Opinion: Before we nail Stella Oduah to the cross

by Onuoha Ekeh

Stella-OduahThe question is: How could NCAA possibly buy vehicles for Oduah? Is it as birthday gift or what? Is it as gratification, so that the minister would not sack the head and other personnel of the NCAA? We have to be careful how we shoot people in authority down, simple because we do not like their faces.

It started with the crash of the Associated Airlines’ aircraft, which was conveying the body of the late former Ondo State Governor, Olusegun Agagu. And it has graduated to the controversy over purchase of bulletproof cars by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), which has been hung on Oduah’s neck.

Well, this is expected and Oduah would be under illusion if she did not expect that as a public servant, she would be under the scrutiny of the well-informed as well as those who know next to nothing about the job she has been given. Our country is one where achievements are not well-celebrated. And when things go wrong, everybody would shout at the rooftops, with the person at the apex of leadership taking the blame.

There was a plane crash, in which people died. It was a tragedy, which should make a nation that has seen several air crashes not only grieve but also express anger. This is so, as the crash came barely 16 months after a Dana Airline plane killed about 153 passengers and crew, also, in Lagos. The Associated Airlines’ plane had taken off from the Lagos airport and a few minutes later, it crashed, at the precincts of the airport. What could have gone wrong? Oduah had stated that it was an act of God. For daring to say so, it appears that the world has come to an end, owing to how people have reacted to Oduah’s comments.

Come to think of it, was there really anything wrong with Oduah’s belief that the plane crash was an act of God? Granted that there was human error and other associated factors that caused the crash, is it really possible for this to happen without God permitting it? If we agree, as a religious people that we have been rated to be, that this happened because God allowed it, would Oduah’s comments be out of place? For one, this is not the first time Nigerians have heard that some accident, tragedy or death, is an act of God. It’s a common saying, in the country, as people, Christians or Muslims alike, submit to the will of God and Allah. This does not mean that those who say so are reducing the gravity of the tragedy. It’s simply because they think that destiny cannot be changed, even if it could be delayed.

Where I blame Oduah is that since investigation on the crash was on, she should have kept quiet. And if she must say something, perhaps, she could have simply stated that a probe had been instituted and, therefore, it would not be good to preempt the outcome. She could also have said that she would comment on the crash after the report of the probe had been released. Now, her haste in commenting, before the investigating panel concluded its job, has become something that critics are holding onto. Some would say that she asked for it. And, therefore, she has got it.

Perhaps, this is true. However, the blame on air crashes in the country should be put where they ought to. Inasmuch as everybody that has one thing or another to do with the aviation industry has a blame in it, those who are directly saddled with the responsibility of supervising, monitoring and overseeing activities therein should take the greater part of the flak. When a plane crashes, nobody seems to talk about the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN). People seldom talk about NCAA. Also, Nigerians hardly talk about the Nigerian Airspace Management Authority (NAMA).  These are agencies, whose activities, on a daily basis, directly and indirectly, affect the operations and activities of the aviation industry. The acts of indiscretion, mistakes, incompetence and negligence of personnel of these federal agencies and others are responsible for some plane crashes in the country. Incidentally, whenever anything goes wrong, when there is plane crash, the minister is always blamed.

Have those crucifying Oduah for saying that an air accident was an act of God ever given a thought to the failures of the airlines, which, in some cases, have caused mishaps or near fatalities? Yes, some of the airlines in the countries do not meet the required standards. They expose their passengers to risk, believing that nothing would happen, as Nigerians always say. In this case, is it a minister, who stays in Abuja, that would be blamed or the regulatory agencies that work with the airlines every day? It’s always easy to blame others for failures, but the truth is that nobody can really play god or claim to have answers to all the questions. This is why I am amused that Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode boasted that during his tenure, as minister of aviation, which was short, any way, there was no plane crash. Perhaps, Fani-Kayode was a god and, therefore, ensured there was no crash. Maybe his righteousness made this to happen. No matter what it’s, he has taken credit for what he has no hand in causing. I liken him to Eneke, the bird, which was so overfed that he challenged his chi (god) to a fight, as stated by Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart. My only advice for the like of Fani-Kayode is: Those whose palm kernel was cracked by a benevolent spirit should not forget to be humble (apologies, Chinua Achebe). He should answer all the posers that Mr. Chris Aligbe posed to him, in his article, Untold story about Fani-Kayode’s era as aviation minister, published in Daily Sun, October 24, 2013.

On the bullet-proof cars saga in the aviation sector, I also pity Oduah. The news in town is that NCAA bought two armoured cars for her and everybody is lapping at this. The question is: How could NCAA possibly buy vehicles for Oduah? Is it as birthday gift or what? Is it as gratification, so that the minister would not sack the head and other personnel of the NCAA? We have to be careful how we shoot people in authority down, simple because we do not like their faces. This is how the country was in frenzy when Prof Adenike Grange, former minister of education, was disgraced out of office on the allegation that she approved and participated in sharing unspent money in her ministry. She was dragged to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and many years thereafter, she is yet to be convicted. However, critics and the lynch mob have already concluded that she’s a common thief. Like Grange, this is also how Nigerians humiliated Prof Fabian Osuji, ex-minister of education, also, out of office on the allegation of offering bribe to federal lawmakers over his ministry’s budget. When President Olusegun Obasanjo made the allegation, everybody clapped and descended on the former minister. Eventually, the professor and his co-accused were cleared by the court. Despite the fact that the court gave them a clean bill of health, nobody, Obasanjo and those who did throw stones at them inclusive, has tendered unreserved apology for wrongful accusation.

Today, Oduah is another minister or public servant, who’s facing the same fate. Critics have already made up their minds that she must be guilty of the allegation, even when the probe instituted by President Jonathan has not concluded its job. All sorts of things have been said about Oduah, even to the ridiculous extent that some insinuated that she had bolted from the country, when, actually she travelled to Israel over a bilateral agreement on the aviation industry. We should allow the probe instituted by the Federal Government to do its job and then release a report. It’s after the findings are made public that anybody would be in good standing to say anything against Oduah.

I do know that some public officers could do anything while in office, but I will be surprised if it’s true that NCAA bought those vehicles for Oduah. There may be lapses in the process, but it will be a shock if the vehicles were bought for personal use. Vehicles bought by an agency for its operations, which, at one time or another, are deployed for the use of a minister, cannot be said to be for personal use. NCAA had stated that the vehicles in question were bought for its operations and are always used to ferry dignitaries involved in its programmes and activities, including the aviation minister and diplomats. Nobody appears to be  listening or believe this. The agency has said that it followed its procedures to buy the cars. Nobody wants to hear this. For many, Oduah must be guilty and, therefore, should be nailed to the cross. If we have to crucify her, the probe must be concluded.

I may not be one of those thrilled by the remodelling of the airports, not because I do not see it as one step ahead, in the country’s quest to measure up, but simply because I think that it’s shameful that in our 53 years as a nation, we do not have a befitting airport, as you would see in Europe, South Africa and North Africa. However, I think that Oduah has done something that has made her to stand out among those who have managed the aviation ministry. If our airports are in ruins and she has remodelled or refurbished them, that’s something. Those who think she has done nothing should look at where we came from, on the state of the airports.

This is not to say that if Oduah is guilty of the allegation over the NCAA cars, she should not go in for it, because of what she has achieved as minister. Far from it! What I am saying is that we should not jump to conclusion. Let’s wait for the outcome of the probe. And by the time this is concluded, people will be in a better position to crucify or absolve her.

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Read this article in the Sun Newspapers
Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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