By Abubakar Abdulrahman
While one may not necessarily be obligated to hold brief for Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, it is however pertinent that as compatriots, we extol or revile those in authority with fair and unbiased assessments. From the outset, this is not an attempt to present the minister as an unblemished queen that never did anything wrong. Far from that, it is only a means of drawing attention to her achievements as a minister and to also take us back memory lane to the state of the aviation sector before her appointment in 2011.
By way of summation, it seems the only sin of Stella Oduah for which many cynics are making negative narratives, is her monumental success in improving the state of Nigerian airports and overall system in the aviation sector. Perhaps, her stubborn persistence that it can no longer be business as usual in the sector has drawn her ire of enemies of this country; who are bent on entrenching a culture of corruption, mediocrity and fraud in all spheres of our economy. Such has become part of the dilemma public office holders are subject to in Nigeria. Refusal to succumb to selfish demands of some so called power brokers or ‘big men’ could lead to high level blackmail such as the one presently being waged against the aviation minister.
It is apparent that among the present crop of ministers, Stella Oduah stands out and has shown uncommon commitment towards improving her area of supervision. Without fear of contradiction and by all acceptable global parameters, the minister cannot be scored below average on the performance index. Not even by the worst of armchair critics blindly castigating her without making an effort to tour airports for first hand information on the transformation that has been achieved. Prior to her appointment, most airports in this country had become monuments of shame. Most of them lacked modern infrastructure; even arrival and departure halls were an eyesore and disgrace to this nation.
However, on assumption of office, the minister took the bull by the horns by commencing the transformation of airports all over the country. Through that unprecedented project, most airports in the country now wear new looks to the delight of air travellers and the pride of all Nigerians. Today, the Murtala Mohammed International Airport in Lagos, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, the Port-Harcourt International Airport, Malam Aminu Kano International Airport in Kano and the Akanu Ibiam International Airport in E
nugu have all been rehabilitated. All of the airports have received a breath of fresh air. This is just part of the first phase of the airports renovation project, a brainchild of Oduah, which has not been seen for decades.
Aside structural facelift, the minister has also made tremendous efforts at ensuring the safety of Nigerian airspace. Any unbiased observer is aware of her determination to establish and maintain the total radar coverage of the country, to ensure safety in air navigation for pilots. Nigerians will never forget the immense contribution of the minister to the actualisation of international flights directly to Enugu. This has been an age-long dream of millions of people, especially those from the South-East zone. The yearly improvement in both Hajj and Jerusalem holy pilgrimages is also another testimony of the success recorded in the aviation sector. Over the years, Nigerians have become accustomed to hectic exercise, especially during airlift of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. For the past few years, the airlift of pilgrims to Hajj has incrementally improved. This is not by accident, but a direct result of deliberate policies that have seen to improvement in both structures and equipment at our airports. For instance, the domestic wing of the Abuja airport has been reserved for air operations during holy pilgrimages.
But like during the tenures of several ministers before her, there have been air mishaps that claimed many lives in recent times. From the Dana air crash to the recent crash involving the associated airline, the country was thrown into mourning and grief. Though the buck stops at the minister’s desk, it sadly seems airlines have not been able to key into the transformation drive of Minister Stella Oduah. It is obvious that while she is working hard to ensure the safety of travellers, some officials of private airlines are only interested in making profit. This much can be deduced from the preliminary report on the Associated Airline plane that crashed recently in Lagos. The Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) has revealed that the crash was a result of human error. In such instance, a minister can do very little in ensuring the safety of travellers. Airline operators must be committed to insisting that only pilots that are of sound mind fly their aircraft.
To check the excesses of private airlines and to also provide Nigerians with better air services, the Aviation Ministry has also concluded arrangements to introduce a national carrier. In the past, the Nigerian Airways provided efficient and safe air services to travellers. Some of the most vocal of the anti-Oduah campaigners were among the undertakers that played key roles in burying the airline. The minister is poised to making history by reintroducing a national carrier which shall be part of the legacies of President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.
Unfortunately, because many critics have laid in ambush for the minister, series of recent happenings in the sector have been snatched by political jobbers as an opportunity to attack her personality. In a rather pedestrian manner, some analysts have latched to the story of procurement of N255 million bullet proof cars for the minister. While it can easily be investigated whether or not the minister overreached herself in the process of procuring the vehicles or not, it is imperative that before such enquiry, we respect the presumption of her innocence until armed with a comprehensive official report on the matter. Ministers are entitled to vehicles to ease official assignments; such vehicles belong to the institutions and are not personal property. Where a ministry procures cars for official use, such must have been budgeted and approved by the National Assembly.
It is rather laughable that among the army of critics that are now bent on having Oduah’s head is the disgraced former aviation minister, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode. Lest we forget, Fani-Kayode was one of the two former aviation ministers that were whisked away in broad daylight from a Senate hearing few years ago. Operatives of EFCC waited to arrest Fani-Kayode and others over alleged misappropriation of funds meant for rehabilitation of airports and upgrade of equipment. The projects were not executed while funds were allegedly siphoned into private accounts. The matter is still pending in court. Utterances from such characters should be disregarded because it is clear that the former minister is only desperately seeking relevance after slumping to political obscurity.
For the avoidance of doubt, Stella Oduah remains one of the shining lights of the Jonathan administration. Truth be told, her major sin is the unwavering support she continues to give to President Jonathan. There is no doubt that political hawks bent on jumping the gun with regards to the 2015 elections are fanning those behind the sustained media war against the minister. To them, 2015 is do-or-die and win at all cost. Such jobbers and their hirelings should allow the aviation minister to complete the good work she is doing for this country.
n Abubakar is a public affairs analyst based in Kaduna
Stella Oduah and the fangs of armchair criticsOctober 24, 2013 3 Comments »
By Abubakar Abdulrahman