This is not the best of times for minister of aviation Ms Stella Oduah. President Goodluck Jonathan yesterday ordered full-scale investigation into circumstances leading to the purchase of two BMW bulletproof cars for her at the cost of N255 million by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
To this effect, the president has set up a three-member administrative panel of inquiry chaired by former head of service Alhaji Isa Sali to investigate the matter and submit its report to him within two weeks.
Other members of the committee are the national security adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd), and Air Vice Marshal Dick Iruenaberi (rtd). The NSA's office is to act as secretariat for the panel.
Special adviser to the president on media and publicity Dr Reuben Abati, who disclosed this to State House correspondents immediately after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting in Aso Rock presidential villa, said Jonathan directed that there should be no sacred cows in the process, as those found culpable must face the law.
Incidentally, Oduah was absent at yesterday's FEC meeting.
"This panel has the assignment to investigate whether the procurement process with regards to these armoured vehicles followed due process. This three-man panel is also to find out the purpose to which the vehicles were procured and then to inquire into any other incidental matter," Abati stated, while outlining the terms of reference of the panel.
Announcing the propriety of the setting up of the panel of inquiry after the weekly FEC meeting presided over by the president, Abati said, "President Goodluck Jonathan has taken the initial step of asking the minister of aviation, Stella Oduah, for explanations, and that is in the public domain ... But also President Jonathan has today taken a step further -- and you will probably be the first set of Nigerians to hear this -- by setting up a three-man administrative panel of inquiry.
He said, "This three-man panel is to be chaired by the immediate former head of service of the federation, Alhaji Isa Sali Bello; the national security adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dakusi (rtd) is a member; and AVM Dick Iruenebere (rtd). The secretariat of the panel which is expected to submit its reports within two weeks will be provided by the office of the NSA.
"Let me assure you that President Jonathan will like to assure the general public that nobody, no matter how highly placed, will be shielded or exempted from this inquiry that he has directed and that appropriate action will be taken against any person or persons who may be found guilty of misconduct or misappropriation of public funds either in this respect or in any other respect. Indeed, Mr President considers this very weighty matter and it is not true as some people have been alleging that no action has been taken."
On whether Oduah will step aside in the course of the panel's investigation, Abati said, "Well, I have just announced to you what I was asked to announce: that a panel of inquiry has been set up. This panel will address all the relevant questions and advise Mr President accordingly within two weeks."
Abati further hinted that the process was on for Dr Olumuyiwa Babatunde Aliyu to become the first African, first Nigerian president of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
He said, "Earlier on, I had given you the good news of Nigeria's very good outing at the 38th General Assembly of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and how Nigeria was unanimously chosen as a sole candidate for the presidency of ICAO coming up in November. When the election is conducted and the candidature of Dr Olumuyiwa Babatunde Aliyu is rectified, he will become the first African, first Nigerian president of ICAO which is a major positive for Nigeria."
Controversy trails Reps' summons of Oduah
Controversy is brewing over whether the minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah will today appear before the House Committee on Aviation, which on Tuesday invited her to today answer questions concerning the NCAA's purchase of two bullet proof cars for her at the cost of N255m.
Spokesman of the House, Hon. Zakari Mohammed, who confirmed the committee's summons, added that the invitation was transmitted to Oduah via a letter on Tuesday night. He also said that Oduah was expected to appear as directed.
Speaking exclusively to LEADERSHIP last night, Zakari said the failure of Oduah to honour the invitation would mean that a bench warrant would be issued her, compelling her to appear before the lawmakers.
"I know we sent an invitation to her last night and it was received, so we expect her to appear as directed. Failure to appear would mean that we will invoke a warrant of arrest to compel her appearance," he said.
When asked if he knew whether or not she was in the country, Zakari said, "I am not aware, but we expect her to honour our invitation."
There is speculation over the whereabouts of the minister, who is said to be on a trip to Israel along with President Goodluck Jonathan, who is there on holy pilgrimage.
Audit Queries: Reps threaten to prosecute NCAA, FAAN, MDAs
Meanwhile, the House of Representatives Committee on Public Accounts yesterday said it would not hesitate to issue a bench warrant arrest on the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, and other ministries, departments, and agencies who continued to refuse to appear before the committee to throw more light on audit queries.
The committee chairman, Rep Solomon Olamilekan, stated this during interaction with journalists yesterday in Abuja. The chairman, while particularly highlighting the non-compliance of the NCAA and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, said "agencies like NCAA,FAAN and a host of others would appear before the committee and give details of their accounts covering the span of five years and we will diligently follow up to ensure compliance forthwith".
He added, "If the documents we request from appearing agencies do not back up, we will issue a bench warrant. The minister has said the NCAA is her own purview, so we have requested that she provide us with the statement of the account of the agency for the past 10 years."
He lamented that the new managing director of FAAN has been avoiding the committee, saying he wonders aloud how "a technocrat is belittling the House summons and saying this is mere politics, when he is aware of the systems and structures that have empowered us to make inquiries into any national matter on behalf of Nigerians. This is simply regrettable". "Everybody is in the dark regarding that agency," he added.
