Stella Oduah: Frequently Asked Questions By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo

Stella Oduah: Frequently Asked Questions By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo


The revelation that the Aviation Minister Ms. Stella Oduah arm-twisted the National Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, to buy two armored BMW cars for $1.6 million dollars has raised a lot of questions. How we answer some of these questions will determine if we will be able to reduce corruption in our society. I will now tackle some of your frequently asked questions.

Q1. Why Ms. Stella Oduah?
Answer: Because she was caught, red-handed, if I may add.
 
Q2. Isn’t that what they’ve all been doing? They are all corrupt.
Answer: When a police radar clocks your car for driving faster than the speed limit and you are pulled over, that some other drivers were driving faster than you will not let you off the hook. That they all do it does not exonerate you.
 
Q3. Why now? Isn’t this a calculated attempt to frustrate her? Is this issue not orchestrated by the special interests she sidelined in order to carry out impressive work she is doing in the aviation sector, like the airport renovations?
Answer: Every person in authority deals with special interests. In a place where there is no transparency and standards, people in power favor some and disfavor others. This is something that following laid down procedures will save them from. Those you did not favor may be unhappy, or even be antagonistic. For every Dangote favored there is an Ibeto disfavored. They may wish that you disappear from your position, but they will not force you to spend $1.6 million to buy two armored cars.
 
Q4: Stella Oduah is not the first person to be caught misappropriating public funds. There is Farouk Lawan, Dimeji Bankole, why is everyone piling on her?
Answer:  I went back to look at news reports of the time when major corruption scandals broke. They looked to me as if everyone was piling on those people, too. In fact, it appears as if those who complain that a particular corruption suspect is being piled on are the same people who derided another suspect in the past.

The only change that I see in Stella Oduah’s case is that Nigerians are getting more frustrated by the day. And social media is expanding the more. If you think Stella Oduah had it rough, wait until the next scandal that will break. In fact, President Jonathan complains of being the most criticized Nigerian president but my pity is with the next president- whoever that may be. It’ll be rough, rough, rough.
 
Q5. Are we not innocent until proven guilty in a court of law?
Answer: Yes. But that’s in a sane society. In a society where a suspected thief is lynched on the street or a police officer regularly shoots a suspect and plants evidence on him, what do you expect? Isn’t it ironic that some of the same people who are quoting the law in the case of Ms. Oduah will gladly pour petrol and light the matches on a suspected thief?
 

Q6. Isn’t the fact that she’s a smart Igbo woman a factor?
Answer: I hope she is not the first smart Igbo woman in government. And I hope she will not be the last. If my memory serves me right, in September of 2007, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Patricia Etteh was accused of authorizing the spending of N628 million naira (about $5 million) to renovate her official residence and that of her deputy and also for the purchase of 12 official cars. She was forced to resign by public outcry, even when President Olusegun Obasanjo was solidly behind her. I don’t remember her being a smart Igbo woman.
 
Q7. Isn’t this whole thing a plot by the opposition to embarrass the president?
Answer: As far as I know, the opposition did not order the purchase of the two cars. And the opposition did not take delivery of the cars, either.
 
Q8. But someone leaked the information. And that person must be working for the opposition. Don’t you think?
Answer: The person who leaked the information is working for Nigeria. He or she is a hero- a Nigerian hero. We need more of them everywhere. That he or she is now facing 10 years in jail should worry us all. Meanwhile, if convicted of violating procurement act, Stella Oduah will only get 5 years in jail. For a thoroughly corrupt society like ours, we need a law that protects whistleblowers. We need it yesterday.
 
Q9. The Yoruba Lagos-Ibadan press is just lynching an Igbo woman. Can’t you see that?
Answer: The Lagos-Ibadan press phenomenon is like the Kaduna mafia. Like a phantom, it exists and at the same time it doesn’t exist. That the media in Nigeria is fractured and flawed is not in question. But the majority of the Lagos-Ibadan media is owned by people from the minority ethnic groups. By the way, Igbo people own enough newspapers in the Lagos-Ibadan axis that, if what is going on is an ethnic war to expose corrupt practices of government officials from other ethnic groups, the Igbo have the means to get into the game.
Of course, that is not what is happening. But should that be, Nigeria would be the beneficiary if all corrupt elements are exposed.
The engine driving the Stella Oduah’s story does not come from the Lagos-Ibadan press. Saharareporters broke the story. And Saharareporters and Premium Times have kept the heat on. The Lagos-Ibadan press is reluctantly following along. Saharareporters and Premium Times are not owned by Yoruba people.

