Oduah’s Lying Machine Still Roaring

•Oduah at the National Assembly. Photos… Femi Ipaye

The last word is yet to be heard on the riveting BMW armoured car scandal involving Nigeria’s aviation minister, Princess Stella Oduah, the National Civil Aviation Authority(NCAA) and Coscharis Motors.

Later this week, the panel set up by President Goodluck Jonathan is expected to submit its report, but the investigation by the House of Representatives has gone much further, unearthing mind-blowing facts.

One of them was that the two BMW armoured cars sold to the NCAA by Coscharis Motors were not on the list of 300 vehicles imported by Coscharis for the use of Lagos State Government, as host of the 2012 National Sports Festival. The Finance Ministry gave duty waivers for the 300 vehicles last year. This week, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala testified before the House panel that the waiver she gave did not certainly cover the BMW cars.

Lagos State Government, embarrassed that its name was being mentioned in the scandal, also issued a public statement explaining the agreement it had with Coscharis Motors on vehicles to be supplied for the 2012 Games.

The Government said it neither requested for, nor used bulletproof vehicles BMW level 7 during the 18th National Sports Festival in the State maintaining that it only requested for and got from Coscharis regular saloon cars, four wheel drive vehicles and buses in its capacity as official vehicle providers for the Sports festival.

A statement signed by the Commissioner for Youths, Sports and Social Development, Mr. Enitan Oshodi, said the State Government duly made a request to President Goodluck Jonathan for waiver of destination inspection charges and duty exemptions on 300 vehicles which were to be used for the festival.

Giving a background to the provision of the vehicles for the Sports Festival, the statement explained that 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 for waiver of destination inspection charges and duty exemptions on 300 vehicles as requested by the sponsors which was granted.

According to the statement, which sought to set straight “information making the rounds with regards to the vehicles requested from and supplied by Coscharis Nigeria Limited for use at the immediate past 18th National Sports Festival hosted by the Lagos State from November 27 to December 9, 2012”, the request was duly granted by the President leading to the issuance of a Certificate of Waiver in respect of the duty payable on the importation of the cars, by Coscharis Nigeria Limited.

“The Lagos State Government would therefore like to put it on record that documents exist to show the vehicles which were supplied and used during the 18th NSF. The vehicles requested from Coscharis who were Sponsors of the 18th NSF were limited to regular saloon cars, four wheel drive vehicles and buses to convey the 14,000 athletes and 10,000 officials who attended the games”, the statement said.

TheNEWS magazine in the following report, chronicles the various lies that have been popping up since Oduahgate broke

Official responses to the car purchase scandal have been characterised by a mix of lies, half-truths and distortions manufactured to save the skin of Ms. Stella Oduah, Minister of Aviation

Aviation Minister, Ms. Stella Oduah, made her eagerly awaited appearance before the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation last Thursday, where she presented her defence to the allegations of corruption and abuse of office that have trailed her since 15 October. That day, news website, Sahara Reporters, published documents revealing the purchase of two bullet-proof vehicles by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, for her use at the hefty sum of N255 million. The cost of the cars provoked a nuclear blast of public outrage, leading to calls for her sack or resignation from the cabinet and invited the attention of the House Aviation Committee, which wanted Oduah to explain the transaction.

The transaction started in June, but the request for delivery of and payment for the two cars was fast-tracked between 13 and 15 August. It involved the NCAA, First Bank of Nigeria and Coscharis Motors Limited.

Documents revealed how Nkemakolam, acting NCAA Director-General at the time, sent a letter to the Managing Director of Coscharis Motors, asking the company to deliver to the NCAA two BMW 760 armoured vehicles based on a proforma invoice dated 25 June, at the cost of N127,575,000 ($796,846.21) each.

That yielded an aggregate of N255,150,000 (about $1.6 million). The NCAA letter directed Coscharis to deliver the vehicles with sales invoices, delivery notes and attestation documents.

Documents revealed that the payment for the vehicles was made into a First Bank of Nigeria account (number 2018912995 with sort code: 0111152303), according to a letter signed by Godwin Umeaka, Coscharis Group’s financial controller.

The two vehicles were delivered to the NCAA on 13 August and were received by two store managers, F. Onoabhagbe and Y.A. Amzat, the agency’s head of transport. Documents showed that on 15 August, NCAA’s Sola Ogunsakin certified completion of the transaction.

