Bishop of Bomadi Catholic Diocese, Vicarage Hyacinth Egbebor, in his homily on Saturday, blamed the helicopter crash that killed the former National Security Adviser, Andrew Azazi; former Kaduna State Governor Patrick Yakowa, and four others, on corruption.
At the state funeral of Azazi in Peace Park, Yenagoa, attended by President Goodluck Jonathan and his wife, Patience, Egbebor insisted that leaders in the country were so corrupt that they had compromised the safety of the airspace.
The cleric wondered why within one year, Nigeria had recorded three air mishaps including the December 15 tragedy at Okoroba in Nembe Local Government Area, Bayelsa State.
Slowly and gently, the priest, who intermittently drew applause from those at the solemn occasion, highlighted the failings of the government, saying the air was no longer safe for people to fly.
Comparing the country’s airspace and aviation management to America and Europe, the cleric said Nigeria had become a joke.
“We might not need a plane to fly because we are not certain that our aeroplane is worthy enough. This crash is probably three in less than 12 months. Let us not pretend that we can fly as if we are in Europe. Human lives are so precious; please spare our lives,” he said.
Turning to the Chief of Defence Staff, Admiral Ola Ibrahim, the Chief of Naval Staff, Vice Adm. Dele Ezeoba; the Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshall Alex Badeh; the Chief of Army Staff, Lt.-Gen. Azubuike Ihejirika; and other top military officials, the priest said it was unfortunate that corruption had crept into the military.
“Corruption is the only underlying evil that is responsible for the air mishaps. If the military cannot guarantee the safety and security of their own, who else can they protect?
“If there is anywhere one looks for excellent performance, it is the military. Now we have compromised excellence for money. Money has taken over,” he said.
Focusing on the President, the cleric demanded the completion of work on the East-West Road.
He also appealed to the governor of the state, Mr. Seriake Dickson, to provide a road to the late Azazi’s community – Peretongbere – and other communities in the state.
“It is my appeal to you the President, the potholes on our roads are bad. People have died. Please, fix them,” he said.
The cleric, who is a member of the Post-Flood Committee appointed by Dickson, recalled the vision of Azazi who was before his death the chairman of the committee.
“He cherished honesty, justice, transparency, accountability and other things. He wanted us to be sure that all the funds in our disposal were judiciously expended to those who were really affected by the flood,” he said.
But Jonathan, who was obviously surprised at the tone of the funeral message, disagreed with the cleric on his submissions. He called for a change of attitude by Nigerians instead.
He said, “It is true that most cases, we talk about corruption as if corruption is the cause of most of our problems. No. Yes we have corruption in this country, no doubt about that. The government is also fighting corruption.
“From 2007 that I moved to Abuja with the late President (Umaru Yar’Adua) till now, we have had three chairmen of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and acting heads of the ICPC. Probably Nigeria has more institutions that fight corruption than most other countries.
“We have the conventional police that deal with stealing. We have EFCC that handles corruption bordering on economic issues and we have ICPC that handles pure corruption matters.
“But most of these things we talk about corruption are not even corruption. I remember the last meeting we had with the immediate past Chief Justice of Nigeria when I tried to build the three arms of government to see how we can collectively suppress corruption.”