Online, the Igbo own more news websites than any other ethnic group. So nothing stops them from exposing the corrupt practices of other government officials. And you can be sure that once the evidence is out, the Lagos-Ibadan press will join in to lynch the suspect.
 
Q10. Why is the press not reporting that Governor Babatunde Fashola also bought a bulletproof car?
Answer: The simple answer is that the press has no evidence to support that story. The only reason why the Stella Oduah’s story gathered momentum was that Saharareporters presented irrefutable evidence. Those who have such evidence on any politician will always find a media outlet that will publish it. In the media, there is a difference between what is known and what can be supported by evidence. People in the media know a lot but are limited in some cases by a lack of proof. And that is where they need help from the public and whistleblowers. If, for any reason, no media will touch an authentic story with verifiable evidence, the democratization of the media means that anyone can put such material in public domain. The social media has made it so simple.
Politicians are frustrated by social media. They can buy up all the reporters and editors in Nigeria but they cannot buy every Tunde and Obi and Sani with a cell phone in hand.
 
Q11: What will now happen to the airports if Stella Oduah is sacked?
Answer: Somebody will take over from her and carry on from where she stopped. If she is the only person that can do the work in a country of 160 million people, then, you should know that we have more serious problems than we thought.
 
Q12. Now that you’ve said all these things, how can we eradicate corruption in Nigeria?
Answer: Aside from the structural flaws, the single most challenging issue facing Nigeria is corruption. It has eaten so deeply into every facet of Nigerian life that it undermines what would otherwise have been beneficial initiatives. Can corruption be effectively tackled without first undertaking the task of restructuring? My answer would be no, because the synergy needed to push for a clean society is difficult to gather in a structurally weak country like Nigeria. The reason why Mr. Andy Ubah and his group will destroy government properties in Awka and nothing could be done is because of the prevailing structure that places the center over the region. People in each state or region can handle their renegades but not when the federal might is behind the renegades.

But what could be done while we await the inevitable restructuring of Nigeria?

First, why are we so corrupt? We are corrupt because we have a poor and lawless country where there is no freedom of information and whose leaders/citizens – who have no shame – are overloaded with exaggerated sense of importance. Those are dangerous combinations. 

They have guaranteed corruption in all societies where such propensities exist. It is the same in Bangladesh. It is the same in Mexico. It is the same in Haiti. And it is the same in Kenya.

Anyone living in the West can attest to the fact that without the enforcement of law and order, these western societies would, in a short time, deteriorate into corrupt societies. The primary task of lawmakers and law enforcement agencies is to stay one step ahead of the lawbreakers. It is a perpetual battle that every generation redefines. In the case of Nigeria, the ball was dropped soon after independence, as men became gods and civil service became self-service.

What we have in Nigeria is power without accountability, action without consequences and citizens without a say. Everyone, it seems, is either already corrupt or is searching for a chance to be corrupt. The few who are not yet corrupt are busy fighting off the pressure to be corrupt. Those who are rich by means of corruption have nothing to fear and those who are poor because of corruption have nothing to love. In a society where corruption thrives, the dream of a fair and just society can never be attained. And with that dies the hope of a prosperous society for all.

It is, therefore, in the interest of all Nigerians that corruption is eradicated. Corruption does harm to everyone of us. It is indirectly responsible for a great percentage of all unnatural deaths of Nigerians. When a corrupt politician connives with a corrupt contractor to award and execute a frivolous road contract and people die in accidents due to poor roads, it is an indirect result of corruption. When a corrupt businessman connives with a corrupt hospital administrator and supplies adulterated medications to hospitals and patients die in doctors’ care, it is an indirect result of corruption. When a policeman confuses bribery with bonus, frees a criminal and the criminal kills an innocent man, it is an indirect result of corruption.

