Aviation industry stakeholders have criticised the purchase of two BMW 760 Li Series armoured cars for Minister of Aviation Princess Stella Oduah, by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
The two vehicles were reportedly bought for N127, 575, 000 each for the minister's protection, following what her Special Assistant on Media, Mr. Joe Obi said were threats to her life because of her reforms in the aviation sector, which have dislocated and aggrieved some entrenched interests.
However, the propriety of asking an agency to buy such expensive cars for a minister has been questioned. Some aviation stakeholders said the purchase of the cars is unnecessary, especially when NCAA is allegedly said to be behind in meeting many of its financial obligations. Some aviation workers' unions claim that NCAA owes its workers arrears of allowances and is believed to have a backlog of important trainings for staff.
However, NCAA director general, Captain Fola Akinkuotu, had said that NCAA was not broke and is meeting up with its financial obligations. Despite Akinkuotu's defence, sources at NCAA revealed that some of the agency's personnel, who are currently undertaking aviation training in Manchester, United Kingdom, embarked on the training with their own funds, with the promise by NCAA to reimburse them.
NUATE demands probe, raises the alarm over rot in aviation
The Secretary General of the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE), Comrade Abdulkareem Motajo, said that what was happening in the aviation sector now is not new, adding that the union had written several petitions on the alleged financial improprieties involving the Minister of Aviation. He insisted that Oduah should not only be removed, but be probed.
He said, "What is happening is part of what we have been complaining about in recent time. What is going on today is unprecedented. A lot of things are happening. Somebody was talking about the diversion of N19.5bn Intervention Fund and somehow today, the security agencies are looking into that and the money has been traced to somewhere.
"But who is investigating this particular one that is happening now? Nobody. My union has written a petition to the Senate President, Deputy Senate President, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation over some of the ills happening in the sector. Till date, not even an acknowledgement has been received and if this thing continues like this, you can be rest assured that the sector is not safe and the industry is going to be looted continuously.
"As we speak, none of the six parastatals has sent its staff for training. The parastatals owe months of such allowances and leave allowances have not been paid to staff."
Also, another aviation union leader, who craved anonymity said, "It is wrong that she is buying two bullet proof vehicles. What are they for? Are they for the industry or for herself?"
'Minister yet to raise alarm over safety to life'
However, the Executive Director of Centre for Aviation Safety and Research (CAS-R), Engineer Sheri Kyari said the purchase would be in order if the minister's life is under threat and due process is followed in the transaction. "But if due process is not followed, the security agents should investigate the matter," he added.
Attempts to get NCAA's spokesman to comment on the issue yielded no result, as he insisted he could not comment, since the Aviation Ministry had reacted to it.
Apart from the two armoured vehicles, both NCAA and the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), about four months ago purchased different brands of vehicles including Hilux pick-ups and Toyota Corrolla cars for their officials.
FAAN procured the vehicles for managers ranging from Assistant General Managers and Deputy General Managers to General Managers and Directors. The Toyota Corolla brand of cars (2013 edition) was purchased for Assistant General Managers, Deputy General Managers and General Managers, while Land Cruiser Prado jeeps were purchased for Directors in the agency.
LEADERSHIP Friday visits Coscharis
With respect to the price of the controversial cars, LEADERSHIP Friday sought out Coscharis Motors in Lagos, who supplied them. Coscharis Motors showed LEADERSHIP the pro-forma invoice issued to NCAA for the purchase of the cars. The invoice showed a unit cost of US$812,000 (N130million), but the invoice obtained by the online news site saharareporters.com showed a pro-forma invoice dated June 25, 2013 for the cost of US$796,846.21 (N127, 575,000) each. Between the two invoices, there is a difference of $15, 153: 79 (N2, 424, 606. 40k). A sales clerk at one of Coscharis Motors outlets in Victoria Island, Lagos, who refused to be properly identified, told our correspondent that the amount quoted in the pro-forma invoice was indeed the amount customers pay for the car.
"That is the amount we sell the vehicles to our clients, but the only thing we do is to give a discount of about N5m at the point of purchase," she said.
It was gathered that the armoured BMW cars came with all the fittings, which include leather interior; B6/7 BMW factory armoured with certificates (mines, armour, piercing bullets, side blast, fire attack system, gas attack system, forced oxygen system for gas attack); armoured glass (about 3cm thick); hard band blowout tyres and rims; run-flat tyres; armoured floor pan for mine protection; teargas sensors; emergency windscreen exit, and a V12 engine of 8 speed auto transmission with adaptable drive. Checks reveal inflation by $844,000
LEADERSHIP Friday online checks showed that the cost of the car varies according to features included. Van Vliet Personenauto, Germany, Ambassador Luxury & Exotic Cars, Florida in the United States and Al Ameer Motors of United Arab Emirates each put the maximum price of an armoured BMW 760 Li HSS at 234,000 Euros ($390,000, about N62,400,000). This is about half the unit price NCAA paid for the cars supplied by Coscharis Motors. This indicates that the two cars were inflated by $844,000.
Reacting to the development, a pressure group, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders (CACOL) accused the Minister of shirking her responsibilities of ensuring the safety of Nigerians.
CACOL faults NCCA's action
In a statement made available to LEADERSHIP Friday, CACOL's Executive Chairman, Comrade Debo Adeniran, said, "The chicken has now come home to roost. It is no longer surprising that the Minister could ascribe her incompetence to God. This is the NCAA that does not have enough funds to upgrade its equipment, send its employees for critical training and hire enough qualified hands."
Funds should have been channelled to reform aviation sector - SIN
Also, another pressure group, Stop Impunity in Nigeria (SIN) Campaign, condemned the transaction, saying the funds used to purchase the cars should have been channelled towards reforming the aviation sector.
The campaign described the purchase of the vehicles "at such ridiculously high price as gross and wanton waste of public resources", describing it as "the worst form of impunity in the public finance management sector."
The SIN Campaign said, "It is obvious that the luxury of the matriarch of the Aviation Kingdom far supersedes the value and importance attached to human life in Nigeria."
It noted that the two questions begging for answers were whether the purchase of the vehicles was necessary and if so, whether they could not have been purchased for less.
The campaign said it finds absolutely no justification whatsoever for the purchase of the cars, adding that its research showed that such vehicles are sold for less than 30 per cent of the claimed amount, suggesting underhand dealings in the purchase of the bullet-proof cars. Lawyers demand probe, want Oduah to resign
Similarly, some lawyers who spoke to LEADERSHIP Friday called for an investigation of the transaction.
Constitutional lawyer, Dr. Tunji Abayomi, in a telephone interview with LEADERSHIP Friday said the minister should resign because "she is not fit for public office. There is no legal backing of the action of the minister in our laws. It is purely an abuse of office and nothing more."
Another lawyer, Chief Ahmed Raji (SAN), said he is not aware of any car that could be worth over N200million. He, however, declined further comment, saying that one should be very careful not to comment on what could turn out to be false in the end.