Stella Oduah, minister of aviation, appears before the House of Representatives Committee saying she has not done anything to violate any law in the purchase of the controversial two armoured BMW cars for N255 million
| By Olu Ojewale | Nov. 11, 2013 @ 01:00 GMT
IT WAS the moment Nigerians had been waiting for. Stella Oduah, minister of aviation appeared before the House of Representatives committee on aviation on Thursday, October 31, to tell the lawmakers that the two armoured BMW cars bought by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, were not for her use, contrary to media reports. Oduah said: “It is not true that the NCAA spent N255m to purchase the bulletproof cars for the minister. It is totally untrue; there is nothing reflecting my name. The cars were not registered in my name. All I did was to approve the purchase based on the proposal sent to me on lease financing by the NCAA.”
She stated that the NCAA bought the bulletproof cars for its own operations in line with the rising profile of Nigeria as a member of ICAO. Besides, she claimed that the NCAA bought the cars as part of its three-year budgetary plan to beef up its operational fleet.
When the committee questioned the minister over the approval of N564million for the 54 controversial cars above the N100million which ministers could approve, Oduah said the expectation was that because the NCAA entered into a “lease financing” agreement with the First Bank of Nigeria for a period of three years, the amount of money it would have paid to the bank by December was N100 million. She insisted that the approval was still within the N100 million spending limit.
When the committee accused her of giving anticipatory approval for expenditure beyond her power, Oduah said she had expected the NCAA to go and do “the needful” by complying with procurement regulations. When Jerry Manwe, a member of the committee, accused the minister of not following the budget approved by the National Assembly “because when you calculate the total expenditure, the NCAA would have paid over N1bn for the 54 cars. The agency would have paid N160million which is above your approval limit by December as part of the instalments and not N100 million, which is within your power.”
Manwe added: “The committee refused to approve the N140m the NCAA proposed for bulletproof cars because we said you cannot use bulletproof cars to patrol the perimeter fencing at the airports. Nowhere in the budget did we approve bulletproof cars, but you went ahead to spend money in anticipation of budgetary provision.”
But, Oduah in her defence said that the interpretation of her approval was that the NCAA should do the appropriate thing by complying with the requirement of procurement laws. “My memo says, approved. Please, do the needful; what does that mean? What does that tell you?” Oduah asked. She also implied that her approval was not final, to the dismay of lawmakers. The minister, who had earlier apologised for her failure to honour the lawmakers’ earlier summons, said it was caused by her assignment to Israel for the air bilateral agreement. She also admitted that attempts made by some officials to clarify the car scandal were “muddled up.”
After the minister’s evidence, the committee turned the heat on the bureaucracy of the aviation ministry and the management of the NCAA. George Ossi, permanent secretary of the ministry, and Joyce Nkem-Akonam, a former acting director-general of the NCAA, who supervised the transaction, both admitted that the approval implied that they were to comply with due process regulations.
Nkem-Akonam said: “What the approval means is that we go through due diligence in our system. We did that in our procurement department and complied with the law. From the point the minister’s approval came, we went ahead with the mind-set that we already had a budgetary approval by the National Assembly.”
In the ensuing buck-passing, the committee called the attention of the officials to the portion of the 2013 NCAA budget where the National Assembly “clearly approved only N240million for the purchase of 25 operational vehicles.” Manwe also showed his anger against the NCAA and accused the permanent secretary of “misleading the minister.” He said that they ignored the budgetary approval of N240 million for 25 cars and made their own proposal of 54 cars for N564 million which was “far above the approval limit of N100 million” without recourse to the Federal Executive Council.
When asked the date the Board of the NCAA gave approval for the transaction, none of the officials could give an answer. They promised to consult and get the date. The officials said that the two armoured cars were pool cars for VIP movement, including the minister and honourable members, among others.
Seyi Ojefeso, head, Lagos mainland branch of First Bank, which handled the transaction, had on Tuesday, October 29, told the committee that the NCAA approached the bank for a loan to purchase vehicles for its management staff. Ojefeso claimed that it was possible that the NCAA “got it mixed up” when it described the deal as a lease agreement. The bank official explained that the NCAA applied for a loan package of N643 million to finance the purchase of 54 vehicles.
On the issue of bulletproof cars, Ojefeso said there was a Coscharis pro forma invoice attached to the application in the value of N255m. “We offered an auto loan to the NCAA in May to purchase cars for its management staff. The application was for N643 million; we financed the purchase of the cars based on the application they submitted to us.”
But when the committee pointed out that the original request of the NCAA to the minister was N564million, but the bank eventually approved a loan of N643 million, Ojefeso said only the NCAA could explain that because N564 million was not in the agency’s communication with the bank. The Nigerian Customs Service, NCS, on Wednesday, October 30, said that the federal ministry of finance granted a waiver of N10.1 million to Coscharis Motors for the purchase of the two BMW cars by the NCAA.
Manasseh Jatau, a deputy comptroller of Customs, who represented the Comptroller-General, disclosed this in his presentation at the public hearing of the case in Abuja. He said no import duty was collected from Coscharis Motors as a one-year duty waiver for 300 cars was granted in the name of the company for importation of cars for 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.
For 30 minutes, the House committee had engaged, in a heated argument with Coscharis Motors in a move to ascertain the market price of the vehicles. While the committee insisted that the current price of the vehicles should not exceed N50 million each, Coscharis refuted this position, saying it could never be the case with BMW B7 series anywhere in the world. Cosmos Maduka, chairman of the company, alleged that the NCAA demanded an increase in the prices of the controversial vehicles over what the company had submitted earlier. “NCAA told us that the initial price is not proper,” Maduka, said.
He also said the cars were sold to the NCAA as used vehicles following the delay encountered when the company sought clearance from the office of the National Security Agency. But the committee insisted that Coscharis deceived the public and the government by saying that the cars were bought for the NCAA when actually they were purchased on behalf of the Lagos State Government. Meanwhile, Coscharis Motors insisted on Thursday that the cars it supplied were the same quoted on the transaction documents. Lawmakers, who inspected the bulletproof cars at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport on Tuesday, reported that they bore different chassis numbers from those quoted in the transaction documents.