Tackling corruption will require a three-way act – prosecution, prevention and education. So far, none of these is happening in Nigeria at the level it should. Prosecution of corrupt practices must be swift, severe and steady. It must proceed with a thorough investigation. It must be across the board. It must be carried out by competent individuals. Prevention of corruption entails the reduction of opportunities for corruption in existing procedures and practices of government departments and private organizations. Education of the citizenry must integrate the importance of ethics in civic and business life.

Without leaders who uphold higher standard of integrity, the task is hard to begin. The tendency for blackmail is great when leaders are themselves stained by the oil of corruption. 

In such situation, emphasis should be built around public institutions. An efficient public complaint structure should be established as an avenue to initiate actions. Civil servants must have firm and independent-minded monitors. With citizens’ rights enthroned, accountable democratic institutions could be built from down to up.
process of making bids, awarding contracts and procurements must be made public. If the Ministry of Works, for instance, says that it spent 400 billion Naira in road constructions in the last year, the public should know how the bidding was done, who won the contract and why. Also, the public should know who supervised the job, who approved the job completion, and who should follow up with the maintenance. Nobody should need to invoke the Freedom of Information Act before they find out how much elected officials and civil servants make.

To build a clean society we have to start by creating an open one. Any Nigerian should be able to know the assets of our public officials. Public servants who declared marginal assets when they went into office and came out with mega wealth should be probed and the source of their newly found wealth exposed. The same should go for public officials who throw money around. We should be able to demand and receive information on what each public official costs us and where the money goes. Those found wanting in their handling of public funds must be punished severely and should be made to pay restitution. As we close up loopholes to embezzlement, we have to teach our children social contract and the beauty of abiding by it.
Eradicating corruption in Nigeria may sound like an oxymoron now but, if we really mean it, we can make it happen.



Click here to subscribe to The Paradigm Newsletter

Comments

comments

One Comment

  1. Without proper declaration of ASSETS by politicians before they assume office and properly scrutinizing their source of wealth after office,corruption will continue to thrive freely among our politicians.

Share your thoughts


The revelation that the Aviation Minister Ms. Stella Oduah arm-twisted the National Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, to buy two armored BMW cars for $1.6 million dollars has raised a lot of questions. How we answer some of these questions will determine if we will be able to reduce corruption in our society. I will now tackle some of your frequently asked questions.

Q1. Why Ms. Stella Oduah?
Answer: Because she was caught, red-handed, if I may add.
 
Q2. Isn’t that what they’ve all been doing? They are all corrupt.
Answer: When a police radar clocks your car for driving faster than the speed limit and you are pulled over, that some other drivers were driving faster than you will not let you off the hook. That they all do it does not exonerate you.
 
Q3. Why now? Isn’t this a calculated attempt to frustrate her? Is this issue not orchestrated by the special interests she sidelined in order to carry out impressive work she is doing in the aviation sector, like the airport renovations?
Answer: Every person in authority deals with special interests. In a place where there is no transparency and standards, people in power favor some and disfavor others. This is something that following laid down procedures will save them from. Those you did not favor may be unhappy, or even be antagonistic. For every Dangote favored there is an Ibeto disfavored. They may wish that you disappear from your position, but they will not force you to spend $1.6 million to buy two armored cars.
 
Q4: Stella Oduah is not the first person to be caught misappropriating public funds. There is Farouk Lawan, Dimeji Bankole, why is everyone piling on her?
Answer:  I went back to look at news reports of the time when major corruption scandals broke. They looked to me as if everyone was piling on those people, too. In fact, it appears as if those who complain that a particular corruption suspect is being piled on are the same people who derided another suspect in the past.

The only change that I see in Stella Oduah’s case is that Nigerians are getting more frustrated by the day. And social media is expanding the more. If you think Stella Oduah had it rough, wait until the next scandal that will break. In fact, President Jonathan complains of being the most criticized Nigerian president but my pity is with the next president- whoever that may be. It’ll be rough, rough, rough.
 
