BY FUNMI KOMOLAFE, CLIFFORD NDUJIHE, VICTOR AHIUMA-YOUNG, LAWANI MIKAIRU, EMMAN OVUAKPORIE & ONOZURE DANIA
ABUJA— IT was revelations galore, yesterday, as former Acting Director-General of Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Mr Joyce Nkemakolam told House of Representatives members how the approved budget of N240 million for cars was jerked up to N643 million by the Ministry of Aviation.
The former acting D-G made the revelation before the House Committee on Aviation investigative hearing into the purchase of BMW bullet proof cars at N255.15 million allegedly bought for the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah.
Also, members of the committee demanded that the Aviation Minister must appear before the committee next Tuesday or face sanctions.
Her non-appearance made the lawmakers order the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Mr George Ossi and officials of Accident Investigation & Prevention Bureau, AIPB out of the hearing.
A representative of the Bureau for Public Procurement, Mr Ayo Adedipe told the committee that none of the purchases was brought to the notice of the agency.
Chairperson of the committee, Rep Nkiruka Onyejeocha simply said: “AIB, you are not wanted here until we start investigations on crashes, and as for the Permanent Secretary, leave here since the Minister is not here.”
The total sum approved in the 2013 budget for vehicles was N240 million but the agency has committed the sum of N643 million to the purchase of operational vehicles.
The Acting DG was put in the lime light as the substantive D-G washed his hands off the issue as he told the committee he was not in office when the issue of the budget implementation started and that the process of purchase of the vehicles started during the tenure of the acting D-G.
The lawmakers noted that the security vehicles approved for the NCAA was for monitoring of the perimeter fences of airports, which the BMW bullet-proof cars were not suitable for. The committee also reminded the agency that its initial 2013 budget proposal only contained the request for bullet-proof vehicles which was rejected at the point of budget defence.
On the purchased BMW cars, Nkemakolam in his unsigned presentation, said: “Due to the impromptu departure of the former D-G, who started this process since 2012, I inherited all these things. The utility vehicles are purchased annually to service the 22 airports in the country and due to old age there is need to acquire new ones.
“The bullet-proof cars were bought so that we can use them when the country hosts dignitaries from IATA,, ICAO and other international bodies and it was through lease financing.
“We sent a letter to the Ministry on April 5 and got approval on April 15 to go ahead with the lease financing in line with best procurement practices. First Bank, Stanbic and Union banks emerged as potential lessors for the 54 cars at N643,88,250.00million.
“First Bank eventually won and we were expected to complete the payment in 36 months before we finally own the vehicles. In conclusion, I wish to point out here that we are expected to pay N23,249,181.00 million monthly, so ownership of the vehicles is still with First Bank.”
The Chairperson, at this juncture, asked him:”So you got approval from the Ministry of Aviation and you know what Section 84 of the constitution says, that you cannot withdraw from the consolidated account or any public fund without recourse to the National Assembly?”
A member of the committee, Zakari Mohammed also asked the current D-G to tell members when he resumed and when his employment was consummated and “when did you take over from the acting D-G? The story is slightly different now as it appears you have two different budgets. We also want all the bank statements and transactions in the last six months submitted.”
The new D-G, Fola Akinkuotu said: “I was nominated on March 14 and confirmed July 25 but resumed on August 14.”
Another member, Rep Jerry Manwe asked the acting D-G that since N240 million was approved for 25 cars which he had jerked up to 54, who authorised him to do these things?
The acting D-G could not provide any glaring answer and all he could do was to ask for assistance from the Director of Finance, Mr Nuhu Ozigi but the members turned down his request. They insisted that the presentation which he had to eventually sign was in his name.
What the purchase document indicated
In the document submitted to the committee the agency admitted that the 2013 budget approved for five Toyota Hilux Pickup vans, 10 Toyota Corolla cars, five Toyota Land Cruiser SUVs, three Toyota Hiace buses, all at a cost of N240 million but eventually they bought 54 vehicles through the bank lease for the sum of N643 million which was financed by the bank.
It was also discovered by the committee that the financing agreement between the agency and the bank showed that NCAA was to repay the sum with an interest of about N500 million to be paid on the N643 million within 36 months. Two months instalments on the repayment, the agency said, have been made to the financing bank.
When asked by the committee on the propriety of committing the 2014 and 2015 budgets to repayment of excess debt incurred illegally in the process of implementing the 2013 budget, the agency could not provide any answer.
The drama played out as aviation stakeholders condemned Princess Oduah’s response to the query issued to her by President Goodluck Jonathan, and her decision to travel to Israel despite the raging controversy.
Meanwhile, the Trade Unions Congress of Nigeria (TUC), has vowed to ensure that none of its members is sacked for leaking the car scandal as legal icon, Professor Itse Sagay (SAN) warned people against reading ethnic bias into Oduah’s travails because the development could threaten peaceful co-existence in the country. Indeed, the Igbo Youth Movement (IYM) canvassed due process in handling the issue and condemned what it described as “attempts by political enemies of the Aviation Minister led by disgruntled businessmen, who felt dislodged by her far-reaching reforms in the aviation industry, to bring her down at all costs.”
Aviation stakeholders condemn Oduah’s response
In an interview with Vanguard, an aviation consultant and former maintenance engineer with the defunct Nigeria Airways, Engineer Iyiola Bankole called for the scrapping of the office of the Aviation Minister as it is not relevant to the day-to-day running of the aviation industry.
