More revelations emerged yesterday during the resumed investigation of the House of Representatives into the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA)'s alleged purchase of two BMW cars for the minister of aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, as the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) disclosed that the Federal Ministry of Finance directed that a waiver of N10.1 million be granted in the importation of the cars.
This is just as the minister of aviation again failed to honour the invitation of the committee. The committee had last week adjourned the hearing to enable Oduah return from Israel and appear before the committee. However, she was absent from the meeting and a correspondence signed by the permanent secretary of the minister of the ministry of aviation, George Ossi and sent to the committee by NCAA stated that she was in transit at the time she was expected to appear yesterday, but would be available at 2.00 pm today.
But the Committee on Aviation chairperson, Hon Nkiruka Onyejiocha, insisted that she appear unfailingly at 10.00 am today, stating that her failure to do so would be assumed an indication that she does not want to attend the hearing. "Tomorrow's date is sacrosanct, please communicate that to her," Onyejiocha said, after explaining that it was in the spirit of fair hearing that the lawmakers had shifted the dates to enable her state her case before the committee.
Mr Manasseh Daniel Jatau, a deputy comptroller of modernisation, research and economic relations in the service, who represented the comptroller general of NCS, Abdullahi Dikko, who is in the Netherlands on official assignment, said the point of entry of the cars was Tin Can Port in Lagos. He said that no import duty was collected from the owner of the goods, Coscharis Motors, as a one-year duty waiver for 300 cars was granted in the name of the company, for importation of cars for the 18th National Sports Festival, EKO 2012 Games in Lagos.
Jatau said the exemption on the two BMW cars along with 298 others, was at the expense of the Lagos State Government, who would have been the beneficiaries of the payment of N772.132m for the 300 cars and N10.1m for the two BMW cars. Documents presented to the committee by the NCS showed that the Import Duty, VAT, ETLS, CISS and Port Charges Waiver Certificate was issued by the ministry of finance on November 20, 2012, and was signed by the director of revenue, Mrs Rose Ngozi Maranzu, on behalf of the minister of finance.
It read in part, "I am directed to refer to your letter dated 23rd June, 2012 on the above subject matter and to convey the approval of Mr President and commander-in-chief to the Lagos State Government for waiver on import duty, value added tax (VAT), ETLS, CISS and other port charges, in respect of the importation of 300 units of BMW, Ford, Land Rover, Range Rover, Lexus, Mercedes, Escalade, Jaguar and buses (petrol/diesel), for use during the 18th National Sports Festival (EKO 2012), to be imported through Messrs Coscharis Motors Nigeria Limited, as indicated in the duly certified attached list".
Jatau also disclosed that contrary to reports that the office of the national security adviser did not have information on the armoured cars' presence in Nigeria, a signed copy of a pre-shipment inspection end-user certificate issued by the NSA on June 6, 2013 showed that due approval was gotten from the office, for Coscharis Motors to import three armoured cars valued at $USD223,653.48 into Nigeria for commercial purposes.
The document, identified as Form A, had the stamp of the office of the national security adviser on it.
In his presentation, the president of Coscharis Motors, Mr Cosmos Maduka said the price of the vehicles was high due to their quality, adding that, "To the best of my knowledge, we followed due process in the purchase of the cars." He further said, "We were interviewed by the SSS and the NSA."
Explaining the waiver, he said it was an agreement between the federal government and Coscharis, that when they have a major event such as COJA and EKO Games and cannot afford to buy cars, the company would provide cars to use, while the federal government grants it waivers in return. Maduka said, "We have a duty waiver from the federal government for 300 vehicles. This is not the first time we are getting this, we got it during COJA."
The lawmakers however rejected the explanation about the price of the cars, saying it was higher than any other price around the world. They also demanded from Maduka documents and an explanation for why the chassis number of one of the bulletproof cars, which they inspected on Tuesday, did not match any of those in the document presented to the committee.
