A time for the Truth: The Guardian, Bi-Courtney, Uriesi, Greed and Insincerity

In Nigeria, everything and everyone appear to be for sale. I have also offered myself for sale but I am still looking for buyers. On Sunday, August 11, 2013, while meditating on how to source funds to pay off my obligations including delayed salaries –yes the House of Representative member who wants to introduce a law with prison terms for entrepreneurs who owe salaries should please come to my aid– I found a perfect opportunity to sell myself. Pronto, I contacted the proprietor of Bi-Courtney through the only public channel available –his law firm email address– and offered my services.  Needless to say, the brick wall of the average Nigerian “big man” was what I got. Not even an acknowledgement of my email. Broke and hungry, I thought I should give this matter a rest and allow the two “elephants” to fight while the rest of us who need good airport services –the grass as they call us– suffer in silence.

I was still brooding over this when an inner voice within me shouted Otio! God forbid! Someone has to speak! Professor W. S, the Sage himself said it all when he penned, “the man dies in all who keeps silence in the face of tyranny.” I have fought for my manhood in the house and that battle is over. I am done fighting manhood in business. I have nothing to prove there. Perhaps, wait for tithes and offerings from discerning businesses that need my advice. But now, I need to prove my manhood as a person, as a Nigerian. I can no longer keep quiet! I cannot keep quiet when every semi-literate person in authority constantly describes me as the grass when they want to illustrate the destruction they are wrecking on the country through their actions and inactions. If I have thoroughly conquered fear –after all, I am supposedly born-against and spirit filled, then, I should speak out! Perhaps, a good Samaritan would have mercy on me and shoot me dead, so that I can leave this hell and go to heaven directly rather than the redemption camp to experience heaven briefly. Even for that moment of respite, I am marching on the rights of my fellow citizens to enjoy smooth traffic on the Lagos-Ibadan express road.

Now back to the issue. The Guardian Newspaper has allowed itself to be used, exclusively, by the Government and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), perhaps, more appropriately, Mr. George Uriesi, the Managing Director of FAAN.

If I had read this story in any other newspaper, I would have kept quiet, but not when I read it in a paper whose motto is “Conscience, Nurtured by Truth.” Now, the Guardian has betrayed the last ray of hope I had for this country by selling itself so cheaply to be used as a mouth piece by FAAN. For a newspaper that I hold dear; it was the first newspaper that I bought when I came of age. In those days, Reuben Abati’s column in the Guardian on Sunday must not be missed. Reuben Abati betrayed the course of truth by his repeated vacillations on the issues he held dear until he was invited to ‘come and chop.’ But that can be forgiven, he is human after all. But not the Guardian! It is an institution for God’s sake!

Voice of the Guardian, Thoughts of Uriesi
The Guardian betrayed all that truth stands for with the bias that permeates the story on airport concessioning on page 1 and 2 of The Guardian on Sunday of August 11, 2013. That bias was clearly stated in the headlines, “Concession: Airport Deals Skewed to Defraud Nigerians.” The subtitles, “Ex-Officials Connived with Concessionaires to Milk Aviation Sector Dry” and “Banks’ ₦38bn Loan for 12-yr Concession Fraudulent” were the voice of the Guardian but the thoughts of Uriesi. This cannot be the voice of truth.

I and my organisation, the Organisation for Truthful Rebirth (OTR), were born in response. Ours is a movement for truth, a movement that says Government and civil “masters” should leave us alone to do our business and live our lives. The business of life is living not politics. Yet, there is politics in everything that we do. That the caption of the story was the voice of Uriesi and not the Guardian was confirmed in the detailed interview of Uriesi inside that particular edition of the Guardian. There was no commensurate interview, either from Wale Babalakin or any other Bi-Courtney official.

The meek attempt of the Guardian to be objective is reflected in the subtitle, “Bi-Courtney Insists on 36-yr Contract, Says Deal Was Transparent.” If the Guardian has not sold its voice to FAAN, that story should have been captioned, “Concession: FAAN says Airport Deals Skewed to Defraud Nigerians.” The point that the Guardian was not objective in this story is rested.
 
Now, what is my issue with FAAN and Uriesi? Nothing other than the fact that Uriesi himself was guilty of the very things he accused Bi-Courtney of. The kernels of the accusations were identified in the comments by FAAN’s spokesman, Mr. Yakubu Dati.  He said that “the purported approvals are not in the best interest of the nation and people who ought to be in jail are busy misinforming the public in pursuit of greedy, selfish interest.”

The Side of Truth
The above is very interesting. I am on the side of everyone fighting on the side of truth. I am happier if truth is defined as what is in the best interest of the public. But this is not the case. Those of us who know the truth are certain that in several instances, certain decisions may be the right decisions in the best interest of the nation, and yet, may not be the best in the short term.

