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Jonathan sets up panel to investigate Oduah

By The Rainbow
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After keeping mum on the raging controversy over the N255m bulletproof cars purchased for the Minister of Aviation, Ms Stella Oduah, by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday caved in to growing pressure mounted by Nigerians  by raising a panel to probe the matter.

The Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, announced the the constitution of a three-member  probe  panel in Abuja on Wednesday.

Abati, who was fielding questions from State House correspondents after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting, gave an insight into the steps taken by the president on the development so far.

He explained that the president  having received information on the  scandal, had taken initial steps by asking the embattled Oduah  for explanation.

He said by empanelling the committee to carry out further investigation, the President  had taken  a further step on the matter.

A  former Head of Service of the Federation, Alhaji Isa Bello, is the chairman of  the committee which has the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), and Air-Vice Marshal Dick Iruenebere (retd.) as members.

The  panel, which has two weeks to submit its report ,will  among other things, ascertain whether the procurement of the vehicles followed due process and  the purpose of procurement.

The NSA office will provide  secretariat for the committee.

Abati said, 'President Jonathan has taken the initial step of asking the Minister of Aviation for explanations and that is in public domain and so it will not be right to say that the President is not well seized of the matter.

'President Jonathan has also today taken a step further, and you(journalists) will probably be the first set of Nigerians to hear this, by setting up a three-man administrative panel of inquiry.

'This panel has the assignment to investigate whether the procurement process with regard to these armoured vehicles followed due process.

'This three-man panel is also to find out the purpose to which the vehicles were procured and then to inquire into any other incidental matter.

'President Jonathan will like to assure the general public that nobody, no matter how highly placed, will be shielded or exempted from this inquiry that he has directed and that appropriate action will be taken against any person or persons who may be found guilty of misconduct or misappropriation of public funds either in this respect or in any other respect.

'Indeed, Mr. President considers this as a very weighty matter and it is not true as some people have been alleging that no action has been taken.'

Asked if Oduah  would be asked to step aside while the panel carries out its investigation, Abati replied, 'I have just announced to you what I was asked to announce; that a panel of inquiry has been set up.

'The panel will address all the relevant questions and advise Mr. President accordingly within two weeks.'

Many Nigerians including civil society groups and lawmakers had mounted pressure on the president of take action against the minister.

The House of Representatives on Tuesday directed its aviation committee to probe into the matter and report back to the plenary. .

Meanwhile, the House, which on Wednesday, denied   giving approval for  the purchase of the controversial bulletproof vehicles,  also ordered  the  NCAA  to produce its statement of account for the past five years.

The move is to establish how many more extra-budgetary expenditure the agency had done outside the N225m  it spent   on the controversial  bulletproof   cars.

The  House, which has also asked the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria to explain how it utilised its own share of the BASA funds,   had during its   plenary on Tuesday,  directed its Committee on Aviation to investigate  the matter.

The Chairman, Committee on Public Accounts, Mr. Solomon Olamilekan, who disclosed this in Abuja, said the NCAA had been under its searchlight before the controversial car transaction became public knowledge.

He  stated that the agency had many unanswered audit queries by the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation pending at the  committee.

He said, 'The NCAA is one of the government  agencies spending money  recklessly without approval. The  money    spent on the minister's cars is just one example.

'What we have done as a committee is to write the NCAA to produce their statement of account for the past five years.

'It is not just about the bulletproof cars; there must be other extra-budgetary expenditure based on the content of the AG's queries before us.'

The Chairman of the House Committee on Media and Public Affairs, Zakari Mohammed, also said  on Wednesday, that the lawmakers did not give the NCAA the nod to buy the controversial vehicles.

Responding to claims by an official of the NCAA that  the House  approved the purchase of the cars, he said they could not have been a party to an illegality.

According to him, the House rejected a proposal to approve a lump sum for the purchase of 'operational vehicles' and insisted on a detailed submission where the expenditure was itemised.

He said, 'Our responsibility was to see the budget line by line and to say   this is not acceptable to us, take it back.

'They took it back and came to say they  needed  operational vehicles. We said okay itemise what you want to use this money for. You can't give us block sub-heads and they did and that is what we approved.

'We told the NCAA to itemise what operational vehicles they needed. They itemised it in black and white and there was no armoured vehicles listed.

'There is no place that a BMW armoured vehicle is listed.'