Sack Oduah Now, Mr President

HAVING tried all the delay tricks in the book, President Goodluck Jonathan is now confronted with a choice: retain the Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, or sack her.

The President’s body language and vacillation demonstrate unmistakeably that he prefers to keep the controversial minister. This is a tragic error of judgment and confirms to the whole world what many Nigerians already know: that Jonathan’s body language encourages corruption.

Indeed, most Nigerians believe that under the current administration, the war against corruption is virtually lost. Jonathan will only be confirming the view of critics by his continued waffling over Oduahgate. Surely, he does his credibility no good by retaining a minister that has been so tainted in a corruption scandal. Just two weeks ago, in response to an acerbic letter to him from a former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, which was leaked to the press, he pompously declared that he (Jonathan) was fighting corruption. “I have been strengthening the institutions established to fight corruption. I will not shield any government official or private individual involved in corruption…,” he declared.

But he has been shielding Oduah in the full glare of the public. When the news first broke in October via an online publication that the minister had allegedly caused two bullet-proof BMW limousines to be purchased for her by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, in violation of the law, he kept quiet. It was only after much public outcry and a probe got under way at the House of Representatives that he belatedly asked her to be queried. As more revelations emerged from the House probe demonstrating how the minster exceeded her spending limits of N100 million, how import duty waivers were misapplied and how NCAA officials and other aviation parastatals “contravened the Appropriation Act 2013,” Jonathan sought to buy time by setting up an unnecessary three-man administrative panel to examine the case.

Diversionary though it was, the panel had submitted its report since mid-November. While one can concede to the President the need to be cautious to avoid penalising the innocent, seven weeks after the panel turned in its report and another two after a damning verdict by the House probe should surely be enough for the President to demonstrate that he truly abhors corruption. If his concern, as he said in his response to Obasanjo, is “to follow due process in all that I do,” this high-minded requirement has been amply met by the House probe and his own panel.

Jonathan is simply not serious about combating corruption as widely alleged by his critics and confirmed by all global corruption rating agencies. The standard worldwide by nations where corruption is truly detested is to fire any official tainted by even a whiff of wrongdoing if the person fails to resign. Jonathan has not been asked to convict Oduah; only a court of law can do that. All that Nigerians expect of him, and as the House of Representatives recommended, is that he should fire Oduah. She has been sufficiently tainted to make her continued presence in government odious.

In Turkey, three top cabinet ministers have resigned in a corruption case that does not even name them directly as beneficiaries; in Ghana, a deputy minister of communications was promptly sacked by President John Mahama for merely expressing a desire to make $1 million in politics; in Italy, a three-time prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, has been convicted on corruption charges, while a former Israeli president, Ezer Weizman, was investigated and only avoided criminal prosecution due to the statute of limitation. In any other country, Oduah would have since resigned or been sacked and, together with the complicit aviation officials, prosecuted. Indeed, prosecution would afford Oduah an opportunity to prove the innocence she has steadfastly claimed.

Jonathan is letting another opportunity to take a stand against corruption slip by. Does he relish Nigeria’s persistent rating as one of the most corrupt nations on earth? The nation’s landscape is littered with unresolved corruption scandals to the extent that many Nigerians consider corruption to be much worse than our latest rating as the world’s 144th out of 177 in the Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index. His declaration in his 2014 New Year message that he would “take additional steps to stem the tide of corruption and leakages” sounds patently hollow.

Nigerians should not allow Jonathan and Oduah to get away with this missuse of public office. Since our President cannot live up to the standards of decorum in public office that the world has now come to accept, the House of Representatives should not stop at its recommendations; it should insist that Nigeria meets global practices in public morality and seriously combats corruption.

The Oduah case goes beyond partisan politics; corruption has laid Nigeria low and handicapped all development efforts. Public officials are stealing the people blind at the federal, state and local government levels and the anti-graft agencies appear to have lost their bite.

However, it is not too late for Jonathan to stamp out the stench of corruption swirling around his Presidency by genuinely backing the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission and the Code of Conduct Bureau to fulfil their mandate. He should change his body language and send clear signals that corruption will no longer be tolerated.

The place to start is by sacking Oduah.

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