Nigeria's Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah
By SaharaReporters, New York
Instead of responding the allegations Mrs. Oduah reportedly called on the Reno Omokri, the social media man at the Presidential Villa to handle scandal.
Reno's job includes using a loose network of paid "anti-bloggers" to attack the credibility of such reports by leaving comments on Facebook, Twitter, Blackberry Messengers and the comments sections of websites.
The “anti-bloggers” went straight to work by claiming that Mrs. Oduah’s signature was not found on the documents SaharaReporters published and as such, that she could not have been involved. As that argument didn't seem to hold water, they quickly started a new line of argument to the effect that she was sufficiently wealthy before becoming a minister and thus could afford the cars.
That line of argument was the first official reaction from the minister's office through the spokesperson of the Federal Airports Authority, Yakubu Datti.
If Mrs. Oduah thought Mr. Datti's intervention would work, it turned out to be a failure as the response outraged the Nigerian public which was reeling from recent accidents in the aviation sector.
By Wednesday, Mrs. Oduah had instructed her media aide, Joe Obi, to own up to the purchase of the cars but to claim that they were made because the minister faced “imminent threats” from certain forces in the aviation sector. While the admission was aimed at creating a sense of siege and thus capitalize on the insecurity in the country, that argument only incensed more people, such that, Presidency sources said, President Goodluck Jonathan began asking questions on what to do to appease Mrs. Oduah’s enemies.
As the condemnation grew, Mrs. Oduah reached out to leaders of Aka-Ikenga, an Igbo social cultural group, to help frame it as an "ethnic issue" in view of the fact that the two main culprits in the transaction are Igbos. She figured a response by Aka-Ikenga would scare off the public and help mobilize her ethnic group in support of the corruption involved in the car purchase. Mr. Omokri's crew also went on to strengthen that argument, attacking newspapers, websites and blogs republishing the stories as being "anti-Igbo."
They claimed the attack on Mrs.Odua was because she upgraded the Enugu Airport to an International Airport. Even though this argument helped mobilize some unsuspecting Nigerians, it didn't serve her too well as several individuals from her ethnic group condemned the purchases.
Meanwhile, several newspapers had picked up the story. By Thursday, Mrs. Oduah had urged her crew to try another trick: getting some blogs to publish the story that the Lagos State Governor, Babatunde Fashola, had bought three armored cars for N600 million, one of which he gave to his predecessor, Bola Tinubu.
The only lacunae with the strategy was that Mrs. Oduah's supporters could not produce the compelling evidence to prove that Fashola bought the cars, but even if that were to be true, many argued, it could not be used to justify the Minister’s monumental corruption.
By Friday Mrs. Oduah tried another strategy: she invited the media to a press briefing in Abuja. However, lacking the courage to come out of her office to address the media, she sent the Director General of the NCAA, Fola Akinkuotu to take the stage. A befuddled and clearly confused Akinkuotu then addressed the media in the most bizarre manner, making claims that further embarrassed the Minister as to the rationale for purchasing the cars.
An unprepared Akinkuotu spent more time accusing whistleblowers in his agency for leaking the documents. When he was rounding up the press conference, he promised to take reporters to see the vehicles, but quickly disappeared when two reporters volunteered to follow him.
Later in the night, Mr. Akinkuotu did what most Nigeria officials do best: offer money to newspaper editors to help kill the report. The problem was that most of the newspapers had already concluded production and couldn't reverse their publication.
Dateline Sunday: Mrs. Oduah and media aide, Joe Obi, commissioned some writers to pen articles to defend the minister, blaming union leaders andcertain voices critical of her for wanting to destroy the aviation sector. Such an article penned by one "Capt. Ore Kingsley", titled "Why Stella Oduah Must Be Punished" admitted that the BMW purchases were egregious but went on a rant to blame Captain Dele Ore and others for the “gang-up” against the minister.
A few minutes later Mr. Obi had circulated another spurious report claiming that Fashola bought N600 million worth of armored cars, claiming that a Ghanaian website, Modernghana, made and published the findings. But the sad part is that the Mrs. Oduah and her aides didn’t understand that Modernghana.com is an aggregation website that collects news from any source without verifying authenticity.
As of the time of publishing this report, Mrs. Oduah had recruited Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) party elders and the Secretary to the Federal Governmen, Pius Anyim, to embark on outreach to critical segments of the Nigerian society and to help appease her opponents, it is unclear if this will work as President Jonathan has already claimed he wants to look into the scandal.