Is This the Jonathan Moment? By Simon Kolawole
I was, believe me, under no illusions last week when I asked the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, to say “sorry” to Nigerians for her role in the outrageous purchase of two armoured cars. For the life of me, I knew she wouldn’t apologise. That would be very unNigerian. Part of the qualifications for being a public officer in Nigeria is to be greedy, arrogant and shameless. How can a whole minister apologise? How can a whole minister say it is wrong to buy two bullet-proof cars for over a quarter of a billion naira? How can a whole minister say “I was wrong to approve the transaction”? How can a whole minister say, “As the supervisory minister for the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), I hereby take full responsibility for this mess”? There is too much shamelessness in public office for people to cultivate a moral conscience.
Since I knew she would never apologise, why then did I bother to ask her to do so? Well, I suspected she could wriggle her way out of the mess, legally speaking. I felt she could somehow escape indictment since the cars were not registered in her name. This is Nigeria. Records could be manufactured or doctored to show that the entire deal went through normal processes and procedures. And she could cheaply get off the hook, legalistically. Luckily, though, with the revelations gushing out of the probe so far, I think we may just have Oduah and the gang properly cornered. It is looking very promising. I can’t see any escape route. I find it very interesting that already, there are enough contradictions in the accounts of Oduah, NCAA and the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) that should lead to the sack of many miscreants in public service.
Let us even say the deal cannot be faulted legally. Does that exonerate Oduah from blame? If Oduah were spending her own money – the money she laboured for all her life – would she spend N255 million on two vehicles? Let me rephrase the question. If Oduah were to pay for these items from her personal account, would she gladly fork out N255 million? That is a moral test question that you would ask people with conscience. The second question is: even if these characters followed due process, is the N255 million expenditure rational? The logic behind “due process” is not just to follow the procedures and tick all the boxes. Questions are also meant to be asked and answered at every stage for the sake of probity and good judgment. Therefore, following due process is not enough justification for this wasteful expenditure.
With the new facts in the public domain, I believe we may have a good ground for a criminal trial. But before a legal response commences, a big moral response is expected of President Goodluck Jonathan. He has another golden chance to revamp his administration. Oduah is not the only culprit – a thorough probe will reveal more dirty deals. It would be interesting to know how many ministers have committed similar crimes and escaped justice. If I were Jonathan, I would not hesitate to seize this opportunity to begin to tackle the impunity and rot in government. Clearly, the war against corruption is in desperate need of some oxygen.
Jonathan needs to do something drastic to make Nigerians believe in him again. He needs what I call the Jonathan Moment – that rare and critical chance to stamp his feet and change the direction and perception of his administration. You can call it being “born again”. A starting point is to fire Oduah. This will send a clear message to other ministers that “no matter how close we are politically, there is no hiding place for you”. In fact, if I were Jonathan, I would make it a duty to sack erring ministers on a regular basis. It is my government. It is my vision. If they cannot shape up, then they should ship out. I would go after those NCAA officials, past or present, who were part of the deal. It takes only a few scapegoats to make people shape up – and only a level of consistency from the leadership for a change to be sustained. Instructively, this could be his best campaign material for 2015. Millions of Nigerians want action –and concrete action, not probe panels.
All said and done, however, the civil service stinks from the gateman to the permanent secretary. If you think I’m lying, try to do business in any government office, from local and state to federal. You will choke. Sacking one minister without adequate fumigation of the entire structure will only achieve temporary relief. One long-lasting solution, in addition to sacking culprits, is for President Jonathan to stand up and be counted. He has a rare chance to kick-start this process today. But I suspect this moment will pass him by. Yet again.
And Four Other Things…
The DG of NCAA, Fola Akinkuotu, is not someone you want to envy. He has walked straight into controversy just two months after his appointment. He has been at the centre of the storm since the armoured car purchase scandal broke. It’s been his lot to defend the indefensible. But how many people know that he was not the one in charge when the deal was struck? It was the director of airspace, Mr. Joyce Nkemakonam, who was in the kitchen then as acting DG. Collateral damage!
I was surprised to learn during the week that since the aviation authorities grounded Dana Airlines on October 6 for “operational audit”, no official has visited the carrier for any such activity. To be clear, I have nothing against the authorities doing their job and doing it properly, but I find it disturbing that this business has just been put on hold for nothing. It is difficult to understand that an airline has been grounded for close to a month without any action. What exactly is the game? What are we turning this country into?
Of all the rebel governors in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), only Admiral Murtala Nyako (Adamawa State) is impressing me. Except he makes any last-minute change in his plans, he and his supporters are set to defect to the All Progressives Alliance (APC). If he does that, I will clap for him. Other rebel governors do not seem to be man enough to leave the PDP. They are busy negotiating and threatening brimstone, too scared to step out and take their destinies into their hands. Come on, Nyako!
When we started the weather forecast strip on the front page of THISDAY in 2010, Foreign Editor, Paul Ohia, was the man in charge. Anytime the forecast went wrong, I often joked: “Paul, you said it would be sunshine throughout today but it is raining. I am going to surcharge you!” He would laugh. He always asked me to hold his sources responsible. It was so sad to learn that he died suddenly, at 43, in his car last Wednesday from a suspected heart attack. So, so sad. Good night, Paulo.
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