By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North
Embattled Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, has left Nigeria for Israel despite the furore generated by the controversial purchase of N225 million bullet-proof vehicles for her by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA.
Competent sources told Vanguard that the beleagued minister is reported to have summoned courage and flew to Israel of on Tuesday a day ahead of President Jonathan’s visit to the country, where he is expected to perform some spiritual rites and engage in some bilateral deals.
Oduah, who has already been subpoenaed by the two chambers of the National Assembly to appear and answer questions on her role in the purchase of the cars, will also come under the searchlight of the special probe panel raised by President Gooodluck Jonathan.
The three-man Presidential team that will grill the minister is made up of the immediate past Head of Service of the Federation, Alhaji Isa Sali Bello, the National Security Adviser (NSA), Col. Sambo Dakusi (rtd) and AVM Dick Iruenebere (rtd).
Vanguard learnt that the decision by the minister to travel to Israel in the midst of the car con was to reduce the tension generated by the negative development and to give her some time off to pray to God while in the Holy Land.
But there were doubts in the Presidency last night as to whether the minister would be part of the Presidential team to seal the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA, with Israel in Tel Aviv given the negative publicity the car deal had given the country since it broke out last week.
But sources close to the minister said that she was not bothered about the development, as she was said to have received assurance from influential persons close to the Presidency that she would not be dropped because of her political worth to the system.
A source close to the Presidency told Vanguard that the decision to query Oduah and eventually raise the panel to probe her did not come easy, as top Peoples Democratic Party members and some aides of the President prevailed on him not to do anything against the minister, given the role she played in the election of Mr. President.
It was learnt that after a heated debate, the President bowed to some of his aides, who reasoned that not taking any disciplinary action against the minister would send the wrong message to the world that the President was condoning corruption.
Some of the aides were said to have impressed upon Jonathan the need to act fast in taking action to assuage doubting Nigerians about his avowed war against corruption and to send a strong message to others in the system who might engage in similar acts.
A source said, “The President finally agreed to set up the panel to probe Oduah after some powerful elements in the PDP BoT and the party tried in vain to dissuade him from taking any disciplinary action against the minister.
“The argument of the minister’s protagonists is that she is a star performer, who has changed the aviation landscape in Nigeria and has been very useful to the party and the President, as the leader of the Neighbour-to Neighbour group that has been mobilising for the President during elections.
The minister is said to have also split her colleagues who are also divided on what should be done to her following the car deal imbroglio.
Sources said many ministers, who are apparently fed up with Oduah’s excesses, are pushing for serious action against her while those in her support think otherwise, blaming political enemies for her ordeal.