It was bound to come to this. The moment our “zero tolerance for corruption” president decided to fight tooth and nail against the public declaration of his assets, the moment he chose to declare instead “I don’t give a damn!” about any such nonsense as probity and leading by example, you knew the day was just around the corner when a minister could import bullet-proof luxury cars as personal gifts to herself. I say personal gifts as all the facts known so far about the “scandal de jour,” the current atrocity before another has us foaming at the corners of the mouth with unappeasable anger, point inescapably to that conclusion. Unless, of course, you believe that the said cars, which promptly disappeared from proper custody, were meant for visiting dignitaries. Yes, it was bound to come to the point where all that it would take to order, import, evade customs duties and take possession of bullet-proof luxury vehicles at prices so stupefyingly inflated you would think the whole thing was a prank is for a minister to say to her subordinate, “Do the needful.” That is all Minister of Aviation, Mrs Stella Oduah, says she did. And if she believes this pathetic attempt to save face — because she has a face to save, unlike the hundreds who have perished in several plane crashes under her watch — then how tragic is it that she is a minister?
I won’t bother with the shocking details of this latest act of daylight robbery, of the unending pillage and dispossession of the people. What would be the point? To establish that the armoured vehicles — BMWs, Germany’s vaunted “ultimate driving machines,” two Lexus limousines, and more, just in case you have been living in Mars for the past month or so — were bought without the “honourable” minister’s consent or knowledge? That transporting visiting dignitaries of international aviation regulation organisations from one point to another requires armoured vehicles, as if they would even come if Nigeria were at war, and if so to tour the war fronts? Or that it was all the fault of due process for failing to spot anything dubious about a transaction whose every line item screamed CORRUPTION! CORRUPTION! in red letters? Or that the number and price of the vehicles — N255 million or $1.6 million for two BMWs alone — can be justified even by a lunatic? No, the facts, such as we already have, are sufficient to hang a dog; no need to first give it a bad name. To my mind, the most worrisome thing about the seemingly untamable catastrophe of official corruption has to do with the abject failure of President Jonathan to lead anything close to a war against corruption, whatever his protestations to the contrary.
Recall, for instance, the president’s only action so far. On learning that his minister in charge of aviation, and, so, of air safety, had very likely been embezzling or misappropriating huge amounts of public funds while planes have been falling out of our sky like so many tattered paper kites flown by children, the latest being the Associated Airlines tragedy of 3 October 2013, what did he, enraged, do? Well, he set up a three-member panel to probe the minister. And then he proceeded on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem during which he took time from his personal devotions to perform some official business. (Sanctimonious officials are, of course, part of the problem of Nigeria. Their inability to separate the state from religion, their personal pieties from governance, will be the subject of my next column.)
The only remarkable thing about that action which unmistakably expresses the president’s incandescent rage is that one of the persons to probe the minister, National Security Adviser Colonel Ibrahim Dasuki (rtd), travelled with Jonathan, while the minister to be probed had preceded the pilgrims-cum-public-servants to Jerusalem! It is quite possible Jonathan is embarrassed that bullet-proof luxury vehicles are now the poster-image of his war against corruption. Perhaps the irony is plain to him, seeing that he has yet to fire a single bullet, even one filled with hot words, in this war. Rather, he has been far happier to be a nurse, binding the wounds of convicted corrupt politicians as shown by the state pardon to his mentor, D.S.P. Alamieyeseigha.
But why armoured cars? Security for her many important foreign visitors, says Mrs Oduah, though Nigeria is not at war, but how grateful she must be to Boko Haram! We know, however, that security was only a crude and clever ruse, and I hazard that this new trend among our politicians in high public office symbolises something else: armoured luxury vehicles as a triple-meaning metaphor for corruption: unabashed ostentation; a sign of their sense of invincibility, of absolute protection from prosecution; and protection from the people whom they so shamelessly dispossess and impoverish. Deep down, our politicians know that a thief lives in perpetual fear of being discovered by the owner, in this case the masses of the Nigerian people pauperised and dehumanised by official kleptomania. And our politicians know that the masses, unlike our president, give a bloody damn about corruption, and that a day of reckoning looms. But do our bullet-proof politicians know that no armour is proof against the rage of the people when they are finally roused to action?