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Sam Omatseye: #Stellagate: Conscience vs Law


Sam Omatseye: #Stellagate: Conscience vs Law

by Sam Omatseye

We seem to be missing the point on the raging scandal on Aviation Minister Stella Oduah. The hearings at the House of Assembly have cast the drama as a matter of rule of law. It is, but it is less important than the power of conscience.

What if Oduah followed the rule of law, and what if the NCAA followed the rule of law? Does that mean that purchasing two cars of less than 40 million in the open market can now be whisked off at the sum of N255 million?

If Oduah gets away with it, it will be because the law failed us, and the law fails us in the face of grave injustice when conscience runs foul in a society. Our lawmakers seem to have fallen so much under the spell of the law that they are losing sight of the origin of law. That is, the law was made for us and not us for the law.

In her appearance at the hearing last week, Oduah said the cars were not bought for her. For the purpose of fairness, let us agree that they were not meant for her as Stella Oduah, but was it not meant for the office of the Aviation Minister? Now, how do we distinguish Oduah and the office of the minister? So long as she is the minister, is it a ghost who will ride the car, or a spirit that will inhale the blissful coolness of the air conditioner, or will the windows alone enjoy the sonority of the sound system?

Granted that the car would not go to the office of the minister, is it not a property of the ministry? If such a car of outlandish luxury goes to a ministry, will it be assigned to the office of the directors or cleaners? So, the minister ought to understand that the law was not designed for frivolity. And if it was bought for the ministry at such a princely sum, was it possible for such a thing to happen without her knowledge? And if it happened without her knowledge, does it not show that she was not in charge? And if she was not in charge at such a delicate moment of her work, why should she remain as Aviation minister?

It is in answering such a question that the law meets integrity. But the obsession with due process in a way that may sacrifice morality portends danger. Oduah and her fellow travellers are taking that tack.

Whatever the trajectory of the scandal, some facts have not been denied. They include, one, that the cars cost N255million. Two, that the ministry in whatever guises purchased them and the minister knew and endorsed them. Three, that Coscharis sold them, and four, that the First Bank unspooled the loan.

The ‘what’ of the story is so overwhelming that the ‘how’ is of subordinate importance. The ‘what’ is moral and the ‘how’ is due process. The ‘what’ contains so much rot, so much puss that how it soiled the house and its superlative stench will only be important in how we prevent it next time. But that will happen only after the cleanup.

So, the cleanup should have happened since the facts broke into the public space. It should have entailed the resignation of the minister immediately and with an apology to the Nigerian public. If she did not, her boss President Goodluck Jonathan should have, at the most merciful, asked her to proceed on suspension pending the determination of the case. His committee to investigate the matter is unnecessary. Another fact has it that the national security adviser played a role in the messy affair. Yet he has not resigned from the committee. How do we expect fairness where a member of the triumvirate will be a judge in his own cause?

The role of the private sector is a part of the mess that has had inadequate attention. The questioning of the Coscharis boss Cosmas Maduka should not shed light with a view to determining Oduah’s culpability alone, but whether the car dealer does business in consonance with the moral standards expected by business leaders in Nigeria. Obviously Maduka wanted to show that he did not break the law, but had to sell for profit. The real tragedy was that he did not violate the law. Ditto to First Bank.

If this society cared for its own moral fibre, the chief executive of the bank and all those involved would have resigned their positions or the board of the bank would have demanded it. As for Coscharis, all governments would have blacklisted it, and members of the public would have boycotted it as matter of principle. This same bank, as others, will not grant loans to many enterprising Nigerians who need merely N2million loans to transform their lives.

Punishing companies and their wheel horses will set example for others doing business in the country. But if the sense of right and wrong is footloose in the land and the culpable ones go scot free, what happened in the Aviation industry would be a model rather than a warning to all wrong doers. As I stated last week, this practice of collusion between the public and private sector constitutes the norm of corruption in Nigeria.

The law does not make people good, but people make the law good and, consequently, people become good. People make the law good by example, and that refers to the leaders. The law is important, and it is the soul of every working polity. But the law can entrench injustice if it operates without vigilance.

When a car that sells for five million Naira sells for N10 million, the society ought to frown against it. It does not have to be a matter of law but of conscience. It is not justice to sell one thing to a person for one sum and to another person at a different sum, especially when it is a government that thrives on due process. If it was haggled upwards, on what terms or circumstances did it happen? Did that justify swindling a process? Why smuggle a car with armour into a deal for the sports festival in Lagos when the state had no knowledge of it?

“When men are pure, laws are useless,” noted former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. “When men are corrupt, laws are broken.”

Clearly, the law is being manipulated in the breach in the National Assembly hearings. Conscience is a feeble and supporting cast in a drama of felony. We must uphold the law, but not at the expense of justice. Justice is mute without the tolls of conscience.

– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Sam Omatseye

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