Jonathan under pressure to sack Oduah

Culled from Sunday Punch
October 20, 2013 by John Ameh, Allwell Okpi, Sunday Aborishade and Kamarudeen Ogundele
Oduah and Jonathan

President Goodluck has come under intense pressure to sack the Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah, over the bulletproof car scandal rocking the ministry.

The call for the minister’s removal followed the ministry’s  confirmation on Wednesday  that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority bought two bulletproof vehicles worth $1.6m (N255m) for the minister.

SUNDAY PUNCH gathered on Friday that the president’s associates have told him to remove Oduah to save the reputation of his administration.

“She has to go. We have told the President that. This disgrace is too much,” one of the president’s close associates told one of our correspondents.

An online news medium, SaharaReporters, had reported on Tuesday that the armoured vehicles were delivered to the minister in August.

It reported that documents in its possession showed that the transaction for the purchase of the two BMW cars started in June, but the request for the delivery and payment for them was fast-tracked between August 13 and 15, 2013.

The NCAA on Friday said the cars were in its possession and are used to “convey the minister and visiting foreign dignitaries.”

This contradicted the statement of the minister’s aide, Mr. Joel Obi. who had earlier admitted that the cars were purchased because Oduah’s life was in danger.

Following the development, civil society groups, on Friday, called on President Goodluck Jonathan to immediately sack and order the prosecution of Oduah.

Leaders of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders and Campaign for Democracy, who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH in separate interviews, said the minister’s acceptance of the cars, amounted to receiving a bribe to neglect her duty, leading to the loss of lives in plane crashes that had occurred during her tenure.

The Executive Director of CLO, Mr. Ibuchukwu Ezike, described the minister’s action as evidence of the level to which impunity had grown among public officers because of the Federal Government’s inability to fight corruption.

Ezike demanded that Oduah be sacked and prosecuted.

He said, “If this happened in climes where laws are obeyed; where the credibility of processes is respected, such public officer is sacked and prosecuted. We believe that what has happened is enough reason for the minister, not only to be removed, but to be prosecuted.

“But these things happen and nothing is done. That is why we have been saying that the government of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not interested in fighting corruption.”

Similarly, the Executive Director of CACOL, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said Oduah and her accomplices should be sacked and prosecuted for corruption and negligence of duty.

He said, “Not only should Oduah be sacked, she and her accomplices should be promptly arrested, investigated, prosecuted and actually punished for such heinous crime. What she did is like taking a bribe from NCAA, which means she will no longer be able to maintain standard in aviation sector. And when standards are not maintained, all you get is that ordinary Nigerians are killed in plane crashes.

“The woman (Oduah) should be prosecuted, not only for corruption, but also for gross negligence, which led to the NCAA not taking adequate precautionary measures on the flights that have crashed during her tenure, killing about 300 people.”

Also, the President of CD, Joe Okei-Odumakin, demanded that the bulletproof car scandal be thoroughly investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Okei-Odumakin said in order to stem impunity in the system, the minister should be sacked, prosecuted and punished.

She said, “We have been following the developments in the aviation sector, but with this colossal waste of public funds and the arrogance with which the explanation was given,  we ask that Oduah should step aside.

“We want to use this opportunity to call on the EFCC  to thoroughly investigate the scam and ensure that all those who are  involved in purchasing the vehicles and the minister herself are prosecuted.”

In their reaction to the scam, members of the House of Representatives, also demanded that the minister and the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority be probed.

Senators, however, opted for a more cautious approach to the issue; as most of them declined comments when contacted.

The representatives, who were favourably disposed to a probe, however, differed on the approach to the investigation.

The Chairman, House Committee on Financial Crimes, Drugs/Narcotics, Mr. Adams Jagaba, said President Goodluck Jonathan “must urgently ask the minister to step aside” to allow for free investigation into the scandal, while the Minority Leader of the House, Mr. Femi Gbajabiamila, suggested that the investigation should be done with caution “by ensuring that Oduah’s constitutional right to fair hearing is not denied her.”

Jagaba, who expressed shock over the development, described it as the “highest level of corruption in a government that is fighting corruption.”

Urging Jonathan to suspend Oduah immediately, the lawmaker said the minister should answer certain questions immediately.

He asked her to tell Nigerians why she needed “this protection by spending heavily to buy bulletproof cars.”

Jagaba also asked the minister to explain why she needed more protection than Jonathan or the presiding officers of the National Assembly.

He added that Jonathan must prove to Nigerians that there were no “super-human ministers” in his cabinet by directing Oduah to step aside.

He spoke further, “This is corruption at its highest level.

“Who is Oduah afraid of that she needs that level of protection? Is she saying that she needs more protection than Mr. President, Vice-President, Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives?

“We have the Ministry of Petroleum Resources that is generating our revenue. We have the Ministry of Finance; are the ministers in these ministries demanding Oduah’s level of protection?

“That ministry (aviation) is due for probe. There has to be a thorough investigation into how she spent all the billions allocated to the sector under her.

On his part, Gbajabiamila observed that much as the “allegation is a national embarrassment,” he would want the minister to be accorded her constitutional right to fair hearing.

“It’s a national embarrassment. Unfortunately, the EFCC cannot look into it as demanded by most Nigerians because now we hear the EFCC is broke. Cry, my beloved country.”

Similarly, the House spokesman, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, said, “The House is interested in knowing the relevance of the cars because tax payers’ money is involved. Is she Mr. President to drive in N255m bulletproof cars? Anything that is of interest to our constituents, we are also interested.”

In the Senate, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Information and Media, Eyinnaya Abaribe, told SUNDAY PUNCH that it would be too hasty to offer an opinion on the scandal because the matter was before the Upper Legislative chamber.

Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Victor Lar, did not pick calls made to his mobile phone neither did he respond to a text message sent to him.

Similarly, Senators Babafemi Ojudu, Ganiyu Solomon, and Ayo Akinyelure declined to comment on the issue when one of our correspondents contacted them on the telephone.

In spite of public call for probe, the nation’s anti-graft agencies have kept sealed lips on possible investigation into the scam.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s spokesperson, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, only said, “EFCC does not give advance notice to conduct any investigation”.

When also contacted, the spokesperson for the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, Mr. Folu Olamiti, declined comment.

“No comment for now,” he stated in a text message to one of our correspondents.

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