To set the records straight, the title of this piece is inspired by one of the plays of Olu Obafemi, our well-acclaimed Professor of English and celebrated former President of the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA). The play, “Naira has no Gender”, was premiered in March 1990 at the Workshop Theatre of the University of Leeds, United Kingdom, and has been performed before enthusiastic audiences many times across the world since then. According to Professor Obafemi, he wrote the play, published in 1993, to examine how conscious individuals “confront the reality of daily existence in a bankrupt, cynical and dysfunctional social order” like ours. It is a play that is worth seeing on stage and reading.
Now, if there is anything Oduahgate, or the profligate purchase of two (or more) bullet-proof cars for N255 million by the Aviation Minister, suggests, it is that corruption in Nigeria has no gender and that what a man can do, a woman can do better. To wit, it is a bad advertisement for the clamour for women involvement in politics based on the assumption of integrity. Oduahgate, among other things, proves that corruption is gender-blind. Corruption is also “ageless” as experience has shown that there is no difference between the young and the old people of power when it comes to self-help. If we must call a spade a spade, and not a farm implement, Nigerian leaders, men and women, young and old, are united by their long-throated greed and selfishness!
Whatever travails the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, goes through now are good for her and us all as they serve as a warning to all leaders that they live in a glass house. I however do not think the solution lies in her sack as many of her counterparts belong to the same corruption class. Besides, her body language and demeanor suggest that she is remorseful with the baptism of fire she receives from the deluge of public opinion unleashed on the matter. So, whether she keeps her job or loses it is secondary and of no interest to me.
But while the Minister has received sufficient pressure, little attention has been given to the role of the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Mr. Fola Akinkuotu. This man has a penchant for talking before thinking and his defence of the indefensible is outrageous. If he is not mauling grammar, as he did after the incident of the stowaway Daniel Oikhena in August, when he was reported by “The Punch” to have said, “If…somebody has not done what it (sic) should do, then the appropriate sections of the law will take its (sic) course” (as I mentioned on this page on September 6) he is busy threatening and intimidating his staff for committing no crime.
It is an assault on decency that the agency under his watch is involved in this scandal and it is “insult upon injury” that what matters to him at the burst of the bubble was how the information leaked. His declaration that the information was released to the public illegally was an affront on the Freedom of Information Act of the Jonathan Administration. What is illegal in disclosing how much was spent on the purchase of bullet-proof cars from public funds, somebody help me?
The Freedom of Information bill became law on May 28, 2011 when President Goodluck Jonathan signed it and then ended a twelve-year clamour. The essence of the law is to curb corruption like the one oozing out offensively from Mr. Akinkuotu’s backyard. As “The Guardian” editorial of June 10, 2011 puts it, “Under the law, all institutions spending public funds will have to be open about their operations and expenditure while citizens will have the right to access information on their activities. Whistleblowers who report their malfeasance by their employers or organizations will be protected from reprisals.”
Therefore, when I read in “The Punch” last weekend (October 26, 2013) of an unnamed NCAA official’s disclosure that Mr. Akinkuotu’s threat of investigating the source of the leak is being carried out with the quizzing of some people, I felt it was the investigation that is illegal. What then is the relevance of the Freedom of Information Act if one cannot say this is how much of public funds was expended on a project?
Why I am incensed by the so-called investigation and harassment of the staff would be clear from my background. At the University of Ilorin, a federal establishment too, after the passing of the Freedom of Information Act, without any prompting, the then Vice-Chancellor and former President of the Association of African Universities (AAU), Professor Is-haq O. Oloyede, began to make the financial transactions of the University public. Every week, the details of the income and expenditure of the University are published and distributed to all stakeholders online and offline (in print) through the University weekly newsletter, “Unilorin Bulletin”. This has been sustained by the current Vice-Chancellor, Prof. AbdulGaniyu Ambali, and since 2011 to date, there is no week you don’t have the financial reports of the University in the open domain.
The philosophy behind it is that if you don’t want your name published, don’t transact any business with the public-funded University. Then, if anyone feels that what the University spent on a particular project is expensive, the contractor can be taken to task for confirmation. I remember that in a keynote address he delivered at a programme organised by the Correspondents Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Kwara State Chapter, on November 22, 2011 at Radio Kwara, Ilorin, Professor Oloyede charged the press and the public, “If something is purchased for N10 for instance and somebody knows it is sold for N7:00, the person should come forward and suggest better options. It is good for us and it is good for the society.”
Then, the University can blacklist any contractor if it emerges that there are questions on how much he or she was paid. It is an open world we live in and the University finances are run openly because it is public money and there is the Freedom of Information Act. Given that background, it is ludicrous that some staff of a public agency are being quizzed just for allegedly disclosing how much was spent on a project. This is sickening, please!
If we are serious about corruption that has no gender in this country, the Unilorin model must be made compulsory for all ministries, departments and agencies. Already, the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has endorsed the “Code of Ethics and Corruption Prevention Guide” the University produced three months ago. Part of what the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Ambali, said on the occasion was cited recently by former Ambassador Walter Carrington in a lecture that deserves serious attention. This is the type of openness Nigeria needs to fight and prevent corruption, not witch-hunting perceived whistleblowers and making mockery of the Freedom of Information Act.