By Emman Ovuakporie & Levinus Nwabughiogu
The much talked about N255million BMW B7 series bullet proof cars allegedly bought by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, took a twist on Thursday as the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, who is at the centre of the controversy, said the cars were not purchased for her.
Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation probing the matter had to adjust their sitting positions.
Her words:”As you all are aware, what necessitated this public hearing were the events that followed a false and malicious online publication that I had compelled the NCAA to purchase for me 2 nos BMW bullet proof cars at the cost of $1.6million.
”Let me state emphatically that from the onset that the allegation concerning the purchase of the 2 nos bullet proof cars for me by the NCAA is false in its entirety. “
Wednesday, the Committee sat for the second time and more revelations were made by the Customs, First Bank, the lenders and Coscharis Motors which supplied the cars.
The amoured cars were three contrary to the claim that two were bought. They did not arrive the port of Lagos alone but in the company of 300 other cars that were bought at the same time. And contrary to reports that the two controversial vehicles came in the name of Oduah, they originally came in the name of Lagos State Government.
And you ask for what purpose? It was principally for the 18th National Sports Festival, Eko 2012, held last year in Lagos.
This came from the testimony by the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS) which made its presentations before the Committee. The Customs got authorization from the Ministry of Finance and Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) respectively to waive import duties on the cars.
Consequently, N10, 133,505.74 import duty was waived.
Said the Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs, DCG, Manasseh Daniel Jatau, who represented the Customs C-G, Abdulahi Dikko, at the public hearing: “The N10 million import duty payable on the 300 vehicles meant for Eko 2012 Festival was used to clear the armoured cars.
“If the two armoured cars were for Lagos State Government in 2012, how then did it get to NCAA?”
Enter Cosharis Motors. Anyone who knows the Chairman of Cosharis Motors, Mr. Cosmos Maduka, will admit that he is a businessman. And as a business man, he understands only three words: Money, goods and services. His stock in trade are cars, mostly exotic and sophisticated, Maduka cleared the armored cars. Anyone who heard him testify at the hearing noticed the passion with which he spoke. He started off telling how sincere he was. He told the world that due process was followed but the questions put up by the members of the Committee cast aspersions on the genuiness of the process.
For instance, the Committee put it to Maduka that the current price of the vehicle shouldn’t have ordinarily exceeded N50 million each. Coscharis outrightly rejected it, saying that could never be the case with BMW B7 series anywhere in the world.
But in a bid to state the fact, Maduka revealed that the NCAA demanded a jerk up of the prices of the controversial vehicles from what the company had submitted earlier.
According to him, “NCAA told us that the initial price is not proper.”
In an attempt to further justify the cost of the prices of the cars, Josiah Samuel, the Managing Director of the motor company, who accompanied the Chairman to the hearing, pleaded to play a demonstration video of the cars to show how cozy and exotic they were.
But he was denied the opportunity on the grounds of time and irrelevance of the video.
Most Nigerians would be at a loss of how cars originally purchased on behalf of the Lagos State Government for the 2012 18th National Sports Festival later got to NCAA. But explaining the controversy, Maduka said that the delay his company encountered when it sought clearance from the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, upon the demand by NCAA made it necessary to sell the cars to the agency.
But the Committee insisted that Coscharis deceived the public and the government by saying that the cars were bought for NCAA when actually they were purchased on behalf of Lagos State Government for which it got import duty waiver.
The Committee accused the company of ripping Nigerians off. According to it, the change in the prices of the vehicle from the initial amount of N70 million to N127.5 million even when Coscharis had admitted that it got waivers from government not to pay Customs duty cast aspersion on the company’s
position on the prices.
The hearing later took a dramatic turn when the Committee found that the vehicles supplied were of different types.
For instance, a member of the Committee and spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Zakari Mohammed, said the chassis of one of the vehicles inspected by a delegation from House was DW68011.
He argued that the number differed from what Coscharis gave in its correspondences with the Office of the NSA and other stakeholders.
