By Muhammed Ibrahim
The controversial purchase of two BMW bulletproof cars by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) witnessed a dramatic twist yesterday as Ms Stella Oduah, Minister of Aviation, finally appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, where she denied the allegation levelled against her. She informed the investigating panel that she neither requested the NCAA to purchase the cars nor were they registered in her
name. She also claimed that the purported spending of $1.6 million (N255 million) by the NCAA for the purchase of the cars were untrue and was a strategy designed to tarnish her image and hijack ongoing reforms in the aviation sector.
Giving her side of the story, Oduah had this to say. She said: “Let me state emphatically from the outset that the allegation concerning the purchase of two 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 amounts of money on the purchase of vehicles. It is also not true that the NCAA has purchased two bulletproof BMW vehicles for the Honourable Minister of Aviation.
“My understanding is that what the NCAA has done, is to plan for the acquisition of vehicles for the next three years within the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) through a lease financing arrangement with First Bank Nigeria Limited (FBN).
“Under this arrangement, NCAA would have paid N100 million by the end of fiscal year 2013. The sum is below the appropriated amount of N240 million and less than what is required for Federal Executive Council’s approval.
“It would appear that what the NCAA has done within the framework of the MTEF and its desire to be prudent is to plan its budget in a manner that the cash flow of the authority is able to accommodate spending.”
She also spoke in defence of the NCAA saying, the body’s decision to procure the vehicles, is a need which she anchored on the strategic role of the agency in the aviation industry and the fact that it plays host to important dignitaries from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and other regulatory institutions.
She reiterated further that: “Perhaps, these are the factors that the NCAA considered in planning for the acquisition of the different specifications of vehicles through a lease financing arrangement.
“It is customary and obligatory that we ensure the security and safe passage of all our international guests, when they visit.
“In aviation, as well as other security measures, requires proactive and preventive measures. The NCAA acted with the highest patriotic consideration within the ambit of the law and the constitution,”
Ms Stella still defending herself before the committee blamed those who she said had “entrenched interests” in the aviation sector for her plight, stating that contrary to the report that the NCAA had spent N255 million for the purchase of the vehicles, the agency, by the end 2013 would have spent N116 million for the acquisition of the vehicles.
This figure, she added, was below the N240 million the National Assembly appropriated in the 2013 budget for vehicles’ procurement.
She also had this to say about the allegation that the two bulletproof cars were bought for her: : “There was nothing in the approved documents reflecting my name, when the budget was being made. At no time did I ever request for any vehicle from the NCAA.
“It was the agency that had the need and made the request to the Federal Ministry of Aviation. After the purchase under a three-year lease financing agreement, the vehicles were never delivered to me. The vehicles were also not registered in my name but in the name of the agency.”
Several grenades of questions ,literally,were thrown at her after her testimony which lasted about 40 minutes, about the approval she gave for the transaction, the legalthreshold permitted in the Public Procurement Act as well as the purported absence of the two reinforced BMW cars in the 2013 budget.
Responding to these explosives, Oduah explained that when the NCAA presented the request for the cars, she gave approval with a proviso: “do the needful”. She told the panel that having given the approval, she expected the NCAA to push the car purchase through the necessary lawful procedures and processes in line with the extant rules.
It was at this point that the wind blew the wind vane to the direction of the NCAA as lawmakers demanded from its officials why they did not follow due process in the transaction.
Director of Aerodrome Airspace Management, Mr. Joyce Nkemakonam, was called
to the hot seat as he was asked to explain what transpired
As it was at the beginning of the investigation, the lot fell on the Director of Aerodrome and Airspace Management, Mr. Joyce Nkemakonam, to explain what transpired at the time the deal was sealed. Mr Joyce who was the acting Director General of the NCAA during the transaction emphasised the deal followed due process as provided by the internal mechanisms of the agency. He said: “When the approval was given, we presumed that we were going to do the due diligence within our system. We were of the mindset that we had already gotten the approval of the National Assembly.
“We were of the mindset that we were working within the limits of the budgetary approval and that we were working on a lease purchase arrangement for the cars.”
The lawmakers further argued that the NCAA officials ought to have been familiar with the laws and should have advised the minister appropriately.
Chairman, House Committee on Aviation, Hon. Nkeiruka Onyejeocha gave room for her committee members to further grill Coscharis Motors on the particulars of the two BMW bulletproof cars. The committee also asked for more documents from the car vendor.
Earlier, the Chairman of Coscharis, Mr. Cosmas Maduka, had tendered the invoices for the vehicles sold by his company and in her concluding remarks; the lawmaker said the investigation had given all parties the opportunity to defend their roles in the transaction.
The senate committee on Wednesday stated that they will leave no stone unturned and would get to the bottom of the issue.
With Agency Reports