By Cletus Adole
Those of us who know Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue, the former managing director of Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC) and now managing director of NNPC Retail have never for a minute taken seriously the series of media attacks against her. The attacks were expected. In a third world public service system like Nigeria where corruption is entrenched and has become the new normal, scrupulously honest professionals and sticklers for transparency and accountability like Nnamdi-Ogbue are obviously termed ‘abnormal’ and ‘misfits’ to be dealt with. Sad but true.
What is really worrying is the irreparable damage that will be done to the well-earned reputations of honest Nigerian women in public office like her, if well meaning, objective Nigerians who can attest to their integrity do not rise up to condemn and put a lie to the scandalous inventions of vested corrupt interests bent on destroying those who stop them from defrauding the country. It is for this reason that I have considered this intervention very important.
There are no doubt a lot of Nigerian officials who would spare no compunctions in bending a public rule for self-profit, taking a bribe to facilitate a fraudulent deal, securing kickbacks from contract awards or simply looking the other way while others loot public funds meant for the development of the country. Matter of fact, these sort of officials are most likely to be the majority despite ongoing efforts to stop them.
However, Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue is not one of them. This may understandably be hard for many Nigerians sold to the perception that all public officials are corrupt, but it is the truth and I say this with all sense of responsibility. Nnamdi-Ogbue like several other honest Nigerian women who have come under such vicious attacks by this corrupt cabal for insisting that the right thing be done under their watch – are exceptions.
Nnamdi-Ogbue has for several decades led a very quiet, honest and professional career at the NNPC. She held very high level offices, was in strategic positions of influence that she could have easily used to corruptly enrich herself. But she didn’t and this is reason why all through those years her name was not associated with any wrong doing at the NNPC, where sharp deals were common place.
If Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue were corrupt, she would not in the first place have survived the major and comprehensive restructuring that was carried out in the NNPC by the Minister of State, Dr. Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu that saw several top level officials with questions to answer shown the way out of the corporation. It was her sterling professional qualities, her honesty and integrity that qualified her for elevation by the minister to head the PPMC.
Anyone who is remotely familiar with the PPMC can attest to the fact that it was one subsidiary of NNPC that was considered very ‘juicy’ because of the monies it controlled and opportunities to enrich oneself quickly. However, as PPMC boss, Nnamdi-Ogbue refused to allow the lure of easy and fast money sway her discipline and principles. She deliberately decided to go against the flow to insist that the right things being done. Despite the obvious risks to her life and career and spurred on by the support of the Minister and President, Nnamdi-Ogbue boldly took on the vested interests who in active collaboration with some unscrupulous officials had for decades used the loose systems in the PPMC to defraud the country of monies running into billions of naira.
One area where she fought the corrupt interests was in the area of arbitrary contract awards and lack of respect for due process. In line with the vision of the minister to build a new culture of transparency and accountability in the NNPC and to improve efficiency, Nnamdi-Ogbue helped significantly to stop the practice of awarding contracts to unqualified people without following due process. She refused offers of huge kickbacks in exchange for influencing contracts from people who before now felt, every public official could be bought with dollars.
And by stubbornly refusing to sign away millions of dollars into the pockets of those corrupt persons at the expense of Nigerians, she inadvertently made strong enemies who are now out to destroy her reputation.
As PPMC boss, they wrote petitions to Ibe Kachikwu calling for her sack, sponsored media stories calling her a member of the oil cabal responsible for fuel queues. When Kachikwu despite their strong lobby and blackmail named her MD, Retail in the restructuring of the NNPC, they went into their lie factories and invented all kinds of spurious allegations to drive a wedge between her, the public and the presidency.
Hopefully, they will fail. There allegations are baseless and cannot stand the test of scrutiny.
Nnamdi-Ogbue’s case is sad. But it is not unique. She is not the first and will definitely not be the last woman to come under the attack of these evil and devious people who hide behind the dubious veil of anti-corruption.
There have been several other honest women of integrity who faced what she is currently facing at the moment on account of their decision not to compromise their principles.
One case that readily comes to mind is that of Arunmah Oteh the former Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). In March 2016, during the House of Representatives probe of SEC to uncover the reasons behind the 2008 crisis in the capital market, Hon. Herman Hembe frontally and publicly accused the 1984 first class computer science graduate and world renowned technocrat who had done an excellent job of restoring investor confidence in the capital market of corruption and incompetence.
Later, it was revealed that the lawmakers were actually furious at her because she turned down their request for N44 million bribe. The general perception is that the entire SEC probe of the Capital Market, like many other probes whose results are never felt, was simply designed to publicly disgrace and destroy her reputation for refusing to play ball. Thank God she successfully fought back hard, was able to survive the intended damage to her career and reputation and is now working at the World Bank.
Another ready example is that of the late Dr. Dora Akunyili, the vibrant, passionate woman of integrity who made life and business difficult for manufacturers of fake drugs.
Despite her strong public credentials as an honest woman who publicly supported the application of the death penalty for persons convicted of corrupt charges, she faced a barrage of attacks from those corrupt persons whom she stopped from selling fake and adulterated drugs to unsuspecting members of the public. There was an organized media campaign which sought to paint her as a corrupt and dishonest person. She was accused of erecting a multi-million naira mansion, cronyism, ethnicity and all manner of invented stories to tarnish her name.
Thank God. Most Nigerians never believed those lies. She died in our memory as an honest Nigerian who fought passionately for the cause of the common man. And may her gentle soul continue to rest in peace.
In conclusion, it is clear that the scary reality of public service for distinguished Nigerian amazons like Esther Nnamdi-Ogbue is that it is a risk to insist that the right thing be done. A huge if not fatal risk. Those like them who go against the run of play are an endangered species because the forces against probity and transparency are many and have huge financial as well as network capacity to make life difficult for anyone who challenges them. Indeed, it is easier to do the wrong thing especially when the rewards are so attractive. However, this this is wrong and all Nigerians who mean well for the country must see it as a patriotic duty to help those scarce breed of Nigerians to stand for what they believe in. We cannot make progress as a nation if we allow reformers to be destroyed by those who are intent on keeping this country on corruption lockdown.
*Adole is a public affairs commentator