spending over two hundred million on two cars? What do you joke about? Why bother writing anyway? We say the same thing over and over, but the culture of impunity continues to rule over us. There is (it appears) nothing new to be said. I am sad. Is it possible that in a country where youth unemployment is at its highest, cruel poverty pervades the land and we never seem to have enough of strikes to protest one condition or another that a ministry can still find enough justification on the need to buy two bullet proof cars at such an outrageous sum?
I have read the infantile arguments offered by the Director General of the NCAA and even his continuous outburst expressing rage at whoever leaked the story to the press.
EFCC is broke. Perhaps too broke to initiate investigations into this issue. In any event, what or who do you want to investigate? It is for the ministry. Period. They can do whatever they want with their internally generated revenue. Additionally, the vehicles are not personal vehicles but utility vehicles and would also be used to convey international dignitaries who visit Nigeria.
More inane excuses as we learn more about these vehicles; each of which have been reported to be less than the cost of the official car of the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Whatever happened to the other vehicles that the Ministry has been using for international dignitaries? Spoilt? Too old? No more befitting? Increased risk of terrorist attacks? Which of this pool of ready-made excuses would the Director General like to choose from?
The Director General goes on to let excited Nigerians know that his agency was searching for the person who allegedly leaked the information to the media, because the Federal Government was gravely concerned about how the information got to the public domain, as whoever leaked it, had committed a criminal offence.
You must hand it over to our dear nation. We are never in short supply of professional jesters. This has to be one of the most theatrical statements we have heard in a very long while. Do Nigerians have a right to know or not? What role does the Freedom of Information Act play in this whole saga? As is usual with us, the accused whips up enough political and emotional sentiments to turn into the poor hapless victim.
The police would soon swing into action bristling with ideas from the recently concluded police chiefs' conference held in the United States of America on how to catch this native criminal. Pray, tell, who has committed this heinous crime on our country at such a time when we are being admonished not to heat up the polity?
I have also been thinking - does anybody have any idea if our 'international dignitaries' have purchased similar vehicles for eminent Nigerians who need to visit foreign countries?
O! I forgot one more reason adduced for buying these never-before-seen armoured cars - the Special assistant (media) to the Minister of Aviation informed us that 'the vehicles were procured for the use of the office of the honourable minister in response to the clear and imminent threat to her personal security and life following the bold steps she took to reposition the sector'. At this point, we should either stand up and applaud this fellow or observe a minute silence in honour of his baseless remarks.
So the minister is in danger? There are wicked, evil men out to kill her for all the good work she is doing? There are so many Nigerians - eminent and ordinary that seem to be in one form of danger or another in our country. If you do not avoid a pothole that looks more like a gully while driving, you avoid an okada driver who is on some suicidal mission. Where you succeed, you have to contend with Keke Napep; the ominous tricycle brought to alleviate the suffering of the masses and also look out for bombs that could detonate without warning and of course not forgetting our planes that could just suddenly by an Act of God fall down from the sky and crash into either a house, field, farm or individuals.
The Special Assistant told us that some of the good works for which people want to harm the minister include terminating unsavory agreements and dealing with a lot 'of baggage in terms of the concession and lease agreements which were clearly not in the interest of the government and people of Nigeria'. Her other good works which he spoke about include the remodeling of our sub-standard airports.
However, what he failed to mention was that none of these re-modelled airports have provisions for physically challenged individuals, the clocks in all our re-modelled airports still do not work (I had said this in an earlier article but they must have been too busy trying to get the cars and save the minister from the clear and present danger he mentioned), travelling to and fro in Nigeria still remains for the better part a nightmarish experience, basic amenities are not available and while the airports have been given a face-lift we continue to chase shadows as opposed to substance.
I did not intend to digress for so long. I also wanted to ask some pertinent questions. Are these cars the official residence of the minister? Does she work from the car? Does she sleep in the car? Is it possible that she can also be harmed when she is not in her car? Do bullet-proof cars mean the same thing as bullet-proof roads? Would she use these cars on our dilapidated roads? Are the cars immune from accidents?
There are also different ramblings from various sectors of the government with respect to this issue. The media reports that the Senate wants to probe the aviation crisis. A senator was quoted as saying that it was difficult to comment on the matter as the chambers had not passed any resolution on the issue. According to him, things must be put in proper perspective before comments can be made. What sort of perspective do we put this issue in properly? What other context can this matter be viewed? Is this economically sensible? Can anyone take us seriously as a nation that is interested in socio-economic development and taking concrete steps to move from our time hallowed status of 'third world/developing country to developed country?' He also stated that no documents were before it so they would have to wait for the proper procedure to be followed.
The Bureau of Public Procurement says that the process for the approval of these cars does not have to go through the BPP process because the amount was not up to the approved benchmark. The Director General when contacted could not confirm because it was a Sunday and he was not in the office and the information was not with him given the fact that they have over 500 agencies that they oversee. It remains to be stated if due process is still a mantra of the BPP or it went away with 'madam due process'.
Government officials are the only ones who think this is a delicate issue to be handled gingerly. While we are still seething from this insensitive act, someone would soon come out and say the minister is being victimised because of her good efforts at transforming the aviation sector. Thereafter, a group of faceless individuals would issue a communiquÃ©, warning Nigerians to leave their daughter alone or else the country would break up. We would be inundated with reports of how the government is under pressure to sack the minister while some sections of the media will remind us of why she should be left to complete her tenure and see to the completion of the lofty remodeling projects she has started.
There is also the bit about the real cost of those cars. Some people have stated authoritatively that the cars cost far less than the purported N255 million. If this is true, who carried out the verification process for the cost of the cars?
Too many questions. But we do not really need answers. It is an all too familiar scenario playing out in our comic country Nigeria. The number one rule of public service is to steal as much as you can because the punitive measures are usually minimal and the scandals do not last forever. The more you steal, the less your punitive reward or your jail term if you get any. In the unlikely event that you are sent to jail, you have servants pandering to your insatiable demands. You are home away from home. If you do not go to jail, we are reminded that the investigative process takes a long while, the relevant authority is already on top of the issue and there would be no sacred cows.
After a while, you are given a national award and eminent Nigerians rally round you to congratulate you. If you fade from national consciousness, you travel out to cool off and spend the money you helped yourself to while in active public service. Someone else or something else makes headline news again and we start shouting. Pathetically, it is the same endless circle of do-nothing and the ever pervading culture of impunity that has stifled us.
One of my favourite pseudo comic characters puts it nicely when he says that the country is clearly in a crinkum crakum which has been occasioned by an odoriferous gargantuan. Need I say more? As my dad always says - egberi faa o.
• Onagoruwa is a legal practitioner in Lagos.