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Of Planes, Trains and (Armoured) Automobiles


By  Akintokunbo A Adejumo

“When governments fear the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”  – Thomas Jefferson

Does the government fear us? Or do we fear the government? When the people fear the government, tyranny has found victory. The federal government is our servant, not our master, we should not, must not, fear it.  We should be mindful of the difference between Government and government officials (People in Government – PIGs, I call them). Of course, a government is made up of people/officials. In moderately decent societies, governments are made up of both the governors and the governed.  What I am saying here is that if there are no people to govern, then a government will not exist. At the same time, it is the PIGs that make governments work or not work; that make governments good or bad. So the effectiveness, performance, goodness, reputation of a government is reliant on the type or quality of PIGs in there.

Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan

Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan

So, is it possible to have thousands of mediocre, greedy, selfish, corrupt, inept, insensitive or ineffective PIGs to the point that they are running our country down, or have been running our country down for decades? No, I refuse to believe this. There must be some elements of goodness in some of our politicians and civil servants who make up the PIGs. And in the society of 150 million too, if we agree that government is all-inclusive. We live, eat and sleep with them; they are not superhuman or gods as we like to see them, or as they like to be perceived, are they?

The sense of insecurity or rather phobia of our rulers is due to the little conscience left in them, that made them feel guilty because inside them is that little voice always telling them they are not doing what is good for their people; that they are not doing what God and Man prescribes to the powerful and privileged to do for the less powerful and privileged.

Yes, they have to feel insecure and beleaguered and if you look closely, that siege mentality is always there, as long as you are guilty of bad-governance. And our people, their people do not help matters with their, sycophancy, toadying and apotheos-ification.

And that brings us to the issue of armoured cars for government officials, and the title of this article, which is coined from the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” an extremely comical and enjoyable film. However, the plot of the film has no bearing at all with our problems in Nigeria.

I just related it to the fact that the issue concerns Nigeria’s aviation industry (Planes) and the recent Associated Airlines crash in Lagos which took the lives of many people (may the souls of the departed rest in peace and may God give the families affected, the fortitude to bear the losses of their departed ones); and the cries (mainly unheard and ignored) to our governments to make rail travel (Trains) a major mode of transportation to cheaply and safely move people, goods and services the length and breadth of Nigeria.

And of course the scandal of (armoured) Automobiles involving the minister for aviation buying two armoured BMW vehicles, for her official use, for a breath-taking and ridiculous (obviously inflated) sum of $1.6 million.

Let me say here that I am sure she is not the only minister who would have bought armoured cars (or something similarly outrageous) for their official, if not personal use. Some of them are probably shaking in their boots now expecting discovery and exposure. Some madness in the recent past (not only armoured cars, but a flagrant exhibition of profligacy and complete disregard for fiscal prudence and public sensitivity) among others is listed below:

  • 2013: the Aviation Minister, by her own admission, and corroborated by her own aides, got two BMW bullet proof cars by forcing some agencies in the aviation sector to cough up the money.
  • 2013: it was alleged that the Governor of Oyo State bought 33 SUV’s for party leaders in all the 33 local government councils in Oyo state.
  • 2012: allegation that the Governor of Osun State, bought two bullet proof Hummer Jeeps at N120m
  • In 2011: the allegation that the Lagos State Governor bought three bullet proof jeeps at N600m. He took two for his official use and dashed one to his political mentor.(it is no wonder why the opposition’s silence on the minister’s armoured cars issue is deafening)
  • Niger State Governor allegedly bought cars for all traditional rulers in his state some time ago.
  • Ekiti State governor allegedly bought between 10 and 17 SUV’s for traditional rulers in the state.

(Feel free to refute any of the above, says Oshine Oyedeji, a friend and brother. And these are only the tip of the iceberg; there are many more such excesses in the federal, states and even local governments they are hiding from the public)

In all sincerity, shouldn’t we be investigating, or at least castigating all these wastes and illegal use of public funds too?  What is good for the goose is good for the gander isn’t it?

So what are they armouring for? It is because they are afraid of their own people – the same people who a while ago, they were sitting with and enjoying their company.

 For our incumbent minister of aviation, her aides said when she took over in the ministry, “she took bold steps and some of these agreements were reviewed and some were terminated, and these moves disturbed some entrenched interests in the sector, and within this period, she began to receive some imminent threats to her life; therefore, the need for the vehicles…..It should be noted that these vehicles are not personal vehicles and were not procured in the name of the honourable minister; they are utility vehicles and are for the office of the minister, and if she leaves the office, she will not be taking the vehicles along with her.”

Isn’t that nice to know? That she will leave the cars for her successor. Are they ever audited on leaving office? And “imminent threats” from who?

But wait a minute, isn’t this an illegal purchase (with public funds) as with the others listed above? Even the way in which the money was raised to purchase the cars was illegal and coming from supposedly cash-strapped agencies. Did those governors pass the motion to buy cars for monarchs or so-called party leaders through their respective Houses of Assembly? We need to come to terms with the reality that the government has lost the war on corruption. We all know there are lots of excesses going on in government ministries, departments and agencies. They are veritable breeding and festering grounds for massive corruption.

