N255m BMW Cars: Stella, Say Sorry or Sink… By Simon Kolawole
Before I forget, I was at Yale University recently for a special programme organised for Young Global Leaders (YGLs). The theme was “Foundations for Leadership in the 21st Century: Strategic Impact”. The opening session was led by Professor Robert Shiller (who, by the way, was named co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics last week). Shiller is one of the most respected economists of his generation, and his studies in behavioural economics, particularly markets and assets, have seen him successfully predict the dotcom burst of 2000 and the US housing crisis of 2007, which preceded, some will say precipitated, the global economic crisis.
Here’s my interest today: after giving us a lecture on “The State of the Global Economy and Animal Spirits” – in which he highlighted the conflict between the moral principles needed in financial markets and the human instincts of “hoarding and aggression” – Shiller was asked by a YGL from Australia: “How would you define ‘good’?” Shiller went blank, as if in shock, and then replied: “This is the most difficult question I have ever been asked.” We all laughed, thinking it was a joke, but he did not answer the question. In the West, there is a tendency to avoid taking a position on some moral issues. What used to be bad is now considered good and what was good is now seen as bad. Shiller, I suspected, did not want to moralise.
In Nigeria, however, we should not be afraid to moralise. Our public officials need to be told in plain language what is good and what is bad. They don’t seem to know anymore. That is why in a country where poverty is grinding the people to dust and ashes, you just suddenly hear that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has blessed the Minister of Aviation, Mrs Stella Oduah, with two bullet-proof cars, valued at a quarter of a billion naira. And while we are at it, her spokesman, Joe Obi, says the cars are meant to protect his boss from “imminent threats” because she has taken decisions that put her life at risk. But the story now has a revised standard version – or is it new international version? The NCAA Director-General, Folayele Akinkuotu, says the cars are for the minister and “foreign dignitaries”.
Oh, so the foreign dignitaries also received “threats”? They also need extra protection? If there is security threat, is it the NCAA or the police that should handle it? Under what subhead did the expenditure fall in NCAA’s budget? Security? Welfare? Entertainment? Nothing makes sense anymore here. NCAA is supposed to see to the safety of aviation in the interest of millions of passengers, but the agency is more interested in the safety of a government official. And then it buys two armoured cars, as if one is not bad enough. Akinkuotu is insulting us. He needs to be told what is good and what is bad – in plain language.
Sometimes I find it difficult to understand the conduct of the top decision-makers in ministries, departments and agencies. They are the very foundation of the problem of public administration in Nigeria. Even if a minister requests for a car, they are the ones that should tell him or her how it cannot be accommodated in the budget. But, rather, they are the ones always at the forefront of legally wasting public funds, obviously because of the personal benefits they are going to get. They know all the shortcuts, know all the contractors and know where the honey is sweetest. They are deadly and dangerous.
Nevertheless, Oduah has to accept responsibility for this wasteful venture and apologise for her role in the process. She’s the minister. NCAA is under her. In my opinion, the only reason Oduah deserves any bit of forgiveness is that the cars were not registered in her name. That would have been fraudulent. She may be guilty of insensitivity and perhaps indiscretion, but at least she has not been accused of fraud. That is the only mitigating factor I can see in this mess. But the naked fact remains that N255 million on two cars is one luxury we cannot afford. Every day, we are told how we don’t have enough money to execute projects that will make life better for Nigerians. It is therefore unthinkable and unacceptable that we can afford to spend a quarter of a billion on two cars.
Unfortunately for Oduah, this has played into the hands of her opponents. But she would be making the mistake of her life if she begins to play up ethnic, religious and political sentiments. Some of us will not buy such emotions. Yes, I know this is a good opportunity for her opponents to hammer her and hold her responsible for all the air mishaps in Nigeria even before she was born. Yes, they will pooh-pooh the ongoing remodelling and improvement works at the airports which I think are quite commendable. But that is beside the point. On this bullet-proof saga, she is wrong, dead wrong. There are no two ways to put it. Nobody asked her to play into the hands of her antagonists!
Instead of NCAA officials grandstanding and telling us cock-and-bull stories which can only make matters worse, Oduah should offer Nigerians an unreserved apology. That is the starting point. It would be insult on injury if she comes out to tell us “I have no regrets” – which is typical of government officials. She must buck the trend and eat the humble pie.
Did you read the bit about fuel-bearing vessels patrolling the high seas, unable to discharge because of lack of enough reception facilities? We ordered for more fuel than we need in order to avoid scarcity, and so we are paying billions of naira in demurrage. This is calculated as part of the fuel subsidy. It’s been going on for about 10 years now. What we’ve spent on demurrage alone is enough to build new depots and avoid these charges. In fact, it would have built more refineries and there would be no import and demurrage!
When he should be expressing regrets over the misuse of public funds to buy bullet-proof cars, the DG of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Folayele Akinkuotu, is threatening hell and brimstone over the information leak. Despite making a watery and illogical defence of the unnecessary expenditure, Akinkuotu went ahead regaling us with tales on the sanctity of confidential documents. The NCAA DG is even threatening the whistle-blower. Maybe it is the whistle-blower that will eventually need those bullet-proof cars…
As a proud descendant of Oduduwa, I have always freely showcased religious tolerance in Yorubaland as a model for unity in diversity. There is hardly any Yoruba family where you will not find Christians, Muslims and traditional worshippers living together in peace. However, I have also always believed that if this ideal is going to be broken, it will be in Osun State. I am deeply worried by the politicisation of religion in the state. This may just offer an opportunity to set the state on fire. All stakeholders must handle this with utmost care.
Have we finally found a successor to Rashidi Yekini? The legendary striker scored 37 goals in 58 matches for Nigeria, and many pretenders to his lethal boots have come and gone: from Victor Agali to Obafemi Martins. I think we have a genuine contender now in Emmanuel Chinenye Emenike, who sank Ethiopia with two goals last Sunday to take his account to 10 goals in 17 matches for Nigeria. At 26, you have to say he has some good four years left in him. Quite impressive.
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