by Victoria Ibezim-Ohaeri

The chopper went down. Souls perished. Investigations, as usual, have been ordered. Three days mourning have also been declared. And the routine blame and counter-blame games erupt among the populations, with the attendant religious, ethnic and tribal twists to a sad story. This is the story of Nigeria!

I am neither going to waste my time on needless lingoes of sympathy nor pour out mundane ‘eye service’ adulation to the departed general Owoeye Azazi and governor Patrick Yakowa as many Nigerians are wont to. Rather, I am going to vent my anger, asking the avoided questions that are begging for cogent answers. The Bayelsa helicopter crash is another eye-opener to the sordid state of governance in Nigeria; the gross abuse of public office; the flight of accountability; and the unprecedented rape of the nation’s treasury going on under President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan. The crash incident clearly reveals the depth of the plunge abuse of public office has assumed with tacit the approval, and support of the current leadership. 

Last Saturday, a common aide to the president, Oronto Douglas, buried his father in his hometown, Okoroba community in Nembe Local Government Area, Bayelsa State. His father’s burial, a purely private activity, cost another six lives, NEEDLESSLY! For the purpose of facilitating the comfort of private guests attending a PRIVATE occasion, a naval aircraft, a public property belonging to the Nigerian Navy was impudently converted to personal use, to grease the ‘special ego” of a presidential aide and his personal visitors.  A whole navy commander of the Nigerian Navy – a senior public officer – was drafted away from the warmth of his family on a weekend, to render “kabu kabu” services to the guests of a fellow citizen using government-owned property!  While that unsung navy commander is no more, the same presidential aide who pushed him to his early grave continues to retain his portfolio, enjoying the perks of public office. If unchecked, he may still send more naval officers to their untimely graves, except his relatives magnanimously postpone their dying and funeral dates. 

Without that Bayelsa crash incident, Nigerians would never have known about the wanton exercise of official indiscretion by political appointees. That incident presented Nigerians with concrete evidence of impunity, revealing how national security apparatus and public facilities are deployed away from the scenes where they are urgently needed, to venues of private, lavish owanbes and political gatherings. That is not all. Few months ago, the Nigerian president presented a bloated budget Nigerians knew would not be implemented. Billions of Naira were as usual, allocated for the maintenance of helicopters and aircrafts in the military and naval fleet. With what we know now, budgetary allocation for the maintenance of these aircrafts and helicopters is not borne out of any patriotic or good governance considerations, but merely to ensure that they are functional enough to meet the “comfy private needs” of high-ranking public officials. 

A week before Oronto Douglas’ father’s burial, all roads led to Otueke, the home of the president for the funeral of his younger brother. We don’t need anyone to tell us that something similar happened. Helicopters of the Nigerian Navy, Airforce, military and other national security formations were ostensibly used to ferry private guests to the president’s hometown AT THE NATION’S EXPENSE! Emboldened, or rather enamored of that ludicrous indiscretion, Oronto Douglas followed suit. But this time around, the consequences were dire. 

In many quarters, the names, ‘President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’ represent unsurpassed CORRUPTION! Although nearly all pasts leaders of the country are believed to be corrupt, none of them, including the past military rulers were directly linked to an all-time-high festival of corruption, as currently witnessed in Nigeria. So beyond the traditional setting up of committees and investigatory panels, Nigerians are well aware that these steps are wholly cosmetic, bereft of any real intent to explore lasting solutions to festering national challenges. In fact, committees are not only conduit pipes for continued official wastages, but appear to be the fastest way of “killing” any issue that provokes public outrage. In Goodluck Jonathan’s “transformation theory”, a “big man” has to die before grave issues of national importance are taken seriously. Hundreds and thousands who die on pot-hole infested roads across the country on a regular basis are undeserving of his protection and crocodile tears. Only until the federal highways of death claims the life of a “big man”: a fuel subsidy thief; a PDP chieftain; a president’s aide; a governor; then the contract to repair the road would be hurriedly awarded; fake tears shed under the keen watch of clacking cameras, and stupid committees set up to investigate and offer recommendations no one needs. 

Just weeks ago, Dino Melaye, in his oft-boisterous manner, drew public attention to the poor state of roads networks in the Niger Delta region,  – especially the popular East-West Road  – and accused the former Niger Delta minister, Godsday Orubebe of corruption. Rather than look into the merits of Melaye’s claims, presidential and ministerial aides lashed out at him, calling him all sorts of unprintable names. Had FG heeded Melaye’s call, perhaps, the East-West Road would have been fixed, while the over-use of a naval helicopter which caused the Saturday deaths would have been totally unnecessary! That road, currently in a sorry state of disrepair, is the major link road to the South-South states.  The wretched condition of that road forced the “big men of Bayelsa” to resort to using choppers and helicopters, thereby dispensing a death sentence on poor citizens who commute that road daily.  According to eye witness accounts, when the news of the crash filtered in, some of the remaining guests opted to travel by road instead; the same road they refused to repair; the same road they have condemned other motorists to use at their own peril. 

There is no way an Oronto Douglas would convert the nation’s security apparatus and maritime infrastructure to personal use without the express approval from the president. That acquiescence makes the president complicit in the needless death of innocent citizens. At a time the Niger Delta waterways is ravaged by unparalleled oil theft and large-scale maritime criminality, the lead agency responsible for curbing the excesses of sea pirates and oil thievery chose that delicate period to donate its scare resources and choppers to guests of an owanbe funeral. In saner climes, the president would have tendered his resignation by now, and the so-called aide would at the very least, bow out in shame after he had tendered an unreserved apology in all national dailies. In addition, a massive shake-up in the Nigeria Navy, commensurate with the extent of absurdity displayed by its authorities would have since begun.  

Let those who want to mourn, mourn!  But this issue does not call for mourning, but deep introspection into the leadership crisis that has enveloped this country. It is a time for incongruous characters like Oronto Douglas to be eased out of government circles for gross abuse of public office. It’s a time for Niger Deltans to ask the right questions and speak the truth to its chronically erring leaders.   It is the time for heads to roll in the Nigerian Navy. It is a time for the Nigerian Navy to conduct an extensive audit of its operations, facilities and procedures. It is a time for Nigerians to demand accountability from leaders determined to drive this country to doom. It is a time for action, a time to unlock all the incredible potential of our citizens to collectively change the country.