Stella Oduah opens up on the secret of her beauty, N255m BMW scandal and many more

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It has been a tough year for Stella Oduah, however, the former aviation minister turned senator maintains optimism and perfect look. In this interview with Chinenye Ugonna of the senator revealed the truth behind the N255m scandal which made national news and cost her the ministerial post under former president Goodluck Jonathan administration.
The stylish senator and oil mogul also talks about her motivation, her passion and also what keeps her going as a businesswoman and a politician. She reveals her involvement in the campaigns that brought former president Gooduck Jonathan to power. Enjoy!
About self-motivation and encouraging other women
You have to be in my shoes as well as that of other women to come in close contact with rural communities and see the abject poverty, underdevelopment, the horrible state of unemployment. When you see all that and you have passion for people, nobody will tell you that you need to get involved for you to have a platform to make a difference. For me, it's been the driving force. How can I make a difference? How can I help? That is why I am doing what I am doing.

On why I mentor women. There are various vanguards and NGOs. When you talk to young women and you wonder what they want to be when they grow up. In a state where you have this glass cylinder that has refused to disappear, the chances of them doing well and thinking well of themselves appear very slim. And for me, that's totally unacceptable. So how do we mentor them to say "look, if you want to become somebody's wife, there is nothing wrong with it, but what is important is that you are a human being and you have the right to aspire, you should aspire and to be something better than your mother".

Not just that. I think having a vision about themselves and seeing themselves going and becoming professionals in their own rights for me would be a dream come true. And so these vanguards are terms to do all that from counselling them and generally showcase the fact that being a female should not be an impediment to you goal for life; you must aspire to be better.
Stella Oduah talks to
On entering politics
I never wanted to go into politics. I have always wanted to help. When I started business, that was a platform for me to help. Being able to employ people and giving them opportunity to excel. I did that very well, I've gotten to the peak of it. But it wasn't just enough; there has to be something much better, much better platform that would have a robust coverage hence would be politics. And so far, it's a beginning and I think it would be better as we move on but so far, people have to be priotised, otherwise it is not worth it.
First of all, aviation ministry is a very complex ministry. It is a combination of social, economic and technical, therefore for one to do well in aviation, you must have skill in all these areas. But what is most important is, you must have the passion to change.
On achievements as the aviation minister

When I went to aviation, it was in a horrible state of decay. It is unfortunate that we have some sense of amnesia in Nigeria otherwise, if you take an average airport and how it used to be, like the Abuja airport, we used to have horrifying experience. I couldn't use the toilet when I get to the airport and some of the doors, you have to literally bend your head. Then the local airports in Lagos was a horrible sight too. It's the same story all over. So what we did was to have a holistic view of the state of these airports but it's not just the airport because there a several things that go on behind the airport, the runway lights, raiders, etc. And so to holistically have a review of that and provide holistic solutions that would ensure that we have safety airspace, that we have terminals that truly represent us. If I cone to your house and your living room is in a very dirty state, it tells me who you are before I even get a chance to talk to you. And when you come into Nigeria, the first place you will see is our airports. So it is very important. As much as comfort and safety come together, the aesthetics is equally important and so we cleaned that up. We did the renovation. Money that was meant for four airports, we spread it to do sixteen airports.

Not only that, we prioritized training because you can have all that and you do not have capable hands to run them, it would go back to worst. And we ensured that imbibed in all these is maintenance. I have left for almost three years so I do not know the place is now. What we did was in a way suicidal, very hands-on, very tasking, I lost my privacy, I was literally working 24 hours to ensure that we did all that. For me, my conscience is clear, I feel happy that I was able to contribute. I am also happy that the evidence is clear except for those who decide to go blind. Otherwise, for what we were given, we justifiably did the best for the ministry.
On motivation to pick the senatorial ticket shortly after resigning as the minister
My motive hasn't changed. It remains constant and the drive is consistent and that is 'how can I help?' How can I showcase to the people who gender is an accident of birth?' How can I be relevant to my people? How can I showcase to the young ones that gender, birth has absolutely nothing to do with your capacity? So when one door close and God in his infinite mercy opens a window, I took the opportunity and my people were anxious for me to continue helping them. And so I took it and I intend to do that with confidence.
I never wanted to go into politics. I have always wanted to help. When I started business, that was a platform for me to help. Being able to employ people and giving them opportunity to excel – Stella Oduah

On taking political career to a higher level
I don't know, I think only God will decide that. But again, my passion remains consistent and that is how can I be useful to my people? How can I encourage the young ones especially females that the sky is their limit if only they believe in themselves and God?
On campaigning for the former president Goodluck Jonathan and the PDP
PDP is my party, and clearly as a party they would give you support. The much support they gave to me, they gave to all candidates. They didn't go out of their way for me, but yes I was their candidate. For Neighbour-to-Neighbour is and was at that time the best grassroot support platform. I am yet to see any platform that would beat Neighbour-to-Neighbour because they did very well. I founded Neighbour-to-Neighbour but on one purpose which is the neglect of the grassroot and rural community. How do we tell them that it is their lives, they have been neglected over the years, and they should stand up to say who they want and who they do not want and it worked. For the first time, what an average man or woman were not aware of, we had access to them and we were able to talk to them one-on-one and got their full details. It wasn't easy but it was worth it and am happy we did it.
"I do not have a social life, I work 24 hours a day."

"I don't sleep too much because I work late; I sleep maybe four hours a day."

"I enjoy working and reading, I enjoy my peace so maybe that's why I don't socialise."

