Documents have revealed how about $122million (N18.3bn) was withdrawn in questionable circumstances from the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) account of the Aviation Ministry and yet the ministry of Aviation is saddled with a debt burden of N100Billion
Documents exclusively obtained by ORDERPAPER.NG indicate that at least $23million (N3.4bn) of these removals were made between 2012 and 2014 when Mrs. Stella Oduah held sway as minister of Aviation.
The pattern of withdrawals fell short of due process and arouse suspicions as the account statements from the banks failed to indicate to whom the moneys were paid and/or for what purposes.
In each case, the transactions were all carried out on a particular day in different ranches (as indicated in the documents attached.)
The BASA account is domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and is operated through third party commercial banks in some cases. It is spent only on approval from the president for intervention purposes usually requested by the minister of aviation.
Sources say to facilitate the suspicious transactions on the fund, Oduah allegedly built a web and network of loyalists and appointed cronies as heads of various parastatals of the Aviation Ministry who continued to do her bidding even out of office.
These cronies, according to sources withdrew $9.2million in December 2014 and another $4.1million in June, 2015, one month after the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration was inaugurated.
When ORDERPAPER.NG contacted Mr. Osita Chidoka, Oduah’s successor as minister, if he directed any withdrawal from the account, this is how he replied: “Thanks for asking. I believe the ministry will have the details of expenditure from all its accounts. I don’t have any details to provide. Feel free to contact me if you require any clarifications.”
Did President Buhari approve any withdrawal from BASA account in June? When ORDERPAPER.NG contacted Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Adesina on this question, he referred our reporter to the Ministry for details.
But former Permanent Secretary in charge of Aviation, Binta Bello said funding for aviation projects halted once Oduah was removed as minister.
“Since she left, these intervention funds stopped,” she said at a meeting with the senate committee on Aviation November 3, 2015.
However, findings by ORDERPAPER.NG showed that the BASA funds continued to be accessed severally even when Oduah had left office.
Details of the June 2015 transactions on the BASA Account domiciled at the London branch of First Bank revealed that six successive withdrawals totalling $4,140,309.25 were made on June 29, 2015. A breakdown of the withdrawals is as follows: $2,057,536.64; $88,866.18; $1,688,457.45; $88,866.18; $108,291.40; and $108,291.40.
In December 2014, over $9m was removed from the BASA account through the First Bank London branch on the 10th day of the month in tranches of five successive withdrawals.
Attempts to get the Director-General of the NCAA, Mr. Muhtar Usman to explain these withdrawals were futile as he did not respond to phone calls and text messages sent to his phones.
The NCAA is the statutory signatory to the BASA account.
Like previous other questionable withdrawals, the account statement for the month of June did not give details of who specifically collected the monies nor stated the purpose for the withdrawals as it simply said ‘payment as per instruction’ in each case.
Findings by ORDERPAPER.NG indicated that under Oduah as minister, the BASA fund was accessed severally even when contractors were being owed for projects purportedly undertaken and for which the ministry continued to pile debts.
Ms Bello had put the total debt by the ministry at N100billion shortly before the new minister, Mr. Hadi Sirika assumed office.
In another suspicious transaction, a statement of the BASA account for the month of February 2013 when Oduah was in office showed that some $13.4million was collected same day on the 4th of February 2013 in tranches of four withdrawals which failed to indicate the direct beneficiary or purpose for which the payments were made as the remark on each withdrawal simply read “Payment as Per Your Instruction.”
Beside using BASA funds supposedly for airports remodelling projects, the Federal Executive Council approved N20bn worth of contracts for the ministry under Oduah in 2013.
Although ORDERPAPER.NG could not confirm if full payments were made, investigations so far indicate that the contracts may have simply been conduit pipes for corruption since most of the projects were unexecuted and yet the ministry remains indebted to the tune of N100billion.
It is in the light of these questionable deals that Mrs. Oduah may have lobbied her way to be a member of the Senate Aviation Committee which oversights the ministry and parastatals under it.
When contacted for clarifications Mrs, Oduah rained invectives on our reporter over the phone, accusing him of blackmail and threatening to “fight you social media people with the last drop of my blood.”
She said: “I will sue you. I have two online publishing that I fund. Before when I was in government I took those rubbish, but this time I won’t take this rubbish. Go ahead and publish. I am not afraid. It is untrue and unfair. I have served this country. I don’t deserve this. I will fight you to the finish. I will fight you with the last drop of my blood.”
In all her tantrums, Mrs. Oduah failed to address the specific questions for which she was contacted.
Recall that Oduah was sacked from office in February 2014 after the House of Representatives and a presidential panel both indicted her in the N225million BMW cars scandal which had attracted huge public opprobrium to the Goodluck Jonathan administration. She won a seat into the senate in the 2015 general election.