Editorial: Scandalous 2014 Aviation Ministry Budget

Source: huhuonline.com

After splashing N643 million on 54 cars in 2013, including N255 million for two bullet proof vehicles by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for the Aviation Minister Stella Oduah, the Ministry now wants to spend a whopping N800 million on vehicles in 2014. With several frivolous provisions such as N543 million on consultants and professional services, N137 million on trips, N13 million on food and drinks, N9 million on publicity, N100 million on airport toll gates and N100 million to paint runways, the Aviation Ministry has succeeded in raising serious questions of probity on its N32.3 billion budget for 2014. Some of the projects, and the sums budgeted for them are not only ridiculous, but also downright insulting on the intelligence of Nigerians. At a time when government revenue is said to be dwindling and States are complaining of being short changed, the bogus provisions in the Aviation Ministry budget are scandalous. They project the Minister as a spendthrift, reckless with public funds and portray the government as profligate and disrespectful of the Nigerian people.

Coming in the wake of the remodeling of the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) in Lagos, said to have cost a jaw-dropping N648 million, this budget underlines the wastage of public resources that has become an administrative routine in government circles. It is worth noting that the new Lagos terminal that was commissioned with much fanfare by the Secretary to the government of the federation, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim was part of the first phase of infrastructure upgrade by the Aviation minister involving 11 airports across the country. But after spending $864 million in airport rehabilitation and refurbishment, it is unacceptable and inexcusable that most of the renovated terminals are leaking. This is no time for prevarication. The procurement aspect of governance is arguably the most corruption-prone in the public service, and often, with high costs to the public purse and public morality. So, it is just as well that Stella Oduah, who awarded these contracts to her fly-by-night contractor friends and cronies must take full responsibility for the disaster.

It is indeed embarrassing that airport authority staff have now resorted to cut jerry cans to trap water leaking from the roof of the remodeled terminals. At the last instance, no fewer than 69 such jerry cans were on display at the MMIA in Lagos where rain-dredged passengers scampered through pools of water and bumped against each other as torrential rains expose the shoddy remodeling job for which the Aviation Minister claims to have spent billions of taxpayers' money. This depressing situation is not limited to Lagos alone but is what obtains all over the country; from Yola to Benin and Kano. It is indeed sad; and a tragedy for Nigeria. Even more pathetic is that, while the average citizen buckles under the yoke of poverty and the failure of government to discharge its statutory and moral responsibility to the populace, Stella Oduah would have so much leeway on profligacy and the mundane, which the 2014 budget represents. When juxtaposed with the crisis in the aviation sector characterized by the series of air mishaps that have recently claimed many lives; and the Aviation Ministry's failure to ensure safety of air transportation, the extent of government's contempt and disdain for its citizens becomes obvious.

The budget proposal, shows that the ministry will spend N250 million on eight operational vehicles for the Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) and another N500 million to buy trucks for the agency. Also N50 million will also be spent on staff buses at the ministry. On airport internal access roads, the ministry would spend N200 million, N100 million on Bilateral Air Services Agreements and another N100 million on security gateways on express roads. This is coming as the Ministry of Aviation is alleged to have re-introduced the monthly N150 million deductions from the authority; an action that allegedly affected the operations of the agency last year. Besides, the Ministry deducted N15O million from the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency and N300m from the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) but all the deductions were stopped in the wake of bulletproof cars scandals, but resurfaced under another name. The deduction reportedly budgeted for under 'Safety and security' has is now under 'Publicity'.

For the total radar coverage of Nigeria, otherwise known as TRACON, N820 million would be spent on the maintenance agreement for the project's support services. This is incomprehensible for a 54 million Euros radar system that has been very epileptic with pilots and air traffic controllers complaining about the faulty system. What is clearly on display here is a lack of character and failure of leadership. Stella Oduah has her priorities misplaced. Since President Goodluck Jonathan has refused to sack or re-assign her, despite national outrage over her performance, the National Assembly, therefore, must do the right thing in the interest of the Nigerian people: shoot down all the unworthy projects.

Stella Oduah can say whatever she wants but what her budget represents is the perpetration of the culture of waste that has become the hallmark of governance in the Jonathan administration. In this instance, Stella Oduah has displayed an absolute insensitivity to the priorities of the nation, while she has also demonstrated fiscal imprudence in the face of more pressing beneficial projects that can be captured under the appropriation, to improve air transportation safety and ensure safety of Nigeria's airspace. What the time calls for is a comprehensive overhaul of the aviation sector to inspire confidence in the flying public.

Paramount among infrastructure development is very functional search and rescue equipment, which Nigeria desperately lacks. Construction giant, Julius Berger, has readily availed the country of some of its services and equipment in times of emergency, but for how long should the nation rely on a private firm for these rescue operations? Among other facility deficit, what is the current state of navigational lighting at the nation's airports? What is the Minister's plan about the various under-utilized airports in the country with high maintenance costs? What about perimeter fencing of airports, a deficiency that caused Air France A-330 aircraft to run into a herd of cattle in Port Harcourt in July 2005 and the recent incident involving Daniel Oikhena the little boy who hid himself in the wheel well of an Arik plane flight from Benin to Lagos? Many more questions are begging for answers and the threat by foreign airlines to boycott Nigerian airspace if facilities were not upgraded should be embarrassing enough but Stella Oduah doesn't seem to worry.

Therefore, her continued stay in office is no longer tenable. Despite national outrage, the Oduahgate scandal has been swept under the carpet, as many so-called investigations in the past. The House and the presidential probes, which Nigerians suspected, with good cause, were merely a subterfuge to deflect pressure from the minister and other officials involved in the ugly episode. The issues involved, namely morality, ethics and dignity of office have been further compounded by her profligate and scandalous budget which underscores the yawning disconnect between the government and the governed in terms of priority and need. By any standard of public morality and decency, she ought to have been sacked to counter such insinuations by Obasanjo that Jonathan feels no scruple about corruption; however damning the allegation and its proof, because of her rumored closeness to the President. 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 Jonathan thinks he has gotten away with the Oduahgate scandal, he will not get away with the harsh verdict of history.