The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) has said it is not in possession of documents relating to the controversial purchase of the two armoured BMW cars, worth N255 million, it was accused of buying for the Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah.
The agency, in an October 23 letter addressed to Falana & Falana Chambers and signed by its Legal Adviser, E. D. Chukwuma, however, did not state who was in custody of the documents.
The letter, a copy of which THISDAY obtained at the weekend, was a response to a request by Falana & Falana Chambers, contained in a letter dated October 21, in which it requested information on the purchase of the bulletproof cars under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.
The law firm of Lagos-based human rights activist, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), had given the NCAA a seven-day ultimatum to respond to the request or it would head to court to compel the agency to release the information.
The raging controversy over the Oduahgate scandal also continued yesterday as the All Progressives Congress (APC) urged President Goodluck Jonathan not to become an accessory to corruption by shielding the minister from facing the consequences of the abuse of office that the purchase of the two cars, without due process, amounted to.
A new twist has also emerged in the car scandal following a report that the two cars are not on the list of bulletproof cars in the country domiciled in the Office of the National Security Adviser (NSA).
Responding to the request from Falana & Falana Chambers, the NCAA in the letter entitled, ‘Re: Request for Information on N255 million Armoured Cars for Aviation Minister, Ms Stella Oduah’, said: “I am directed to refer to your letter dated 21st October, 2013 on the above matter and to inform you that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority is not in possession of any document relating to the purchase of 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.”
The regulatory agency, during a presentation at a public hearing by the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, which has been tasked to probe the car purchase scandal, had last Thursday said the “ownership title of the documents and spare keys of the vehicles are with First Bank of Nigeria (FBN) and would only be transferred to the NCAA after final payment.”
Under the procurement terms, FBN had financed the lease agreement for the acquisition of the two BMW armoured cars.
The APC has however warned the president against being an accessory to corruption by shielding Oduah from facing the consequences of her action.
The party said Jonathan, through his body language, was sending a signal to his ministers that it was all right to be corrupt.
It wondered whether the president was aware of the joke making the rounds that there are five super ministers in his cabinet he can neither sanction nor remove, irrespective of their actions, because they are the ones diverting funds into his war chest for the 2015 polls.
The party, in a statement yesterday by its interim National Publicity Secretary, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said it had reached the conclusion after juxtaposing the evidence that have come out on the scandal against the actions so far taken by the president.
“It has now emerged that the money spent to purchase the armoured cars was not appropriated, which is a violation of the Nigerian constitution; that due process was not followed in buying the cars, as the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) has testified; and that the minister – who was said to have approved the purchases – violated the law by approving an expenditure over the N100 million limit.
“These revelations make the Oduahgate a straightforward case that should have been summarily dealt with by the president. Instead, he has engaged himself in a rigmarole by setting up a diversionary administrative panel in what is now looking like an orchestrated ploy to buy time, hoping this issue will die down and the minister will escape being sanctioned.
“Unfortunately for Mr. President, Oduahgate is not just another scandal, but a referendum on his administration’s fight against corruption, and on the legacy he intends to leave in this critical area,” it said.
APC also accused the president of ignoring Nigerians who have expressed outrage at the action of the minister, by giving her approval to travel to Israel as part of his entourage.
“No one believes the dummy that is being sold to the public that the minister was denied access to the president in Israel. The egregious act of putting the minister on his entourage, at a time she is at the centre of a terrible scandal, calls to question the president’s sense of propriety and his commitment to the war against corruption.
“This indecorous action of making a minister who is under investigation for monumental corruption and abuse of office one of the faces of Nigeria in a foreign land is an embarrassment to the country and its people, and a further dent on the poor image of the Jonathan administration,” it added.
The party condemned the president’s handling of the matter so far and the renting of people to engage in pro-Oduah demonstrations.
In a related incident, the Tax Payers Association of Nigeria (TAPAN) has expressed worry over what it described as grand conspiracy to loot the nation’s treasury.
TAPAN’s National President, Mr. Thomas Ilukholo, at a press conference yesterday in Abuja, said the car purchase scandal was a clear indication of connivance between some public officers and fraudulent contractors to steal taxpayers’ money.
The group urged the federal government to go after the perpetrators of the heinous act as well as all accomplices to serve as a deterrent to government officials with reckless tendencies.
Meanwhile, a new dimension has been added to the car purchase controversy following a report by an online news medium Premium Times that the two controversial cars are not on government’s official list of armoured cars available anywhere in the country.
According to the report, this has fuelled suspicion that the cars might not have been bought but papers processed to launder public funds.
Car dealers as well as end users of reinforced cars are mandated to seek authorisation from the NSA’s office before ordering or importing such vehicles into Nigeria.
Under that regulation, no car dealer or end user, including private individuals, security agencies, and government parastatals, can bring in armoured cars into the country without obtaining end user certificates from the Office of the NSA in Abuja.
But sources at the NSA office informed the online news medium no authorisation certificate was issued to either Oduah or the NCAA to procure the controversial vehicles.
“We have thoroughly checked our list and I can confirm that at no time did we issue an end user certificate to anyone to procure any such cars,” a source said.
“It is likely the cars do not exist and that the documents were either forged to steal public funds. But if the cars indeed exist, the minister, the NCAA and Coscharis Motors would have to explain why they sneaked vehicles into our country without authorisation.
“It is a serious violation, and the minister and other people involved have a lot of explanations to make,” the source said.
Another source said the NSA, Col Sambo Dasuki (rtd), was appointed into the three-member administrative panel by Jonathan to probe the procurement of the cars specifically to determine whether the purchase of the vehicles did not breach Nigeria’s security regulations.
When contacted on the matter, Dasuki said he would not comment on any aspect of the committee’s work because he is not the chairman of the panel.
“My office is only serving as the committee’s secretariat. I am not the chairman. And you have to wait for us to complete our work. The question you asked (whether an end user certificate was issued for the vehicles) is one of the issues we will look into,” he said.
It was further discovered that there are some inconsistencies in the contract papers, especially conflicting details about the transaction, with recorded dates and figures contradicting each other.
While the NCAA purportedly originated the contract in August, with the first letter of order to Coscharis written on August 13, documents originating from the car firm showed that the deal was sealed in June and the cars released at the same time.
The vehicle release checklist by Coscharis Motors was signed on June 25 with all basic functions of the cars approved as being in order.
There is also a discrepancy in the contract sum. While Coscharis Motors listed the two cars as costing N225 million on the Goods Received Note of August 14, the NCAA approved N255 million, a difference of N30 million.
Posted by SirVic for wetopup(News Laboratry)