Beyond this, the scandal, now dubbed Oduahgate, to a certain degree explains why our airspace is perilous, unstable, and indeed lethal and fatal; why huge sums of money poured into the sector have been largely ineffective in revitalizing the sector and why those running our air transportation system are preoccupied with their own wellbeing and pockets.

The calls for the sacking of this patently inept minister are certainly not misplaced, no matter how hard her sycophantic supporters try to make out, and the Federal Government must resolve to cleanse the aviation sector, initiate widespread reforms and weed out the servile and inveterately corrupt bureaucrats that have prevented it from performing and delivering. Most importantly, we have to deal with the endemic corruption and the monumental waste of scarce public resources epitomized by this distended, mediocre and over-pampered public agency.

The scandal couldn’t have come at a worse time; what with university students sitting at home idle and depressed for the past four months due to the same profligate government not meeting their teachers’ demands for better conditions in the campuses, but I always wonder why it is only when a disaster like a plane crash happens that now brings to the fore and to the public, the corruption and excess that go on in government departments. Certainly, the minister had been enjoying her armoured cars until the Associated Airlines crash came, and with her insensitive and utterly out-of-place remarks about “inevitability of plane crashes” and “act of God”, her misdemeanour was dug up and exposed. Now they are scouring the corridors of her ministry for the whistle-blower.

Meanwhile, in London they are building more underground railway lines in order to contain the impossible challenge posed by London’s careering population increase. But in our dear country Nigeria, which is four and a half times the size of the entire British Isles, and where we do not have even one underground railway station to boast of; yet merry old London, whose city is but one square mile in size and probably has more cars on its road than the entirety of the Nigerian state, is mindful of the dangers of too many cars and not enough roads to accommodate them. With the exception of Lagos and Cross-River States, which have expanded to overhead cable cars, the very real danger of stress-related diseases where traffic crawls to a standstill is being disregarded (if it was ever even thought of) at our peril! More railways lines would reduce stress-related diseases associated with too many cars on too few roads and general mayhem in our driving habits. Rail travel is also cheap and is the safest mode of transportation the world over (Courtesy: Dilibe Onyeama)

The British stand vindicated. When they were ruling us they put in place a developed railways system that served all parts of the Nigerian state – such that long-distance car travel was not necessary (I have written severally on this and brought to attention the rich and exotic  history of the Nigerian Railways, especially the Lagos Light Steam Tramway of 1906). Where are they now? What became of our railways? Who and what ruined the Nigeria Railways?

Let our rulers do the right thing….build and repair the roads; upgrade the railways; build and equip hospitals and schools; revive and invigorate our agriculture, they should administer their states with their own children in mind to access the facilities they create, and maybe then Life will not be as hard and death will not be so imminent either.

If a minister or any other public official is seen to be doing the right thing they are supposed to do and being paid to do, all these calls and abuses and insults will hardly be necessary. We will even be sympathetic and understand trying to do a good job in challenging circumstances; but our leaders are not even trying and they take their jobs as if they are at play, and it is their right to play with our lives.

So, should the Honourable (let’s give her that, until proven otherwise) Minister resign? My first inclination will be for her to resign, but that only happens in decent and considerate societies; and ours, let’s faces it, has long ceased to be classified as a decent society. So if she resigns, what about those I mentioned above? What about numerous other public officials, who should not only have resigned, but actually be in jail with the keys thrown into the Atlantic Ocean, but who are still in positions to steal and abuse their powers?

And there are hundreds of political jobbers and opportunists now gathered around like vultures to take her place, and perpetrate the same, if not worse, atrocities.

Shouldn’t the whole Jonathan cabinet resign for one reason or the other? Shouldn’t the ministers in charge of education resign for the prolonged ASUU strike that has kept our youths away from the University for the past 4 months? Shouldn’t the ministers in charge of petroleum not resign and take responsibility for the massive theft of our petroleum? Shouldn’t the power ministers resign for our epileptic electricity and energy problems? Shouldn’t the transport and works ministers resign for the neglect and lack of maintenance of our roads? And those in charge of the armed forces for the security problems in the country and the implication of the Nigerian Navy in illegal oil bunkering? And so many other ministers who are idle and just stealing money and making deals?

Shouldn’t the President himself resign for saying that a little stealing of money from the treasury is NOT corruption?

And therein lays the dilemma for us.

And we have a sad but not surprising note: It is rather worrying, nauseating and pitiful to read that some people, due to sharing the same ethnic background or coming from the same village with the Honourable Minister support her unethical behaviour. It is not unexpected: one of the problems and reasons why we cannot move this country forward – politics of ethnic or religious or personal loyalty! A distinctly and distinctively African malaise, characteristic of multi-ethnic Nigerian and ignorant educated illiterates, whose trademark is sycophancy and political jobbing. These are the people who allow the constant manipulation and corruption by the government, and its corrupt agents and officials; these are the people who always stand in the way of truth, sincerity, accountability and good governance to satisfy their own selfish ends; the foot soldiers of corruption that put barriers against those that are fighting corruption and ready for a change. The same people who see no wrong with the likes of Alamieyeseigha, Ibori, Igbinedion, Dariye, Fayose, etc.

We are inspired by the spirit and we shall continue to relay the message. They ignore their own people at their own peril. A wise person needs but one word to change.

I say, Let the Truth be told always!!!


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