N255m armoured cars: Senate, Reps order probe

Culled from National Mirror


. Bureau of Public Procurement sidelined in purchase . CACOL petitions EFCC, calls for probe


The National Assembly has directed its Committees on Aviation to investigate the purchase of two bulletproof armoured BMW cars at the cost of N255m ($1.6m) for the Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.

The House of Representatives’ Committee on Aviation is also to probe the motive behind the minister’s refusal to approve flights by certain airlines to Kano and Abuja airports. The probe followed the unanimous approval of a motion on the floor of the House yesterday, following the resumption of the lawmakers from the Sallah break.

The motion, titled: “A motion to investigate the purchase of $1.6m bulletproof BMW cars by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for the Honourable Minister of Aviation,” was sponsored by Minority Whip, Hon. Samson Osagie (APC-Edo).

On the other hand, the motion for the “Need to investigate the continued barring of foreign airlines at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport and the renovation contract at the same airport,” was sponsored by Hon. Aliyu Sani Madaki (PDP-Kano).

The Senate said yesterday that it will investigate the controversial purchase of the two armoured vehicles for Oduah. The Chairman, Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Hope Uzodima, speaking to newsmen in Abuja also said that the embattled minister and heads of agencies under her ministry did not appear before the Senate during its plenary yesterday because his committee was yet to invite her for that purpose.

The Senate, according to him, had just approved the votes and proceedings of its sitting on October 8, where the Senate resolved to summon Oduah and other heads of aviation agencies over frequent air mishaps in the country.

Uzodima said: “With the approval of the votes and proceedings of the last Senate session today (Tuesday), containing the summoning of the minister, our committee will now meet within the week to fix the exact date of invitation of the minister and other relevant aviation chiefs for questioning on the troubled sector.”

On why the Senate was allegedly foot-dragging on the scandal involving the minister over the purchase of the two bulletproof cars, Uzodima justified the position of his colleagues, who decided not to speak on the issue for now.

He said: “As the chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation. I have read a lot on the alleged scandal in the media and I believe other members of the committee are also up to date on the raging issue. “However, we cannot jump into the fray of the controversy like that on the strength of media information alone without properly checking our records for facts and figures on whether the alleged vehicles bought were appropriated for or not by the agencies that purchased them.

“Our appeal to the general public for now is that they should exercise patience on the entire crises bedeviling the aviation sector as the Senate and in particular, its committee on aviation will surely carry out thorough investigation to unravel the whole crisis.”

In his motion raised under matters of national importance, Osagie regretted that despite the grinding poverty in the country, the minister would approve such a huge expenditure for her comfort. He said: “Over the past few weeks, the nation has been inundated with the news of the purchase of $1.6m BMW bulletproof cars by the NCAA for the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Adah Oduah.

“Given the poverty and unemployment ravaging our dear nation and its people, it will be absurd, unthinkable and indeed unpatriotic for an agency of government to connive with its political head to secure such expenditure simply for the comfort and safety of one public officer.

“The furore generated by the said matter has left tongues wagging as to the sincerity and objectivity of this administration’s stand on the fight against corruption as again re-emphasised by Mr. President’s nationwide broadcast on October 1, 2013.”

In his motion, Madaki said he was aware that early this year, the Federal Ministry of Aviation had blocked three foreign airlines; Emirates, Turkish and Etihad from extending their commercial flights to Kano and Abuja respectively.

According to him, the Ministry of Aviation also blocked Qatar Airlines from flying the Kano route. He also raised the alarm over a contract by the ministry to renovate Aminu Kano International Airport, which he wanted probed as well.

Chairman of the House Committee on Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Hon. Emmanuel Jime (PDP-Benue) in his contribution to the motion, said there was no connection between the security of the minister and aviation security. “I believe that this situation we are dealing with, calls for serious introspection on how public officials are conducting business of government.

“It is surprising why this huge amount of money will be used for the purchase of vehicles for one individual. Where is the connection between the safety of the minister and air safety in Nigeria?” Jime queried. Hon. Hassan Saleh (PDP-Benue), in his contribution, said the House should not waste time in doing the needful since those concerned have not come out to deny the allegation.

He said: “The Director General of NCAA, Mr. Fola Akinkuotu, did not deny that the amount was not used to purchase the vehicles, so the House should not waste time in applying the necessary measures to address the situation.”

A member of the Aviation Committee, Hon. Matthew Omegara (PDP-Imo) also took a swipe at the ministry for such outrageous spending, recalling that the amount was not approved by the committee. “As a member of the House Committee on Aviation, I would say with some amount of authority that this money was not approved by the Committee.

I remember that the money (N255m) was contained in the ministry’s budget for the cars, but we deleted it, before the 2013 budget was passed. So, I was actually shocked to read that the ministry went ahead and purchased these cars.

“The House should carry out the probe with all seriousness with a view to tracking and addressing the issue of frivolous spending of the Internally Generated Revenue, IGR, of agencies of government without the approval of the National Assembly,” he said. Hon. Mohammed Wudil (Kano-PDP), also a member of the Committee, added that he had called the chairman of the committee, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha, to ask if she approved the money for the purchase of the cars, but she said no. Hon. Joseph Haruna Kigbu (APC-Nassarawa) in his contribution regretted that some ministers are taking laws into their hands, while their actions are not in tandem with the philosophy of the government.

Hon. Abubakar Momoh (APC-Edo), in his contribution, said instead of allowing the Aviation Committee to investigate the matter, it should be referred to the Committee on Anti-corruption, because according to him, “it is a pure case of corruption.” Hon. Peter Akpatason (APC-Edo) on his part suggested that the issue be handled by a Joint Committees of Aviation and Justice.

