RIGHTSView: STELLA ODUAH: OF ETHNIC AND SENSIBLE STORMS

Posted by Emmanuel Onwubiko | 30 December 2013 | 3,198 times

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Out of curiosity, I embarked on a random search to find out who the most researched person globally was as at the time of my study. Honestly, when the result turned out to be the current revolutionary Christian global leader and the Holy Father Pope Francis, I was not in doubt for a number of reasons, one of which is the simplicity with which the papacy is currently administered under this dispensation.

On further prompting I decided to check for who the most researched name out of the largest black nation globally [Nigeria] is, and predictably the result turned out to be the most likely person – Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah.

Put side-by-side with even Nigeria’s most loved entrepreneur, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, Stella Oduah soared far above as the most discussed figure because of the debate generated by the alleged purchase of two BMW bullet-proof cars at over N255 million said to be far and above the market asking price.

But something that will never be deciphered from these collections of recent media publications about Nigeria’s most talked about cabinet level minister is the fact that her current political storms are carefully hidden under some ethnically-oriented hatred.

Nevertheless, I found out that the storms of controversy generated so far regarding the allegation of impropriety directed at the person and office of the Minister of Aviation is the single most remote cause of the unprecedented interest and attention that most internet researchers have given to Stella Oduah.

I then decided to probe further into factors that may have precipitated the gale of negative media coverage of this allegation and one notorious factor showed up – ethnic bias. On further inquiry based on diligent analysis of news contents of most Nigerian newspapers I have also found out that some ethnic champions have not only shown their resolve to battle the Aviation Minister through different fronts but some of these groups have penetrated both the media and a section of the National Assembly.

I must confess that when this saga came up, I concluded that the best way out was for the Aviation Minister to step down pending the outcome of the investigation by competent authorities including the relevant committees of the National Assembly to determine the extent of her involvement in the purchase of the armoured cars at what is generally considered to be an outrageous and unacceptable rate.

But, again, my attention was referred to Section 36(5) of the Constitution of Nigeria which is the grund norm of our laws as a sovereign nation. The underlying import of this section goes to show that an accused person remains innocent in the eye of law until proven otherwise by competent judicial bodies.

Specifically, Section 36 of the Nigerian Constitution talks about fair hearing and this particular provision is binding and was actually included to safeguard citizens from hasty media trials that may be anchored on questionable foundations that are parochial, ethnically-coloured, biased and substantially unreliable.

Section 36(1) states thus: “In the determination of his civil rights and obligations, including any question or determination by or against any government or authority, a person shall be entitled to a fair hearing within a reasonable time by a court or other tribunal established by law and constituted in such manner as to secure its independence and impartiality.”

Section 36[5] also clearly states that; “every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed to be innocent until he/she is proved guilty.” Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights explains the above provision succinctly thus: “...everyone shall be entitled to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law.”

As stated earlier, my discovery about the high volume of attention that the name Stella Oduah has so far attracted was originated from certain unconstitutional conclusions which may or may not have emanated from bottled-up public outrage at whatever public actions of public office seekers that are considered less than transparent. It must be stated from the word go that this writer supports any vigorous campaign against all traces of corruption but in doing this we must also be wise enough to unmask those political hawks who for pedestrian and parochial reasons are masquerading as anti-corruption crusaders to get at their targeted individuals in government. 

While not completely dismissing public anger directed at the manner in which those two armoured cars were allegedly bought, one key factor that remains relevant is that all accused individuals must be given the benefit of the doubt even as all traces of media trial and/or persecution must be rejected.

For instance, some powerful interests in the National Assembly who never expressed public disgust at the damaging allegations against the then chairmen of House of Representatives Committees on education and capital market, Alhaji Farouk Lawan and Mr. Herman Hembe respectively, are the new champions hiding under ethnically-supported platforms to publicly bully the Aviation Minister. Some genuine anti-corruption advocates have been deceived into joining the bandwagon based on the overwhelming adverse media coverage that Stella Oduah has faced since the allegation of illegal purchase of armoured cars came to the open.

Some political hawks from both a section of the South West and a segment of the North West are having a field day embarking on sensational media persecution of the Aviation Minister because they perceived her as working to destabilise their entrenched interests which by all accounts are not altruistic.

Long before the current allegation of N255 million armoured cars’ purchase came to the public domain, the Aviation Minister came under considerable media attack for her alleged refusal of the application for Turkish and Emirates Airlines to operate through Kano International Airport.  Kano being a hotbed of much of the violent terrorism attacks, some foreign travelers have also clearly been warned by their home countries not to visit Kano. The question to be asked is, why are these same critics are not blaming the Aviation Minister for the directive given to foreign nationals by their home governments not to visit Kano among some other terrorism flashpoints? But those who hate the Aviation Minister are no longer hiding as they are beginning to fall on themselves to use this opening of floodgates of allegation of illegal purchase of operational vehicles in the Aviation Ministry to seek to score cheap points.

