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House Probe: Bullet-proof cars were not for me, says Oduah

By The Citizen
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The Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah said on Thursday that the two bulletproof cars purchased by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) were not for her personal use.

Oduah stated this before the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation investigating the purchase of the cars valued at 1.6 million dollars (N255 million).

She said “Honourable members, another falsehood in the public domain relating to this lease financing arrangement are that the NCAA purchased two bullet proof vehicles for me as the Honourable Minister of Aviation. This is totally false.'

“The two numbers security and safety BMW vehicles which the NCAA acquired are for security and safety as appropriated by the National Assembly in the 2013 budget in item six. “The title documents which are in the names of NCAA/ First Bank Plc as well as spare keys of all the vehicles purchased under the lease financing arrangement are currently with First Bank of Nigeria Plc as is the case with such arrangement and best practice.

” We reiterate that the NCAA purchased two numbers security vehicles for the operations of NCAA in line with monies approved for the NCAA under the appropriation Act passed by the National Assembly,'  the minister said.

'At no time did I ever request any vehicle from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA). It was the agency that had the need and made the request to the Ministry of Aviation. After the purchase on a three-year lease financing arrangement, the vehicles were never delivered to me. The vehicles were not registered in my name but that of the agency', she added.

'Honourable chairman, as we are all aware, what necessitated this public hearing were the events that followed as false and malicious online publication that I had compelled the NCAA to purchase for me two BMW bullet proof cars at the cost of 1.6 million dollars.

'Let me state, emphatically from the onset that the allegation concerning the purchase of  two numbers bullet proof cars for me by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority is false in its entirety.

'Sadly, other than the conjecture, the publication has not supported this inflammatory statement with any rational basis.

“As a matter of fact, their justification and confirmation which they brandish, is nothing but erroneous responses of my aides,' the minister said.

She said that the claim was an orchestrated attempt to discredit her and her team in the good work she had done to transform the aviation sector.

Two members of the House Committee - Jerry Manwe (Taraba, PDP) and Zakari Mohammed (Niger, PDP) - faulted the minister's claim that the procurement of the two BMW 7 series armoured cars was in line with the provision of the 2013 budget.

Zakari particularly disagreed with Oduah on the basis that the approval which amounted to N546 million ran contrary to the provision of the Public Procurement Act that specifies that no minister can grant monetary approvals beyond the threshold of N100 million.

Manwe remarked that there were discrepancies in the N546 million approved by the minister and the N643 million the  Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) eventually used to procure the entire 54 operational vehicles, including the two armoured cars.

He further reminded the minister that budgetary approval for the NCAA was N240 million, asking the minister whether it was appropriate to use bulletproof cars for security and the inspection of perimeter fencing at the nation's airports.

The minister insisted that the expenditure was still within the 2013 budgetary provision since the payment for the vehicles was supposed to be spread within 36 months, adding that the NCAA had already paid N52 million out of its budgeted sum in line with its obligation for the BMW cars to the FBN.

Agreeing that the two armoured cars couldn't have been used to inspect the nation's 22 airports, the minister said the procurement of the vehicles was in order since there was no difference between a security car and an armoured vehicle.

But when pressed by Zakari whether the decision by the NCAA to obtain the loan for the procurement of vehicles from the FBN was in tandem with the Public Procurement Act, the minister absolved herself of blame on the grounds that when she granted the approval for the purchase of the armoured cars, she simply wrote in her memo to NCAA, 'approve, do the needful,' implying that she expected the NCAA authorities to ensure that the entire transaction was carried out in line with due process and laid down rules.

The director-general of the NCAA, Mr. Fola Akinkuotu, exonerated himself of blame, saying that since he was not in office at the time, Mr. Joyce Nkemakolam, who was acting DG of the agency, was in a better position to explain what transpired at the time.

Nkemakolam said that he had presumed that 'do the needful' meant complying with the internal rules guiding the NCAA.

Nkemakolam, who stated that the loan for the vehicles could not be terminated based on the agreement reached between the NCAA and the FBN, noted: 'We were not of the mindset that we were exceeding the amount approved. We were of the mindset that we were still within the limits of the law.'

Though he said he was not privy to information on who got receipt of the BMW armoured cars from Coscharis Motors and those entitled to use them, Nkemakolam, who is the director of aerodrome services in the NCAA, disclosed that the cars could be made available to VIPs, including the aviation minister and members of the National Assembly.

In her closing remarks, the Chairman of the committee, Mrs. Nkiruka Onyejiocha, insisted that there was budgetary approval for the procurement of 25 vehicles amounting N240 million as against the conflicting figures of 51, 54 and 56 operational vehicles procured by the NCAA at N643 million.

She assured that the finding of her committee would be made known within the time limit of one week set by the leadership of the House of Representatives.