Ms Stella Oduah: A minister and her controversial cars

Culled from Sunday Mirror

by AYO ESAN on Oct 27, 2013 |

This is not the best of times for the Aviation Minister, Ms Stella Oduah, as she has been in the news in the past three weeks for the wrong reason. Oduah, who is currently in Israel on holy pilgrimage with President Goodluck Jonathan, is in the eye of the storm over the alleged purchase of two BMW 760 armoured cars worth $1.6m (N255m) for her, by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.

The cost of the controversial cars, according to reports from independent investigation, ought not to have exceeded N78.5m. President Jonathan on Wednesday set up a panel to probe allegations that the minister purchased the two armoured vehicles worth $1.4 million (870,000 Euros).

Claims that Oduah ordered the vehicles were first revealed by the US-based website Sahara Reporters and the news has sparked outrage in the country where tens of millions of people live in acute poverty. The panel, which includes National Security Adviser Sambo Dasuki and two others, will investigate the acquisition process and aim “to find out the purpose to which the vehicles were procured.”

Senators and the House of Representatives members are said to have ordered the probe of the car purchase.

Oduah has faced scathing public criticism over the past 15 months following a series of plane crashes, including one that killed 153 people on June 3, 2012. Only four weeks ago, as Nigerians were still mourning the tragic plane crash of Thursday, October 3, 2013 which claimed more than 14 lives, Oduah incurred the wrath of critics who objected to her utterances. She came under heavy criticism when she described the crash of the ill-fated Associated Airline plane as “inevitable” and an “act of God.”

The Associated Airline Embraer 120 ER aircraft conveying the corpse of the former Governor of Ondo State, Dr. Olusegun Agagu, crashed moments after take-off at the Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos. But Oduah apparently tried to absolve the government from blame regarding the cause of the crash when she was asked to react to a comment that the mishap made nonsense of the supposed reforms in the aviation sector.

She rejected the claim that the crash had made nonsense of the effort of government to ensure aviation safety in the country, noting that accidents were acts of God that were inevitable.

According to her, “we do not pray for accidents but it is inevitable. But all we do is to do everything to ensure that we do not have accidents. But it is an act of God. Again, we do not speculate on the cause of accidents. Until that happens, you can’t say this is the cause or that is not the cause.

“But what is obvious and is the truth is that, in aviation, there are shared responsibilities, starting from the man that carries your luggage to the man that makes sure that your boarding pass is issued to you and so is the regulatory agency, the operators, the management.

“Everybody has his responsibility and all must work in tandem for there to be an optimal, secure and safe aviation sector. And that is what we have been working.” Many commentators on national affairs described her remarks as “reckless, insensitive and disgusting.”

They also believed that the comment was uncalled for, especially as it came when the bereaved families were still mourning their loved ones. To them, Oduah’s statement could only be permissible in the event of a natural disaster and such other events outside human control but not accidents which mostly in Nigeria are caused by human errors.

Commentators who reacted to the minister’s comment noted that she should have kept quiet and sympathised with the bereaved families instead of blaming her alleged failure and incompetence on God.

Former Aviation Minister, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, curiously opened the floodgates of criticisms as he practically took the incumbent minister to the cleaners. Fani-Kayode noted that the God he serves must have been different from the one Oduah was referring to, saying his God does not cause accidents. “God does not cause accidents. Only the devil does that.

You can say a fatal accident is an act of God only if the devil is your god. If you can steal from the dead, you can The Executive Chairman of CACOL, Debo Adeniran, who decried the indifference of past and present governments at the centre to “the droves of death occurring in the nation’s airspace”, averred that the frequent air accidents were products of corruption and incompetence in the aviation sector.

Adeniran said, “It is very unfortunate that we have people that have developed thick skin to the carnage caused by their inefficiency at the helm of affairs. The country’s airspace is not safe and the infrastructure on ground is in disrepair up till now, despite the government budgeting billions of naira yearly for their maintenance.

“These droves of death should give a responsive government concern, and not to give excuses that are not tenable. When things that are supposed to be done are left undone on time, it backfires and that is the result of what we are experiencing now.

“Accidents are not inevitable; with proper safety regulations in place, the frequency of air crashes can be reduced. We experience air mishaps as a result of the corruption and incompetence of the personnel in our aviation industry. Why ascribing the manifestations of their incompetence to God?

“The truth remains that if Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority is doing a proper job and not collecting bribes, it would have been able to avert some of these accidents. In saner climes, whosoever certified the air worthiness of the aircraft would have been traced by now and shown the way out of the system,” the CACOL leader posited. In her own comment on the floor of the Senate, the Senator representing Lagos West, Mrs. Oluremi Tinubu, expressed shock at the statement by the Minister of Aviation that crashes are inevitable.

“The Aviation Minister could say that we can’t avoid air crashes. Is she supposed to frighten us whenever we go on air travel? That is the question the Senate Committee on Aviation is supposed to answer. I think we should stop playing politics with the lives of Nigerians. Princess Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi was born on January 5, 1962 to Igwe D.O. Oduah of Akili-Ozizor Ogbaru L.G.A. in Anambra State.

She was confirmed to the post of the Minister of Aviation and sworn in on July 2, 2011. Oduah was also active in the political campaign of President Goodluck Jonathan where she served as his campaign’s Director of Administration and Finance.[ She received her Bachelors and Masters Degree (in Accounting and Business Administration respectively) in the United States of America.

Upon her return to Nigeria in 1983, she joined the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. In 1992, she left the NNPC to establish the Sea Petroleum & Gas Company Limited (SPG), an independent marketer of petroleum products in Nigeria.

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