•Maduka, Coscharis President
•Maduka, Coscharis President

•Falana, demanded Oduah’s probe

The scandal brought out the worst in Oduah and officials of her ministry. To the invitation by the committee, the minister responded via a letter informing it that she could not appear before it on 24 October because she had to travel to Israel to sign the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA, with the Jewish state. She left the country two days before she was due for appearance. The agreement she used as an excuse was eventually signed on behalf of Nigeria by Minister of State (Foreign Affairs), Professor Viola Onwuliri, while Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Zeer Elkin, signed for his country, despite Oduah’s presence in Israel.

The committee rescheduled her appearance for 29 October. Though BASA was signed on 28 October, Oduah still claimed she could not be present at the hearing because she would not be back in the country. She pleaded that she be allowed to appear on 30 October. The committee granted her request.

But when that day came, Oduah requested to be allowed to appear on 4 November. This drew a furious Onyejeocha, who warned the minister to appear, unfailingly, on 31 October or risk sanctions.

“If she fails again, we take it that she does not want to appear. We are saying this in the spirit of fair hearing. Thursday (31 October) is sacrosanct and we will turn in our report whether she comes or not,” Onyejeocha said.

This time, the minister did not default. She opened her defence with a profusion of apologies for her serial failure to appear earlier and gratitude to the committee for rescheduling her appearance. Side by side with her attempt at pleading innocence was a clever affectation of a victim of a heinous plot. She denied any wrongdoing, dismissing as inaccurate, even malicious, sugestions that she compelled the NCAA to buy her bullet-proof cars and that money was paid for the acquisition of the controversial cars. She also denied that the vehicles came about as a result of extra-budgetary spending or that they were bought in her name. To a large extent, she repeated what officials of the ministry had told the committee and the public.

To the inconsistences in the official responses to the scandal, Oduah said they were neither deliberate nor designed to conceal any information about the transaction. Before the committee, Oduah repeated the NCAA mantra, which was punctured by First Bank at the hearing, that the cars were acquired via a lease agreement, with an agreed repayment plan spanning 36 months.

By this agreement, she claimed, the agency would make a monthly payment of N23,249,181.00 for the armoured cars and Toyota vehicles. Broken down, monthly payment will come to a total sum of N116,245,905.00 at the end of this year.

The admission by Joe Obi, spokesman to the minister, that the vehicles were purchased for her security drew a qualified approval from Oduah. According to her, Obi “was guided by his own perception of the duties and challenges of my office and possibly, even the danger to the person and office of the minister. This is made evident by the fact that the statement focused on my personal security and safety without recourse to procurement process and policy file to which he had no access.” Oduah described her aide’s response as “inaccurate and innocently misguided.”

Oduah described the allegation that she pressured the NCAA to buy cars as entirely false. She further insisted that the NCAA did not spend any money that was not appropriated by the National Assembly.

•Ndubuoke, NCAA SpokesmanThis was, however, challenged by Jerry Manwe, a member of the committee, who countered that the National Assembly rejected armoured cars in the budget. Oduah responded with a one-liner. “NCAA will answer that,” she said. This contradicted her reply to Jonathan’s query of 23 October that the transaction was in the budget.

When asked why she exceeded her approval limit of N100million, as the Bureau of Public Procurement had told the committee, Oduah said her comment on the letter to NCAA– “Approved. Do the needful”–was not an order, but an advice.

Ayo Aderigbigbe, who represented the BPP Director-General, at the hearing, had disclosed that no ministry has powers to approve any expenditure in excess of N100million.

“A ministerial tenders board can approve expenditure of N100million and below, but if it is above N100million, it must go before the Federal Executive Council,” he explained. Aderibigbe also told the  committee that the NCAA never contacted by the BPP on the car purchase.

The NCAA Director-General, Captain Fola Akinkuotu, who was asked to explain what the minister meant by “needful”, avoided offering an interpretation of the word and advised that the question be directed at Nkemakolam, who was the acting Director-General at the time of approval. Nkemakolam was slated by the committee for forwarding to Oduah a memo for the approval of a procurement beyond his agency’s approved limit.

On the minister’s claim that the cars were not for her, Manwe asked: “Who is using them now?” “Anyone can use any of the cars in the pool,” responded Akinkuotu on behalf of the minister.

“Are you saying a cleaner can use those type of cars?” asked Manwe. “Anybody can use them, but those kinds of cars are for VIP movement, including foreign dignitaries, the minister, and even you, honourable member,” answered Akinkuotu. Manwe retorted that the law does not permit him to use such cars.

Onyejeocha later announced that all the parties had been given fair hearing and promised that that justice will be done.

