By Emmanuel Onwubiko
For the second time in the life of this administration, a serving minister in the person of Mr. Godsday Orubebe has engaged in (apologies to late music legend – Fela Anikulapo Kuti ) a ‘roforofo’ fight (public spat) with other citizens of divergent status. First, he (Orubebe) had public spat[squabble] with a ‘commoner’, the former World professional cruiser weight boxing champion- Mr. Bashiru Ali over issues that bordered on an alleged double dealing.
This time, this ‘big man’ minister is in a political fight to finish with his fellow ‘big man’ whom (Orubebe) pejoratively addressed as the boss of the ‘Slum dwellers’ – governor Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, of Rivers State. The reason for this public show of shame and crude display of power by the President’s boy’ is that governor Amaechi dared to challenge his clearly non-performing Ministry of Niger Delta- a ministry that has become one of the most inefficient and incompetent bureaucracy in modern times.
I will return to the celebrated public show of shame between the ‘President’s boy’ and the ‘boss’ of the slum dwellers – Mr. Rotimi Amaechi who equally doubles as the chairman of the Nigerian governors’ forum – a body known for herbouring public office holders that consistently spread poverty to their people through corruption, incompetence, looting and economic crimes (if you are in doubt please check the criminal profile as compiled by the Economic and Financial Crimes commission. (EFCC). On 12th September 2011, the Lagos-based The Nation newspaper ran a story with a screaming headline – “Documents nail Orubebe in quarrel with Bash Ali”. The newspaper in the story stated that contrary to the claim by the Niger Delta Minister, Elder Godsday Orubebe that his ministry was never committed to sponsoring the proposed Guinness Book of Records boxing bout of World champion-Mr. Bashiru Ali, documents obtained by them showed clearly that the contrary is the case.
In a telephone interview with the paper, Godsday Orubebe was quoted thus; “That man [Bash Ali]came to me with his proposal and I said these are things that can be done by the National Sports Commission (NSC). I gave him a recommendation note to see the Minister of Sports of that time. Later, he came to me that some people told him that the propgramme will be included in the budget of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. I said if other people are lying, I will not lie. The ministry of Niger Delta Affairs has nothing to do with sports so the programme could not have been part of our budget. So, it is not in our budget”. The Minister of Niger Delta in that interview called Bashir Ali, unprintable names just for daring to expose the undercurrents of the deal that collapsed like a pack of cards under the heavyweight of allegation of bribe-seeking.
Bashir Ali is the one time World professional cruiser weight champion (in 1987) who brought honour to Nigeria. But The Nation newspaper exclusively obtained a document which purportedly contradicted the claims of the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs. Dated August 27th, 2009 the letter in the possession of the news writer, was said to have been written to the National Sports Commission by the Niger Delta Affairs Minister and it stated thus; “I am directed to inform you that the ministry is in the process of supporting an international boxing tournament between Bash Ali of Nigeria and John Keelon of Britain. We are therefore seeking for your nominee to serve as member of the committee that will work out the modalities on how to arrange and finance the tournament.
The nominee should be an officer of not below the rank of Assistant Director”. But Bashi Ali claimed it was because of his refusal to part with some of the $14.2 million allegedly budgeted for the fight under skill acquisition in the ministry’s budget that was why the show was scuttled, an allegation the minister denied. Bashiru Ali made a dramatic show of the entire scenario by erecting a tent near the Nigeria Police Force Headquarters in Abuja where he slept and fasted for nearly two weeks before public spirited individuals talked him into ending the hunger strike. Sadly, the President who is the appointing authority of the Minister and the National Assembly that does oversight function over the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs allowed these weighty allegations to be swept under the carpets. Now, back to the bigger fight between the president’ boy and the boss of the slum dwellers – Godsday Orubebe and Rotimi Amaechi, it may be nice to know that the cause of the quarrel has shown that most political office holders have no iota of respect for the people they ought to serve in the first, place.
They all talked down on all of us as if we don’t matter in the entire equation of governance. The Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs was created by President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua/Goodluck Jonathan’s administration as part of effort to pacify the then armed militants in the oil-rich Niger Delta to lay down their arms. The Amnesty programme is to allow the Federal government to address the multidimensional developmental challenges that face these crude oil rich communities that for fifty years have suffered systemic marginalization and underdevelopment from the federal government even when Nigeria makes all the money sustaining the nation from the exploitation and exportation of the crude oil natural resources that these devastated Niger Delta environments are endowed with. But the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs has being in the news for the wrong reason of accusations of corruption trailing the minister as alleged by several groups in the civil society community.
Recently, the Niger Delta Affairs Minister was alleged to have fraudulently bought several choice properties in the high brow areas of Abuja. He, however, denied the allegations which the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Offences Commission [ICPC] is said to be probing. The ICPC is known as the weakest link in the ongoing anti-graft war which most analysts believe has died down and the politicians have returned to the business as usual ‘share-the-money’ tendency. The River State governor was reported to have criticized the Niger Delta Ministry for not completing any significant project in the Niger Delta region including the strategic East-West High way which has remained in the design stage for years even with billions of public money said to have been sunk into this bottomless pit.
Rather than reply the Rivers State governor with verifiable facts to contradict the allegation of non-performance, the minister derailed by throwing punches on the governor and in turn branded him as the governor who has so much resources but has turned Port Harcourt, the once garden city of Nigeria, into a slum. Orubebe was literary calling the people of Port Harcourt slum dwellers. Orubebe then proceeded to show that he is the President’s favourite ‘boy’ when he accused governor Amaechi of showing disrespect to the office of the President of Nigeria. Orubebe stated thus; “If today, the governor of Akwa Ibom State is saying these things, I will sit down and reason with him, but not Rivers State. He is only talking; almost all the roads he (Amaechi) started are abandoned”.
The Rivers State governor retorted by challenging the Niger Delta Affairs Minister to list his projects that the ministry has executed because at least even by his (Orubebe’s) own admission, he (Amaechi) initiated many road projects in Rivers State. Amaechi then dismissed the criticism of the minister directed at him thus; “The Minister’s allegations were an attempt to divert attention from his failure to deliver on the East-West Road”. This same East – West Road was the place whereby hundreds of persons were roasted alive recently in Rivers State when a petrol tanker exploded because of the bad road and the poor villagers rushed to foolishly scoop fuel from the fuel tanker that collapsed and poured its contents of petrol on the road and near-by farms.
The serving Catholic Bishop of Bomadi Diocese was reported to have challenged President Jonathan during a funeral mass for the departed former National Security Adviser General Azazi, to complete it [East-West Road] as a major legacy of his administration. Now, the Niger Delta Minister is busy exchanging angry words with the Rivers State governor over this same road and the President has not deemed it appropriate to call his minister to order.
It will be the shame of the century if we get to 2015 and the East-West Road that traversed the entire Niger Delta region and the second Niger Bridge in Onitsha, Anambra State is not completed by this administration that lavishly promised the people of South/South and South-East during the campaign in 2011 to entrust their bloc votes to this presidency with a solemn promise to deliver these key projects that are so strategic to the survival and economic empowerment of the people in these two regions.
Honestly, all that President Jonathan needs to do to ascertain how unpopular most of his ministers are is to commission a study by independent groups made up of market women, unemployed graduates and pensioners drawn from the six geo-political zones but without the usual fun-fare and publicity glitz that attends inauguration of such presidential panels to avoid a situation whereby the panelists would be compromised by these incompetent and corrupt ministers. Onwubiko writes from Abuja.