by Daniel Omale
Leadership Nigeria, February 20th, 2009
For the past one year, the former minister of aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, has been under intense stress from various quarters, especially his political colleagues. During the N19.5 billion aviation intervention probe, simply on the order of a powerful politician in government, Fani-Kayode, despite being the whistle blower and having been virtually exonerated from any misappropriation himself, was arrested and kept in custody of the EFCC for nearly 13 days, along with those blamed for the mismanagement of the funds.
Shortly before Christmas last year, he was again arrested by the EFCC for some alleged lodging of over N230m during his stewardship as a minister in the past administration. He was detained throughout the Christmas period and only got bail shortly before the New Year.
Now, the Senate Committee on Aviation has come out with its findings and recommendations on the N19.5 billion aviation intervention fund. Although Fani-Kayode has no case in the misappropriation, he has been recommended for a ban from holding public office for the next five years because of issues unrelated to the N19.5 billion.
There are two schools of thought about Fani-Kayode’s travails: one school believes that he is loud-mouthed and highly opinionated. Like a pit bull, he would defend his master religiously to the detriment of his own life and public image. He would cast a spell on anyone, young or old, that attempted to undermine his master. This attitude has exposed the former minister to the wrath of a lot of Nigerians and has stigmatised him as a highly disrespectful individual towards his elders. The second school of thought states that Fani-Kayode is being hunted by an uneducated senator from his constituency who, like Femi himself, wants to be the next governor of his home state of Osun. The competition has brought in bitter rivalry between the two, so much so that the senator wants Fani-Kayode implicated in any messy issue that could jeopardise his political future. The senator has invested heavily in diabolical plots, including using Fani-Kayode’s friends against him, all in the name of getting him disqualified for the 2011 gubernatorial contest.
I met Fani-Kayode only once, and that was during the investigation of the N19.5 billion aviation intervention fund. He was frank and straight in his reply to all the points we raised and elaborated more clearly on those points that did not make sense to us. He owned up to his mistakes and refuted any untrue allegations. When I challenged him about his unfiltered abuses on the former vice president during his tenure, his answer was forthright: “I was just doing my job in keeping the nation sane because the rivalry between the president and the vice president warranted us to take a stance, or the nation was failing…I defended Obasanjo because I believed in what he was doing and, being part of the system, I could not do otherwise but protect him from those who were interested in derailing the reform for their own political gains.”
He also confessed about his missteps in the past and how he had found solace in the Lord. Whether he has found the Lord or not, every sentence ended with thanking God.
My assessment of the former minister is that he is very predictable, excessively vocal and aggressive in driving his point home. These attributes may not be wholly acceptable in a deranged society like Nigeria; therefore, he is one of the least favoured by the populace. It is very true that the trio of Ribadu, el-Rufai and Fani-Kayode over-indulged in their respective offices during the Obasanjo administration and earned themselves the most apathetic hostility from the Nigerian public. Unfortunately, Nigerians are the most unforgiving people in the world, especially now that everyone is scrambling to survive at the expense of the public officeholders who have turned government jobs into viable money-making ventures.
For a moment, Ribadu, el-Rufai and Fani-Kayode forgot the transient and illusive nature of power, and, as humans, lived in a mirage virtual reality. The outcome of such negligence to the reality that life itself is timed is what they are experiencing today. Ribadu has more sympathy from the majority of Nigerians today than Fani-Kayode and el-Rufai, although Ribadu, like the two, publicly disrespected his elders, those who brought him to power.
By and large, whatever their sins, they deserve to be forgiven. They are human and every human being has the erroneous capacity to forget himself when ordained with power and authority. According to the Scriptures, when God gave man dominion over other creatures and forbade him only from eating the golden apple in the Garden of Eden, man failed. We must find in our hearts some rooms to forgive Fani-Kayode and his fellow Obasanjo boys, for they did not know that time, the ultimate decider, was coming some day.
Let us look at their performances and not their utterances while in office because power intoxicates, and everyone who has been at the corridors of power knows this but fails the test when actually confronted with it. This is part of the nature of man’s susceptibility to fallibility.
Fani-Kayode is the first to tell you that, during his tenure as the aviation minister, there was no single aircraft accident in Nigeria. This is true, partly because he did not stay long enough (just six months) to witness an inevitable part of aviation phenomena. But his tenure ushered in some of the most articulate professionals we have at the helms of affairs in most of the aviation agencies in Nigeria right now. He brought sanity to the system and the industry, and partly instilled fear in the minds of foreign airlines like British Airways that was strangulating Nigerians.
The recommendation that he should be banned from holding public office for the next five years is not only absurd but definitely senseless, since he was not indicted for looting part of the N19.5 billion aviation intervention fund. It is very true that he flooded the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) and other aviation agencies with his kinsmen, but every minister of aviation I have known in this country, except Felix Hyat and Isa Yuguda, did the same while in office. This is a known political strategy of Nigerians and if we now consider it wrong, then, everyone should pay the price for it , not Femi alone.
Arresting him over a mere N230m as an ex- minister in Nigeria is not only laughable but a great sign of ridicule to a country whose popular culture is corruption. Fani-Kayode may have been careless to show his own money while his colleagues with ten times that figure openly display theirs but at the same time handle and even cuddle their political opponents. He should have learned the game.
One point of note in Nigerian politics is that there is no permanent loyalty to political godfathers anymore, especially when the political godson has attained a level of authority and independence. This is visible everywhere in our polity and we should give Fani-Kayode a thumbs-up for still sticking to his godfather, the former president. Those who were groomed by the immediate past vice president deserted him shortly after securing lift to freedom. We are witnessing immense disloyalty between governors who myopically appointed their business partners and political boys to succeed them. Across this nation, intense rivalry exists within the political sphere as personal and ideological differences erupt every day between masters and hitherto servants.
Plotting and diabolical spells have once again taken the centre stage of our political environment and death is also an option for political rivals in this country. The most important issues of keeping the nation sane and economically viable are relegated to personal interests.
My ultimate advice to Fani-Kayode is to fight back and not let the dreaded system swallow him, but at the same time he should not forget that time and only time can decide who will be the victor and who will be the villain.
Like the former vice president, Atiku, the former minster should play the game right by reaching out to his victims while in office and, at the same time, keep his mind on his new-found faith in God.