by Daniel Omale
I have watched two of the president’s interactive media sessions. On the two televised and highly watched programmes, Mr Goodluck Jonathan clearly displayed his true nature – a lukewarm attitude to pressing national issues. Mr Goodluck is innately unsure of what he intends to do with corruption and corrupt government officials. On the second episode, he visibly challenged Nigerians to show him proof of any corruption activity that has ever taken place. In his words, “People shout corruption everywhere and when you ask for proof, they cannot produce it.”
It’s obvious, from every angle of the president’s vision, that he is either unaware of the responsibilities bestowed on him, or he really does not give a damn about his required accountability to the 167 million Nigerians he governs.
The armoured car scandal in which one of his closest ministers is involved and the president’s inaction are testimonies to an indecisive leadership. As a matter of responsibility to the electorate, Mr Jonathan would have simply asked the minister to resign, or he would have relieved her of the position right from the start, while investigations are ongoing. A responsible leader would listen to the cry of his people, if visibly misappropriation/corruption has taken place. In this case, nothing is more conspicuous. Whether the minister purchased the bulletproof vehicles for her personal safety or not, for the fact that such acquisition is contrary to the applicable laws and a clear misappropriation of funds, the president should have been decisive in his response and elevated his leadership status in the eyes of Nigerians in the process. I am sure he does not give a damn about that either.
The president and Ms Stella Oduah are playing on our psyche; Nigerians are very forgiving. As soon as another, more sensational matter appears on the horizon, Ms Oduah will be forgotten and forgiven. The panel inaugurated to investigate the scandal is simply diversionary. With time, more, unrelated dramas will take place, distraction will set in and everyone will look elsewhere. Already, various ethnic reactions that will douse the tension have surfaced. Ohanaeze, the Ibo leadership/advocacy group has offered its unyielding support to the minister. Various paid groups have, although few in number appeared to voice out that the minister’s trial is unjust, unethical, political, tribal and gender-biased. This is exactly what the president has planned. But, how can we keep celebrating corruption in the face of abject poverty?
We need to define corruption and what constitutes it. Political corruption is the abuse of public power, office or resources, by elected government officials for personal gain, e.g. by extortion, soliciting or offering bribes. It can also take the form of office holders maintaining themselves in office by purchasing votes and by enacting laws that use taxpayers’ money. Misappropriating funds to buy exotic cars for fictitious foreign dignitaries who regularly visit the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) at the most exorbitant rate of N127m per car, is an escalated act of corruption that does not need any panel to investigate it.
It has been established that the two BMWs were purchased at the price of N256m. The minister has accepted so, although she is trying to prove the impossible; that she gave approval with a clause that the agency does “the needful”. This absurd rhetoric does not hold water and would not anywhere on this planet, except Nigeria, with Goodluck as the presiding head of government. In addition to the two BMWs, the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) also purchased four bulletproof Toyota cars and an undisclosed agency/contractor bought another four limousine vehicles, which are currently parked at the TRACON premises at Abuja airport. It has also been established that over N600m has been spent in buying exotic, senseless cars, in the name of safety for some imaginary foreign dignitaries that visit the country. Is this what aviation safety is all about?
According to Dele Vincent in his popular column, “It was bound to come to this. The moment our zero-tolerance-for-corruption president decided to fight tooth and nail against the public declaration of his assets, the moment he chose to declare instead, ‘I don’t give a damn!’ about any such nonsense as probity and leading by example, you knew the day was just around the corner when a minister could import bulletproof luxury cars as personal gifts to herself.”
The questions are, must the minister remain in office while the biggest scandal of this government unfolds? Should the president’s personal relationship with Ms Oduah overshadow national assignment and responsibilities? The answer to these questions in reasonable societies is no! Stella Oduah should have been asked to step down while investigations are ongoing, since the fact of the matter is known – the cars were purchased at ridiculous prices and their usage is irrationally undefined. Is this part of the aviation road map?
Another curious question on everyone’s lips is, what is the role of the minister of aviation as relates to the autonomy of the NCAA? While the minister seems to have dumped the blame on the NCAA and its autonomy, fingers are pointing directly at the minister’s overbearing authority on the regulatory agency. No one in the NCAA would dare to buy a car of N10m without the minister’s approval. This is no secret.
On the whole, Mr Jonathan’s silence is a negative response and he has clearly shown where his loyalty lies. This is the most unfortunate aspect of Nigeria today. Everyone is aware of the intense lobbying going on to retain the minister and damn the consequences, because Nigerians will ultimately dump overboard the sensationalism and anger attributed to this case. If this is the master plan, it will not auger well for the president’s ambition to retain his job either. The president’s indecisiveness is a far cry from when Obasanjo and Yar’Adua were on the same throne. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) was Obasanjo’s creation – his intolerance of corruption and the only necessary step to deter corrupt practices. On his sick bed, Yar’Adua asked two ministers of health to resign over a bribery scandal involving less than N20m. Although the health ministers won their respective cases in court, intolerance for corruption was reaffirmed. Again, the two presidents declared their assets prior to taking the oath of office.
Mr Jonathan has refused to declare his assets; he does not give a damn. The delay tactics being employed to erase Ms Stella Oduah’s crime is probably another sign that he does not care about what Nigerians think, feel or reject. We need a decisive leader who abhors corruption.
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Daniel Omale/Leadership