Suspicion that Aviation Minister Stella Oduah might not have actually procured the controversial N255million armoured cars is gaining traction in the nation’s security circle, with operatives trying to understand whether the minister merely masterminded a paper process to launder public funds reports PREMIUM TIMES.
PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report today that the bullet-proof cars are not on government’s official list of armoured cars available anywhere in the country.
Car dealers as well as end users of reinforced cars such as those Mrs. Oduah claimed to have procured to ward off “imminent threats”, are mandated to seek authorization from the office of the National Security Adviser, NSA, 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 reliable sources at the office of the NSA told PREMIUM TIMES no authorization certificate was ever issued to either Minister Oduah or the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, to procure the controversial vehicles.
“We have thoroughly checked our list and I can confirm that at no time did we issue end user certificate to anyone to procure any such cars,” one of our sources 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 will have to explain why they sneaked vehicles into our country without authorization.
“It is a serious violation, and the minister and other people involved have a lot of explanations to make.”
Another source said the the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, was appointed into the three-member administrative panel appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan to probe the procurement of the cars specifically to determine whether the purchase of the vehicles did not breach Nigeria’s security regulations.
Contacted Thursday over the matter, Mr. Dasuki said he would not comment on any aspect of his committee’s work because he is not the chairman of the panel.
“My office is only serving as the committee’s secretariat,” Mr. Dasuki said. “I am not the chairman. And you have to wait for us to complete our work. The question you asked (whether end user certificate was issued for the vehicles) is one of the issues we will look into.”
Although the NSA was evasive, top officials of his office told this newspaper that an internal review had long established that the controversial Stella Oduah’s cars are not on the lists of armoured cars known to the authorities.
This new finding raises more doubt as to whether the cars were procured reinforced, a reason the aviation ministry cited for the alarming cost of the automobiles, or whether the cars were even bought at all.
There are suggestions the ministers and the NCAA prepared the documents in circulation to cover up the looting of public funds.
That suggestion is strengthened by the refusal of the NCAA and the minister to allow PREMIUM TIMES access to inspect the cars despite initially claiming the vehicles were open to viewing by interested journalists.
The purchase of the cars have also been found to violate Nigeria’s appropriation and procurement laws: the transaction was neither in government budget nor was it advertised or openly bided for. The contract cost is also believed to have been inflated multiple folds.
Together, the violations have added to widespread outrage over the relevance of a multimillion car purchase when majority of Nigerians cannot feed. Still, a more distressing possibility could be that the cars were never purchased, and the deal was only sealed on paper as a cover for money laundering.
The ministry of aviation and the NCAA, the agency directed by Mrs Oduah to make the purchase for her, claim the two BMW sedans were bought steel-clad to keep Mrs Oduah safe from “imminent threats”.
The NCAA director general, Fola Akinkuotu, said the practice of using reinforced cars for conveying aviation ministers and foreign aviation dignitaries-who he said were also beneficiaries of the cars-was a standard global practice.
Amid mounting calls for Mrs Oduah’s removal, and for sanctions against all aviation officials involved in the scam, President Goodluck Jonathan named a three-member committee Wednesday to review the contract and submit its findings in 14 days.
Separately, the minister, alongside NCAA officials, as well as officials of Coscharis motors, the suppliers of the cars, and First Bank Plc, the financiers, are to appear before the House of Representatives standing aviation committee. The director general, Bureau of Public Procurement, is also expected to attend the hearing.
Mrs. Oduah jetted out to Israel on Tuesday, travelling with President Goodluck Jonathan for pilgrimage in Jerusalem. She was not available for the House hearing Thursday.
The House hearing established, to a large extent, that the purchase of the cars were clearly against government regulations and laws.
Also, PREMIUM TIMES careful perusal of the contract papers revealed even more 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 the 13th of that month, documents originating from the car firm show that the deal was long sealed in June and the car 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 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.
In all of Coscharis documents, nowhere was the figure N255 million used.
Culled From…. www.premiumtimesng.com