The Bi-Courtney MM2 concession is one of such poorly packaged deals that appear fraught with fraud, but unfortunately, Government has not been able to provide an airport that offers the same level of comfort and organisation. That for me, who is a frequent flyer, is the kernel. What FAAN should focus on is not in scrapping for a share of the spoils. Now, hold on. I will support my assertions by quoting Uriesi.

Firstly, FAAN’s spokesman said, “People who ought to be in jail are busy misinforming the public in pursuit of greedy, selfish interest.” Then Uriesi, the Managing Director of FAAN, said, “This country has to change… If Nigeria were a normal country, they would go to jail because we have enough to send them to jail for what they have done.”

Haba! Somebody should remind me that I am still sane. If Uriesi wants to change Nigeria, and he has evidence to land some people in jail, why has he not done so or attempted to do so? He has the biggest opportunity to make Nigeria a “normal” country. Instead, he has chosen to take his fight to the court of public opinion. I am left with no option but to surmise that what is at stake is a share of the spoils. Not truth. Not justice.

I am unable to hold brief for Bi-Courtney because, like I said, I was not paid. Therefore, I do not owe them a duty to hold brief for them. What is interesting to me, however, is that Bi-Courtney has again offered Uriesi the opportunity to change Nigeria by advising that they should take their case all the way to the Supreme Court. Considering that the Minister’s office kept coming up for praise in the course of the interview, then surely, Uriesi should be assured of justice since his actions are in the “public interest.” The Minister as supported by “this” Government should be able to get justice. Otherwise, I should proceed very quickly to meet my God. The country will be finished.

Luckily, it seems I hear a voice saying the country is not finished. I heard a voice saying both the Guardian and Uriesi may have motives other than that of justice and truth. That voice asked me to examine the article further.

Mr. Stephen Ajulo, the spokesman for Bi-Courtney, boasted somewhere that FAAN has lost all court cases so far. Mr. Uriesi confirmed his mission in these statements: “If you have a business to do with FAAN today, you have opportunity to make money in a fair deal. Why then, do you have to take so much more beyond what is fairly given? Why will you want to extend it to 30, 40 or 50 years? Are you the only one that is wise?”

Nigeria Needs a Voice
I do not understand the phrase: “Are you the only one that is wise? What has that got to do with this issue? Indeed, there are several times in history when a single individual has risen higher than the rest of the population in wisdom. Socrates was one such person. Jesus Christ was one. The Holy Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him) was another. Nigeria sure needs such a voice. We need a voice for businessmen and women who want to do legitimate businesses and live in peace.

The final nail on the head that confirmed Uriesi’s motive was the phrase: “What we are arguing is that these concessionaires are not used to speaking the language of FAAN. When they are confronted with the language of airport business, they stand like rabbits caught in the red lights of an oncoming vehicle.” I demand a personal clarification from Mr. Uriesi on the phrase, “airport language.” If I do not get it, I am starting a petition asking for his immediate removal. We know the Nigerian “police language.” It is my hope that Mr. Uriesi is not asking the concessionaires to speak in that context, and all these public spat would then be an attempt to force them to “speak!” Na Wa o!

Now, when Uriesi was finally offered the opportunity to be in the fight of the “public,” he was asked by the Guardian: “In the same country, passengers pay ₦35,000 for a one-way trip. That is enough for a round-trip in other places, including the United States. Can FAAN intervene on issues like this?
And this was his response: “It is difficult to address the problem. The airlines have the discretion to charge fares.” In my opinion, the readers can draw their own inferences.

Nigeria needs a new breed of civil servants and businessmen and politicians. Those who are committed to preaching the undiluted gospel of a winning strategy that creates true wealth without wheeling and dealing. Only then will the average person have hope. When the private sector is fixed, then, we are certain that one day even the public sector would be fixed.

To fix Nigeria is no longer a task we can leave to the dictates of the Government. Nigeria is projected to be the third most populous country in the world, after China and India, by the year 2100. This is a mere 87 years away.

A business does not need too much innovation to thrive in a high growth environment like ours. They only need to differentiate themselves by being true to certain values, demonstrating superior characters. These values would naturally attract and retain customers for them because their competition would most likely be devoid of these values.  

Eben Akinyemi is the Managing Partner of Transactions Advisory firm, Stransact LLP, UK. He may be reached on eben.akinyemi@stransact.com or the facebook & twitter pages for the Organisation for Truthful Rebirth (OTR):
Facebook: www.facebook.com/OrganisationforTruthfulRebirth
Twitter: @Truthfulrebirth

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