Columns

May 19, 2024

Two topical decisions by Tinubu and Uju Kennedy, by Tonnie Iredia

Two topical decisions by Tinubu and Uju Kennedy, by Tonnie Iredia

In the midst ofgeneral anguish over tough economic policies by the Tinubu-led administration, certain other decisions which have enormous impact on social interactions in Nigeria were made in the last one week. Two of such memorable decisions stand out. The first concerns President Bola Tinubu’s decision to make all Nigerians equal before the law with respect to the payment of fees at tollgates in ourairports. The second is the decision of Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye, the Minister of Women Affairs to intervene in a case of proposed mass marriage in Niger State. Both are remarkable decisions for which the President can claim double credit first for his personal disposition and second for creating an enabling environment for Kennedy-Ohanenye and other top office-holders to be proactive.

Mutual distrust and suspicion between the privileged group and ordinary Nigerians have subsisted over the years because no effort has been made to interrogate the main causes. Last week, President Tinubu arrested one of them – the inclination to ask the poor to pay for certain things which the powerful and wealthy either evade or are exempted from. When Festus Keyamo, our aviation ministerrequested the federal executive council’s authorisation for more people to pay the prescribed fees for using our airport gates, his prime motivation was economic. The minister’s research team had found that the airports were losing over 82 percent of their revenues through tollgate leakages especially the exclusion of some segments of the society from payment of toll. 

Keyamo had suggested the exemption of only the President and his Vicewhich Tinubu rejected. Everyone should pay, the President directed- a directive that would greatly boost the aviation sector and more importantly redirect Nigeria’s convoluted approach to the rule of law. If everyone is equal before the law as one of the legs of the rule of law states, should some tollgate users especially those who have the ability to pay be exempted from paying the fees prescribed by law? If this question is answered in the negative as Tinubu has just done, then Nigeria can move a step forward not only in putting an end to the exploitation of the down-trodden but also in ensuring the attainment of democracy which presupposes the rule of law. It is for this reason that this writer fully supports the stand of the President. 

A second reason for my support is based on my personal experience many years ago when I served as Chief Executive of the Nigerian Television Authority NTA. Within a few months of my assumption of office, I found that NTA’s internally generated revenue was automatically consumed by internet fees paid for the LIVE coverage of government activities. I sought audience on the subject with President Olusegun Obasanjo who ordered that all Government Ministries, Parastatals and Agencies should pay NTA charges just as he directed that N36million already spent on the coverage of presidential activities be refunded to my organization. It is important to state that the charges did not include the coverage of news events which is professionally free. Obasanjo’s posture of leadership by example is worthy of emulation; and it is commendable that President Tinubu has espoused same stance with the tollgate issue. 

The decision of the Minister of Women Affairs Barrister Uju Kennedy-Ohanenye to call for more interrogation of a proposed mass marriage in Niger State which is our second topical issue is also commendable. The week before, the Speaker of the Niger State House of Assembly Abdul Malik Sarkindaji announced plans to marry off 100 female orphans who lost their parents to banditry attacks in Mariga Local Government Area of the State. Speaker Sarkindaji said he decided to sponsor the weddings of the 100 girls, because they were either orphans or their parents were too poor to fund their weddings. Expectedly, there were mixed reactions to the announcement; one of which was that of Minister Ohanenye who took steps to stop the weddings for a number of reasons which she clearly enumeratedat a press conference.

The Minister began with a petition to Kayode Egbetokun our Inspector General of Police IGP followed by filing a court injunction to put the proposed marriages on hold until further investigation is carried out with a view to ensuring that the welfare of the orphans was prioritized. As is usual in Nigeria, there were counter reactions by different groups to the Minister’s standpoint. On its part, the Niger State Council of Imams gave Ohanenye a one-week ultimatum to withdraw her comments condemning the Speaker’s plan to sponsor the mass weddings because she supposedly dabbled‘into an issue, she had no understanding of.’ Jonathan Vatsa, a chieftain of the All-Progressives Congress APC and former Commissioner for Information and Tourism in Niger State was even convinced that the Minister ‘was fighting a lost battle.’ 

Apart from the Muslim Rights Concern MURIC which asked the Minister to steer clear of the matter, another group, the Muslim Lawyers Association of Nigeria MULANfaulted Ohanenye’s position on the proposed mass weddings. According to Saeed Muhammad Tudun-Wada, the Presidentof the Association, 5 Senior Advocates and 27 other lawyers were set to meet the Minister in any court of competent jurisdiction because she had allegedly overstretched her limit by her delving into issues of private and personal interest of the girls in Niger State. Interestingly, Minister Ohanenye insists that her impetus was the importance of ensuring the well-being of the girls beyond arranging marriages.

Luckily, there are already signs of those likely to emerge as winners in the contest. The first are the girls that may, at last, get some attention from our government whose main duty is the welfare and security of citizens – a duty that has for long remained a slogan. The reason the girls are orphans is that they lost their parents to banditry which the state failed to protect them from. Having lost their parents, the compensation they appear to be getting is forced marriage as illiterates. The decision of the Women affairs minister to make arrangements for their skill acquisition and empowerment which substantially ameliorates their double jeopardy makes them winners along with the forward-looking Minister who for once goes on record as an office-holder determined to run women affairs with a human face.

We also have a third set of winners. Among them is Speaker Abdul Malik Sarkindaji who is now poised to ensure that the real interest of the girls is achieved thereby showing that his initialmove was to help the needy. Other winners include some eminent traditional rulers, especially the Etsu Nupe and the Emir of Kontagora respectively who have reached out to the Minister to work for peace. All others who have since become part of the battle and are eager to go to court on behalf of whatever party would do well to pulse for a while. Those of them who are public spirited enough can donate funds to facilitate the empowerment of the girls. Once the girls are properly trained enough to have the capacity for rational decision making, all those who want to attend marriages or who want the weddings in a particular format can do so.

While commending the President and his Minister for the two topical issues of the moment, it is important to make the point that the decision for everyone including the number one citizen to pay tollgate fees will greatly enhance the acceptance of the tolling policy. More money will be generated which would hopefully be used to provide service at the airports and which would in turn improve the welfare of air passengers. It is also hoped that basic items like Public Address Systems which do not currently function properly will be redressed. In addition, our dynamic aviation minister should instal a platform which renders nugatory any sharp practice at the tollgates of all federal airports in Nigeria.

Many Nigerians who are thrilled by the handling of the two topics in this piece would no doubt look forward to many presidential interventionsin several areas where the poor are not allowed to breathe in Nigeria. In the area of security for instance, no Nigeria should be allowed to use his official vehicle and police to push others away from our current Animal Farm type of roads in which some animals are more equal than others.