The controversy trailing the purchase of two BMW armoured cars for the minister of aviation, Ms Stella Oduah, has taken a ridiculous dimension.
The agency at the centre of the controversial purchase of the bulletproof vehicles and the nation's civil aviation body, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, has denied that it has documents relating to the acquisition of the bulletproof vehicles.
The development came as indications emerged that Oduah may be barred from attending the weekly Federal Executive Council (FEC) meetings until the conclusion of investigations.
Curiously, NCAA's denial which came after a seven-day ultimatum given to it by a human rights activist, Mr Femi Falana (SAN), to furnish his law firm with information pertaining to the transaction also contradicts its statement before the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation that the procurement of the "operational vehicles" was provided for in the NCAA's budget.
Falana had last week invoked the provision of the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act when he wrote the NCAA director-general, Mr Fola Akinkuotu, demanding the documents, including those of budgetary approval and due process for the whole transaction as well as all the papers of past acquisition of such armoured cars by the aviation ministry or the NCAA as claimed by Akinkuotu.
But in its reply to the request dated October 23, 2013, through the NCAA legal adviser, Mr E.K Chukwuma, Akinkuotu said documents relating to the latest purchase or even previous purchases of such cars are not in the possession of the NCAA.
The letter obtained by LEADERSHIP yesterday reads: "I am directed to your letter dated 21st October 2013 on the above matter (Request for information on N255m armoured cars for Aviation Minister, Ms Stella Oduah) and to inform you that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority is not in possession of any document relating to the purchase of armoured cars for the Aviation Minister, Ms Stella Oduah.
"With regard to your request for records of previous purchase of armoured cars by the Aviation Ministry or NCAA, I am to inform you that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority does not have such records."
Not satisfied, Falana noted yesterday that he would relate this latest position of the NCAA to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, as a back-up to a petition he had written to it.
The letter from Falana to NCAA demanding the document had stated: "In your press conference at Abuja held on Friday, October 18, 2013, you did admit that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) actually bought the controversial armoured cars and that 'it is customary' to convey the Minister and visiting dignitaries in security vehicles whenever they are in Nigeria.
"In the light of your claim at the said press conference, we are compelled to request you to make available to us certified true copies of the documents relating to the purchase of the cars, including budgetary approval and due process for the entire transaction.
"Since you claimed that it is customary to purchase such cars for Aviation Minister and visiting foreign dignitaries, you are also requested to provide the records of previous purchase of armoured cars by the Aviation Ministry or the NCAA. Take notice that you are mandatorily required to supply the requested information within SEVEN DAYS of the receipt of this letter by virtue of the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act, 2011."
Oduah may be suspended from FEC meeting
A presidency source told LEADERSHIP that President Jonathan, unhappy with the manner his query was answered through the media, might quietly ask the minister to "excuse herself from FEC".
"There is nowhere such an act is put up; making public her response even when the president was yet to receive it officially was very offensive to the president himself. The whole thing looks like the woman is trying to defend her in the media rather than following the window of opportunity provided by the panel to defend herself; leaking the letter to the press when the president was yet to receive her response was not only shocking to him, it was close to an embarrassment, and don't be surprised if he asks her to excuse herself until she clears herself," he said. Armoured cars missing in NSA's security list
An indication emerged yesterday that the controversial bulletproof cars for Uduah are not on the national security adviser's (NSA) official list of armoured cars available anywhere in the country.
Dealers and end users of reinforced cars such as the bulletproof cars said to be acquired by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for the minister are under obligation to seek permission from the office of the NSA before ordering or importing such vehicles into the country.
A report by an online medium , Premium Times, noted, however that security operatives, in their bid to figure out whether Oduah merely masterminded a paper process to launder public funds or not, discovered that the NSA's office had none of the two bulletproof cars on its list.
Quoting reliable sources at the office of the NSA, the online medium said under the NSA's regulation, no car dealer or end user, including private individuals, security agencies and government parastatals, can bring in armoured cars into the country without obtaining end user certificates from the office of the NSA in Abuja.
Reporting that no authorization certificate was ever issued to either the minister or the NCAA to procure the controversial vehicles, the paper quoted one of its sources as saying: "We have thoroughly checked our list and I can confirm that at no time did we issue end user certificate to anyone to procure any such cars. It is likely the cars do not exist and that the documents were either forged to steal public funds.
"But if the cars indeed exist, the minister, the NCAA and Coscharis Motors will have to explain why they sneaked vehicles into our country without authorisation. It is a serious violation, and the minister and other people involved have a lot of explanations to make."
Premium Times also added that another of its sources recalled that the NSA, Colonel Sambo Dasuki (retired), was appointed into the three-member administrative panel appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan to probe the procurement of the cars specifically to determine whether the purchase of the vehicles did not breach Nigeria's security regulations.
The online medium noted: "Contacted on Thursday over the matter, Mr Dasuki said he would not comment on any aspect of his committee's work because he is not the chairman of the panel.