Though tempers almost flared up over whether the motion should be referred for probe, as the body language of lawmakers suggested they did not have confidence in the Aviation Committee on the matter, the Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal ruled that the Committee should handle it.

Tambuwal said: “Honourable members, you are all aware that according to our rules, issues relating to certain agencies should be handled by Standing Committees, so let’s allow this matter to be handled by the Aviation Committee,” he said. Several members including members of the Aviation Committee spoke in favour of the motions, which were adopted by the House and referred to the Aviation Committee to investigate and file a report in two weeks.

Strong indications also emerged yesterday that the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP, may have been sidelined as the high-level negotiations and other processes that led to the purchase of the cars were handled at the highest level of government.

Investigations by National Mirror yesterday indicated that the Bureau, whose statutory mandate is to ensure that all procurements in the public service are subjected to due process under its direct supervision, may have been embarrassed by the deals which have put it at a defensive end in the face of probing enquiries by the media.

Indeed, attempts to get official reactions of the management of the BPP on how the armoured cars purportedly bought to ensure adequate security for Oduah were purchased did not achieve much as the officials of the agency appeared not to be prepared for probing questions on the issue. When our correspondent visited the Bureau’s Office located at the Villa by 2.15p.m., the Head of Public Relations, Mr. Tommy Odemwingie, said the Director General had gone for lunch but that he would get the official position of the management on the matter and send it by mail to him.

When he eventually called at 3.20p.m., the spokesman said the position of the agency, based on the discussion he had with the Director General, Engr. Emeka Ezeh, was that the Bureau is “still going through our records to know if the bidding process was handled by the Bureau and that our findings would be made public if eventually we need to do so.”

Meanwhile, the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, CACOL, has urged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to commence investigations into the activities of the Aviation Minister for abuse of office. CACOL in a letter signed by its Executive Chairman, Comrade Debo Adeniran and addressed to the EFCC chairman, yesterday, demanded for the probe of the activities of NCAA, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, and other agencies under the ministry of aviation.

The statement reads in part: “It is worthy to note that since the news came to the public domain last week, mum has the reaction of President Goodluck Jonathan who has busied himself with his preparations for his tour of Israel.

“These unfolding revelations are not only mind-boggling, but embarrassing as they have once again opened up the Pandora’s Box of the rots and high level of impunity in governance in Nigeria, with particular emphasis on the abuse of office, unguided recklessness and profligacy at the federal level.

“That such a huge amount of money could be released for whatever reason, from the coffers of an agency that Ms. Stella Oduah’s Ministry superintends, without being appropriated for in the current budget, requires, not just an investigation into the purchase itself, but into the process of procurement in its entirety.

“As a matter of fact, the armoured vehicle given to the minister by the NCAA could have been given as a bribe to shield the agency (NCAA) from the stick of its supervisory ministry.

“The cold shoulders turned by the Presidency and the National Assembly to the issue at stake leaves us with no option than to appeal to the anticorruption agencies to wade into the matter. “We also believe that, apart from probing the authenticity of the market cost of the said vehicles which, though, remains a subject of controversy, the source of authority and procedure should also be probed.

“Conclusively, we urge your Commission to beam its investigative searchlight to other similar areas of government, in order to check this culture of impunity and recklessness in governance.” Meanwhile, the Coordinating General Manager, Corporate Communications for Aviation Parastatals, Mr. Yakubu Dati has accused Hon. Dino Melaye of being behind the recent ordeal of the minister. He alleged that the real target of the whole controversies was President Jonathan, whom he said Melaye and his cohorts wants to prevent by all means from participating in the 2015 presidential election. Melaye has vowed to stage a protest at the National assembly today over the purchase of the exotic cars.

Dati in a statement made available to aviation correspondents described as phantom the linkage of Oduah to the purchase of official vehicles by the NCAA, which he said had assumed a comical dimension as every car, bus and van in all the aviation agencies now allegedly belong to the minister. He added: “Indeed, Nigerians are mischievously sold the lie that the cars have been paid for. Meanwhile, they were purchased on higher purchase and payments are yet to even commence.

Nigerians must brace up for more misinformation on this matter as very soon, pictures of trains and ships will soon be published as belonging to the Honourable Minister of Aviation. “Nigerians must also note that the main target of this sinister plot is President Jonathan who must be stopped from running for re-election in 2015, in line with the dictates of the G7, who have demanded that Okonjo-Iweala, Alison- Madueke, and Oduah must go as a condition for a truce.

“These same spoilers mounted and orchestrated campaign for the removal of other shinning stars. And now, they have turned their searchlight on Princess Stella Oduah, another rising star of this administration. Should they be allowed to succeed this time?”

The management of the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, also yesterday denied an online media report that it bought four limousine vehicles for Oduah. NAMA described the report as frivolous, malicious and mischievous, which was intentionally concocted to bring down the industry.

An online medium had alleged yesterday that investigation reveals that the agency also purchased four Toyota Tundra vehicles for the minister. The medium alleged that the Tundras are in addition to four stretch limousine cars that were allegedly purchased for the movement of VIPs. It added that the Managing Director, NAMA Engr. Nnamdi Udo, reportedly made the purchase and ‘donation’ of the Tundras to the Minister in June 2013.

The four Limousines were said to have been received in the third week of June but have never been put to use. But the spokesman for NAMA, Mr. Supo Atobatele, in a statement insisted that there was no such purchase.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the said Limousines belong to a concessionaire who is running a VIP shuttle service for Non-Schedule Operators (Charter flights). The said vehicles were never on the inventory of NAMA and we would like to declare with all emphasis that we do not run ground services as we are statutorily an air navigation service provider.”

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