by Femi Fani-Kayode
I read Dr. Reuben Abati’s article titled ‘The Hypocrisy Of Yesterday’s Men” (3rd Feb.2013) which was published in virtually every newspaper in the country with amusement. He sought to ridicule and demean those of us that served President Olusegun Obasanjo’s government and that are not very impressed with the performance of his boss. The fact that we asked President Goodluck Jonathan to account for the 67 billion USD that he squandered from our foreign reserves has clearly upset him. We dared to ask about the money and so we were singled out and targeted for a tongue-lashing and a long lecture from the Presidency. Yet we remain undeterred.
This is how weak governments that have nothing to offer and something to hide always behave. They come after their perceived enemies with full force and they are petty and oversensitive. This is all the more so when they lack experienced hands and when they do not have anyone with deep insight or wisdom about the art of governance or politics within their ranks.
In his response instead of answering our questions, addressing the issues or making any pertinent and sensible points about the numerous allegations against his principal, Abati chose to go on a delusional and self-serving joy ride. He simply refused to address any of our numerous concerns but instead indulged vainly in what can only be described as an utterly vulgar and distasteful form of intellectual, spiritual and psychological masturbation by telling us that he and his master were ”today’s men” who needed no lessons from the ”men of yesterday”.
The essay was nothing but the usual smear campaign and a crude attempt to intimidate which has been the hallmark of this Government whenever they are faced with even the mildest form of criticism. I will not dignify most of the insulting and childish submissions that Abati indulged in with a response other than to say that he told a shameless and pernicious lie when he wrote that as Minister of Aviation I “shut down Port Harcourt Airport for two years” and “allowed grass to grow all over it”. This is false. It is a classic case of disinformation coming from a man that is obviously suffering from a very low self-esteem. It is clear that Abati, who is a journalist, has forgotten the most important tenet of his profession which is that ”facts are sacred and opinion is cheap”. Ordinarily one would have ignored his bitter rant but it is important that I set the record straight for the sake of posterity. The facts are as follows.
Port Harcourt International Airport was closed on Dec.10 2005 after the Sosolisso Air crash in which 100 people were killed. The crash affected the runway of the airport very badly and consequently the then Minister of Aviation, Professor Babalola Borishade closed it. I was redeployed from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to the Ministry of Aviation in November 2006. This was 11 months after the Sossolisso crash took place and that Port Harcourt Airport had been closed. It is clear from the foregoing that I was not the one that shut down Port Harcourt Airport.
When I took over at Aviation my priority was to carry out all the necessary repairs at Port Harcourt Airport and to open it as quickly as possible. I was saddened to discover that in the previous 11 months before I got there nothing had been done and the contract to repair the runway had not even been awarded. Consequently within a month of my being appointed Minister of Aviation we set to work and awarded the contract to Julius Berger at the cost of N 3 billion. 50 per cent of the money was paid up front and Julius Berger set to work immediately. The runway was fully completed and the airport in pristine condition before I left office on May 29th 2007 just 6 months after I awarded the contract.
However despite this the airport could not be opened before we left because the runway lighting system was still in the process of being installed. The Yar’adua government went ahead and opened the airport a few months after we left office even though the runway lights had still not been installed. The record shows that from the day that I was appointed Minister of Aviation and the time that our mandate ran out 7 months later my staff at the Ministry and Julius Berger worked night and day on the runway project at Port Harcourt International Airport in order to ensure that we finished it in record time. And this we managed to do. It was my project. I sourced the money for it, I paid for it, I forced the contractor to move fast on it and I finished it. The fact that the Yar’adua administration did not complete the lighting system and open the airport for another few months after we left office, even though the runway was ready, is for them to explain and not for me.
Even though nothing was done at that airport for 11 months before I got to Aviation, once I was appointed we swung into action immediately. I repeat that it was under my watch that work commenced, that it was rebuilt, that it was completed and that it was fully restored and after that the airport was ready to be fully utilised. Given these facts how Abati can peddle the lie that I was the one that not only closed the airport but that I also kept it shut for two years, did nothing there, caused it to remain idle and allowed ”grass to grow all over it” honestly baffles me. I was Minister of Aviation for only 7 months and not 2 years and within those seven months, from scratch, I did all the work that needed to be done in order to make the airport functional again. I am proud of the fact that we succeeded in meeting our target and completing the job.
