N255m Car Scandal: Lagos Govt Opens Up

•Oduah

•Stella Oduah, embattled aviation minister

•Stella Oduah, embattled aviation minister
•Stella Oduah, embattled aviation minister

The N255 million BMW car scandal rocking Nigeria’s aviation ministry took a dramatic turn on Thursday with the Lagos State Government breaking its silence.

The government in its first reaction, since the scandal blew open on 15 October, dismissed claims that bullet-proof cars were among the 300 vehicles it imported to host the National Sports Festival last year.

The Deputy Comptroller-General, Modernisation and Economic Relations, of the Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, Manasa Jatau, who testified before the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, on Wednesday, disclosed that the Ministry of Finance granted N10.1 million waiver to Coscharis Motors for the importation of 300 vehicles for the EKO Games last year, including three bullet-proof cars.

He said the “end beneficiary” of the cars, including the bulletproof vehicles, was the Lagos State Government. But two of the bullet-proof cars ended up at the Ministry of Aviation.

The committee is investigating the controversial purchase of two bullet-proof vehicles acquired by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, for Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, at the hefty sum of N255 million. Coscharis Motors Limited sold the over-priced cars to the NCAA.

In its reaction, the Lagos Government admitted that it got waiver from the Federal Government for the importation of 300 cars that were used for the 2012 National Sports Festival, but denied claims that it requested for N255 million bullet-proof BMW cars.

The government said it decided to react as it was wrongly accused of being the brain behind the purchase of the N255 million BMW bullet-proof cars by the NCAA for Oduah.

The government said it only requested for regular saloon cars, four wheel drive vehicles and buses, which it got from Coscharis in its capacity as the official vehicle providers for the sports.

“Following the offer of sponsorship of and provision of vehicles for the festival by Coscharis Nigeria Limited, the state government made a formal request to the president as requested by the sponsors, which was granted.

“The request was duly granted by the president to the issuance of a Certificate of Waiver in respect of the duty payable on the importation of the cars by Coscharis Nigeria Limited,” a top government source explained.

“We have in our possession documents to show the vehicles were supplied and used during the 18th National Sports Festival,” the official said.

The 300 vehicles were used in conveying the 14,000 athletes and 10,000 officials who attended the festival, the official said.

According to the official, Lagos has no business with the importation of  the controversial cars for Oduah as wrongly painted.

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The government would officially issue a statement to this effect on Friday.

Meanwhile, the embattled Oduah admitted granting approval to the NCAA to purchase the N255 million controversial cars.

Asked why she granted approval beyond the N100 million limit, Oduah said her approval was only advisory.

She was accused by the committee of approving N564m for the purchase of 54 cars beyond her powers.

The committee alleged that Oduah did not follow the budget approved for the Aviation ministry and its agencies by the National Assembly.

Nkiruka Onyejeocha, the committee chair, closed the session by saying: “Facts speak for themselves.

“We have listened to the NCAA, Coscharis, First Bank, Customs and the minister.

“It has been established that N240 million was budgeted by the National Assembly for 25 cars; we have seen that N255 million was used to buy bullet-proof cars.

“We have seen another approval of N643 million for the purchase of 54 cars.

“We will consider all our findings to see whether they are in line with extant laws and financial regulations and then write our report.

“We assure Nigerians that we will report to them.”

—Kazeem Ugbodaga & Simon Ateba