Stella Odua Was Not The Problem

By Tochukwu Ezukanma
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With the controversies that swirled around her, allegations of corruption and forgery that trailed her and her earlier indictment by the House of Representatives, many Nigerians welcomed the dismissal of Stella Odua by President Goodluck Jonathan. Her detractors castigated her for several reasons, including her imperious tendencies. But then, imperiousness may not be bad in itself.

After all, some outstanding leaders and distinguished administrators were high-handed and dictatorial. One of the greatest political leaders of the 20th Century, Margaret Thatcher, in defense of her autocratic style and disdain for consensus, once said that “Consensus is the absence of leadership.”

Ms Odua, allegedly, forced the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to buy bullet-proof cars for her at over invoiced prices. And she, reportedly, falsely claimed to have a Master's degree from an American university. Her corrupt dealings and falsification of her academic credentials are reprehensible and morally inexcusable. But then, there are so much corruption and falsehood within the precincts of the Nigerian power elite. They pervade the presidency, the National Assembly and the corridors of power at the state and local government levels. To single her out for what are, essentially, the cachets of Nigerian politics is discriminatory.

My gripe with her is her poor performance as Aviation Minister. It was during her time as Aviation Minister that the country experienced the tragic Dana Air crash of 2012 that led to the death of 153 people. According to the Flight Safety International, it was the worst air disaster of 2012. The crash was a direct consequence of the failure of government (aviation) agencies to enforce quality and safety standards in the aviation industry. It was, also, under her watch that the Associated Airline plane crashed. In addition, there was a host of other minor air crashes within the same period. An expert in the aviation industry, Dele Ore, was quoted as saying, “During her tenure, the aviation industry was moved 60 years backwards”. Another authority in the industry, John Ojikutu, said, “In my opinion, she messed up the entire aviation ministry”.

But then, she was not the problem. She was only a symptom of the problem. The problem is with the presidency and the senate. For some bewildering reasons, the presidency sends its list of ministerial nominees to the senate for confirmation without designating the specific portfolios of the nominees. Secondly, amid rumors of nominees bribing senators, the senate confirmation process is reduced to mere formality. During such sessions, the President of the Senate, David Mark, behaves as though he suffered apoplexy, and therefore, forgot the entire English lexicon, except for “take a bow, and those in favor say yah and those against say nay; the yahs have it”.

The list of prospective ministers that included Stella Oduah was sent to the senate for confirmation without stating their respective ministries. On receiving the list, the senate, rejected it, insisting that the nominees be assigned to particular ministries. Nigerians were impressed. It felt as though the senate invigorated by a new enthusiasm to do things right was snapping out of its legislative mediocrity.

Lamentably, the senators relapsed to their usual and moribund ways; they agreed to confirm the ministers without knowledge of their individual ministries. Not knowing the exact ministry to be headed by a given nominee imperiled the screening process. It makes it almost impossible to determine the specific relevance of a ministerial candidate's knowledge, expertise, experience, interests and passion to the requirements of leading a specified ministry.

Ms. Oduah's presentation before the senate was very sketchy. She did not mention: her date of birth, the schools she attended, her field of study, year of graduation, and the degree(s) she received. For her employment with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), she did not state the nature of her work and her position.

She was asked questions that ranged from agriculture to petroleum and foreign affairs. The scope of the questions was naturally very wide because they could not be narrowed down to the demands of any specific ministry. She was also asked in what ministry she thinks she can best serve the country. She answered that she had no preference because wherever she finds herself, she will put in her best and do a good job. That answer was as evasive as it was expedient. She cannot be proficient in every ministry because she is determined to do her best.

With that insinuation that she can “best serve the country” in any ministry, she cut the image of a charlatan. Her answer portrayed lack of passion and vision for any particular area of public service. I thought it would have automatically disqualified her. Paradoxically, it was the clincher for the senate president. For he immediately asked her to take a bow; and asked those in favor to say yah and those against to say nay; and as usual, the yahs had it.

The whole screening exercise lacked rigor. It was perfunctory, and not surprisingly, bunglesome. As such, it confirmed unqualified nominees and threw up the wrong ministers for the wrong ministries. The solution is in the senators refusing to screen ministerial nominees without knowing their portfolios. Secondly, they must stop taking bribe (as rumored) from the ministerial nominees. And then, they must take the confirmation process serious, and thus, question the nominees persistently and scrutinize them diligently, as dictated by the requirements of heading their individual ministries.

Tochukwu Ezukanma writes from Lagos, Nigeria
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