Stella Oduah is lobbying to save her job and deflect the massive criticism trailing her corrupt act.
Nigeria’s embattled aviation minister, Stella Oduah, who is at the centre of a N255 million car purchase scandal, is launching a fierce media strategy, that involves reaching out to influential practitioners and socio-cultural groups, in a frenetic effort to bar reporting of the scandal, PREMIUM TIMES has found.
Since the scandal broke last week, President Goodluck Jonathan has come under increasing pressure from a shocked nation, to fire Mrs Oduah for compelling the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, an agency under her ministry, to purchase two armoured vehicles for her use, at the cost of N255 million.
The contract was not budgeted or bided for, and the cost was alarmingly inflated-all, serious violations of federal laws, with likely maximum jail term of 10 years, investigations by PREMIUM TIMES have since confirmed.
While the ministry has confirmed the contract, claiming the cars were meant to protect the minister and foreign dignitaries from “imminent threats”, the federal government has kept a surprising silence on the scandal.
Nigeria’s two anti-corruption bodies – Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Independent Corrupt Practices and related Offences Corruption, ICPC, have also refrained from a response.
For more than a week, the scandal has remained, largely, in the media and public commentaries.
PREMIUM TIMES has been authoritatively informed that the government’s silence is deliberate, and is spurred by the belief that the Oduah’s case, as with past failed corruption expose, would be eclipsed by other national concerns within days.
“She has been going all over the place trying to save her jobs,” a source close to her told PREMIUM TIMES Monday. “Her people have been going around seeing editors and appealing to people who have the ears of the President. She is desperate to save her job.”
Several other sources confirmed that Mrs Oduah was reaching out to leading media organizations and socio-political organizations, in an attempt to stifle coverage of the illegal contract.
As part of the campaign, the embattled minister has raised a small team of supporters, who are helping to contact news organizations, and instigating opinion articles detailing the minister’s achievements and how she is being haunted by her reforms.
In one of such articles, published by PREMIUM TIMES on Monday, a Lagos-based aviation consultant, Ore Kingsley, said Mrs Oduah’s decision to invalidate three purportedly fraudulent agreements, that ripped the government of funds, was responsible for the call for her removal.
“Princess Stella Oduah as Minister of Aviation has jolted the apple cart. In her strive to make desired changes in the sector, she has excavated the status quo,” Mr Kingsley wrote in the op-ed piece.
He concluded that “If Oduah is left to do her job, this attack will continue but at the end Nigerians will have better airport facilities and improved air transport sector to show for her efforts.”
Other publications, instigated by the minister’s supporters, have also raised to the public how other ministers, allegedly including finance minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; and several opposition leaders, including Bola Tinubu, also use reinforced automobiles.
But beyond the media, PREMIUM TIMES has confirmed that the minister has also reached out to socio-political groups, soliciting support that will blame her origin for the overwhelming condemnation she has received over the contract.
One of such groups, Aka Ikenga, an Igbo socio-cultural group, led by Goddy Uwazurike, said the call for Mrs. Oduah’s sack was “mind-boggling”.
“Was the minister derelict in her function?…Today, the swan song is about purchase of official cars. Have you checked the budget for the year 2013? Have you checked whether the due process was followed?” Mr Uwazurike asked in a release on Friday.
“Let it be known to all and sundry that the Ministry of Aviation is busy changing the outlook of our airports to the credit of Mr President while some hirelings are disgracefully distributing syndicated falsehood.”
Amid the mounting calls for her resignation, Mrs. Oduah was to personally address the media conference held by the NCAA on Friday, PREMIUM TIMES confirmed, before she nudged the NCAA director general, Fola Akinkuotu, at the last minute, to take charge.
The minister insisted that Mr Akinkuotu debunk earlier claim by her spokesperson, Joe Obi, that the two cars were for the minister’s alone.
The NCAA boss claimed the armoured cars were for the use of the minister and foreign dignitaries, contradicting Mr. Obi’s earlier claim that the cars were procured to protect the minister against “imminent threat”.
Mr. Obi wouldn’t comment for this story. He did not answer repeated calls made to his mobile telephone.