The House of Representatives and the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah are now heading for a showdown over the summons of the House Committee on Aviation requesting the minister to appear before it tomorrow as it commences investigative into an alleged purchase of N255 million bullet proof cars for the Minister by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.
While the minister, who is still in Israel told the committee that she would not be available until November 4 after she must have concluded her national assignment in Israel, the committee insisted that if she fails to appear tomorrow sanctions will be imposed on her.
The House Committee on Aviation, in a statement by its Clerk, Abubakar Chana directed the minister to appear before it tomorrow and explain her role in the controversial armoured cars.
The minister, in a letter dated October 25, however, told the committee that she would be unavoidably absent tomorrow and that she would create time to appear on November 4 after she must have concluded her national assignment in Israel.
In the letter, which read in part, the minister said, "you will recall my sincere and utmost regret conveyed to you at my inability to personally appear before your committee on Thursday due solely to my on-going official assignment in Israel on behalf of our country.
"The official schedule for the signing of the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA, including the travel logistics from Israel back to Nigeria physically prevent me from arriving in time to appear before you as scheduled in your current invitation."
Also, the Permanent Secretary of the ministry in a letter with reference number PS/FMA/PC/2013/Vol.1/70 written on same date pleaded with the committee to allow the minister appear on Nov 4 or 5 in view of her flight schedule.
However, in a counter letter dated October 28 and signed by the committee's clerk, the Reps insisted that if she fails to appear necessary sanctions would be imposed on her.
The letter titled: Re: Invitation to public hearing and request to submit documents, read in part "I am further directed to inform you that your inability to appear before the committee has become a serious constraint to the committee as the House of Representatives has mandated the committee to submit its report within one week.
"More so the committee has been utterly gracious for postponing the hearing to Wednesday.
"It is the directive of the House of Representatives that you should appear on the scheduled date of which failure to do so will leave the committee with no option but to enforce the appropriate laws and apply necessary sanctions."
Meanwhile, the House committee Chairperson in a chat with newsmen said the Minister of Aviation risks being jailed 5 years based on the provision of the Public Procurement Act.
She said: "Section 58 (5) of the Public Procurement Act states that 'Any persons, who, while carrying out his duties as an officer of the Bureau or any procuring entity who contravenes any provision of this Act, commits an offence and is liable to a conviction of cumulative punishment of (a) a term of imprisonment of not less than five calendar years without any option of fines and (b) summary dismissal from government services.
"I did not put this law there, but the will to implement it is key to sanity in this country and check excesses.
"Argument of lease purchase does not hold as long as they are going to pay with public funds and to say that NCAA is within the threshold makes it look like splitting the budget, which is another case on its own under the Procurement law."
According to the Committee Chairman, the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah has issues bordering on procurement with her committee which the minister has ignored more than 12 times.
"Our committee has the responsibility to carry out oversight on BPP and since the core objective of public procurement is to ascertain value for money, we have been having issues with the Ministry of Aviation and agencies under it for sometimes now.
"It might interest you to know that we have issued not less than 12 invitations to the Minister of Aviation but she has not deemed it fit to respond even for once. She has always been giving us one excuse or the other.
"Apart from the fact that there are issues on the rehabilitation of airports around the country over issues of value for money which Nigerians are not getting, if she had taken her time to honour our invitation, maybe she would have been able to avoid this issue of threshold.
"What these heads of agencies don't realize is that when we send out letters like that, it wasn't to intimidate or witch-hunt them but to rub minds and enlighten them on the nitty-gritty of the provisions of the Procurement laws.
"If she has been honouring our invitations, by now a lot of things would have been known to her and she would not be finding herself in this situation. When we invite these ministers, my advice is that they should not see it as a personal thing but a way of forging a working relationship.
"There is no doubt that she has a case to answer with the BPP Committee".
She however blamed the Presidency for deliberately weakening the BPP as well as refusing to comply with the Procurement law on the issue of the Bureau's Board.
"The issue of the constitution of the Board of BPP is embarrassing as it has not been constituted till date. Sometimes we need the cooperation of the Executive. When we go out there, we want people to adhere to the provisions of the law."
"The impropriety that we are witnessing in this country is embarrassing to the nation. and if you don't take care of a particular aspect of the law but go ahead and implement another aspect it means you do not wish the law to succeed or be effective.
"The law must be implemented holistically for sanity to prevail in a nation. We have pushed for the implementation of that particular clause along the other parts they are implementing but they are not willing to apply that particular clause.
"We are pushing for the implementation of the Council of Board as contained in the Act but if they are not doing it, then they have their reasons, not that we are not doing anything about it.
"The job of the Board is to formulate policies for the agency and the DG is the Secretary of the Board but the idea is that more people will be able to contribute better than just one or two people especially when we are talking about trillions of Naira of appropriated funds," she added.
According to Committee Chairman, the government can not absolve itself in the weakening of the powers of the BPP as the agency lack capacity to execute its duties.
Saying that BPP should not be blamed for lacking capacity to monitor all government agencies, the lawmaker added,
"Even the BPP can not capture all the agencies in this country because they do not have the technological capacity to do so. they do not have the software I am talking about.
"So, if we really want to beat corruption in our procurement sector, then we must have the will to put in place those things that are necessary to facilitate investigation, which I believe we are lacking.
"Ministry of Finance is able to do its work excellently just because they have the capacity and the facilities that simplify their job.
"I believe BPP needs assistance in that direction, but the point is, if the BPP is not aware of procurement going on in such places, and being the agency feeding us with information, then there is no way we as a Committee can.
"If the BPP is not aware of such procurements, it's because the agency involved has spent more than their threshold",
Also, Chairman on Bureau for Public Procurement, BPP, Rep OlaJumoke Okoya-Thomas, APC, said the NCAA overshot its threshold.