Stella Oduah And 2015

by Michael Egbejumi-David

I have to confess that I have always had a soft spot for Stella Oduah, the currently embattled Aviation Minister. The way I heard it, through abundant doggedness and feminist wiles, she forged a successful little business empire for herself in our dog-eat-dog business environment. In a place like Nigeria, you’ve got to admire that.

But as these things often work, once a person starts down a particular path or habituate that path for too long, they often don’t know how to stop or how to behave in a different (public) milieu. And I think that is partly what has happened to our Stella. That, and the way government works in Nigeria.

When the story first broke that the Aviation Ministry paid a whopping $1.6million for just two cars, I immediately saw the imprint of the Federal government and Jonathan’s re-election run all over it. My suspicion was confirmed with the stony silence emanating from the Federal government. This was further reinforced when the major concern of the National Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) was in looking to track down the whistleblower. Their only interest seems to lie in wanting to prosecute somebody for spoiling their scam. They want to charge the person with every criminal statute under the sun. The Director General of the NCAA, Mr Fola Akinkuotu even compared the whistleblower to the American fugitive du jour, Edward Snowden.


This is how it works: A major election looms on the horizon. Winning elections in Nigeria is super expensive. Stakeholders have got to be settled. Godfathers have got to be fathered. Kings, high and low Chiefs have got to be buttered-up. Community leaders, women leaders, youth leaders, student leaders, NURTW leaders, agbero leaders, all have got to receive their own dividend. Parties have got to stock up on GMGs (Ghana Must Go), and Party delegates have got to be bought off with at least $5,000 each.

And so, Parties and office holders begin to look for funds. The first place office holders in Nigeria look is in the direction of the public purse. In Nigeria, over the years, various ingenious ways have been devised to raid the treasury to fund elections. One way is to task States under their control, Ministries and other government Parastatals to contribute specified amount of money to the Party. This was what caught out the UPN Party of old with the Buhari/Idiagbon un-smiling junta.

During the period leading to major elections, plenty of contracts are awarded but none is ever executed. Strange taxes and levies begin to get introduced in schools and other areas. Government houses and offices suddenly need to be refurbished. Legislative quarters all of a sudden require a facelift. Government begins to replace its fleet of vehicles. Another aircraft or two is purchased. Managing Directors and Directors General begin to lean on government contractors to cough-up more roja or their returns get hiked-up another 5 percentage point or so. ‘Warehousing’ of Ministries budgets take on more urgency than hitherto. And if all of that proves insufficient, Ministers have to come up with other means of putting together their own allocated election fund contribution. A Minister who is unable to deliver in full knows that he or she will not make the next cabinet; and so the pressure is really on.

Stella has done what is expected of her. Unfortunately for her, one busybody soul decided to sing to Saharareporters and all hell has broken lose. Ms Oduah was caught with her bloomers in the penny jar.

But because this is a Federal Government ‘project,’ government functionaries and other lackeys will try to focus on acne rather than call out the Dermatologist for a chronic case of leprosy. And because this is Nigeria, before you know it, the whole matter will devolve into an ethnic one. It might even degenerate into a gender one.

We have a real problem here. Our elections are too expensive. People that run for elective offices and most of our appointed officials have to mortgage almost everything to get into office. Once in office, their primary focus understandably becomes recouping their money and making a nice little profit in the process as well. And if you want to be returned to office, then the cost is even more prohibitive. Methinks Ms Oduah, other Ministers, Directors General, and Managing Directors of Federal organs are all at it at the moment on behalf of their administration. Same thing is going on at the State level.

Typically, the Federal government would hunker down and try to protect one of its own rather than do what is right. Because in abandoning Ms Oduah, the government risks exposing itself and almost certainly revealing its own complicity in the whole thieving mess. Saharareporters, as usual, has done exceedingly well in helping to expose a long-standing malaise, in my view, and Ms Oduah must be held firmly accountable in this particular case.

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