Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah on Thursday said the management of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA acted within the provisions of the law in the transaction involving the controversial two BMW bullet proof cars allegedly purchased for her.
She also debunked the claim that the two security vehicles were procured for her as widely reported by the media, saying that it was an orchestrated attempt to discredit her and her team in the good work they had done to transform the aviation sector.
Oduah, who finally appeared before the House Committee on Aviation to clarifying the allegations against her and her role as the supervising minister in the contentious transaction, after missing two previous invitations, apologized to the Committee, appealing that her none appearance was not intended to disrespect the Committee but was necessitated by her official engagement in Israel.
Oduah has made several headlines in the print and electronic media in the last few weeks in respect of alleged impropriety perpetrated in the purchase of the two bullet proof BMW cars worth $1.6 million, which is equivalent to N255 million by NCAA.
Reacting to questions on her involvement in the matter, she said: “Honourable Chairman, as you are all 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 bulletproof cars at the cost of USD 1.6 Million.
“Let me state emphatically from the onset that the allegation concerning the purchase of 2 bulletproof cars for me by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) 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 the erroneous responses of my aides”.
“Honourable Chairman, the NCAA, 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 the 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 the NCAA, within the framework of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework *(MTEF) approved by the National Assembly as a planning torn, planned its budget with regard to acquisition of operational and other security and safety vehicles for the next three years in a manner compliant with Section 80 (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended), that prohibits the spending of monies from any fund of the Federation except as appropriated by the National Assembly”.
On whether NCAA purchased the two bullet proof vehicles for her use, she said, “Honourable members, another falsehood in the public domain relating to this lease financing acing arrangement is 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 6”.
“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.”
Also, in his presentation, the former Acting Director-General of NCAA, who actually supervised the transaction, Mr. Joyce Nkemakolam, maintained that he did not go outside the provisions of the Appropriation Act 2013 in the purchase of the vehicles.
Members of the Committee had accused him of violating the 2013 Appropriation Act, which provided the sum of N240 million for NCAA to purchase 25 operational vehicles, but the agency went as far as purchasing 54 vehicles costing N643 million.
Nkemakolam, who was heavily bombarded with sundry questions on the issue by the lawmakers, also insisted that it was a lease agreement that the agency entered with the First Bank, which funded the purchase of the vehicles and not a loan agreement as claimed by the bank.
He said that the use of the two words, ‘loan or lease’ was a matter of semantic, arguing that loan and lease agreements meant the same thing in the context of their discussions with the bank.
DG of NCAA, Mr. George Ossi, had from the first day of the investigative hearing, pleaded with the Committed to excuse him from making any explanations pertaining to the transaction since he just assumed office as the head of the agency.
This request was granted and consequently, the legislators directed all the questions to the former Acting DG, Nkemakolam, who faced the heat of the probe more than anybody else.
The lawmakers also challenged the Minister that her approval limit as provided by the law is N100 million, but she went ahead to approve a whooping sum of over five hundred million for the purchase of vehicles by NCAA.
In her explanations, she denied violating the law in any way, noting that her actions were within the ambient of the law.
In her closing remark, Chairman of the Committee, Nkiruka Onyejiocha said that the Committee had given fair hearing to all the invited agencies and persons, assuring that they would do justice to the report of the investigation.
She said, “the facts speak for itself. The House appropriated the sum of N240 million in the 2013 budget for the purchase of operational vehicles by NCAA. We will consider all our findings whether it is in agreement with extant laws, and we will compile our report accordingly”.
“We have given everybody fair hearing. We assure Nigerians that we will do justice to the report”.