At the base of the pyramid of lies, half-truths and distortions built by Oduah was the flimsy foundation erected by officials of the Ministry of Aviation. The first brick was laid by Yakubu Dati, spokesperson of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, FAAN, who often speaks for Oduah in Lagos. On the day the story broke, he dismissed it as a “politically- motivated” rumour that merited no response.

“I don’t respond to rumours…[and] as we approach 2015, people are bound to make up all sorts of stories,” Dati told Premium Times, another online newspaper. He added that Oduah had been rich and successful before being appointed minister and has no need for additional cars from the NCAA.

“This is a woman, who is successful and established. A woman that made her mark in oil and gas, who owned trucks, barges, and so on. What is two cars?” he asked.

He got an answer to his question the next day, when Obi, Oduah’s spokesperson, admitted that the cars were bought for the minister’s protection. “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,” Obi told THE PUNCH.

Obi suggested that the threats to the minister’s security could be traced to some entrenched interests in the aviation sector, which Oduah dislodged by reviewing or terminating concession and lease agreements they had with the ministry. These agreements, he claimed, had to be so treated because Oduah found them to be at variance with the interests of the government and people of Nigeria when she assumed office.

He added that the vehicles were institutional and not personal acquisitions. “It should be noted that these vehicles are not personal vehicles and were not procured in the name of the honourable minister. They are utility vehicles and are for the office of the minister, and if she leaves the office, she will not be taking the vehicles along with her,” he contended.

Obi’s confirmation of the car purchase was conveniently ignored by Fan Ndubuoke, NCAA spokesman, who claimed ignorance. “I am not aware of anything like that,” he said in an interview.

The difference between the narratives of Dati and Obi suggested to the public that something was amiss and raised the decibel of calls for Oduah’s eviction from the cabinet. The ministry’s response to the red-eyed public rage was a press conference in Abuja on 18 October. There, another version of events emerged. The NCAA Director-General, who addressed the conference, said the cars were not purchased for the minister, but for special assignments and to convey foreign dignitaries whenever they visit the NCAA.

•Oduah at the National Assembly. Photos... Femi Ipaye“First and foremost, we make haste to state that aviation is a global industry and the NCAA, the regulator of the industry in Nigeria, very often plays host to dignitaries from international civil aviation bodies like ICAO, IATA, US Federal Aviation Administration, African Airlines Association, African Civil Aviation Commission, Banjul Accord Group, Civil Air Navigation Service Organisations, Airport Council International, amongst several others.

Akinkuotu said it was not the first time the agency had procured high-security vehicles for similar purposes and slated the mainstream media for taking stories from online platforms, while stating that the purchase was in order.

“In any case, all necessary procurement and due process was followed,” he said.

Akinkuotu, however, side-stepped the issue of overpricing. While the NCAA paid N128m per car, reports indicate that a similar car is available for less than N50 million in Europe. This, naturally, increased the intensity of public rage at the lush lifestyles of public officials. Akinkuotu, NCAA Director-General, also vowed that the authorities would launch an investigation into how the documents got to Sahara Reporters and punish those responsible.

With contradictions buzzing back and forth, Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, using the Freedom of Information Act, demanded that documents relating to the car purchase be handed over to his firm within seven days. Falana also demanded evidence of previous purchase of armoured vehicles, as claimed by Akinkuotu at the press conference he addressed in Abuja.

On 23 October, the NCAA responded with a denial that it had documents relating to the transaction. Its legal adviser, E.K Chukwuma, who replied on behalf of Akinkuotu, wrote: “I am directed to your letter dated October 21, 2013 on the above matter (Request for information on N255m armoured cars for Aviation Minister, Ms. Stella Oduah) and to inform you that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority is not in possession of any document relating to the purchase of the armoured cars for the Aviation Minister, Ms. Stella Oduah.

“With regard to your request for records of previous purchase of armoured cars by the Aviation Ministry or NCAA, I am to inform you that the  Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority does not have such records.”

But Falana responded with a threat to request the Attorney-General of the Federation to prosecute Akinkuotu.

“Since copies of the documents on the Oduahgate are available, the DG has wilfully violated the provisions of the FoI Act. I am sending a request to the Attorney-General of the Federation to prosecute him without any delay,” the lawyer threatened.

The threat nudged the NCAA into an admission that it had the documents  requested for, but desperate not to lose face, attempted some semantic hoop-jumping. It claimed that Falana’s request was improperly couched.

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“It is pertinent to restate here that NCAA, indeed, has no documents for the purchase of bullet-proof cars for the Honourable Minister of Aviation as demanded for by the Lagos lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana, SAN. Instead, NCAA has documents relating to the Lease Finance arrangement for the procurement of Operational, Security and Safety Vehicles for the use of the authority as provided for in its 2013 Appropriation,” said Ndubuoke, NCAA spokesman, with barely disguised bluster.

