By Raymond Eyo
“If you keep a bad minister because you don’t want to fire someone, you are telling your cabinet that you will tolerate poor performance.” –Carol Dougherty, in an October 17 blog post, Making Hard Choices
I have deliberately had to delay the writing of this piece in the faint hope that President Goodluck Jonathan was, in the interim, going to sack outright or, at least, suspend the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, who is enmeshed in one of his administration’s worst corruption scandals – her ordering for the purchase of two bulletproof cars worth $1.6million (₦255million) for her use by an agency under her ministry, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. Unfortunately, since October 15 when the story broke out, President Jonathan’s response has been weak, unconvincing and suggestive of the fact that Oduah is one of his untouchables.
In an October 27 statement by the Interim National Publicity Secretary of the leading opposition party, the All Progressives Congress (APC), Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said: “Oduahgate is a straightforward case that should have been summarily dealt with by the President.”
Indeed, in his characteristically inept manner, it is sickening that rather than demand that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) mount a thorough investigation against Oduah, with the technical expertise and resources at their disposal, President Jonathan instead chose to set up a panel to probe the minister. The APC castigated Jonathan for setting up the committee; saying: “Jonathan has engaged himself in a rigmarole by setting up a diversionary administrative panel in what is now looking like an orchestrated ploy to buy time, hoping this issue will die down and Minister Oduah will escape being sanctioned.”
Nigeria is a clime where public officials who are head and shoulders involved in unbelievable corruption scandals will hardly ever resign out of shame or to allow for proper investigations to be carried out. In fact, just as we have seen in Oduah’s case, many will leverage their rapport with the powers that be to fight off the accusations against them – even to the point of employing dirty tricks and ploys – just to keep themselves in power.
Online media outfit, Premium Times, reported on October 22 that “President Goodluck Jonathan had queried Minister Oduah, demanding a detailed explanation from her concerning the [₦255m cars] allegation.” In that report, the news site also said that “an aide of the minister confirmed Oduah received the query and has been scrambling to put together a convincing explanation for the president.” According to Premium Times, the aide, who asked to speak anonymously, said: “[Oduah is] trying to destroy evidence as well. The sensible thing would have been for the president to suspend her before launching an enquiry. Now she is still in charge and at liberty to destroy evidence.”
In its October 21 editorial, The Punch Newspaper said: “It is dismaying enough that Oduah apparently sees nothing inappropriate in her actions and public anger over the purchase, but it is even more troubling that the President has not deemed it fit to fire her… The President should fire this minister immediately!” The editorial added: “In a decent world, Oduah would not be defending the scurrilous affair but answering questions from anti-fraud agencies.”
It must be noted that Oduah attempted to justify the purchase of the cars by pointing to “threats to her life” from those the administration claims are opposed to her “reforms” in the industry. Seriously, if Oduah feels unsafe serving as minister, she should simply resign! Even if Nigerians are crazy enough to believe her and the Jonathan administration, what really is the point in breaching established rules and misappropriating state funds, and thereby promoting corruption, just so you can hide from those who want to truncate your “reforms” for the same purpose of corruption? Oduah’s whole explanation just doesn’t hold water! Nigerians cannot be fooled!
In any case, it is not the first time Stella Oduah has made such a tactless comment in public. In fact, on October 7, in a response to criticism that trailed the crash of an Associated Airlines plane which killed 14 persons, Oduah eccentrically called it “an act of God,” and stupidly and insensitively said plane crashes are “inevitable.” No doubt The Punch describes Oduah as “the latest in a long line of ministers who lack knowledge of the industry.”
It is also shameful that, rather than resign or be sacked from office over the scandal, Oduah has been bold and daring enough to instead mount a manhunt for the whistleblower, Nicholas Edwards, a staff of the ministry, who allegedly disclosed information about the illegal purchase.
The Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences law states that expending state funds on projects outside the budget is punishable by a three-year jail term and a ₦1m fine. Similarly, as per the Public Procurement law, contracts that breach procurement protocols such as open bidding attract between five and ten years in jail. The implication of this is that, Oduah’s purchase of the bulletproof cars is a very serious crime that ought to be treated with all the rigour it deserves! The case should be prosecuted to its logical conclusion and Oduah, and all her partners in crime, should be punished in the spirit and letter of the law.
In September 2010, whilst campaigning for the presidency, Jonathan had promised that, in his fight against corruption, there would be no sacred cows! Well, the fact that Stella Oduah is still a minister in his cabinet today, despite having sanctioned an order that amounts to a clear act of misappropriation, only reeks of his aiding and abetting corruption and willfully letting his preferred cronies off the hook!
It is commendable that many Nigerians and Nigerian civil society and anti-corruption organisations have condemned Oduah’s reprehensible act and rightly called for her sack while others even plan protests to further press home the same demand. Ultimately, for a president who has proven his incompetence beyond any questionable doubt and who has demonstrated his gross inability to clamp down on corruption, the Oduahgate scandal will go down as a hallmark. In the meantime, Nigerians must not relent in their collective and persistent demand that Stella Oduah be sacked and prosecuted accordingly.