I expected a denial. When SaharaReporters broke the news, with documentary evidence, of the purchase of two armoured BMWs by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, on behalf of (and on the instruction of) the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, I was alarmed. But a part of me thought the story was too ridiculous to be true.
And then the minister's spokesperson, Joe Obi, confirmed it, attributing the necessity of the purchase to the existence of death threats against the minister, from persons uncomfortable with her so-called reform agenda in Nigeria's aviation industry. And he didn't refute the fact that each of those cars cost about N127 million ($790,000).
In another land, this act of recklessly expending public funds â€“ NCAA is a government agency funded by a combination of government subventions, and fees, fines, rents and license/certificate payments from private operators in the aviation industry â€“ would be a political suicide, a politician's colourful act of hara-kiri. But this is Nigeria, where such irresponsible acts are welcome, and actually encouraged.
When will we start acknowledging, as Nigerians, that there is a debilitating cost to the kind of financial irresponsibility that we so readily practise, a cost that is very often to be measured directly in human lives?
So that just as embezzled hospital funds mean that critical equipment and resources will not be available to save the lives of patients, blowing hundreds of thousands of dollars on BMWs also means that critical resources for improving aviation safety will necessarily be compromised upon.
My friend, Feyi Fawehinmi, captures it well, in a blog piece he wrote on the scandal (it's available online and is a recommended reading):
"This whole mess should alarm anyone who flies regularly in Nigeria â€“ is this what air safety is all about? That the body in charge of safety is merely a conduit for theft of public money? Resources are very limited in Nigeria so this is money that should have gone towards equipment or training or inspectionâ€¦"
I wonder if Oduah plans to add this "achievement" to her rather lengthy Transformation Agenda listing. "Purchase of two state-of-the-art armoured BMWs for the security of the Uncommon Transformer of the Aviation Industry", or something like that.
What I find most striking about this incident (if we can term it thus) is how the theme of death that lies at the heart of the scandal connects to the larger issues of safety and efficiency in Nigeria's aviation industry.
Barely three weeks ago, there was a plane crash near the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, involving an Associated Airlines aircraft, which claimed the lives of no less than 15 persons. Following that tragedy, our Minister of Aviation declared that the accident was "an act of God", drawing widespread condemnation from the public.
When the person whose responsibility it is to ensure the safety of flying in the country has the temerity to blame an incident on God, you realise there's a very big problem at hand.
What makes it worse is this: That same woman, quick to invoke the wish of God upon the demise of 15 persons, then spectacularly balks when it comes to welcoming that same divine will with regard to the prospects of her own death.
Let me explain. So, her spokesperson claims that she has been receiving death threats, because of her supposed uncompromising fight against vested interests. In simple English, some people want her dead – i.e. in the same state as the victims of the crash. Now, considering her publicly stated views about death being an act of God, the question arises: Why would Princess Oduah therefore think that her own life â€“ and the prevention of its loss â€“ is more important than those of the crash victims? I'm really curious to find answers for this. How is it possible that she thinks fatal plane crashes are an act of God, but doesn't think the same of death threats against her? Perhaps, Princess Oduah might want to address a press conference on this.
Still on death. The worst thing about this incident is that, as you and I know, nothing will come out of it; it will die a speedy death somewhere within the catacombs of official nonchallance. Don’t forget that we have a President who takes special pleasure in believing that every revelation of corruption targeted at him and his anointed ones (and Oduah is no doubt an anointed one) is the handiwork of the enemies of his government, to discredit and distract him and his shambolic Transformation Agenda.
So, expect to see, over the coming weeks, newspaper advertorials by such faceless groups as the "Association of Concerned Aviation Stakeholders" and the "Aviation Transformation Agenda Initiative" lauding the President and minister and the NCAA for their "uncommon transformation" in the aviation sector and asking them to "carry on the good work" and "refuse to be distracted by the handiwork of fifth columnists and disgruntled elements."
Expect to see all sorts of unions and groups passing "votes of confidence" in the minister, because in Nigeria, nothing that is done by "Honourables and Excellencies" – no matter how corrupt or stupid – is to be questioned. And, of course, because they would have been paid to carry out those campaigns.
And we have a minister who knows a thing or two about "campaigns" â€“ being the one who managed the finances of the Jonathan election campaign organisation for the 2011 elections.
So, here's what will happen â€“ this storm will blow over, Amen & Alleluia. And as evidence, you already have the recent remarks of the NCAA boss, Fola Akinkuotu. On Friday, he decided that the most reasonable thing to say about this scandal was to threaten fire and brimstone over the presumed leakage of official documents that ensured that we got to know about this scandal. He even went as far as invoking the Edward Snowden matter â€“ apparently implying that anyone found guilty of leak of the BMW purchase documents is deserving of the Snowden treatment.
In a country full of absurd pronouncements by public officials, this one should take earn a front seat. While not purporting to endorse the leak of official documents, in this particular case, I fail to see how the documents in question â€“ mostly invoices and receipts covering expenditure that should be public anyway (the FOI Act should easily cover this, but alas this is not a normal country) â€“ can be classified as sensitive in any way, or, how their availability in the public domain undermines the efficient or safe functioning of government. Has Akinkuotu not heard of the parliamentary expenses scandal in the United Kingdom? Is the expenditure of funds by public organisations and institutions supposed to be a secret matter?
And so, here we see death again â€“ the perpetrators of heist promising to bring death to the public service careers of the frustrated insiders who have revealed their grand auto theft to the world.
And we are not shocked, are we? After all, isn't this Nigeria, where the James Iboris of this world are fated to sit in judgment over the lives and careers of the Nuhu Ribadus; where those under whose watch fuel subsidy payments ballooned to criminal proportions are the same ones who will set up and preside over investigative panels of enquiry to get to the roots of the matter.
And where the man at the top either never gives a damn, or lives by an indissoluble code that insists that attempting to uncover corruption is the worst form of corruption.
On to the next scandal, please.
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