The minister of aviation, Princess Stella Oduah yesterday appeared before the House Committee on Aviation investigating the purchase of N255million bulletproof cars for the minister by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), where she described as "false and malicious" allegations that she compelled the agency to buy her the armoured cars.
Speaking at the third day of hearing on the matter, she said, "The vehicles were not registered in my name." She faulted claims that the NCAA purchased vehicles worth N643m and said that so far, the agency had only spent N52m in the procurement of operational and security vehicles, in a lease arrangement that was in line with the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and spread across three years.
According to Oduah, by December 2013, the NCAA would have expended N100m on the deal instead of N116m, because of a discount it obtained from the bank.
Saying that NCAA did not flout any appropriation or fiscal laws, the minister said, "Let me state emphatically from the onset, that the allegation concerning the purchase of two numbers bulletproof cars for me by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is false in its entirety. It is not true that the NCAA has spent such amount of money on purchase of vehicles. It is also not true that the NCAA has purchased two bulletproof BMW vehicles for the honourable minister of aviation."
Speaking further on what transpired, Oduah explained that the cars were bought through a lease financing arrangement with First Bank Plc. She said, "Another falsehood in the public domain relating to this lease financing arrangement is that the NCAA purchased two bulletproof vehicles for me as the honourable minister of aviation. This is totally false. The two numbers security safety BMW vehicles, which the NCAA acquired, are for security and safety, as appropriated by the NASS in the 2013 budget in item 6. The title documents, which are in the names of NCAA/First Bank Plc, as well as spare keys of all the vehicles purchased under the lease financing arrangements are currently with the First Bank of Nigeria, plc., as is the case with such arrangements and best practice.
"We reiterate that NCAA has not spent any money appropriated by the National Assembly. Indeed what they have spent so far on all the vehicles acquired through the lease financing arrangement with First Bank of Nigeria plc., is N52m. By so doing, they have saved the nation cost and the possible embarrassment that may arise if the events we have pointed out earlier were to occur."
Denying allegations that she violated the constitution by approving a contract worth N643m, which is beyond her N100m limit, the minister explained that although she did sign the document, she asked the NCAA to ensure that due process was followed before it was implemented.
"All I did was to approve the request of the agency, subject to the agency doing 'the needful', as evidenced by my minutes on the letter dated 15th April, 2013. On the procurement for the lease agreement for the acquisition of the vehicles, let me reiterate that from the records available to me, it would appear that the NCAA followed the due process required by law," she told the panel.
She said the allegations were spearheaded by people who were in opposition to the ministry's fight against "rot and corruption" in the sector. When asked by the committee if he did 'the 'needful' by ensuring that due process was complied with, former acting director general of NCAA, Mr Joyce Nkemakolam, who was asked by the present DG, Mr Femi Akinkuotu, to answer the question, said he assumed that the minister meant that due process should be followed "and that is what the procurement department did".
"We were of the mindset that we had already gotten approval of the National Assembly and not gone outside the approval because of the leasing agreement, because the mindset was that we were still within the limit of the approval," Nkemakolam explained.
He said the armoured cars are in the ministry's fleet of cars, "and anyone can use them".
In closing the investigation, chairman of the committee, Hon. Nkiruka Onyejiocha, assured that the committee's report would be based on facts and evidence before it, as all the parties that made presentations would be treated fairly and justly.
"Facts speak for themselves. We have tried to listen to all involved and have their submissions with us. We are aware that the 2013 budget for procurement of cars was for N240m for 25 cars and have seen 51 cars, and in another breath, 56 and in another 54 that were actually approved for procurement through auto loan. We will consider all our findings, whether they were in line with financial and extant laws and we will conclude our report," Onyejiocha said.
It could be recalled that since the beginning of the probe, the Nigerian Customs Service, NCAA, First Bank, Coscharis Motors and other stakeholders have given evidence before the committee.
N255m armoured cars: Okonjo-Iweala denies granting waivers
Finance minister and coordinating minister for the economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala yesterday denied ever granting waivers for the importation of the N255m armoured cars allegedly bought for embattled minister of aviation, Ms Stella Oduah.
At the resumed investigation of the House of Representatives into NCAA's alleged purchase of two BMW cars for her aviation counterpart, the minister described as total falsehood that is bereft of foundation
the claim by the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) that the ministry of finance directed that a waiver of N10.1m be granted on the importation of the cars. In a statement issued to her special adviser, Mr Paul Nwabuikwu, Okonjo-Iweala explained that her ministry only granted a waiver to the Lagos State government for its National Sports Festival, adding that at no time did she grant any exemption for the importation of armoured cars.
