Wednesday, October 23, 2013

NCAA $1.6m toys for Nigeria's Aviation Minister

“Therefore the best fortress is to be found in the love of the people, for although you may have fortresses, they will not save you if you are hated by the people”
—Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince
Nigeria is indeed a theatre of the absurd. The frequent scandals we are treated to confirm this more than anything. Thus, when news broke out last week that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority purchased two armoured BMW 760 Li cars for the use of the Minister of Aviation, Ms Stella Oduah, I could not but hold my head in disbelief.  Am I suffering from auditory hallucination? Two bulletproof cars for a whopping $1.6m (N255m). This is our aviation empress’ priority while the sector is riddled with avoidable crisis while our public hospitals and universities have been shut down by striking doctors and lecturers!
A number of issues have been raised by various analysts on the NCAA Greek gifts to the minister. First, is it appropriate for an agency under a ministry to purchase cars for the use of its supervisor? Were the funds for the cars in the NCAA budget for 2013? There are six parastatals under the aviation ministry, why is it only the NCAA that single-handedly bought the cars? Were they meant to curry the minister’s favour? Couldn’t the Ministry of Aviation have purchased the cars from its own budget rather than relying on an agency under it to protect the minster with a bulletproof car? Are the cars not against the monetisation policy of government?  Was there value for money in the purchase of the cars?
Various revelations have shown that same model of cars cost far less from the manufacturers. In fact, Sunday PUNCH of October 20, 2013 said in a news report thus “Each of the two armoured BMW 760 Li cars bought for the Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah, by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority is more expensive than the British Prime Minister, David Cameron’s car. While Oduah’s cars go for $800,000 (about N127.5m) each, Cameron’s armoured Jaguar XJ X351 car costs £200,000 (about N52m). ….Even at the N52m price, Cameron’s car reportedly has more sophisticated features, including special bullet and bomb-proof security armour, run-flat tyres, bulletproof glass and a self-contained oxygen supply”.
Even the justifications of the NCAA and the Special Assistant, Media to the Aviation Minister, Joe Obi, were very hollow. That the minister needs bulletproof cars because of potential threats to her life as well as to convey foreign aviation regulatory agencies dignitaries sounds unconvincing. If Oduah needs bulletproof cars, would she need a bulletproof office, official quarters, and airplane in order to work? What is the responsibility of all those security details at her beck and call? I mean what are the police and state security service agents posted to her doing? If she knows that she’s not safe performing her duties she ought to have voluntarily resigned.
It will be naive to think that only the aviation minister has abused her office by making this ludicrous demand from an agency in her ministry. Some other serving ministers may have been doing so and it is high time such was unravelled and stopped forthwith.
In 2010, I recall a similar allegation of over-invoicing or inflated purchase made by Dino Melaye against a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole. In a petition submitted to the chairperson of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Monday, June 21, 2010 and the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission on Wednesday, 23 June, 2010, members of the Group of 11 (G-11) who called themselves “Progressive Minded Legislators” alleged a fraud of N9bn contract scam against Bankole.  In the words of Melaye, “We have documents to prove that some items approved by the Body of Principal Officers of whom the Speaker, Dimeji Bankole, is the chairman were inflated. A unit of 40-inch LCD TV set was purchased for N525, 000 each, contrary to the price list by the Bureau of Public Procurement and market price of N180, 000 by Samsung. While three bulletproof Mercedes Benz cars were bought for over N50m each, two Range Rovers were bought for N57m each.” The House leadership was further alleged to have bought touches, car seats, fire extinguishers and sundry items for members at inflated prices. What has come out of the investigation?
Also, we have had a scenario where the regulator asked an operator to co-fund investigation into the operator’s activities. Remember the case of the House Committee on Capital Market which had written to the Securities and Exchange Commission for a sum of N44m last year? The rejection of SEC to approve the sum and the exposure of the Director General of SEC on the inappropriate request were partly responsible for the National Assembly’s call for the removal of the DG as well as non-appropriation of any fund for SEC in the 2013 budget.
If the truth must be told, the ruling elite in Nigeria care less about the welfare of the populace. They wallow in obscene affluence while majority of the citizenry could hardly afford a decent meal in a day. In the midst of decaying infrastructure, high rate of unemployment, and other unimpressive indices of development, all our ruling elite is obsessed with is self aggrandisement. Setting the pace is the presidency with mind-blowing amount earmarked annually for feeding, and a penchant for wonders on wheel. In the air fleet of Nigerian president is about a dozen presidential jets and countless number of ‘mobile palaces’ as presidential cars.
Even our state governors have started acquiring private jets for their incessant but mostly frivolous travels. At the same time, they pay themselves humongous amount as security votes. Our federal parliamentarians were recently declared as one of the highest paid in the world yet they only sit for 181 days in a year! (Section 63 of 1999 Constitution, as amended). Even if they work every day of the year, the amount of salaries and allowances these lawmakers pay themselves will still be unjustifiable.  This definitely is not how to serve the people. What Nigerian taxpayers spent maintaining the handful of ruling elite would have made many of the borrowing sprees embarked upon by the various levels of government unnecessary. Our leaders should show some empathy for the poor and the vulnerable and drastically reduce their huge appetite for vain-glorious and ostentatious living. Not even their bulletproof cars and aircraft will be able to shield them from people’s revolt when the time comes. I do hope they draw inspiration from the eternal words of Niccolo Machiavelli cited in the opening statement of this piece.