The company denied the claim. Coscharis quoted the chasis numbers as DW68044 and DW68432 respectively. It promised to send the NSA certificate on the cars to the Committee.
We entered a loan agreement not lease—First Bank
First Bank of Nigeria Plc rejected the claim by NCAA that the agreement it had on the cars was a lease and not loan.
Group Head, Retail Services of the bank, Seyi Oyefeso, told the Committee that it released the money after a certificate of the delivery of the cars was made available to it from NCAA.
After reading her 12-page presentation, Rep Zakari Lafia Mohammed asked Oduah (Aviation Minister) whether it was a loan or lease that her agency obtained from FBN. She said it was the same thing, lease or auto loan. According to her the interest NCAA would pay would still be below N240million at the end of the year.
On whether she acted within the ambit of the law in giving approval beyond N100 million , she said she approved the money and asked the NCAA to do the needful.
What is the needful?
The Committee and the minister disagreed on what needful means.
Mohammed took on the Aviation Minister, saying the needful means a go ahead to implement.
Oduah said, ‘No, you are wrong on that; needful does not mean full approval. “
The NCAA DG, Folu Akinkuotu, was asked whether he did the needful, he said he was not in-charge when the order was given for the purchase.
The permanent secretary of the Aviation Ministry, George Ossi, was tackled for misleading the minister by not appropriately advising her.
The Committee said the permanent secretary ought to have asked the NCAA to do the right thing.
Ossi claimed that due diligence ought to have been done by the agency before applying for the approval.
He claimed that he was not available at the time everything happened .
The DG said he would have followed the Procurement Act if he was the one the directive was given to do the needful.
Akinkuotu said the then acting DG, Joyce Daniel Nkemakolam, ought to explain why he did not do that.
Nkemakolam said he interpreted the directive to mean to go through it in line with the Procurement Act. According to him, he did the due diligence but had a mindset that he was within the budget limit.
When asked why he didn’t do due diligence to ensure that it was in tandem with the procurement law, he said he thought since the agency had got the approval of the National Assembly, there was no need for such diligence.
He was asked why he initiated a memo to approve 54 vehicles when what the National Assembly approved 25.
The former acting NCAA DG was reminded that what was approved was N240million and not N643million.
He was asked whether the NCAA Board sought approval of the president for the car deal. Nkemakolam said he was working on the mindset that he was within the approved limit.
He said that what NCAA discussed with First Bank was a lease. He was asked the date the Board of NCAA approved the loan facility. He said that NCAA had interview Board.
When asked how many trainings he organised for NCAA staff , he said he relied on experts.
He said that his mindset has always being that they did not exceed the amount approved.
The drama continued with Rep Manwe asking the former DG of NCAA to disclose who uses the controversial bullet proof cars since the minister bluntly confessed that they were not bought for her use.
Minutes passed before he could provide an answer. And when he finally found his voice, he said, “Anybody can use the vehicles when they are in the pool. They are operational vehicles.”
But the lawmaker wouldn’t give up. He continued with a rider to the question.
”Do you mean that a messenger or a cleaner in the agency can use the cars?”
At this juncture, the hearing room went into dead silence with the DG losing his voice.
And when he found it, he answered :”That category of vehicles are for VIPs which include the Minister, including you, honorable.”
Laughter erupted in the hall.
Manwe asked again, “Can we have the log book of the movement of the car?” The former acting DG answered, “ I am not a transport officer. I don’t know whether they are still keeping those log books.”
When it now became obvious that the erstwhile acting DG had been exhausted, the lawmakers mandated the agency to bring the man who received the vehicles at the point of delivery by Coscharis Motors.
The hearing came to a close.
In her closing remarks, the Committee chairperson, Onyejeocha, assured Nigerians that justice would be done.
”Facts speak for themselves. We have tried to listen to people: Coscharis, the Minister, NCAA, First Bank , BPP and Customs, and we have their submissions with us. We will consider what we have to see whether it is in line with the extant laws and financial regulations,” she said.
“We assure everyone and all Nigerian that we will do justice to this hearing.”