Abati also so asserted that I closed down ”other major airports” whilst I was Minister of Aviation ”for the purposes of renovation”. Again this is not true. Not one of the four major airports in the country was closed down for renovation works or any other reason whilst I was Minister of Aviation. And neither, to the best of my recollection, did I close or suspend the operations of any of the smaller airports except perhaps for safety reasons. As a matter of fact the opposite was the case.
I actually installed and completed the sophisticated Safe Tower Project in three of the four major airports in the country, resurrected and funded the Tracon Radar System which is operational in our country today and which gives us full radar coverage in our airspace, upgraded the facilities in many of the old smaller airports and granted permission for the establishment of new airports in places like Gombe. Quite apart from that we not only stopped the terrible cycle of plane crashes that was prevalent at that time but there was not one aircraft that crashed under my watch and no loss of life from the air under my tenure. I am the only Minister of Aviation in the last 10 years of our country that can boast of that and yet Abati seeks to tarnish my name, stain my record and rubbish my efforts with his lies. All this and far more and Abati accuses me of ”running the aviation sector down to a state of near collapse”. For that I commit him to God’s judgement.
It is obvious that he is just being malicious and dishonest. I take strong objection to his specious lies, his brazen falsehood and his distortions of fact. The suggestion that I closed Port Harcourt Airport and neglected it for two years, that I closed other airports for renovations and that I ran the aviation sector down to the ground is what I would refer to as a figment of his malicious, overactive and fertile imagination. It is a glaring mendacity, a brutal assault on truth and an affront to my sensibilities. I find it utterly reprehensible and repugnant that a man that is entrusted to speak for the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can indulge in such petty lies.
Let me end this contribution by pointing out the fact that being ”yesterday’s men” does not mean that some of us cannot be ‘‘tomorrow’s men” as well. Only God knows what lies ahead for each and everyone of us. So when Abati glibly writes people off as if they will never be in power again it is a sad reflection of his lack of experience and naivety. It is God that determines our tomorrow. It is He that lifts men up, that pulls them down and, sometimes if it be His will, lifts them up again. There are countless examples of that in our history.
Finally I have a few questions for President Jonathan and his “today’s men”. When will they take President Obasanjo’s advice and finally do something concrete about Boko Haram and our security situation? Does the fact that at least 4000 Nigerians have been killed by these terrorists in the last two years under their watch not bother them? How can they sleep well at night with all that innocent blood that has flowed and precious lives cut short whilst they were at the helm of affairs of our nation? More innocent souls have been killed in the last 2 years by terrorists than at any time in the history of Nigeria outside the civil war. How does President Jonathan and his “today’s men” feel about winning such a dubious and dishonourable title? Does he still regard Boko Haram as ”his siblings” who he “cannot hurt”? Why has the President refused to visit the good people of the North East despite the fact that dozens of people are still being slaughtered there by Boko Haram every day?
Moving to the issue of corruption and the economy when will our President and ”today’s men” answer the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom David Cameron’s question and tell him what they did with the $ 100 billion that they made from oil sales in the last two years? When will they answer Obi Ezekwsili’s question about how they squandered $ 67 billion of our foreign reserves? When will they answer the question that Nasir El Rufai asked sometime back about how they spent over N 350 billion on security vote in one year alone? When will they answer the many questions that Dr. Pat Utomi and many other distinguished and courageous leaders and ”yesterday’s men” have raised about the trillions of naira that have been supposedly spent on oil subsidy payments in the last two years? When will they implement the findings and recommendations of the Nuhu Ribadu report on the thievery that has gone on in the oil sector? When will they cultivate the guts and find the courage to respond to a call for a public debate to defend their abysmal record? When will these ”today’s men” stop being so reckless with our money?
Why would our “today’s man” FCT Minister budget N 5 billion for the ”rehabilitation of prostitutes in the Abuja”? Why would he budget N 7.5 billion for a new “FCT city gate”? Why would he budget N 4 billion for a house for the First Lady? Why would the Federal Government of “today’s men” budget N 1 billion for food in the Villa? Are these the priorities of ”today’s men and women”? And all this when Nigeria is back in foreign debt to the tune of $ 9 billion and is still borrowing, when local debt has hit almost $ 50 billion, when graduate unemployment has hit 80 per cent, when 40 per cent of Nigerians do not have access to good food and ”are hungry” and when 70 per cent of Nigerians are living below the poverty line? Is this the vision of ”today’s men and women”? If so may God deliver Nigeria.