In its own submission, First Bank PLC told the committee that its part was just to finance the purchase of the vehicles for operational use of NCAA, adding that it complied with all requirements in the Fiscal Responsibility Act. Speaking on behalf of the bank, Mr Seyi Oyefeso, group head, retail, said the bank paid the N643m to Coscharis and Metropolitan Motors on behalf of NCAA. They also added that in compliance with the Fiscal Responsibility Act, they demanded and received an approval letter for the permission to take a loan, before they granted the facility to NCAA.
Senate Probe Unearths Fresh Purchase Of 4 Armoured cars for Oduah, FAAN MD
With the controversy surrounding the purchase of two BMW 760Li Series bulletproof cars by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for the minister of aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, yet to settle, a Senate probe into the purchase has uncovered fresh illegal car purchases by the Federal Aviation Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) for the embattled Oduah.
The Hope Uzodinma-led Senate Committee on Aviation confirmed yesterday that FAAN also purchased illegally 206 vehicles, including two armoured Lexus Limousine cars and two armoured Toyota Prado jeeps.
Two of the four armoured vehicles are said to be for the aviation minister and another two for the managing director of FAAN, George Uriesi.
Some of the vehicles were also bought for the use of directors of the agency, LEADERSHIP gathered.
The disclosures were made at a Senate public hearing convened to address the crisis in the aviation sector.
The FAAN MD told the Senate panel that the Limousines were bought for N60 million each but he could not however confirm the cost of the Prado jeeps. The vehicles are in the custody of a bank, he said.
Asked to name the bank that funded the purchase of the vehicles as claimed, Uriesi declined.
He also disclosed that Oduah approved the purchase but added that he did not sign. He refused to mention the person.
The chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, said: "Investigation is still ongoing and it will not be fair for me to pre-empt it.
"FAAN did confirm that among the operational vehicles they purchased, four of them are armoured vehicles, two for the MD and two for the minister.
"And we told them to go back and put everything in writing and make a comprehensive statement on all vehicles purchased.
"They said that they bought a total number of 202 vehicles for different operations.
"So until they come back on Monday, we cannot rush into conclusion.
"The MD of FAAN said they did a funding arrangement with a commercial bank."
Senator Uzodinma assured of a thorough investigation into extra-budgetary spending by the aviation parastatals: "This investigation will be a very deep one so that, at the end of the day, we do a holistic approach and look at how the sector will be repositioned so that all anomalies will be corrected."
Meanwhile, the director-general of the Nigeria Metereological Agency, Mr Anthony Anuforom; and his counterpart in the Accident and Investigations Bureau, Captain Muhtar Usman, have disclosed that their agencies were not involved in the purchase of the controversial N255 million armoured vehicles.
Oduah takes credit for BASA
Meanwhile, the embattled minister for aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah has taken the credit for the recent Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) between the federal government and the State of Israel, a move that could be termed as being grossly insensitive to the public outcry over the purchase of two bulletproof cars for her by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).
Oduah, who spoke for the first time since the scandal broke seven days ago, wrote on her social media page at www.twitter.com/Stella, that she was instrumental to the signing of the agreement, though she was not accorded the privilege of signing it on behalf of the country. The tweet, which formed part of a statement written on her behalf by her special adviser, Mr. Joe Obi failed to make any form of reference to the issue of the cars, saying the occasion was one of her happiest moments as aviation minister.
According to her, achieving the agreement between the two countries had proven problematic for decades, with her predecessors failing at several attempts to put pen to paper on the issue.
"The signing is a significant feat for the present administration and a huge endorsement of the Transformation Agenda of the present government, as represented in the reforms championed by Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Adaeze Oduah in the Sector," Obi wrote on behalf of his principal.
In the one page statement, it was added that, "Trade, tourism, agriculture, transportation, water resources, amongst others would be tremendously boosted and enhanced, as access to both territories would be much more easy (sic) through direct flights.
"I am particularly happy that President Jonathan's reforms in the aviation sector are bearing fruits and receiving the endorsement of the international community. With this agreement, Nigeria is opening up another important frontier in its bid to open up the country to world, boost its economy and facilitate the fast growing aviation sector."