managed to shrug off her adversaries, and seemed rather coy about it. Note: when she recently laughed-off Fani-Kayode and told him to get off whatever he must be smoking! However, Ms. Stella Oduah is not sleeping easily these days. She shouldn’t. The whistleblower, “Nicholas Edwards,” who broke the lead off the massive procurement rip-off at the National Civil Aviation Authority, (NCAA), one of the key agencies under the ministry of Aviation has thrown light on a most embarrassing level of corruption in government. Allegedly sanctioned by the minister and top officials of this agency, it has since come to light that the NCAA spent a whopping N255 million (US 1.6 million) in extra budgetary funds to procure just two armoured BMW cars for the use of the Aviation minister.
It is a mindboggling story. But suppose we must excuse such luxury in the midst of crushing national poverty, when millions of Nigerian school children cannot afford breakfasts before coming to school, the universities and research facilities have closed down in a nation-wide strike because government says it cannot afford to fully fund the demands of the Lecturers; in the face of vast municipal infrastructural decay across the nation, and triple digit unemployment that makes the lives of regular Nigerians brutish and short, and a Nigerian minister still wishes to indulge in open gratuitous luxury; the details of the purchase would still irk. Fellow Nigerians, consider the following facts: the most expensive car in the market, the top of the line 2013 model Rolls Royce Phantom costs US 398, 970 fully delivered.
To pay N255 million of public funds for just two armoured BMW cars is pure thievery, and there is no pussy-footing around the fact. It reflects the profoundest example of how government officials and institutions operate, sanction, and legitimize scamming in the procurement process. The depth of miasma has been described by various commentators since the scandal broke at the NCAA as not just a matter of corruption but corruption of such scale and dimension that could not be described in any way other than plain impunity. It is impunity so bold and vast that it comes from that impulse of power where public officials inoculate themselves with the serum of invincibility. They grow too powerful. They become derisive of the intelligence and interest of the public so much that they take decisions in pure disdain of the public. Actions no longer seem to have consequence in Nigeria.
Corruption occurs in the public space where there is the absence of critical or legitimate oversight and sanction against those whose conducts undermine the public trust. This is exactly what seems to have happened at the Ministry of Aviation. Did a powerful minister go to the extent of gouging public funds, with the collusion of certain key officers of a critical Federal Government Agency through over-invoicing and sundry procurement fraud? This is the question before the public, and it is a question that will not go away soon. The most scandalous aspect of this story is that the Head of the NCAA, Mr. Akinkotu first came to the public to condemn the whistleblower as a “criminal.” It seems rather ironic because the real crime was in procurement gouging, in unauthorized spending of public funds; in the lack of procedural transparency in the tenders process; and in the attempt at a cover-up.
As at the moment of writing this piece, the minister of Aviation Ms. Stella Oduah was on a junket to Israel with the President, but through her office she released a statement absolving herself of wrong-doing. The House of Representatives has instituted a probe on the Oduah Affair, and has called former Head of the Agency, Mr. Joyce Nkemakolam, and its current Head, Mr. Akinkotu, and from all indications, each has made contradictory statements regarding this procurement scandal. The point to be made seriously here is that both men must be made to come clean on the facts of this purchase by the EFCC.
The House of Representatives and the Nigerian Press must dig in deeper, and we say, may the real Nicholas Edwards in every ministry and parastatal of government stand up to be counted! The procurement scandal in Aviation is but a tip of iceberg. It is a mere door into a vast labyrinth of official corruption in every segment of the Nigerian government, and this fact is an open secret.
It is an open secret that there is collusion at a vast, mind-bending scale within the institutions of government; within the bureaucracy, and inside the administration that bleeds the government and bilks public funds through extraordinary forms of rendition by which government contracts; procurements; pay-offs, are over-invoiced, over-bloated, stanched, and leveraged into the private pockets of top political and bureaucratic officials at the detriment of the public. I like Ms. Oduah, but I’m afraid she may have handed her enemies the ropes with which to hang her. The president must demand her resignation. But the president must also expand the probe to examine the procurement process in other sectors of his administration because Stella Oduah and the Ministry of Aviation are not the only culprits here. The entire place stinks.