"I eat a lot of fish; I love fish. I can eat fish ten times a day because I come from a riverine area. I also love rice, but fish any day, anytime."
On Port Harcourt International Airport being tagged as one of the worst airports in Nigeria
It is horrible, but it is far better than what is used to be. Also, I think there is something people are not seeing. Port Harcourt airport has a new international terminal that the Chinese are building. It's supposed to be a 45,000 passenger processing terminal. It would be completed in December 2016, but that is a long time to look up to what you have now. The short-term solution was to use the little fund available to do one wing, then due to lack of fund, the second wing was affected. When we spoke to the ministry the last time, that is being prioritized. So, I believe in a couple of months, they should be able to get it done and make it more useful. But it can't be the worst airport in the world. Clearly Port Harcourt is bad because the passenger rate is high and the airport is just way too small to accommodate all those people. We need patience because the decay has been there for a very long time. It needs resources, manpower, but most importantly, is encouragement because these guys are really working hard but all you hear is the negative part. I remember when we were there, we won the best aviation industry, ACAU gave it to us and ACAU passed Port Harcourt which means they are okay for them to have passed. And if I also look at what is in the works, then you will be the patient with them to know that they will get better.
On allegedly referring to the Dana air crash as the "act of God"
I think I was taken out of contest to start with. The guy asked "what do I think about death and accident?" And I said that as a Christian, God determines what happens in our lives. But also he asked me a question which for reasons best known to him should not be added, he asked "what have we done to ensure accidents does not happen as frequent as possible?" And I gave him all the preventive measures that the ministry has taken including equipment, penalties, including the fact that the pilots have very strict rules and regulations that have been put in place and even the maintenance, with the help of experts in the field. But those were not interesting to him but the fact that I said "accidents were an act of God." So he took me out of context.
There was a publication on an online newspaper about a fake doctorate degree. What is your reaction to that?
I couldn't react because I found it mean and just unfounded. At a point, I began to doubt myself that maybe there is something about me that I do not know or maybe Sahara knows more than I do or they attended school with me? So I called the guy that did my documentation to go through my file to check if I did something wrong. He asked why and I told him to pull up Sahara and see if my documents are forged. So the guy called me back and laughed and said "oh is it Sahara?" I said 'yes', because the stories are just getting too much. So when I was got the satisfaction that it could not have been me that they were talking about, I made up my mind not to allow anyone define me. It's either you accept it or not. So that story was absolutely untrue. In all these they didn't ask me so I can be quoted, so it's not true. And I know the next question would be about the BMW cars.
How badly did the BMW scandal affect you?
The BMW episode was the worst period of my life because it went completely haywire with absolutely no truth attached to it. But I guess it was for a reason and I learnt quite a lot from it. When I came into aviation as a minister, I promised myself that I rather let my work speak for me. I wasn't going to spend my time talking to media, and advertising what we were doing but I rather dedicate that time to work so people can come and say "oh, how and why did they do this?" But I guess we are in a society where that is not the way to go because you have to advertise what you are doing. I still have no apologies for doing what I did.
The real truth behind the N255M BMW scandal
We did not buy BMW to start with. BMW was a lease vehicle to the parastatal, NCAA. NCAA had to do so because their expatriates coming in at the peak of Boko Haram literally refused to come to Abuja unless they had a bullet-proof car and security vehicle with them. We went to several car dealers to lease it. It didn't make sense to me that we were going to have short-term leasing for this so the DG wrote a proposal that they do not have the money nut on their budget, they had operational security vehicle. I don't know the difference between bullet-proof and operational security. It means a vehicle that is secured so when you are going to any of those states, you can have some sense of security. He came to me as a minister, I approved it that he should go ahead and lease. They went to First Bank and they leased it to them and as we speak, except they have redone the purchase, the vehicles still don't belong to the ministry, could not have been mine and not mine. If you go out, you will see my BMW, I didn't need to have two BMWs. Why would anyone do that in the same city? It doesn't make sense. Truth was that for any minister who knows that your position was transitional, if you are lucky, you will be there for four years. The day you live, you won't take the vehicle with you because it's not yours; it belongs to the ministry. For dignitaries and operation people pay to use my car when dignitaries come into the country. I can't stop them from doing what they have to do because the minister wants to go to the office. It takes me less than fifteen minutes from my house to the office, so what is the essence? These are the truths with the BMW.
Watch the video version of the interview. The closing part of the revelation continues below.
BMW was not purchased and it went through all the processes it was supposed to. BMW was on the budget, it was not above the market price. In fact, if they had done their research, the ones Lagos and other states bought were far much more expensive what NCAA got. But NCAA did not buy; they did a lease purchase which means that if they will be able to overtime. What is the purpose of lease purchase? People who do not have sufficient fund to buy equipment, you sub-lease. When you do so, it means you are maximizing the little resources that you have because you have need for the equipment. It gives you access to the equipment and pay with the little you have overtime.

When we look at it in a context, a minister on the average signs fifty to hundred documents in a day and it goes down to permanent secretary who is the chief administrator of the ministry and then goes to the various parastatals, then the directors and then the implementors. No minister can tell you exactly what happens on each documents that they signed. It is not possible. There is no way I can monitor each document because there are so many documents which is just a little part of what the minister does.

The BMW was conceptualized where the minister was the implementor, the secretary, permanent secretary, purchasing officer, and everything even the bank and seller. And then you wonder how can that be? And so I came to the conclusion that if you want to kill a cat, you can call a cat all kinds of names. That would give you justification for what you want to do.

And again because the truth was really that most of the things we did in terms of policy, processes, rehabilitation and new concepts did not go quite well with a lot of people who believed that aviation was their kingdom and so "how dare she come in here, we must get rid of her to go back to status quo." Unfortunately, I left and they went back to status quo and the decay continued. But I pray that the decay would go away so that we can have aviation the way it should be. It should be catalyst to our economic growth, pivotal to the issues that we have, because it interfaces with literally every ministry and aspect of our lives.
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