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The N255m cars for aviation minister - The Guardian

By The Citizen

The on-going investigation by the House of Representatives Committee into the purchase of N255 million bullet proof vehicles by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for the Minister of Aviation Stella Oduah is a rigmarole that is begging the issue. So also is the presidential panel, which Nigerians suspect, with good cause, to be a mere subterfuge to deflect pressure from the minister and other officials involved in the ugly episode. In real terms, the transaction, along with the totality of the circumstances surrounding it, is a sad commentary on the values and quality of those in charge of the affairs of the country. It underscores the yawning disconnect between the government and the governed in terms of priority and need, and why there is so much struggle for political appointment and offices. Apart from the fact that due process was circumscribed; that so much public fund was spent on two vehicles, at a time the country is in dire economic straits, the deal is as inexcusable as the reason offered for it. The worries of an average Nigerian are about the basic necessities of life - food, good healthcare, quality education, gainful employment and reliable infrastructure, all of which remain hard to come by.

It is pathetic that while the average citizen buckles under the severe yoke of poverty; unemployment and lack, and the failure of government to discharge its statutory and moral responsibility to the populace,  public officials would have so much leeway on profligacy and the mundane, which the bullet proof cars at issue represent. This is more so at a time when government revenue is said to be dwindling and states are complaining of being short changed. When juxtaposed with the crisis in the aviation sector characterised by the series of air mishaps that have taken place recently claiming many lives; and the Aviation Ministry's failure to ensure safety of air transportation, the extent of government's contempt and disdain for its people becomes obvious.

What the time calls for is a comprehensive overhaul of the aviation sector to inspire confidence in the flying public. Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, went too far with the acquisition of the bullet proof cars in a country where poverty is on the rampage, where primordial diseases such as cholera and guinea worm still decimate the rank and where infant mortality remains a source of concern to the international community. It is this same intense individualism, buoyed by the rapacious corruption in the country that can make NCAA officials think that what is important as a regulatory agency is the safety of the minister rather than that of millions of people who depend on air travel to do their business. Individualism is the only reason parastatals created for service delivery to the people have become the backyard farmland for their supervising ministers where free funds are harvested as much and as often as they want.

Needless to say, the NCAA has traded away its independence and compromised its regulatory responsibility in order to please its minister. In so many ways, it conducts itself more as an inseverable appendage of the ministry to the detriment of professionalism and public service ethics. This pathetic phenomenon has bogged down the nation, as officials of parastatals would rather serve the ministers that nominated them for appointment than serve the state for whose sake they were appointed.

Nigerians expect that the Oduahgate scandal should not be swept under the carpet, as many so-called investigations into financial impropriety in the public service have been compromised in the past. By any moral or decent standard, Miss Oduah ought to have been ushered out of office to allow unfettered investigation by appropriate law enforcement agencies. That is the only way to counter insinuations that this government feels no scruple about corruption; or that no harm would befall the minister, however damning the allegation and its proof, because of her rumoured closeness to President Goodluck Jonathan. No government that vacillates in a case so obvious and that smacks of massive moral deficit on the part of the minister will be deserving of the respect of its people. If the government hopes to get away with this, it will not get away with the harsh verdict of history.

There is no need for any rigmarole, for that is what the investigation panel set up by the president or indeed any other organ of government amounts to. There had been too many of such public hearings in the past at public expense that turned out to be too much ado about nothing, mere sound without fury. That is not what Nigerians desire at this time as it amounts to an assault on the collective psyche of all citizens. The issues involved, namely morality, ethics and dignity of office are clear. All the culprits in this obscene act should be made to pay a price for their misconduct. Miss Oduah's continued stay in office is no longer tenable. President Jonathan should do the right thing by replacing the minister with another person. The officials of NCCA involved in the car deal, should also be thrown out of the system.

Meanwhile, the Police or the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should open inquiry into the conduct of the culprits with a view to prosecuting them, if necessary. It is time public officials were made to account for their actions.