Home OPINION COLUMNISTS Conference Can’t Save Bandit Ministers By Garba Shehu

Conference Can’t Save Bandit Ministers By Garba Shehu


Considering the hell that civil society groups and the (new) media are giving the Minister of Civil Aviation, Stella Oduah and the agency under her, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, for ill-advisedly procuring two bullet-proof BMWs at inflated rates, it is hard to see how this, or any dirty government can be saved by a National Conference. The popular view is that this one has been called as a diversion, to get tribal, regional and religious groups sparring.

There have been only a few worse public relations disasters than the BMW saga in our lifetime. First they said no cars were brought; it was all fabrication. When documents surfaced, the Minister’s public relations person said yes, the NCAA bought them to secure the Minister’s life following relentless threats from powerful cartels she has offended with her “reforms” in the aviation sector. When they realized that they had only dug themselves into further trouble, the Managing Director of the NCAA took the microphone. He announced that the cars, bought at that cut-throat price were not for the exclusive use of the Minister but to be used transporting visiting dignitaries. More troubled followed. Who, is it NCAA or the Directorate of Protocol in both Foreign Affairs and the State House that is responsible for the visiting foreign leaders such as Ministers and Presidents? Who is ready to answer the question of the price of the cars, each bought at USD800,000 when a sales agent, says he can deliver them ex-Lagos at a unit price of between USD170,000 – USD200,000? Where is the difference of USD1.2M? Who pocketed it?

No conference, sovereign or restricted can get the people to stop talking about this.

That is why doubts continue to trail the so-called National Dialogue or Conference. The Northern thinking about it as expressed by the Arewa Consultative Forum, ACF is that Arewa is just being made the target of a pillory. The idea is to punish the region because of their non-compliance with the President’s wish to do more than eight years in office.

This bias is evident from composition of the panel selected to draw up the conference modus operandi. They selected towering personalities from the first-eleven of some regions and gave the North a short-drift. A Professor here, a Senator from there but when it came to the North, they brought a Dauda Birma with a dubious constituency. Nobody as of yet knows who he represents. Some say the choice of two women from the North – the vocal women constituency is in the South – is a cynical statement to the effect that the region was uncaring, if not outrightly oppressive of its women. By this, the President is making an unequivocal electoral appeal.

The inclusion of a failed coupist, Col. Nyiam, unrepentant till this day, as a member of the planning committee defies logic, much also as it is a very cynical statement. He, Major Orkar and others announced a coup and a new Republic from which a number of Muslim-dominated Northern states were expelled. Shouldn’t they have also considered the inclusion of some mad men from the North? We have them here, too, and in good numbers. A local proverb says nobody desire to have a mad man in the family but there are times you felt it was right to have your own. Clearly this is one of such occasions.

Equally puzzling is the choice of a quality representation from Ohanaeze NdiIgbo, the Association of South-South – South-East Professionals and of course Afenifere, which has tactfully been handed the conference. Yet, from all that is evident, the Arewa Consultative Forum was not considered worthy of a representation.

These and other deficits seen from the very beginning, including the fact of non-consultation have convinced many that nothing good will come out of the conference. No one needs to look beyond the embarrassing withdrawal of Professor Ben Nwanbueze from the Committee to realize that the whole thing was a hurriedly, if not haphazardly put together that had not been properly thought out. If they had spoken to the erudite professor before going on the radio, they would have found out that he was too ill to be available for the job. This ineptitude is equally evident from the initial four weeks timeline given to the Okorounmu Committee to complete its job. Nobody at that high government level initially considered that a good percentage of quality Muslim intellectuals and leadership would, throughout the period be engaged, directly or indirectly with the Muslim Pilgrimage, the Hajj. The two weeks additional time given is, I presume, a make-up for the loss of Muslim participation. Of course the decision to call the conference is itself born out of expediency devoid of any national interest. They just stumbled into it as they groped for relief from the incinerating criticism and public scrutiny of terrible acts of mis-governance as currently symbolized by the aviation industry. This conference is not a product of national clamour but following the footsteps of vocal groups with a strong support in the media. It is a further confirmation of the existence of a virtual parliament in the country, by which every suggestion by Afenifere and Ohanaeze is policy; if the ACF says or proposes anything on the other hand, it is taken as being hostile and inimical and instantly dismissed.

But the ultimate anomaly in the whole thing is the unfolding dispute between the Committee which claims it has a carte-blanche and that their report will be subject only to a referendum on the one hand and the President on the other who says whatever they submit will be subject to the scrutiny by the National Assembly. The implications of the bi-polar positions should be clear to all. A national conference which decisions are to be debated and approved by the National Assembly is a monumental waste of time and resources, certainly unworthy of a minute of a serious person’s time. This thing is like the logic of the market. If you have the producer of goods selling directly in retail, why go through vendor, agent or middleman? Why waste time talking to Okorounmu when the house of parliament, the ultimate decider is receptive to your views?

If on the other hand the conference is to be of sovereign nature, then two sovereignties cannot co-exist in a single political entity. The government and the parliament must lose their elected seats to be replaced by a caretaker government or submit to interim administration by the United Nations. The UN mandate is itself not new. This is what they did, dealing with the Germen Cameroons in the 60s, half of which voted in a plebiscite to stay with Cameroon and the other half voting to be a part of Nigeria.

Instead of going for a conference to blind Nigerians to crimes such as the raging BMW scandal in the Ministry of Aviation, which is doomed ultimately to fail, government can legislate impunity by diktat, making Nigeria a crime-free country. No crime, that’s all!

In that case, no one has to worry about running a government increasingly coming to resemble a local version of the Mafia Inc.

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