The agency said all the documents were already in the public domain and had been deposited with the various committees looking into the matter.

Last Wednesday’s sitting of the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, revealed that Ndubuoke is the one with semantic deficit.

Seyi Ojefeso, head of First Bank’s Lagos Mainland branch, told members of the committee that it entered into a loan agreement, “not lease agreement” with the NCAA. Ojefeso explained that the NCAA applied for a loan package of N643m to finance the purchase of  54 vehicles. For the bullet-proof cars, he said there was a Coscharis proforma invoice attached to the application in the value of N255m.

The committee observed that the original request of the NCAA to the Minister of Aviation was N564 million, but First Bank eventually approved N643million, a difference of N79 million.

Asked to explain the gulf between the sum requested and the one approved, Ojefeso pushed the responsibility to the NCAA, stating that N564m was not in the agency’s communication with the bank.

Also in the bouquet of startling disclosures delivered at the sitting was the committee’s discovery of difference in chassis numbers of the cars and those in the transaction documents between the NCAA and Coscharis. It also found that Coscharis was given a waiver of N10.1 million to import 300 cars, including the two armoured vehicles. Equally, the committee was informed that the Federal Ministry of Finance and National Security Adviser were made to believe that the two bullet-proof vehicles were for the 18th National Sports Festival, hosted by Lagos State, instead of the NCAA.

In attendance were representatives of the Nigeria Customs Service, Coscharis Motors and First Bank. The Customs Service informed committee members that no duty was paid on the cars because Coscharis obtained a duty exemption certificate from the Ministry of Finance. As a result, the government lost N10.1 million due to the waiver, which covered 300 vehicles, including the two controversial bullet-proof cars.

Manasa Jatau, Deputy Comptroller-General, Modernisation and Economic Relations of the Nigeria Customs Service, told the commitee that the Ministry of Finance granted the waiver after Coscharis claimed in a letter that it wanted  to import 300 assorted vehicles for the National Sports Festival, hosted by Lagos State.

Technically, he said, the beneficiary of all the vehicles imported was the Lagos State Government. Actually, though, it was the NCAA. There was also a third bullet-proof car imported by Coscharis, Jatau said. He, however, did not name the beneficiary.

“N10.1m was the duty payable on the 300 vehicles; but no duty was paid because there was an import exemption certificate issued by the Federal Ministry of Finance. The waiver was for a period of one year. The waiver showed there were 300 vehicles for the sports festival, hosted from November to December, 2012. Only three of the vehicles were bullet-proof and the NSA gave security certificate for their clearance,” he said.

Asked if a waiver granted for a specific purpose is transferable to a different end-user, Jatau replied: “To the best of my knowledge, end-user certificate is not transferable.”

Coscharis Motors, represented by its Chairman, Cosmos Maduka, and Managing Director, Josiah Samuel, admitted that it got a waiver to import vehicles for the games. However, efforts by the committee to establish how the waiver was used to cover the bullet-proof cars did not yield results.

Manwe accused Coscharis of conniving with the NCAA to inflate the cost of the cars. The company’s managing director claimed the cars were “7 Series, B7” security cars and are costlier than their equivalent quoted by “independent amourers” on the Internet.

He claimed the cars in question have factory-fitted armour, those bought and taken to be fitted with armour elsewhere. Samuel also suggested that the factory price for the grade of BMW cars it supplied   the NCAA was €418,000, excluding other charges.

Manwe was less than impressed and accused Coscharis of committing “fraud”. He said a quotation he received from an American firm showed that the same car sells for N42 million.

“We are not fools,” Manwe said, “you have been taking us for a ride. You imported the cars without paying duty, why are you selling one for over N127m?  Are your own bullet-proof cars manufactured in the moon? You got a waiver to import cars for the National Sports Festival, but you ended up using it to import bullet-proof cars for the NCAA. You have been lying to us. You ripped off the people of Nigeria through the NCAA. That is the summary of what is before us here, so what are you saying?” Manwe erupted.

On 24 October, Nkemakonam, now NCAA’s Director of Aerodrome, repeated the NCAA refrain to the car purchase. “Lease financing, not direct financing, was adopted to procure the vehicles,” he said, arguing that the agency breached no law. When asked if the arrangement was not a commitment that the NCAA would still pay for the vehicles, he avoided answering the question, saying it did not suggest extra-budgetary spending.

