Private jets and public swindles

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A GUY studied in the United States. Upon returning to Nigeria, he didn’t let people forget for one minute where he had sojourned. He spoke like an American. He walked with the kind of swagger usually associated with the young of that country. His hair was “permed”. His clothes were designer classics.  Of course, he cruised on the streets in a sports car – a Porsche no less. He was a toff.

Those were the sins he committed. Other than that, he acquitted himself creditably in the office. Friends and close associates confessed that he was generous, even to a fault. But a good work ethic and a kind heart did not constitute extenuating circumstances. One day it occurred to the young man to take a stroll. The day was far spent and the evening breeze was cool. There was nothing wrong with his hitting the corner shop, buying a soda, exchanging a few pleasantries with the folks around, and then heading home to watch a late game of the English Premier League.

The young man hadn’t reckoned with the down side of being successful in Nigeria. He didn’t know that, of the large number that hailed him each time he passed by, there were some who thought he deserved to die – for being more successful than they ever thought possible. Whereas some of his detractors managed a shirt a week, he sometimes sported two in a single day. He wore Brazilian and Italian shoes while folks, some of whom were much older than he was, frequented the shoemaker’s shop to patch-up leaking soles and scruffy leather. He jetted about, while multitudes made do with the Foot-Wagen. Yet, he thought things were normal. Wrong.

As he left the corner shop and strolled back home, he suddenly heard the shouts and screams of “Ole!”, “Ole!” He looked around him, wondering who the thief was that the cacophony was drawing attention to. The body hears better than the ears, so says a proverb often heard in some parts of the country. A mob materialised. A huge piece of rock hit him on the head, instantly drawing blood. Other missiles homed in with merciless precision. He got a few very hard slaps and punches. Soon he was feeling like the blows were not raining on him. His clothes turned crimson; he was all gashes and gore. Down, out and unconscious, disused tyres were pulled together to complete the rout. A bonfire was made or, more appropriately, a funeral pyre. The innocent young man got lynched, together with his dreams, his professionalism, his generosity, his all – simply because there were characters in the neighborhood who didn’t like his face.

You would think that we have got to a point in this country where circumspection would give way to irrationality. But the lynching of suspects continues unabated. A variant of this lynch mentality has taken centre stage in the nation’s political arena. Without any iota of proof, fellow Nigerians are tarred with all sorts of guilt and pronounced guilty without any form of investigation, let alone trial. And yet, we are all devout Christians and Muslims. A cardinal principle of law is that no one is guilty until so pronounced by some competent authority, especially the law court. Not in Nigeria. Not in this country because political partisanship operates with the guiding principle that all is fair in war. A Federal Minister, whatever his or her portfolio, is already guilty of monumental fraud and graft because they are in President Jonathan’s Cabinet. If there be people who are other than in the ruling political party, they are a priori epitomes of intrinsic virtue and impeccable moral rectitude.

 

That is why Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, the Honorable Minister of Petroleum Resources, is in the dock of partisan opinion today. But we must start from the beginning. Vast volumes of nonsense started being written about this woman from when she was nominated for a ministerial appointment. Of course, she is guilty for being a woman. She is also guilty for coming from a minority ethnic group. And her guilt is compounded by the fact that she happens to be in the administration of someone not qualified by opposition thinking to direct the affairs of this nation. The fact that Mrs. Alison-Madueke is doubly qualified to hold down the oil portfolio does not count in the court of her traducers. The fact that a good deal of the oil in question, the mainstay of the national economy, comes from around her father’s compound does not matter either. The added fact that she has achieved specific results, as Oil Minister –growth in local content, indigenous companies participating at par with international players, the generation of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB) – cannot be registered in her credit.

What they are saying instead is that she flies about in private jets! A broad section of the media took this up and branded it a scandal. How can an uninvestigated allegation conceivably be a scandal? Champions of this witch-hunt in the House of Representatives branded it a scandal. Yet, no one has yet described as a scandal the allegation that the National Assembly – a body of less than 500 politicians -eats up something in the neighborhood of 30 percent of the annual national budget! The NNPC put out a press statement to the effect that they have no private jets. But hardly anyone wants to listen to such a statement in Nigeria. The NNPC stated that they hire jets for executive functions because it is cheaper than owning aircraft. Why, really, should the NNPC not hire airplanes? Why should the Oil Minister not fly in chartered aircraft? As Oil minister in this country not too long ago, Rilwan Lukman flew in chartered aircraft in the course of his official functions. Yet the heavens didn’t fall because he comes from the right flank of the country.

Since the inception of the Jonathan administration, partisan politicians and sectional media (including the social media) have homed in on three women – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Diezani Allison-Madueke and Stella Adaeze Oduah – doing nothing but mud-raking and witch-hunting. The three women must be incessantly and mordantly lampooned and lambasted for reasons that are not altruistic, for reasons that are partisan, and for the sole purpose of destabilising the Jonathan administration. The three women are repeatedly found guilty in kangaroo courts because of their gender, their origins and the person they work for. This trend is clearly beyond toleration because it is nothing to do with democracy.

It is not democracy to brand and crucify public functionaries simply because the instruments of open and clandestine journalism are readily available. It is not politic to level accusations without the intention of lending credence to them. It is eternally backward to propose that an Oil minister is in breach of any law for flying in hired aircraft when the act establishing their range of responsibilities justifies such usage. It is a national swindle to employ the “Ole!”, “Ole!!” or lynch mentality in the course of playing politics. It is time for Nigerians to hold their ground and declare that enough is enough.

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