The statement, made available to LEADERSHIP yesterday evening, said, "Recent media reports which claim that the Federal Ministry of Finance granted a waiver to Coscharis Motors Nigeria Ltd for the purchase of armoured cars are totally false and without foundation. Rather, on June 23, 2012, the Lagos State Government applied for Waiver of Destination Inspection Charges and Duty Exemptions for Coscharis Motors Nigeria Ltd, the official Automobile Partner for the National Sports Festival ("EKO 2012"), to purchase 300 vehicles on its behalf for the event. Since the Lagos State Government met the laid down criteria, the waiver was granted.
"The waiver granted to the Lagos State Government for the event did not include the purchase of armoured vehicles", the statement further clarified.
Making the allegation on Wednesday, Deputy Comptroller of Customs in charge of Modern Research and Economic Relations Manasa Daniel Jatau told the House public hearing committee on the controversial purchase of two armoured vehicles for the minister of aviation for N255m, that N10,133,505.74, which should have come to the federal government was waived for Coscharis.
In 2012, the Lagos State government was granted a waiver by President Goodluck Jonathan on import duty, value added tax, ETLS, CISS and other port charges, to import 300 units of BMW, Ford, Land Rover, Range Rover, Lexus, Mercedes, Escalade, Jaguar and buses, for use during the 18th National Sports Festival ('EKO 2012'), to be imported through Messrs Coscharis Motors Nigeria Limited.
LASG keeps mum on bulletproof cars
Amid the public outcry and condemnation trailing the role Lagos State Government played in the purchase of two armoured cars by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for the minister of aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, the state government has kept mum on the issue.
Efforts by our correspondent to get the government's reaction to the startling revelation indicting the state, made at the House of Representatives public hearing on the issue yielded no result, as the information managers in the state said the state government would react formally today.
It could be recalled that a can of worms was opened on Wednesday in Abuja, during the public hearing of the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation on the controversial N255m bulletproof cars, purchased by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority. Stakeholders in the matter were startled when the deputy comptroller-general of Customs, Mannasseh Daniel Jatau, who represented the Customs C-G, Abdulahi Dikko, said a N10m waiver granted the Lagos State government on the purchase for vehicles for the Eko 2012 Sports Festival was used to clear the cars.
"The N10m import duty payable on the 300 vehicles meant for the Eko 2012 festival was used to clear the armoured cars," Jatau said.
He explained that since the waiver was still effective, the Customs had no choice but to allow the cars be cleared from the ports.
Dana Air accuses NCAA of inaction over operational audit
Dana Air has accused the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) over its "action" to audit the airline three weeks after it grounded the airlines operations under the guise that it wants to audit the airline and other indigenous airlines to determine the state of health of their aircraft and operations.
NCAA had on October 6, 2013 suspended the airlines operations following an air return it had in Port Harcourt, which made the airline to send its staff on compulsory leave while waiting for the audit.
However, the inability of the airline to conduct the audit three weeks later has become a source of worry for the airline and its over 500 staff members as their means of livelihood is now at stake.
Tony Usdiamen, spokesman for the airline in a statement yesterday said, "In compliance with the October 6, 2013 directive by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for Dana Air to suspend its flight operations to allow for an audit of the airline's operations, the management of the company shut down its operations without delay. Subsequently, as a result of the suspension (and understandably so), the airline directed its Nigerian and expatriate staff to proceed on compulsory leave without pay, with a promise to recall staff as soon as the audit process is completed.
"It is now three weeks since the NCAA directive and, though the airline is open and ready for the planned audit, it is worrisome that the NCAA is yet to commence the audit and no clear direction or timeline has been given to the airline for completion of the same. The continuous grounding of Dana Air is causing untold hardship for the hitherto 'gainfully-employed' staff of the airline, and with NCAA's inaction regarding the audit, there appears to be no relief in sight to the sufferings of the airline's staff and their numerous dependants."
Usdiamen further accused NCAA of in action over the proposed audit of the airline, which is stifling the airline and its staff.
He said, "NCAA's action or inaction is not without consequences for the average Nigerian traveler with the few airlines left taking advantage of the dearth of operators to hike fares and offer poor services to helpless customers.