Q5. Are we not innocent until proven guilty in a court of law?
Answer: Yes. But that’s in a sane society. In a society where a suspected thief is lynched on the street or a police officer regularly shoots a suspect and plants evidence on him, what do you expect? Isn’t it ironic that some of the same people who are quoting the law in the case of Ms. Oduah will gladly pour petrol and light the matches on a suspected thief?
 

Q6. Isn’t the fact that she’s a smart Igbo woman a factor?
Answer: I hope she is not the first smart Igbo woman in government. And I hope she will not be the last. If my memory serves me right, in September of 2007, the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Mrs. Patricia Etteh was accused of authorizing the spending of N628 million naira (about $5 million) to renovate her official residence and that of her deputy and also for the purchase of 12 official cars. She was forced to resign by public outcry, even when President Olusegun Obasanjo was solidly behind her. I don’t remember her being a smart Igbo woman.
 
Q7. Isn’t this whole thing a plot by the opposition to embarrass the president?
Answer: As far as I know, the opposition did not order the purchase of the two cars. And the opposition did not take delivery of the cars, either.
 
Q8. But someone leaked the information. And that person must be working for the opposition. Don’t you think?
Answer: The person who leaked the information is working for Nigeria. He or she is a hero- a Nigerian hero. We need more of them everywhere. That he or she is now facing 10 years in jail should worry us all. Meanwhile, if convicted of violating procurement act, Stella Oduah will only get 5 years in jail. For a thoroughly corrupt society like ours, we need a law that protects whistleblowers. We need it yesterday.
 
Q9. The Yoruba Lagos-Ibadan press is just lynching an Igbo woman. Can’t you see that?
Answer: The Lagos-Ibadan press phenomenon is like the Kaduna mafia. Like a phantom, it exists and at the same time it doesn’t exist. That the media in Nigeria is fractured and flawed is not in question. But the majority of the Lagos-Ibadan media is owned by people from the minority ethnic groups. By the way, Igbo people own enough newspapers in the Lagos-Ibadan axis that, if what is going on is an ethnic war to expose corrupt practices of government officials from other ethnic groups, the Igbo have the means to get into the game.
Of course, that is not what is happening. But should that be, Nigeria would be the beneficiary if all corrupt elements are exposed.
The engine driving the Stella Oduah’s story does not come from the Lagos-Ibadan press. Saharareporters broke the story. And Saharareporters and Premium Times have kept the heat on. The Lagos-Ibadan press is reluctantly following along. Saharareporters and Premium Times are not owned by Yoruba people.

Online, the Igbo own more news websites than any other ethnic group. So nothing stops them from exposing the corrupt practices of other government officials. And you can be sure that once the evidence is out, the Lagos-Ibadan press will join in to lynch the suspect.
 
Q10. Why is the press not reporting that Governor Babatunde Fashola also bought a bulletproof car?
Answer: The simple answer is that the press has no evidence to support that story. The only reason why the Stella Oduah’s story gathered momentum was that Saharareporters presented irrefutable evidence. Those who have such evidence on any politician will always find a media outlet that will publish it. In the media, there is a difference between what is known and what can be supported by evidence. People in the media know a lot but are limited in some cases by a lack of proof. And that is where they need help from the public and whistleblowers. If, for any reason, no media will touch an authentic story with verifiable evidence, the democratization of the media means that anyone can put such material in public domain. The social media has made it so simple.
Politicians are frustrated by social media. They can buy up all the reporters and editors in Nigeria but they cannot buy every Tunde and Obi and Sani with a cell phone in hand.
 
Q11: What will now happen to the airports if Stella Oduah is sacked?
Answer: Somebody will take over from her and carry on from where she stopped. If she is the only person that can do the work in a country of 160 million people, then, you should know that we have more serious problems than we thought.
 
Q12. Now that you’ve said all these things, how can we eradicate corruption in Nigeria?
Answer: Aside from the structural flaws, the single most challenging issue facing Nigeria is corruption. It has eaten so deeply into every facet of Nigerian life that it undermines what would otherwise have been beneficial initiatives. Can corruption be effectively tackled without first undertaking the task of restructuring? My answer would be no, because the synergy needed to push for a clean society is difficult to gather in a structurally weak country like Nigeria. The reason why Mr. Andy Ubah and his group will destroy government properties in Awka and nothing could be done is because of the prevailing structure that places the center over the region. People in each state or region can handle their renegades but not when the federal might is behind the renegades.

