by Simon Kolawole
Dear President Goodluck Jonathan, did you get a chance to monitor proceedings at the House probe of the armoured cars scandal? In case you were too occupied with state matters in the last one week, let me keep you up to date as much as possible. The scandal needs no introduction – it’s as simple as the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) buying two armoured cars for over a quarter of a billion naira which, it said, are for the use of the Minister of Aviation and other foreign dignitaries. Sorry, Mr President, I don’t have enough space to go into details.
All I seek to do today is draw your attention to the fact that you now have enough evidence to start a criminal trial of the dramatis personae – and win significant mileage for your government as well as the destiny of this country.
Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, has finally and formally testified. Did you listen to her? It has taken her two weeks to deny the statements credited to her media aide that the bullet-proof cars were meant to protect her against trigger-happy enemies, home and abroad. Even the NCAA DG, Fola Akinkuotu, told Nigerians two weeks ago that the agency bought the cars “for the minister and other foreign dignitaries”. Anyone with half-a-brain can see beyond Oduah’s newly manufactured red-herring, but lest we be distracted, this should be the least of our worries.
The question is no longer whether the cars were bought for her or simply acquired as toys to decorate NCAA offices. Since they were not even registered in her name, let’s put that behind us.
From Oduah’s testimony, she has indicted herself of negligence and incompetence. Did you hear her, Your Excellency, did you? Listen to her again: “All I did was to approve the request of the Agency subject to the Agency doing the needful as evidenced by my minutes on the letter dated 15th April, 2013.” Oduah admitted approving N643 million expenditure for “operational vehicles”, well above her approval limit, well above what is contained in the 2013 Appropriation Act, well above common sense.
The issue is not whether it is a loan or a lease, or whether it is short-term, medium-term or long-term financial framework, or whether only N50 million has been paid or not. An approval is a commitment. She has, by her own admission, committed Nigeria to a N643 million expenditure by subverting threshold rules. Impunity, Mr President, impunity.
She said she “approved” the extravagant expenditure with a proviso: “Do the needful”. Her understanding, she said, was that the NCAA would follow “due process”. She has shifted responsibility to the NCAA. Interesting. She takes full responsibility for airport remodelling and renovation but artfully dodges her responsibility as the supervisory minister for the aviation sector. Interesting. And what was this “due process” that NCAA followed? The former acting DG of the agency who organised the deal, Joyce Nkemakolam, defined “due process” as “going to the banks, suppliers, etc”. My three-year-old nephew knows that “due process”, by law, involves the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) which is also known as… errmm… Due Process Office!
If she could approve such a huge public expenditure without a care in the world of the processes involved, then she is not fit to be a minister.
You heard me right, Mr President. No, I won’t take back that statement. You see, Mr President, I know you have a soft spot for Oduah because of the well-organised scam called Neighbour-to-Neighbour which supposedly made you win election in 2011. Huge campaign scam. You may not believe this, Mr President, but Oduah’s Neighbour-to-Neighbour did not win any election for you. You won that election for several reasons, and Neighbour-to-Neighbour was the most insignificant of them.
But let us even say it was Oduah that brought you to power. Well, you are now in real danger of being undone by the same woman if you do not act fast to restore some integrity to your government. She even sees herself as “star performer” in your cabinet – and I agree to some extent – but I am not sure she is the only Nigerian who can be minister. I doubt it. Don’t let her hoodwink you, Your Excellency, with talks that the scandal was “politically motivated”.
Okay, let us say it is politically motivated. Clearly, Mr President, you also need a political response to take the wind out of the sails of your political adversaries. The whole world is watching you, Mr President. Millions of Nigerians who have not yet teamed up with your political opponents are watching you. Any attempt to sweep this scandal under the carpet will damage your government beyond your projections. You can quote me, Mr President.
To be sure, I am not particular about Oduah. She just, fortunately or unfortunately, happens to be the reigning media celebrity of recklessness, impunity and insensitivity in public expenditure. There are many more Oduahs in your cabinet. You may wish to conduct an audit of the purchase of vehicles by all ministries, agencies and departments since May 2011 when you came into office. You should be shocked that some ministers have acquired private jets. You will be shocked that Oduah is not alone. The shameless assault on the treasury is widespread.
But it is Oduah’s case that is in the open now and you must act on it swiftly. Nigerians are angry and disgusted and a sure way of restoring the confidence of Nigerians in your leadership is to fight corruption like mad.
If you consistently tackle corruption in your cabinet in the next one year, Your Excellency, you won’t need another campaign material to defeat your political opponents, clean and clear, fair and square. You stand to lose nothing. Don’t give them another ammunition to fire at you. Forget Oduah’s Neighbour-to-Neighbour. Nigerians are your real neighbours. Do the needful, Mr President.
And Four Other Things…
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Last Friday’s handover of PHCN companies that were successfully privatised is a major, major milestone in our quest for improved power supply. The privatisation is five years late, but it could have been worse, isn’t it? I am not expecting steady power in the next three years, but at least I can see us going in a different direction now, and I think this may dwarf the telecoms revolution that started in 2001. I can see light at the end of the tunnel if we sustain this momentum.
COME ON, NYAKO
I thought I would be congratulating Governor Murtala Nyako of Adamawa State today for successfully crossing to the All Progressives Congress (APC) but, yet again, he has not carried out his threat to defect from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). I think the new PDP or G7 are deceiving themselves to think President Jonathan will cede control of PDP to them. Let them go and take control of APC and further their political ambition there. I am beginning to suspect cowardice. That is why I don’t trust politicians.
Governor Theodore Orji of Abia State has decided to re-engage civil servants who were relieved of their jobs two years ago because they were non-indigenes of the state. The wage bill had ballooned as a result of the new minimum wage and the easiest way out was to ask non-indigenes to transfer their service to their states of origin. Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr. Eze Chikamanayo, said with internally generated revenue now improving, those who reapply will be automatically re-engaged. Good one.
I had the rare privilege of speaking and participating at the Daystar Excellence in Leadership Conference three years ago. What a wonderful experience. The annual conference, which comes up again this week, is part of Pastor Sam Adeyemi’s vision of national transformation through excellent leadership in all spheres of life – politics, media, economy, sport, etc. Some of the speakers on this year’s theme, “Corruption-free Leadership: Key to Personal and National Success”, are Oby Ezekwesili, Japheth Omojuwa, Chika Chukwumerije, Joke Silva and Victor Mbanisi. Programmes like this renew my hope that one day, we will get it right in Nigeria.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Simon Kolawole