Minister of Aviation, Ms Stella Oduah
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority on Thursday told the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation that the Ministry of Aviation approved the controversial purchase of the N255m bulletproof cars for Ms Stella Oduah.
The Director of Aerodrome in the NCAA, Mr. Joyce Nkem-Akonam, made this known during the committee’s public sitting in Abuja.
Nkem-Akonam, who handled the transaction as the acting managing director of the NCAA, had made spirited efforts to defend the purchase.
He told the committee members that since “Leased financing, not direct financing, was adopted to procure the vehicles,” the agency breached no law.
When asked if leased financing was not a commitment that the NCAA would still pay for the vehicles, he said it did not mean that it was extra-budgetary spending.
Facing a barrage of questions from the committee members, he later said the NCAA got approval from the Aviation ministry.
• BPE faults NCAA, says it wasn’t contacted
But, the Bureau for Public Procurement faulted him when it disputed the claim that the contract for the cars followed due process.
An official of the BPP, who represented the Director-General, Mr. Ayo Aderigbigbe, told the committee that no ministry had powers to approve any expenditure above N100m.
“A ministerial tenders board can approve expenditure of N100m and below, but if it is above N100m, it must go before the Federal Executive Council,” he explained.
The BPP official also surprised the committee members when he disclosed that the agency was never contacted by the NCAA over the car purchase.
He said, “We have nothing to forward to the committee on this matter. We have no information on the purchase of the two vehicles or the contract in question.”
The Director-General of the NCAA, Capt. Fola Akintuotu, had earlier told the committee that he was not in charge of affairs when the transaction took place.
He said he assumed duties on August 14, after the expenditure had been done.
But there was a mild drama when the committee asked him whether the earlier explanation of the minister’s aide (Joe Obi) that the cars were bought because the life of Oduah was in danger was correct.
“I can’t speak for the SA(Special Adviser) to the minister,” he responded.
Again, he was asked whether a minister was entitled to the type of protection the cars were meant to serve.
To this, he said, “I believe that is a hypothetical question and I cannot answer it.”
• Minister can’t cut short visit to Israel
Oduah, who had earlier been summoned by the committee to appear before it on Thursday, was represented by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Mr. George Ossi.
He explained that the minister could not attend the sitting because she was already in Israel when a letter inviting her reached the ministry.
According to him, the letter dated October 17, got to the ministry on October 22.
He said, “The minister had already left the country. She transmitted a scanned copy of her reply from Israel.
“She is leading the Nigerian delegation to Israel to sign a Bilateral Air Services Agreement.
“She cannot cut short her visit to Israel because they will most probably sign the BASA on Monday (next week).”
• N1bn committed to cars by NCAA
Fresh facts emerged during the committee’s sitting on how the NCAA made a commitment of “over N1bn” to procure vehicles for security and operational purposes this year without appropriation by the National Assembly.
The agency bought 54 vehicles for N643.1m under “Leased Financing” entered into with the First Bank Plc. These included the controversial N255m bulletproof cars.
The total budget approved by the National Assembly for NCAA’s vehicles this year is N240m.
The National Assembly’s figure (N240m) is for 25 vehicles, excluding the two bulletproof cars.
The Aviation committee, which worked on the budget of the agency, had rejected the NCAA’s request to buy the bulletproof cars.
The NCAA later side-tracked the National Assembly to seek the approval of the Ministry of Aviation to purchase the cars.
More revelations indicated that the NCAA applied to buy each of the bulletproof cars at N70m.
However, it later opted to pay N127.5m for each car, totalling N255m for the two.
This brought the “extra-budgetary” expenditure of the NCAA on vehicles this year to N643.1m.
The committee discovered that the N643.1m was a loan taken from the First Bank Plc and excluded interest, charges and other costs built into the terms of the agreement.
A member of the panel, Mr. Mohammed Wudil, said, “What has come to light is that, if you calculate and include all the charges, the NCAA has committed about N1bn of public funds to these vehicles.”
• 1999 Constitution breached—Panel
The committee, which is headed by Mrs. Nkiruka Onyejeocha, said the “NCAA clearly committed an illegality and breached the 1999 Constitution by spending without appropriation by the National Assembly.”
The committee later ruled that Oduah must appear unfailingly on Tuesday.
“Our ruling is that the minister must be here on Tuesday,” Onyejeocha said. She directed the NCAA to also appear on Tuesday with all its bank statements.
• APC, TMG caution FG
The All Progressives Congress and the Transition Monitoring Group have warned against any attempt by spin doctors in the Ministry of Aviation to use politics as a cover-up for the car scandal.
In separate statements in Abuja on Thursday, the APC and the TMG asked the government to get to the root of the matter and penalise those involved in it.
The APC, in a statement by its Interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said it was most unconscionable for anyone to blame the opposition for the widespread outcry against “the monumental corruption and abuse of office engendered by the scandal.”
Mohammed said the opposition, in particular, should not be blamed for the justifiable indignation of most Nigerians to the scandal, as “Yakubu Dati, who goes by the title of ‘coordinating spokesperson for the Aviation Ministry’ tried to do in his winding postulation on the scandal.”
He added, ‘’What Dati and his co-spin doctors tried to do is to play on President Goodluck Jonathan’s insecurity as far as 2015 elections are concerned.
“This is very insulting not only to Nigerians but also to the President himself, and it will not sell. After all, attempts to blame the opposition for the lingering ASUU strike has also failed.
“In any case, what is the business of a public servant, who is supposed to be apolitical, about whether a President is re-elected or not?”
Mohammed said Jonathan had again failed to live up to expectation by allowing clowns to seek to pull the wool over the eyes of Nigerians in the name of defending the indefensible.
He wondered why Jonathan would engage in a diversionary and exculpatory strategy of setting up a panel to investigate the scandal, when there were statutory bodies empowered by law to do so.
Mohammed said, ‘’There is precedent on how to handle such a matter. In case President Jonathan has forgotten, his then boss, President Umaru Yar’Adua(late), sacked Adenike Grange and Gabriel Aduku, Minister of Health and Minister of State for Health respectively, for spending part of the ministry’s unspent budget.
“The Permanent Secretary and other top officials of the ministry were also suspended when the issue broke out. No panel was set up before this action was taken.”
Also, the TMG said it was shocked at the shameful and embarrassing transaction and acquisition of the armoured cars for Oduah.
It said it was even more shocking that at a time like this when Nigerians had been calling on Jonathan to sanction the minister, he found it comfortable to make her a leading member of his entourage to Israel on pilgrimage.
The TMG, in a statement by its Chairman, Ibrahim Zikirullahi, and Publicity Secretary, Eddy Ezurike , said it was “not at all surprised at the rash response by the minister to the purported ‘query’ issued her by the President.”
It added, “Given our governance system, it may well be the person issuing the query is the same person providing answers.”
The TMG urged the anti-corruption agencies in the country to quickly investigate “this financial and executive recklessness” in the aviation sector
In Lagos, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders described the probe panel as diversionary.
The Executive Chairman, CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, in a statement on Thursday, alleged that the panel was meant to divert the attention of Nigerians from the issue at stake.
He said, “The panel is just another attempt to sweep the scandal under the carpet. Nigerians now know better that the probe panel is a way to douse the heat that has followed the revelation of Oduah’s shenanigans in the Aviation sector.
“The panel itself is another way of wasting the scarce resources and man-hour that could have been deployed into doing something more meaningful. All these diversionary panels make a mess of President Jonathan’s purported fight against corruption.”