A Super Minister And Her Travails By Olalekan Adetayo
By now, Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah, should have only one prayer request. It will not be difficult for her to cry to the high heavens since she is currently in Israel. That is however if her battle for survival will give her room to engage in any spiritual activity there. The short prayer point which Jesus Christ himself prayed in the Holy Bible should be: “Dear Lord, if it is your wish, let this cup pass over me.”
October, which will end in a couple of days, may go down as the worst month for the flamboyant female minister (yes, flamboyant: check out her beautiful eyelashes and contact lens among others) who is believed to be one of the untouchables in the cabinet of President Goodluck Jonathan.
Under her watch, Nigeria’s aviation industry witnessed another tragedy on October 3 when an Embraer aircraft operated by Associated Airlines with registration number SCD 361, conveying the corpse of a former Governor of Ondo State, Chief Olusegun Agagu from Lagos to Akure for burial, crashed shortly, after take-off at Murtala Mohammed Airport, Lagos killing 13 persons on board.
About a week after, another plane crash was averted in Kaduna as an IRS Airline plane with 89 passengers on board was assisted to land as the plane developed mechanical problems. The plane had hydraulic problem and on successful landing, it had to discharge its passengers on the runway.
The incidents attracted criticism from stakeholders who called for the minister’s resignation or sack. One of his predecessors, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, led the pack of the critics. She compounded her predicaments when, in her reaction to the crash, told reporters that air crashes are inevitable because they are God’s will.
As if that was not enough, she again returned to the limelight for the negative reasons when the purchase of two bulletproof cars for her by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority became a public knowledge. The vehicles are valued at a whopping $1.6m (about N225m). Many people felt with that expose, Oduah is no longer fit to be a member of the Federal Executive Council.
What many do not know however is that Oduah is not an ‘ordinary minister.’ She is one of the ‘super ministers’ in Jonathan’s cabinet. She is in the ilk of Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Allison- Madueke, among others.
I do not know what is responsible for the power she wields in the cabinet, but some are quick to point to the strategic role she played in the election of the President through his Neighbour-to-Neighbour campaign.
That explained why most presidential aides who were supposed to speak with the media while the outcry started avoided journalists like a plague. Their fear was that by the time the dust settles, in case the woman survives, she may turn against them.
While the controversy continues raging, the President initially kept mum. His silence was taken as taking Nigerians for granted. He however succumbed to the pressure mounted by all stakeholders when on Wednesday he set up a three-man committee to investigate the matter.
A former Head of Service of the Federation, Alhaji Isa Bello, chairs the panel which has the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), and Air Vice Marshal Dick Iruenebere (retd.) as members.
The panel which has two weeks to submit its report would among others ascertain whether the procurement of the vehicles followed due process, ascertain the purpose of procurement and inquire into any other incidental matter.
As at the time of constituting the committee, Oduah was in Israel ahead of the President who travelled to the country on Christian pilgrimage late Wednesday. She was said to have travelled in order to sign Bilateral Air Service Agreement with the Israeli government on behalf of the Federal Government.
Opinions are divided on the sincerity of the President in setting up the committee with the majority holding the view that the panel was an attempt to cover up the case. The Presidency has denied it.
While I agree that there must be fair hearing in this case, I can’t remember the President setting up a committee before sacking his erstwhile Minister of Youth Development, Inuwa Abdulkadir, based on his alleged mishandling of the National Youth Council of Nigeria’s elections in Makurdi and Minna which resulted in the unfortunate fractionalisation of the council. I cannot also remember him doing the same before sacking nine ministers recently. Somebody should help me in case my memory is failing.
For a President that critics have described as one that runs his government through committees, I believe that he can spare Nigerians of this latest panel. I just hope and pray that by the time the panel submits its report in two weeks, President Jonathan will not set up another committee to review the report and advise him appropriately!
Jonathan’s pilgrimage of controversies
President Jonathan made history on Wednesday as the first sitting Christian President of the country that will embark on pilgrimage to Israel. Apart from the spiritual exercise, the President is also said to be on official visit during which he will meet with Israeli leaders.
Like everything that has to do with Jonathan, this spiritual exercise also attracted criticism with some holding the view that he can spend more time solving the country’s many problems at home rather than spending such time in Israel.
One online commentator even argued that unlike Muslim pilgrimage which is made compulsory for Muslims, Christianity does not make pilgrimage to Israel compulsory for anybody. Another critic argued that if the President was desirous of praying for Nigeria, he should attend any of the many prayers and miracles camps that dot the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway rather than wasting tax payers’ money to embark on pilgrimage.
That argument again dovetailed into the age-long criticism of the bogus nature of Mr. President’s entourage anytime he is travelling abroad. Anytime such argument comes up, the President’s handlers are quick to denounce such reports and also justify the foreign trips by highlighting the benefits. Regarding this latest foreign trip, presidential aides need not bother about any explanation. I guess their line of argument will be that since it is a spiritual trip, the benefits will only be seen by the spirit-filled!
Sooner after that, there were also reports that Jonathan would be accompanied on the trip by 19 state governors. Presidential spokesman, Reuben Abati, has since denied the report, describing it as a misrepresentation of facts. He named those on the President’s entourage to include Senator Emmanuel Paulker; Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Akinwunmi Adesina; Minister of Water Resources, Mrs. Sarah Ochekpe; Minister of Works, Mr. Mike Onolememen; Minister of State (Foreign Affairs), Prof. Viola Onwuliri; and the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki.
When the issue of Oduahgate came up and the embattled minister travelled to Israel ahead of the President, there were also reports that she travelled because of her desperate bid to meet with Jonathan one-on-one and resolve the matter there.
It is indeed a spiritual trip of a self-acclaimed most criticised President in the world characterised by criticisms and controversies.
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