By Theophilus Ilevbare
It never rains but pours. The storm is certainly not over for the embattled Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah who is now embroiled in a scandal of towering proportion – certificate forgery.
Stunning revelations by the intrepid online whistleblower, Sahara Reporters, revealed that Princess Oduah (‘Princess’ as she has insisted she be addressed), lied about her Masters degree.
In her citation to the Senate during ministerial screening in 2011, Mrs. Oduah claimed she attended St. Paul’s College, Lawrenceville in Virginia, United States, from 1978-1982, where she bagged her first Degree in Accounting. “On completion of her first degree, she was not lured into taking up paid employment but was determined to have the best education and at the highest level, so she immediately stayed back to study for her Masters Degree which she achieved in 1983,” the citation said.
Thorough investigations have revealed that St. Paul’s College, Lawrenceville in its 125-year history never ran a graduate (masters) programme. More so, there was no trace of evidence that she earned a Bachelor’s degree from the said university.
Barely 24 hours after her claim to have acquired a Masters degree from St. Paul’s University in the United States was punctured, further investigation uncovered another false claim by the embattled Minister – fast gaining notoriety for earthshaking scandals – that she lied on oath to the Nigeria Senate, and indeed the Nigerian people, in her audacious claim that another American ‘university’, Pacific Christian University based in Glendale, sometime in 1998, awarded her an honorary doctorate degree in Business Administration.
Investigation by grapevine online news platforms showed that there is no university in Glendale called Pacific Christian University. It was on the strength of this qualification she was grilled and eventually confirmed by the lawmakers as a minister. This is a scandal and the law should be allowed to take its course.
Silence, they say, is acquiescence. Unsurprisingly, all her aides and spokesmen of departments and parastatals under her ministry have so far failed to respond to enquiries by journalists to the latest findings indicting the minister.
To lend credence to the these scholarly journalistic work, it has been observed that frantic efforts have been made by the minister and her aides to revise her profiles on the internet in a desperate bid to clean up every reference to St. Paul’s College and Pacific Christian University. On Wikipedia for instance, it was observed that her page was edited 19 times between 1.56am and 5.05pm on Tuesday, January 7.
Meanwhile, the dust is yet to settle on the reckless abuse of office by the Minister’s approval of the purchase of two bulletproof BMW cars at an unimaginable cost of $1.6m (or about N255m) by the National Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), a federal agency under her ministry’s supervision. Coscharis Motors Limited, a dealership from which the two BMW cars were purchased by NCAA, gave N112million to the aviation minister, Ms Oduah as kickbacks while Cosmas Maduka, who owns Coscharis Motors, pocketed N60 million for each of the two BMW cars.
But how long will President Jonathan continue to shield her from anti-corruption agencies despite massive criticism trailing her corrupt acts is the big question on everyone’s lips. Many reason that with the latest revelations, she does not deserve to stay one more second as a minister of the federal republic. The longer she remains in Jonathan’s government, the more embarrassment she becomes to the country, making a huge joke of the much touted anti-graft crusade of the present administration.
President Jonathan should not use any probe panel to cover-up or create a leeway to delay investigations, lull public outrage and ultimately detract the anti-corruption agencies from prosecuting the aviation minister. At this point, Ms Oduah is (seemingly) unshaken, the subterfuge of a panel has been a fortress.
Those who revel in ignominy have resorted to such crude ways as clannishness to support her reckless abuse of office. Such Nigerians have been blinded by ethnic jingoism that no deed is too heinous as long as the offender is of their ethnic bracket. For such staunch backers, she is being ‘persecuted because she is Igbo.”
It is inconceivable that such tribalists try so hard to validate impunity with ethnicity. It is even more worrisome when so called enlightened Nigerians join in this stupefying vulgarity. Nigeria will turn the corner when we stop invoking the ‘ethnic card’ to perpetuate criminality and defend corruption.
The Senate must now do more than ‘take a bow and go’ during subsequent screening exercises. Independent verification of documents must be done by the upper chamber of the National Assembly and not left to security agencies alone that it now seem take orders from powers above.
The most probable option left for Stella Oduah is to throw in the towel, if for nothing at all, so she can save us all the embarrassment she unduly attracts to the country. Our sit tight leaders have already gained a reputation that no amount of disgrace constrains them to lose their tight grip on power.
What better way can President Jonathan prove to Nigerians that he is dedicated to taking the fight against corruption in 2014 up a notch, as he promised in his new year message, by asking her to step aside. The damage she has done to his administration is incalculable.
The fight against corruption requires leaders at all levels with high voltage public morality. People who occupy public offices must be made to feel they have moral obligations to our sensibilities to save us from being the laughing stock of the bemused international community.
It is time we began to address the issue of academic dishonesty in public service in Nigeria. We need to raise ethical standards and morality that’s the more reason why the Stella Oduah certificate scandal should not be swept under the carpet.
If other scandals can be ‘ignored’ by this government, certainly not this. If Oduah is left to continue as a minister, then it sends the wrong signal to young Nigerians that you can cheat your way to attain such lofty heights in government.
Every effort of the government at curbing exam malpractice and certificate forgery will effectively be brought to its knees if this shameful act as widely expected, is ignored by Mr. President.
If Jonathan had given her the boot in response to the outrage that greeted her BMW scandal, he would have maybe, saved his administration this embarrassment.
In this part of the world where politics of mudslinging hold sway, issues of certificate forgery are lethal weapons in the hands of the opposition. It is weighty enough to nail her political coffin. Nigerian political history is replete with examples. But it takes bovine guts to hang on to your job in the face of public opprobrium when you’re privy to mystifying facts about your certificates. Her bravery has become her undoing.
One is only left to wonder how many political office holders have forged certificates. It is a shame that in the 21st century with advancement in science and technology, authenticity of documents of public office holders cannot be easily verified by authorities saddled with such responsibilities.
It is left to the imagination how many ministries such scandals exist, worse still, we may never know the extent of the rottenness in such places. The integrity of some ministers in Jonathan’s government have long been questioned. This justifies that. Merit and competence have long been thrown in the dust bin. Searchlights should now be beamed on more certificates of political office holders.
Theophilus Ilevbare is a public affairs commentator. Engage him on twitter, @tilevbare. He blogs at http://ilevbare.com.