“There is absolutely no need to purchase cars for somebody who is not relevant in the running of the aviation industry. The NCAA regulates civil aviation in the country. Civil aviation major components are maintenance, flying, and traffic control. There are agencies in charge of these components and they have heads. So, what is the role of the minister?” he asked.
This to him, explains why Princess Oduah had to leave for Israel despite the burning issues concerning her and her ministry.
He continued: “ Nigeria is only one of the very few countries which are International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) members that still have aviation ministers. Aviation is under the legislative list, the Senate should take over the responsibilities of the aviation ministry and the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA should report directly to the Senate since the D-G of NCAA is the representative of ICAO in the country.”
According to him, since the aviation industry is regulated by ICAO rules and regulations, the minister does not have any role in the aviation industry and so can neither dictate to the D-G of NCAA nor overrule any decision of the D-G as the rules are international.
Also speaking, Chairman of Aviation Round Table, (ART) Captain Dele Ore, said the minister’s response was deceitful..
“I want to categorically tell you that the whole response of the Aviation Minister is full of lies and deceit and they have made everybody not to talk about it but we from ART, we will talk and continue to talk about it. It is a very big shame and I must say this: watch out, nothing is going to come out of this whole thing, we are just wasting our time,” he said.
Asked if the minister erred by travelling to Israel despite the car scandal, Captain Ore said: “I don’t see anything wrong with the minister travelling, at least we know that she is going to perform a function in Israel, a probe panel has been set up and they are going to come out with their findings in two weeks and with that we are going to know what will become of her.”
Another stakeholder, an aviation union member who refused to have his name in print said that the minister’s claim that the operational vehicles were meant to convey dignitaries from ICAO, US FAA was not true, asking if the cars were meant to carry them from Lagos to Abuja or convey them within Lagos airport.
The union member further added that even if those dignitaries were coming, their embassies often provided them with all they might need, adding that was not enough reason for the minister to buy those armoured cars.
IYM insists on due process
Arguing that some faceless individuals hide behind all sorts of groups to ask for Oduah’s removal, IYM National Chairman, Evangelist Elliot Uko, in a statement, urged enemies of the minister “to desist from playing politics with every issue. The minister has carried out upgrading that no minister had the courage to do in our nation’s history. Attacking her over vehicle purchase is petty, and opportunistic; they should point to what she ought to do and failed to do.”
We must avoid ethnic prejudices – Sagay
Instead of allowing ethnicity to becloud their sense of judgement, Sagay said Nigerians should look at issues of corruption dispassionately and speak with one voice against graft, irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliations. According to him, the actions of the Minister is condemnable given the fact that she betrayed public confidence reposed in her by misusing public funds entrusted in her care.
“I don’t see any reason why some people should read tribal or ethnic meanings into this issue. It is a straightforward case of a public officer recklessly and irresponsibly dipping her hands into public funds and spending it without care. The issue of taking sides is becoming a recurring problem in our society”.
TUC, NLC, SPN intervene
As the TUC vowed to ensure that none of its members is sacked for leaking the car scandal, the Socialist Party of Nigeria, SPN, asked organized labour not to allow any worker to be victimized over the issue.
The Nigeria Labour Congress, NLC, also discussed the scandal alongside other national issues at its National Executive Council, NEC, meeting in Kaduna, yesterday.
TUC President, Comrade Bala Kaigama who spoke exclusively to Vanguard said: “ We will not allow any of our members to be victimised for leaking the scandal”.
Kaigama who wondered why government or any of its agencies should be bothered about who leaked information on the contract said: “Let them do their homework well if they don’t have anything to hide, they should not be scared of anything. If due process was followed contract award should be made public”.
Similarly, SPN in a statement by Segun Sango, its Protem National Chairperson, said what the scandal had shown “is that the problem in the aviation sector is not primarily that of lack of funds but gross mismanagement of resources. This is why we of the SPN have consistently matched the demand for adequate funding of any public sector with a call for open democratic control by elected representatives of workers, consumers and relevant professionals.
Don’t use politics to justify corruption— APC
Meantime, the All Progressives Congress (APC) has warned Aviation Ministry officials against using politics as a cover for the scandal.
In a statement issued in Lagos, yesterday, by its Interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, the party said it is most unconscionable for anyone to blame the opposition to President Jonathan’s re-election in 2015 as the reason for the widespread outcry against the monumental corruption and abuse of office engendered by the scandal.
It said that the opposition, in particular, should not be blamed for the indignation of most Nigerians to the corruption scandal, as Yakubu Dati, who goes by the nebulous title of ‘coordinating Spokesperson for the Aviation Ministry’ tried to do in his winding postulation on the scandal.
‘’What Dati and his co-spin doctors tried to do is to play on President Jonathan’s insecurity as far as 2015 elections are concerned. This is very insulting not only to Nigerians but also to President Jonathan himself, and it will not sell.”
After all, attempts to blame the opposition for the lingering ASUU strike has also failed. In any case, what is the business of a public servant, who is supposed to be apolitical, about whether a President is re-elected or not?
‘’We in the APC have not joined the fray over the Oduahgate scandal since it broke out because we thought this was a straightforward case of corruption and abuse of office that should be summarily dealt with. But President Jonathan has again failed to live up to expectation, thus allowing all manners of clowns to seek to pull the wool over the eyes of Nigerians in the name of defending the indefensible,’’ APC said.