"My office is only serving as the committee's secretariat. I am not the chairman. And you have to wait for us to complete our work. The question you asked (whether end user certificate was issued for the vehicles) is one of the issues we will look into," it further quoted Dasuki as saying.
The online medium noted further: "Although the NSA was evasive, top officials of his office told this newspaper that an internal review had long established that the controversial Stella Oduah's cars are not on the lists of armoured cars known to the authorities.
"This new finding raises more doubt as to whether the cars were procured reinforced, a reason the aviation ministry cited for the alarming cost of the automobiles, or whether the cars were even bought at all. There are suggestions the minister and the NCAA prepared the documents in circulation to cover up the looting of public funds.
"That suggestion is strengthened by the refusal of the NCAA and the minister to allow Premium Times access to inspect the cars despite initially claiming the vehicles were open to viewing by interested journalists.
"The purchase of the cars have also been found to violate Nigeria's appropriation and procurement laws: the transaction was neither in government budget nor was it advertised or openly bided for. The contract cost is also believed to have been inflated multiple folds."
Jonathan may become an accessory to corruption - APC
But the All Progressives Congress (APC) has said that President Goodluck Jonathan may become an accessory to corruption if he continued along his current path of shielding Oduah from abuse of office.
In a statement issued in Lagos yesterday by its interim national publicity secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said it reached that conclusion after juxtaposing the evidence that had come out on the scandal against the actions so far taken by the president.
The statement reads in part: "It has now emerged that the money spent to purchase the armoured
cars was not appropriated, which is a violation of the Nigerian constitution; that due process was not followed in buying the cars, as the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) has testified, and that the minister - who was said to have approved the purchase - violated the law by approving an expenditure over the N100 million limit.
"These revelations make the Oduahgate a straightforward case that should have been summarily dealt with by the president. Instead, he has engaged himself in rigmarole by setting up a diversionary administrative panel in what is now looking like an orchestrated ploy to buy time, hoping this issue will die down and the minister will escape being sanctioned.
"Unfortunately for Mr President, Oduahgate is not just another scandal, but a referendum on his administration's fight against corruption, and on the legacy he intends to leave in this critical
APC said, however, that the party as well as other concerned groups and citizens were closely following the developments on Oduahgate, and would not allow it to be swept under the carpet, in the interest of the millions of Nigerians who have been consigned into the lowest rung of existence by a rapacious administration.
As aviation stakeholders meet over scandal, group seeks return of cars
Meanwhile, as aviation stakeholders have scheduled a one-day meeting in Abuja to chart a way forward over the car purchase scandal, a group, Taxpayers Association of Nigeria (TAPAN), has asked the minister to return the cars and retrieve taxpayers' money.
The National Association of Aircraft Pilots and Engineers (NAAPE), Air Transport Services Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (ATSSAN) and the National Union of Air Transport Employees (NUATE) said that having analysed the recent happenings in the sector, it is important for them to meet to proffer solutions to issues happening in the industry.
The unions said that if solutions were not immediately proffered to the recent crises, the future of aviation in Nigeria was at stake.
Speaking on behalf of the group, the president, NAAPE, Engineer Isaac Balami, explained that the meeting would seek to chart a course for more participation by all stakeholders in the aviation sector for the purpose of moving the sector forward in months ahead.
He said, "The invited speakers are expected to focus on critical areas of the Nigerian aviation industry such as the need for continued and greater levels of investment in civil aviation as well as the training of the next-generation pilots, engineers and traffic controllers, among others."
On its part, TAPAN described the scandal as a monumental national embarrassment. National president of the body Barrister Philip Ilukholo said in Abuja that the allegation was mind-boggling.
"We are greatly worried by the ongoing public scandal surrounding the purchase of two armoured vehicles for the minister of aviation by the NCAA with a whopping sum of N255 million.
"That such a huge sum of money could be used to purchase two vehicles is a pointer to grand connivance between some public officers and unscrupulous contractors to loot the nation's treasury.
"Where was the budgetary provision? This is arrogance of power and sheer profligacy; we must get to the root of this monumental embarrassment and sanction every culprit appropriately to serve as a deterrent to others," he said. Youth Council, others kick against call for Oduah's sack
But the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) and other coalition of civil societies in Nigeria have kicked against calls for the sack of Oduah over the purchase of two bulletproof cars.
At a press conference jointly held by NYCN and COCSON, the coalition condemned what it described as attack on the personality of the minister.
The NYCN president, Comrade Henry Nwabueze, said the outcry that has greeted the purchase of the cars seems antagonistic and hasty, and devoid of the primary essence of criticism which is correction.
He said: "We are concerned about the stability of our democracy and worried that the manner with which the opposition jumps to castigate and condemn personalities who have sacrificed their time, energy for the progress of this country is destructive and negates the doctrine of social engagement. The issue of the purchase of operational vehicle by NCAA forms the crux of the matter. "It is worrisome that the only instrument of check and balancing from some non- governmental organizations is destructive criticism, particularly the anti-Jonathan elements.
"We condemn the call for the sack of the minister... The claim that she will influence the work of the panel headed by Alhaji Isa Sail Bello is unfounded and illogical."