Mininster of Aviation, Stella Oduah
Looking at just this saga with Mrs. Oduah, it is no wonder that Nigeria still rates towards the bottom of the global corruption barometer. When an official, who is in the annals of government exercises the systematic convention of organized and endemic corruption, while showing no mind for any accountability, it stands to reason why we are still far from a well-functioning society with secure peace and sustainable development.
And it’s not so much about the fact that the Minister was allegedly caught with her hand in the cookie jar or about the fact that she seems absolutely inept in overseeing the duty of which she has been unsuitably awarded, it’s more about the symbolism her seemingly haughty continuance in office represents where she appears not to take accountability, despite all the scandal surrounding her and the slapdash manner in which she is crippling the sector which she oversees.
This business in Nigeria where no one feels the need to take accountability for their actions and where no government official takes responsibility when they do wrong or when things under their guidance go awry is just no good business at all. And no matter how we cut it, if one really thinks about it, at the root of Nigeria’s problems is a deep lack of accountability. And with that lack of accountability and responsibility come the lack of consequences and sanctions for bad behavior. And with the lack of consequences and sanctions for bad behavior comes a free for all that gives way to the dangerous combustible combination we are seeing today in this country.
The problem of our lack of accountability isn’t necessarily because the legal framework for accountability does not exist. After all, was accountability not the reason for the set-up of the EFCC and the ICPC? Was it not for the purpose of sanctioning wrongdoing that the OPUTA panel was conducted? The laws are there, the courts are there to correct all the anomalies in the system, but the real problem is that our leadership seems unwilling to fight Corruption and to tackle the panicky accountability issue. And even the bodies that have been established to fight corruption and force government officials to be accountable basically lack the directive, powers and resources to combat graft, because as a society we have developed a syndrome where no one takes accountability for anything.
Despite the fact that every one of us in this country, at some stage, probably has to take responsibility for our countries decay, the lion’s share of the blame resides with the government. But, as far as the government is concerned, lack of accountability is an integral part of their existence and operations. In other civilized societies, it is not uncommon for government officials to resign when a mistake has been made within the organization or sector which they head, even if that mistake wasn’t in anyway their fault. That is precisely what leadership is about; taking responsibility and being accountable to the citizens. That is what leaders’ do; that is part of the consequence of leadership.
However this is not the case in Nigeria. Our environment has deteriorated to its present state precisely because no one takes accountability for their wrongdoing and government hardly ever accepts responsibility for its mistakes. There have been so few prosecutions, criminal proceedings or other serious consequences and punishment of misdeeds, especially as it relates to issues of corruption and the misuse of public resources. For the few that have been caught red-handed and prosecuted, often times, they are brought back after a short hiatus to become the darlings of the government. And in an undeveloped society like ours, this is very damaging. There is little to no penalty for engaging in embezzlement or other abuse of office that the practice is seen as without risk, in addition to the social, political and personal pressures which encourage misuse of the privileges of position.
There can be no benefit to have no meaningful consequence when a government employee abuses their office. It sends the signal that such practices are acceptable. The system of patronage and graft must be dismantled from the top, to show that there are no untouchables, and that anyone who steals or is corrupt runs the risk of serious consequences. Until then, there is no reason to think anything will meaningfully change in Nigeria.
We have always had the prospect to seriously dampen the corruption which is holding back our progress, through the prosecution of corrupt individuals, with forfeiture, fines, court cases, and serious jail time. That so little of that has happened, is one of the primary reasons why progressively more volumes of corruption clog the system.
It is the government that has the authority, resources and power to deal with and take accountability of our problems head on. The fact that they don’t, is an indictment of their commitment to rule without the voice of the People being heard. Unless we are willing to reverse this trend, where no one takes accountability in order to move the society forward, then Nigerians will never have a voice. Those elected to speak on our behalf will continue to be the sham of political non-debate that they are, where their mouth platitudes and take default positions that say nothing about governance and everything about lack of vision and incapacity to lead.
Those who care about our future should redefine their thinking to focus more directly on the core elements of accountability. Our focus must also be on changing the incentives and relationships that give rise to endemic graft as part of a campaign to build a contextualized system of values and ethics. With the proper value system, corrupt office holders and high level transgressors must in earnest be prosecuted if they do wrong in public office if they do not resign.
Since the birth of this republic, the legitimacy of political actors in the country has been derived not from the provision of services to the public or sensitivity to citizens, but from membership in deeply entrenched political kitchen cabinet networks. And although the legitimacy of the minister in her current position vis-a-vis the Jonathan administration seems to derive from this same principle, holding on tight to the minister in the manner the government is doing will do no favors to a government already widely seen as corrupt, not transparent and deceitful.
The Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah, may have come up with the excellent scheme of ‘neighbor to neighbor’ in the 2011 elections, but those days are long gone. For whatever brilliant result she achieved in her role during the last elections, her latest role has fallen in complete contrast to that. And no matter how much the Jonathan administration wants to keep and shield Mrs. Oduah, even they must know that now that the chips are down, there is a need to clean house. One only hopes that the house cleaning will involve, a broom, a mop and an inept aviation minister that will be on her way…out of the door