Friday, 1 November 2013

Caesar's wife

I never much liked the recently suspended aviation minister. I feel about her much as I do about her ‘sister’ in the petroleum ministry. This is a pity given the dearth of women in public positions and the president’s much-touted intentions to make amends. Tunji Lardner wrote of her ‘condescending imperial haughtiness’ but then much the same can be said of her male counterparts but for the fact that she is a woman. This means, for one thing, that she – along with her sister – is pictured in the newspapers almost as much as the president himself in order that we might admire their respective attributes while we ponder the precise nature of their relationship with Oga. ‘Is Jonathan Dating Stella Oduah?’ was the headline in an online newspaper. As for her sister, Dr (Mrs) Patience Jonathan was once reported to have implored Mama Diezani at a public function to ‘tell your daughter to leave my husband alone. She is married and I’m married. What kind of thing is this?’ Levels dey, as we say. Sadly, this is ours.
The petroleum minister especially has made clear her disdain for the danfo-packed masses. During the 2012 fuel crisis, when the price at the pump doubled so we could pay the marketers who import the refined of the crude we export, she cautioned Nigerians against ‘pointing to corruption, if we are not prepared to bear some of the hardship’. It later transpired that she was blowing N1bn annually on private, foreign-leased aircraft, foregoing even the over-bloated presidential fleet. She is also widely alleged to be free and easy with lucrative oil blocks to young men with no previous form, at least in that particular sector. But everything gets mixed up in Nigeria, which is why the oil minister’s aviation counterpart, who is also deep into the oil business, was once accused of swindling Niger delta militants of their N3.2bn bounty to keep this precious oil-we-don’t-refine flowing, and now we are hearing about the two bulletproof cars she purchased for N255mn. Perhaps she has reason to be in fear of her life given the many aircraft that have dropped from her skies, which is presumably why her sister would rather give our money to foreigners, who would at least service the damn thing.
Oduahgate, as the affair has been dubbed, galvanised public opinion, with civil society organisations threatening mass action if the president didn’t sack her forthwith - ‘We discussed, argued on it and we decided that we are fighting these people to a standstill. We are not keeping quiet on this’ - but why all the fuss? She did no worse than her sister, whose own travelling arrangements were equally well publicised at the time. Moreover, both are from the same ‘tribe’ so we can discount the ‘ethnic factor’ that bedevils so much of our national discourse by the politicians who profit from the wheeze known as ‘federal character’. Then again, perhaps the aviation minister was simply the easier target. She could hardly match her sister, whose ministry released N90bn in a single day to ensure Jonathan’s victory at the 2011 party primaries, a task which Mama Diezani’s daughter will no doubt repeat come 2015, which is all that matters. Whether, as before, her aviation sister will double as Jonathan’s campaign treasurer, as she did in 2011, remains to be seen.
Given the furore over the matter of the armoured cars, it would have been difficult for the president to do nothing so he promptly did nothing.  She is on ‘tactical suspension’, we were informed, as if she was an unruly schoolchild caught out in some misdemeanour, in the process treating us the same way as we await the report of the ‘administrative panel of enquiry’ appointed by Mr President to delve into the matter. As others have pointed out, why a commission to do the work of the police? But we already know the answer to that and have at least been spared – or have merely postponed - the police and assorted thugs paid from the same purse beating protestors in the street, as happened during an earlier, one-man rally to protest the aviation minister’s latest affront to ‘justice and equity’. There is nothing like appointing a commission to avoid moving the country forward, as the recent fracas in Edo State confirmed over the other commission the president also appointed, although the sovereign national conference we ceaselessly demand is a matter for the people and not the government, the people being sovereign by definition.
The law the aviation minister is alleged to have transgressed – Section 58 (5) of the Public Procurement Act, for what it matters - stipulates five years’ imprisonment without the option of a fine but that will be the day. For justice and equity we must turn instead to our former colonial master, a melancholy observation so many years after our ‘independence’. Worse yet, any culprit who manages to evade said mother country’s long arm can expect a pardon back home, as the president granted his former benefactor, the so-called ‘general of the oil fields’ who once vanquished the British Empire disguised as a woman.
In any case, we can be sure that the panel will find a way to exonerate her so that she might be welcomed back to school. By then, of course, public outrage would have swung to the latest billion naira story by yet another of the public servants they sometimes claim to be in rare moments of self-irony. The more cynical among us will put this down to the short attention span of the average Nigerian but this is not so at all. Nigerians are no different from people elsewhere caught up in the daily struggle to earn a living, only that people elsewhere can rest assured that the powers that be will discharge their responsibilities while the rest of us go about trying to earn that living, but made that much harder in Nigeria by the antics of those same public servants.
© Adewale Maja-Pearce
Adewale Maja-Pearce is the author of several books, including Loyalties
and Other Stories, In My Father's Country, How many miles to Babylon?, A
Mask Dancing, Who's Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, From Khaki to Agbada,
Remembering Ken Saro-Wiwa and Other Essays, A Peculiar Tragedy, and
Counting the Cost, as well as the 1998 and 1999 annual reports on human
rights violations in Nigeria. He also edited The Heinemann Book of African
Poetry in English, Wole Soyinka: An Appraisal, Christopher Okigbo:
Collected Poems, The New Gong Book of New Nigerian Short Stories,
and Dream Chasers.

Click here to see Maja-Pearce's page:

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