The Senate Committee on Aviation, which is probing the sector, also found that of the 202 operational vehicles bought by FAAN for the use of its top, four are of the armoured variety. Of the four, disclosed the Senate Committee, two are for Oduah’s use. The two others are for the use of Mr. George Uriesi, Managing Director of FAAN.

•President Goodluck Jonathan
•President Goodluck Jonathan

“FAAN did confirm that among the operational vehicles they purchased, four of them are armoured vehicles, two for the Managing Director and two for the minister,” the committee Chairman, Senator Hope Uzodinma, told journalists.

Last Tuesday, Uriesi told the panel that the vehicles included two Lexus limousines and two Toyota Prado SUVs, but did not disclose the beneficiaries. The vehicles, he said, were bought at for N60 million each, not at N70 million as being insinuated.

Director-General of the Nigeria Metereological  Agency, Mr. Anthony Anuforom, and his counterpart in the Accident and Investigations Bureau, Captain Muhtar Usman, told the committee that  they were not involved in the purchase of armoured vehicles.

Under unrelenting public pressure, Aviation Ministry officials were left straw-clutching and had to keep  inventing lines of defence, appropriate or otherwise. On 22 October, the narrative was again tweaked. This time, the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, was accused of hawking the claim that the vehicles had been paid for.

“Indeed, Nigerians are mischievously sold the lie that the cars have been paid for – meanwhile they were purchased on (hire) purchase and payments are yet to even commence,” said Dati.

Dati claimed to have found evidence the APC and some disaffected members of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, were the inventors of the scandal and suggested that their aim is to stop President Goodluck Jonathan from seeking re-election in 2015.

“Nigerians must also note that the main target of this sinister plot is President Goodluck Jonathan, who must be stopped from running for re-election in 2015, in line with the dictates of the G-7, who have demanded that Okonjo-Iweala, Alison-Madueke and Princess Oduah must go as a condition for a truce,” said Dati, in an obvious attempt to deflect attention from the apparent corruption and abuse of office inherent in the purchase.

He argued that Oduah has nothing to do with the cars and that her name is not on any of the documents leaked to the media. Dati’s explanations convinced only officials of the ministry, as Nigerians remain unconvinced and insistent on Oduah’s eviction from the cabinet.

The failure of the defence efforts pushed the authorities to seek refuge in ethnicity. On 27 October, Dati forwarded to journalists a story that had been published in a newspaper. Headlined “Igbo Youths Protest Against Gang-up to Remove Oduah,” the report narrated how hundreds of Igbo youths, under the aegis of Igbo Progressive Union, grounded activities at Enugu’s Akanu Ibiam International Airport on 26 October while peacefully protesting against calls for the sack of Oduah, an indigene of Anambra State.

Emeka Agbo, a leader of the group and a student of the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, was quoted as saying that Igbo youths are prepared to do everything to ensure that Oduah is protected and accused some highly placed, but unnamed, individuals of plotting to tarnish the reputation and achievements of the Minister. “We are ready to swim and sink with her,” Agbo said.

High Chief George Ogbaru, who spoke for the people of Ogbaru, Oduah’s hometown, was quoted by the forwarded report as saying the minister’s ordeal is linked to the next presidential election.

Nwabueze, who is of the view that Oduah’s activities in the ministry constitute a part of Jonathan’s “transformation agenda”, said those who are uncomfortable with the President’s presumed transformational leadership have ganged up to tarnish the image of members of his cabinet and by extension, the President.


The Oduah Timeline
•25 June: The car transaction started

•13-15 August: Delivery and payment fast-tracked

•15 October: The scandal broke out. Dati made illogical explanation

•16 October: Obi punctured Dati’s statement

•18 October: NCAA DG said the vehicles were to convey foreign dignitaries

•21 October: Oduah travelled to Israel

•22 October: Dati said APC was behind the scandal

•23 October: NCAA denied allegations

Jonathan queried Oduah

NCAA said it had found documents on the transaction

•24 October: Nkemakonam said the purchase was through lease and not direct financing

House asked Oduah to appear before it

•26 October: Igbo youths protested in Oduah’s support in Enugu

•28 October: BASA signed in Israel

•29 October: Oduah’s appearance rescheduled

•31October: Oduah appeared before the committee

1 November: Lagos State Government denies that 2 armoured BMW cars were included in the 300 vehicles imported by Coscharis Motors for the 2012 National Sports Festival

4 November: Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo Iweala tells the House Panel that her office did not grant duty waivers to Coscharis on BMW cars

—Simon Ateba

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