Aminu Suleiman Goro, who is the member representing Fagge Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, has unmasked himself as one of those who will not see anything good out of the official activities of the Minister of Aviation.

Recently, he took this ethnically-biased public spat against the Aviation Minister to a new ridiculous height by alleging that the approval now given to some foreign airlines to fly the Kano-Abuja route after two years of waiting, was caused by the discriminatory demand of payment of royalty per passenger which is not applicable to other airlines flying into Lagos and Enugu. This baseless allegation has been discredited by officials of the Nigerian aviation industry.

Ironically, Mr. Aminu Goro is the Chairman, Committee on Education, who replaced Mr. Farouk Lawan who is standing trial in the court of law for allegedly demanding and collecting huge bribery from the Lagos-based businessman, Mr. Femi Otedola. Farouk Lawan as well as Herman Hembe are still sitting and collecting huge salaries from public funds and these so-called anti-corruption champions are not on the streets to compel the House to sack these men until the determination of their cases. Why are we so much in love with selective amnesia?

Mr. Goro, who showed his deep-seated dislike and disrespect to the office and person of the Aviation Minister, betrayed his poor knowledge of how the aviation sector works. To him and some other hawks, Stella Oduah is doing all in her power to favour the South East even when there is overwhelming evidence to show that in the last two years of her appointment, the current Aviation Minister has respected the principle of equity in the ongoing beautification and remodeling of airport facilities all across Nigeria, including the Kano International Airport.

Most people from the South East feel that this kind of hatred towards Ms. Oduah resulted from the fact that the South East region finally has an International Airport, 50 years after, even when almost all the other regions have no less than four international airports each.        

When a journalist from a northern-based newspaper broke the news to Mr. Goro that the Aviation Minister has given approval to Turkish and Emirates airlines to fly the Kano-Abuja route after two years of waiting and asked for his reaction, this politician was cynical and dismissed the measure as cosmetic.

His words: “In the last two years, Turkish airlines, Emirates airlines, Etihad airlines, Qatar airlines, Asky airlines and others have made formal applications for additional landing permits to the Aviation Minister following requests from their passengers that they should be landing in Kano and Abuja but she has refused to allow them. Rather, she asked them to fly to Enugu. For God’s sake what is Stella Oduah up to? Remember, these are business people and they only go to where they have high demand; why should she be the one to dictate to them where they should go to?”

This sort of grudge against the Minister of Aviation is exactly why most people in the South East are compelled to think that those clamouring for her head are only carrying out an ethnic agenda.

It is public knowledge that after nearly three weeks of her sensational media trial and persecution, the Aviation Minister indeed appeared before the House of Representatives and stated her own point of view. Some of us who held puritanical view about it are beginning to reason that only what is lawful should happen and not the sensational media persecution going on against Stella Oduah.

The minister took some time to apologise for her absence at previous hearings, stating that it was not out of disrespect. The minister went on to thank the committee for the opportunity to state her own side of the story. “For the past week, I have been bashed in the media, many have also risen to my defence,” she said.

The minister also told the hearing that her spokesperson’s admission of the alleged purchase, while right on concerns for her safety, was “inaccurate”.
In her defence, Princess Oduah described online publications that she compelled the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to purchase cars for her as “false and malicious” allegations. She described the allegation as being “false in its entirety.”
According to the minister, the online allegations were not substantiated but were based on the “erroneous” comment of her aide.

While denying that she ordered the NCAA to purchase the vehicles, she said: “It is not true; it cannot be true that NCAA bought bullet-proof vehicles for the Honourable Minister of Aviation. My understanding is that what NCAA has done is to plan for its vehicle needs for the next three years under the Medium Term Expenditure Framework.”

Speaking further, Princess Oduah said the NCAA has real needs for new operational vehicles. She also reportedly told the committee that the bullet-proof cars were not meant for her but for foreign dignitaries.
Her words: “NCAA acted within the ambit of law. Nothing in the stated documents mentioned my name. I did not request for any vehicles. All I did was to approve the purchase, subject to the agency doing the needful. NCAA followed due process as required by law.”

The most decent thing under these circumstances is to allow the due process of law take greater control rather than allow the emotion of those political hawks who hate the face of the Aviation Minister for whatever pedestrian reason, to take the greater part of media coverage.

RIGHTSVIEW appears thrice a week on Mondays, Wednesday and Saturdays. The Columnist, popular activist Emmanuel Onwubiko, is a former Federal Commissioner of Nigeria’s National Human Rights Commission and presently National Coordinator of Human Rights Writers’ Association of Nigeria (HURIWA).


Source: News Express

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