Nigeria’s embattled Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, on Thursday, disowned the two BMW cars purchased for her by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, at the hefty sum of N255 million.
Oduah finally appeared before the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation on Thursday to respond to allegations that she pressured the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, one of the parastatals under her ministry, to buy two armoured BMW cars for her at a grossly inflated price of a quarter of a billion naira.
Oduah claimed her spokesperson, Joe Obi, who on 16 October, confirmed that the expensive cars were purchased for her, misspoke.
Obi had said: “Yes, it is true that some security vehicles were procured for the use of the office of the honourable minister in response to the clear and imminent threat to her personal security and life following the bold steps she took to reposition the sector.” But Oduah said her spokesperson spoke in error.
The committee is probing the controversial car purchase that has snowballed into a full blown scandal.
Oduah said allegations against her were false and malicious and could not be substantiated based on her spokesperson’s “erroneous” comment.
She also said allegations contained in online publications that she compelled NCAA to purchase cars for her were false.
She admitted approving the purchase of the expensive cars for the NCAA but said the vehicles were not for her and she did not request for them.
“Nothing in the stated documents mentioned my name. I did not request for any vehicles. All I did was to approve the purchase, subject to the agency doing the needful. NCAA followed due process as required by law,” Oduah said.
“It is not true, cannot be true that NCAA bought bullet proof vehicles for honourable minister of aviation. My understanding is that what NCAA has done is to plan for its vehicle needs for the next three years under the Medium Term Expenditure Framework,” she added.
Oduah claimed the Federal Ministry of Aviation under her watch has always ensured due process is followed.
She said the First Bank’s N643 million facility given to NCAA to buy the cars were not an obligation.
She also insisted that the NCAA has not spent any money not appropriated by the National Assembly.
Oduah failed to honour the committee’s invitations to appear before it on two occasions because she was in the President Goodluck Jonathan’s team to Isreal.
She was scheduled to appear yesterday, but was also absent. This prompted committee chairperson, Nkiruka Onyejeocha, to mandate the Minister to appear by 10 am today or forego the chance to defend herself over series of allegations of violation of due process and spending funds not budgeted for that have been levelled against her since the beginning of the hearing last week.
The Minister however arrived at the venue of the public hearing just before noon today.
Just before Oduah’s arrival at the National Assembly, some women had gathered at the Federal Secretariat in Abuja holding placards bearing various messages in support of the minister. The women asked the House of Representatives to stop the probe of the minister.
In her testimony in-chief, Oduah insisted that the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) acted within the provisions of the law in the purchase of two bullet proof cars.
“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.
“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.
On whether NCAA spent monies not approved by the Appropriation Act of 2013, Oduah explained that NCAA, conscious of its enforcement roles, always obeyed rules and regulations of government.
“Honourable chairman, NCCA, as a result of the daily interaction with the law in its regulatory and enforcement roles, is at all times and in all matters conscious of its obligations of complying with the law and all extant rules and regulations of government.
“The NCAA is therefore conscious of its obligations relating in particular to appropriation and will never spend monies that have not been appropriated by the National Assembly.
“It is in this regard, therefore, that NCAA, within the framework of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework , approved by the National Assembly as a planning tool, planned its budget.
“This is with regard to acquisition of operational and other security and safety vehicles for the next three years,’’ Oduah said..
She said NCAA was “in a manner compliant with Section 80 (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended).
Oduah said that “the section prohibits the spending of monies from any fund of the federation except as appropriated by the National Assembly.”
She, however, apologised to the committee, for her inability to appear before it initially, adding that her action was not intended to disrespect the committee but necessitated by her official engagement in Israel.
When the legislators reminded the minister that her approval limit as provided by the law, was N100 million but that she approved over N500 million for the purchase of vehicles by NCAA in violation of the law, she denied violating the law in any way, noting that her actions were within the provisions of the law.
In his presentation, the former Acting Director-General of NCAA, Mr Joyce Nkemakolam, who supervised the purchase of the cars, said that he did not violate the Appropriation Act 2013.
Members of the committee had accused Nkemakolam of violating the 2013 Appropriation Act.
The committee noted that whereas N240 million was provided for NCAA to buy 25 operational vehicles, the agency bought 54 vehicles at a total cost of N643 million.
But Nkemakolam insisted that it was a lease agreement that the NCAA entered into with First Bank to buy the vehicles.
In her remark, the Chairman of the committee, Nkiruka Onyejiocha, said that the committee had given fair hearing to all the invited agencies and persons.
She gave an assurance that the committee would “do justice to the report of the investigation.”
—Ayorinde Oluokun/Abuja & Simon Ateba