N255m bulletproof cars: Jonathan snubs Oduah in Israel

Embattled Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah, has got the snub of her political career in far-away Israel, it was learnt yesterday.

President Goodluck Jonathan reportedly turned down the minister’s request for an appointment.

The minister is on the president’s entourage to that country.

Sources in Jerusalem said that Oduah made several attempts to have a one-on-one discussion with Jonathan to explain her role in the N255m armoured cars procurement scandal by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA).

The cars were said to have been purchased for her personal use as she was said to be under security threat due to ongoing reforms in the aviation sector.

Since the news broke out, pressures have mounted on the President to relieve her of her job.

Before his pilgrimage to Jerusalem on Wednesday, Jonathan announced the inauguration of a three-man committee to probe the procurement and determine if due process was followed.

A source on the entourage of the President said it would have been out of place for Jonathan to meet with Oduah when the panel he set up is yet to begin sitting or clear her of alleged involvement in the scandal.

The source said: “I can tell you that the minister has not and will never meet with the President here in Jerusalem. This is not to say that she has been found guilty, but it is just fair that the President does not send the wrong signal that may influence the report of the panel.

“We were under strict instruction to prevent the minister from having access to the president for the days we would be spending here. It is, therefore, wrong for anybody to assume that the minister and the President would resolve the issue of the car purchase here. There is nothing like that. I would not describe it as shunning the minister, but it is just something to do.”

Meanwhile, members of the House of Representatives Aviation Committee probing the purchase of the two armoured vehicles by the NCAA yesterday flared up at officials of the agency for allegedly evading some questions.

The committee turned down an attempt by the NCAA to bring in a financial expert to answer questions on the deal.

Committee Chairman Nkiruka Onyejeocha told the authority’s acting Director General Joyce Nkemakolon: “As acting DG and chief accounting officer, you did not deem it fit to consult a financial expert while making your decision to procure the two vehicles.It is too late in the day to now call in a financial expert.”

The committee also did not take kindly to the documents presented by the management of the agency to back up its case.

It said the documents did not look real.

Onyejeocha said: “This matter won’t end here because when we come to the papers, going by what you submitted to us, most of them are more or less pro-forma invoices and some look like they were downloaded from the Internet, not real receipts.

“We are going to ask you to bring the receipts of all the transactions you have done in NCAA from January to date because we have not seen anything to show us that they are the real receipts.

“This will not end here.If we cannot get the bulk of what we are looking for from you, we are going to send our own people to go and look at your records from January to date.

“It is after we are in possession of those documents that we can now call on your financial expert because what you submitted is not the true reflection of what actually happened over the period.”

A member of the probe panel, Mathew Omegiara, accused the acting DG of showing disrespect to the panel by suggesting that the organisation’s Director of Finance, Mr, Ozigi, should respond to some questions on the deal.

The Rep snapped: “You are learned enough to know that you can’t spend above certain limits and also that the minister cannot give approval beyond certain limits.”

The NCAA, in the documents submitted to the committee, disputed claims by the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) that its purchase of the two cars breached regulations.

The NCAA insisted that it adhered to the procurement laws in the deal.

The BPP had said the purchase, having been in excess of N100million, ought to have been approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) and not the Ministerial Tenders Board.

However, the aviation agency insisted yesterday that the Appropriation Act 2013 was not breached as what was required to pay for the two vehicles is below the appropriated benchmark for the year.

Besides, it noted that towards the effective implementation of its statutory regulatory responsibilities , it is imperative that it is fully equipped with highly specialized tools and facilities, including adequate operational vehicles to cover all 22 national airports and over 400 airstrips.

It said: “To acquire the vehicles, lease financing was adopted. Lease financing is one of the ways of acquiring fixed assets in both public and private sector organizations. NCAA embarked on lease financing in line with prudential cash flow management.

“Leasing improves cash flow and enables an organization enjoy an asset before fully paying for it. This approach minimizes the effect of initial capital outlay that occurs if outright cash purchase is embarked upon.”

It explained that having identified the need for the controversial cars,it wrote a letter on April 15,2013 to the Ministry of Aviation to seek approval for the procurement. “On the 25th’ of April, 2013, Federal Ministry of Aviation conveyed approval for the acquisition of the operational vehicles through lease financing. “On the strength of the above letter of approval from Federal Ministry of Aviation, the list of all banks in Nigeria was obtained on 7th May, 2013 and were circulated with a Request for Expression of Interest on the financing of the lease. E01 was adopted because the procurement is two sided. First, the financier would have to be selected before the supplier is determined. “This is in line with procurement best practices. “On 24th May, 2013 the Request for Expression of Interest (EOT) was publicly opened and minutes of the opening exercise were documented. “The Evaluation of the Expression of Interest was held on 31st May, 2013 during which First Bank PIc, Union Bank Pic and Stanbic IBTC emerged responsive. “ It said that the three banks were invited on June 10 to submit financial proposals with First Bank emerging the highest rated responsive bidder. That was followed by receipt of invoices from “a credible motor vehicle dealers during which only Coscharis Limited quoted for BMvV Armoured Vehicles. “On 28 June, 2013 NCAA Parastatal Tenders Board approved the selection of First Bank for the Lease Financing as well as Metropolitan Motor Vehicles and Coscharis for the supply of the vehicles. “This approval is predicated on the due process documentations so far done. “Between 8th July, 2013 and August, 2013 various meetings were held with First Bank, contract agreement was signed and necessary documentations were carried out. “On 13th August, 2013, suppliers of the vehicles were contacted on the instance of First Bank. “Payment for the vehicles is in 36 equal monthly instalments, out of which only two have been paid as at 21 October, 2013.”

Source: The Nation

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