by Yomi Odunuga
With the way news breaks in Nigeria these days, there are a thousand and one things to occupy one’s mind other than the fading fable of a minister and her fanciful but expensive toys. Yet, certain events cannot be simply wished away no matter how hard one tries. One of such is the #Stellagate story which enjoyed some weeks of media blitz before receding into the usual basket of irrelevance.
Here in Nigeria, problems or scandals unfold in rapid succession. Asked if he had received the report of the three-man presidential investigative committee on the controversial purchase of two armoured cars by an agency under the Ministry of Aviation, President Goodluck Jonathan dismissed the receipt of the report with a wave of the hand. He offered no clue on the fate that may befall the report. But one can hazard a guess if his body language was anything to go by.
Without much ado, one had accepted the fact that it would go the way of many others lying waste in dingy wardrobes in government offices. One had expected a presidential roar that would annoyingly give Sister Stella Oduah a pat on the back for operating within the realm of decency and treading the path of ‘doing the needful’, by strongly warning the agency that doled out N225m for two armoured BMW cars and more than N400m for assorted ‘operational vehicles’ in a transaction dripping with stagnant fraud!
In a country where nothing – not even the daily harvest of blood – shocks or fires anyone into righteous rage, why should any right-thinking person shudder at the levity with which the leadership treats issues of humongous pillage of our collective patrimony. After all, gross impunity has long been adopted as a philosophy for our VIPs to live by. Each day pops up different challenges such that no one seems to have the time to dwell on the scandals of yesterday. We are already overwhelmed by the clear and present dangers facing us that we conveniently wish yesterday farewell even when we know it will haunt us in the nearest future. In truth, one had thought that Oduahgate, in spite of the pomp and panache with which it was celebrated by the media, had gone the usual way, like so many others. The odds were, in the main, oddly stacked against those asking for the minister’s sack. One cannot imagine how dull a meeting of the Federal Executive Council would have been without her magical charm and sensuous gait! That is all some need to send adrenaline pumping in the State House, Abuja.
As should be expected, the House of Representatives burst into riotous rage but it yielded nothing but a resounding silence from the powers that be. The Senate did not need to offer any apology on the matter when it reversed itself by refusing to invite the minister for questioning over the car purchase. For now, no one knows the cost of that folly as rumour of financial inducement spreads like wild fire in drinking parlours and car parks. With that unfortunate template, it did not take time for the once topical issue to disappear from the front pages into innocuous spaces of inside pages. It was gradually fading into the dustbin of our unenviable history of endless scam, scandal and shamelessness. Who cares about a minor ministerial infraction when others are busy looting billions without giving a hoot about the suffering millions living on less than N166 per day. In case you don’t know, that is how cheap our naira is to one American dollar in a country where pure water suppliers now own private jets!
It’s not as if those who know how the cookie crumbles had not told us to be wary of placing high hopes on a presidential roar over Oduahgate. But we ignored them knowing that Jonathan has consistently insisted that, in the fight against corruption, there are no sacred cows as he would bring the full weight of his office and that of the anti-corruption agencies to bear on culprits. Or is it a case of applying the right sophistry at the right time? Truth be told, Oduahgate should be the least headache for a President with much heartache from so many sources. There is, for example, the unresolved face-off with striking Academic Staff Union of Universities which recently claimed the life of Prof. Festus Iyayi while the doors of most tertiary institutions have remained closed in the last four months; there is the uproar over the unrestrained looting that goes on in high places daily; there is the crisis of confidence over the real status of an economy that is short on cash but still claims to be healthy; there is disquiet over the state of the power sector in spite of its privatisation to DISCOS, GENCOS and all sorts; and, above all, there is a President who is engaged in a feisty battle for his political future within and outside his political party, the Peoples Democratic Party. Add that to the insecurity challenges that confront this Presidency daily without any sign of effective resolution and you’ll wonder why the fedora still sits comfortably on his head!
As a patriot, it is Knucklehead’s candid opinion that the huge burden on the President’s lean shoulders can be drastically reduced if certain proactive steps are taken. With this, the President would have ample time to focus on matters of urgent national importance like insecurity and the wave of political crises that could make or mar his future. Chief among this is the need to allow the country’s Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, to take possession of the two armoured vehicles which she said were bought by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority as operational vehicles for ‘foreign aviation experts’ visiting Nigeria. Okay, forget the howler by her media assistant, Joe Obi, that she needed the vehicles to protect herself against the bullets of enemies who continually threaten her life for the unparalleled transformation of the aviation industry. As at that time, the minister said Obi was talking from a position of ignorance as he was not properly briefed or debriefed as the case may be.
Today, no other special Nigerian deserves the full protection of the state than Oduah, going by media reports, and as confirmed by Obi, that her Escalade saloon car came under enemy fire last Saturday night somewhere in Maitama, Abuja. Though we were not told if the luxury car was treated (i.e. bullet-proof), we celebrate the fact that the ‘gunmen were ignorant that Oduah was not in the car as at the time of the attack!’ Good enough, the driver of the car was said to have equally escaped the assassin’s bullet while the police said they discovered a ‘metallic object’ inside the car and investigations are ongoing. Praise God! What would we be saying if the enemy’s metallic object had hit its target? Wouldn’t we be blaming ourselves for heckling over the propriety of buying additional armoured cars for the safety of the hardworking lady instead of opening the nation’s vault for her comfort going by the nature of her job? Even Obi can now heave a sigh of relief as he now talks from a position knowledge with hard facts! Yipeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!
And when one had thought that well-meaning Nigerians should be rallying our women to take to the streets (like they did during her trial), demanding the immediate release of the armoured cars for the minister’s use, some yamheads are busy raising questions on the veracity of the assassination story. They wondered why it took the minister’s camp more than 48 hours to report the incident to the Mabushi police station which is only about ten minutes’ drive away from the alleged spot of the attack. Is there a time limit to when one can report attempted criminal activity to the relevant authorities? They claimed to have ‘smelt a rat’ or outright conspiracy theory in reporting an assassination attempt of 10:00pm on Saturday on Monday at 5:35pm. If they like, let them smell pancake! How does that affect them anyway? They were curious to see the car and the metallic object that was ‘discovered’ by the police. They said the story might as well be a decoy, to justify Obi’s justification for the purchase of the cars for his principal even if another agency had earlier bought two for her. Oh, what illogic!
So, what’s Knucklehead’s own in this matter? It is very simple. There is no need for the melodrama. We may not like Stella Oduah’s face but we sure wouldn’t want her dead for daring to offer her services to the nation. With the reported mindless looting going on around us, it’s pointless expending energy on a deed which no one is prepared to undo. We do not need the services of a shrink to know why the case is taking eternity to resolve. Unfortunately, it is an unnecessary distraction for a President with an abysmal record as a crisis manager. Since he needs all the wisdom he can muster to save himself from what is apparently a self-inflicted misery, the laughable drama of last Saturday’s attempt on the life of his favourite minister shouldn’t be that difficult to handle. The solution is just by the corner – avail Stella the opportunity of having her precious armoured toys back and move on with tackling serious matters of national importance. And if people raise eyebrows as they sure would, he can always feign ignorance or tell them that when the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Sen. Bala Mohammed, asked Abuja residents to embrace the culture of riding bicycles to the workplace, it was not meant to be a joke for the expensive ears of politically exposed persons! Ordinary citizens can have bicycles but an exalted one like Stella needs more of such costly bullet-proof toys to get her groove back. The time to avail her niceties of such magnitude couldn’t have come at a better time than now! Let’s do the needful before it’s too late!
– This Best Outside Opinion was written by Yomi Odunuga/The Nation