While expressing dismay on the conduct and non-compliance of agencies under scrutiny, Hon. Olamilekan shed more light on the Bilateral Air Space Agreement, BASA, accounts revealing that the auditor-general's report which is supposed to be a public document has uncovered various degrees of anomalies and inconsistencies on the account.
The rep further lashed out at the Ministry of Works and Housing and indicated that the committee would invite former ministers of works and housing, especially the chairman of the Board of Trustees, BoT, of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Chief Tony Anenih, who had served at various times as the minister of works. Touching on the Service Wide Vote Account, which, according to him, has remained the exclusive preserve of the president of the Federal Republic Nigeria, Rep Olamilekan indicated that the House may vote to review or cancel the service vote in accordance with the wishes of Nigerians.
"The Service Wide Vote Account report will be laid before the House soon, as it is ready," Rep. Olamilekan declared. "There is N1.6trn in the Service Wide Vote Account at the discretion of the president, and one of our recommendations is that this account should not be more than 5 per cent of our budget."
Those to go under the hammer also will be the Ministry of Education, since, according to the lawmaker, the ministry is requesting funds from its various MDAs, especially the Universal Basic Education, UBE, department.
Melaye arrested over protest for aviation minister's sack
-As pro-Oduah group clash with protesters
A former member of the House of Representatives and Secretary, Anti-Corruption Network, Otunba Dino Melaye was yesterday arrested by the police in Abuja for staging unlawful protest for the removal of Oduah over the purchase of two bulletproof vehicles at the cost of N255 million.
The assistant commissioner of police in charge of metro city, Odukoya Sunday, who led a team of policemen to the scene of the protest at the Federal Secretariat Abuja, said the group did not obtain any clearance from the police before embarking on such protest. According to Odukoya the protesters were disrupting the peace of the city and obstructing free flow of traffic, thereby causing untold hardship for commuters.
Melaye's arrest was sequel to his refusal to allow police arrest members of his group who were held up by the police in the vehicle conveying them home after the protest. Melaye, who insisted that the police had no basis for arresting his members whom he said were fighting a just cause, offered to be arrested instead. After series of muscle flexing and verbal war between the police and Melaye, he was eventually picked up and driven away in police Hilux vehicle marked NPF 2128 C.
Speaking to journalists at the scene of the protest yesterday, Melaye said the Anti-Corruption Network embarked on the peaceful protest to demand for the sack of Oduah over the purchase of two bulletproof vehicles at the cost of N255million.
Dino said the group was ready to fight corruption in Nigeria to a standstill no matter whose ox is gored. He described the amount as ridiculous and gross insensitivity to the plight of millions of Nigerians wallowing in abject poverty and cannot afford three squeal meals a day. The over 200 protesters carried different placards with various inscriptions such as; 'Stella Oduah must go, EFCC investigate Stella, ICPC prosecute Stella, SSS arrest Stella, N255m car Jonathan put an end to this impunity', 'this impunity must end now' among others.
Melaye further said Oduah is the ninth minister that the Anti-Corruption Network is taken on. So what informed others and while is Stella Oduah different or special? We have taken on Diezani, we've protested to the ministry of finance against Okonjo-Iweala, we've protested against Orubebe, we've protested against AGF, Mohammed Adoke and we even submitted petitions against them to the EFCC, ICPC and Code of Conduct. So, what is special about Stella Oduah? We are Nigerians we believe in our future, we believe that our children and generations unborn, we have a life structure for them.
The House of Representatives even confirmed yesterday that the money was not budgeted for, and anyone who spends money that is not budgeted for has committed fraud.
He said, "We will not take this recklessness and impunity anymore. We are here to establish the fact that except the president listens to the cries and yearnings of the people, except the president neglect his neighbour-to-neighbour relationship with the minister, and fire the minister in the interest of the people and take those cars back to Coscharis and collect our money and put it back to the coffers of government."
As the protest was going on a mild drama ensued when a group of youths stormed the venue of the protest and demanded that Melaye should pay them for engaging them is a similar protest in the past without paying them the amount they agreed upon.
The group which was chanting 'Stella Must Stay' engaged in a fight with the Anti-Corruption Network protesters, leading to the destruction of some of the placards and posters of the Dino group. The fight by these two groups attracted the attention of the police which later mobilised to disperse the protesters.
NLC calls for sack of aviation minister
Meanwhile, the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) has urged President Jonathan to immediately effect the sack of Oduah over the controversial purchase of bulletproof armoured vehicles.
But a northern youth group, Northern Youth Consultative Assembly (NYCA), in a press conference addressed earlier claimed that Oduah had done the nation's aviation sector better and should be commended rather than being castigated.
On the call for the minister's sack, NLC president Comrade Abdulwaheed Omar who made the call in Kaduna yesterday at the end of the congress' National Executive Council (NEC) meeting said, "NLC NEC condemns the purchase of the bulletproof cars in totality and we are even calling on Mr President to probe the minister on that transaction.
"We want her sanctioned. If it means that she needs to be sacked, she should be sacked, inasmuch as that will ensure sanity in the system," she said.