But what could be done while we await the inevitable restructuring of Nigeria?

First, why are we so corrupt? We are corrupt because we have a poor and lawless country where there is no freedom of information and whose leaders/citizens – who have no shame – are overloaded with exaggerated sense of importance. Those are dangerous combinations. 

They have guaranteed corruption in all societies where such propensities exist. It is the same in Bangladesh. It is the same in Mexico. It is the same in Haiti. And it is the same in Kenya.

Anyone living in the West can attest to the fact that without the enforcement of law and order, these western societies would, in a short time, deteriorate into corrupt societies. The primary task of lawmakers and law enforcement agencies is to stay one step ahead of the lawbreakers. It is a perpetual battle that every generation redefines. In the case of Nigeria, the ball was dropped soon after independence, as men became gods and civil service became self-service.

What we have in Nigeria is power without accountability, action without consequences and citizens without a say. Everyone, it seems, is either already corrupt or is searching for a chance to be corrupt. The few who are not yet corrupt are busy fighting off the pressure to be corrupt. Those who are rich by means of corruption have nothing to fear and those who are poor because of corruption have nothing to love. In a society where corruption thrives, the dream of a fair and just society can never be attained. And with that dies the hope of a prosperous society for all.

It is, therefore, in the interest of all Nigerians that corruption is eradicated. Corruption does harm to everyone of us. It is indirectly responsible for a great percentage of all unnatural deaths of Nigerians. When a corrupt politician connives with a corrupt contractor to award and execute a frivolous road contract and people die in accidents due to poor roads, it is an indirect result of corruption. When a corrupt businessman connives with a corrupt hospital administrator and supplies adulterated medications to hospitals and patients die in doctors’ care, it is an indirect result of corruption. When a policeman confuses bribery with bonus, frees a criminal and the criminal kills an innocent man, it is an indirect result of corruption.

Tackling corruption will require a three-way act – prosecution, prevention and education. So far, none of these is happening in Nigeria at the level it should. Prosecution of corrupt practices must be swift, severe and steady. It must proceed with a thorough investigation. It must be across the board. It must be carried out by competent individuals. Prevention of corruption entails the reduction of opportunities for corruption in existing procedures and practices of government departments and private organizations. Education of the citizenry must integrate the importance of ethics in civic and business life.

Without leaders who uphold higher standard of integrity, the task is hard to begin. The tendency for blackmail is great when leaders are themselves stained by the oil of corruption. 

In such situation, emphasis should be built around public institutions. An efficient public complaint structure should be established as an avenue to initiate actions. Civil servants must have firm and independent-minded monitors. With citizens’ rights enthroned, accountable democratic institutions could be built from down to up.
process of making bids, awarding contracts and procurements must be made public. If the Ministry of Works, for instance, says that it spent 400 billion Naira in road constructions in the last year, the public should know how the bidding was done, who won the contract and why. Also, the public should know who supervised the job, who approved the job completion, and who should follow up with the maintenance. Nobody should need to invoke the Freedom of Information Act before they find out how much elected officials and civil servants make.

To build a clean society we have to start by creating an open one. Any Nigerian should be able to know the assets of our public officials. Public servants who declared marginal assets when they went into office and came out with mega wealth should be probed and the source of their newly found wealth exposed. The same should go for public officials who throw money around. We should be able to demand and receive information on what each public official costs us and where the money goes. Those found wanting in their handling of public funds must be punished severely and should be made to pay restitution. As we close up loopholes to embezzlement, we have to teach our children social contract and the beauty of abiding by it.
Eradicating corruption in Nigeria may sound like an oxymoron now but, if we really mean it, we can make it happen.



Click here to subscribe to The Paradigm Newsletter

Comments

comments

One Comment

  1. Without proper declaration of ASSETS by politicians before they assume office and properly scrutinizing their source of wealth after office,corruption will continue to thrive freely among our politicians.

Share your thoughts

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