President Goodluck Jonathan has queried the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, demanding a detailed explanation from her concerning the allegation that she arm-twisted an agency under her supervision, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, to buy her two armoured cars for N255 million, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report today.
In a memo marked “Restricted”, and written on a State House letterhead, Mr. Jonathan directed the embattled minister to provide him a detailed report on the procurement of the controversial bullet-proof cars, especially the cost, procurement processes and other issues relating to the transaction that have been raised by the media.
“The president is really angry at the disgrace that this shameful episode has brought upon his administration that is already hated by millions of Nigeria,” said a presidency source who has seen the memo sent to Mrs Oduah by the president. “The president has queried her as a way of following due process. He wants her to state her own side of the story in black and white.
“The president hardly feels this angry over an issue. I can tell you that except he has a change of mind, Oduah is a goner already.”
PREMIUM TIMES gathered that the president asked the minister to respond to the query, dated October 21, before his arrival from Israel, where he and some governors and ministers are expected to perform this year’s pilgrimage.
The Special Adviser to the President on Media, Reuben Abati, was not available to comment for this story. Repeated calls to his mobile telephone did not connect Tuesday night. An aide said he had been busy preparing for the trip to Israel with the President.
The spokesperson for Minister Oduah, Joe Obi, could also not be reached. He did not answer or return calls. So also was Yakubu Dati, the coordinating General Manager for Public Affairs for the aviation agencies, who has been defending the minister since the scandal broke.
However, an aide of the minister confirmed Mrs Oduah received the query on Monday and has been scrambling to put together a convincing explanation for the president.
“I can tell you that they have been cooking up explanations they believe will assuage the President,” said an aide who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the matter.
“They are trying to destroy evidence as well. The sensible thing would have been for the president to suspend her before launching an enquiry. Now she is still in charge and at liberty to destroy evidence.”
The key issues the President wants the minister to explain are the allegations she inflated the cost of the cars while also violating the 2013 Appropriation Act and the Public Procurement Act in the acquisition of the controversial cars.
She also has to convince the president that she did not by her action violate a number of Nigeria’s anti-corruption laws.
PREMIUM TIMES had authoritatively reported that the multimillion contract was never listed or approved in any government budget as required by law, neither was it openly advertised or bided for.
The contract was also not listed in the budget of the NCAA, the agency compelled by the minister to make the purchase; and was not listed by the Federal Airport Authority, FAAN or Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, NAMA.
The ministry’s own budget too, had no plan to purchase any car for the minister, or other officials this year.
Spending public funds on unbudgeted projects attracts three years in jail and a fine of N100, 000 the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences law stipulates.
Also, contracts involving public funds without due procurement processes- basically open advertising and bidding- draws a minimum of five years, and a maximum of 10 years in jail, the Public Procurement law says.
Mrs Oduah had reportedly compelled the NCAA, to buy the two BMW 760LI armoured cars for her.
Her media assistant, Joe Obi, confirmed the procurement of the cars, claiming the agency bought the vehicles to protect the minister from “imminent threats” to her life.
The confirmation attracted outrage from Nigerians, especially anti-corruption crusaders and opposition politicians, who did not only demand her sack, but also called for an immediate investigation into the matter by the nation’s anti-graft agencies.
According to them, the transaction did not go through the procurement process neither were the vehicles budgeted for. They also claim that the cost of the vehicles might have been massively inflated.
Lagos lawyer and activist, Femi Falana, wrote the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, last Friday, demanding the minister’s resignation and an immediate investigation by the commission, failing which he would head for court to compel the Commission to do so.
Another anti-corruption group, Anti-Corruption Network, ACN, headed by a former member of the House of Representatives, Dino Melaye, also gave Mrs Oduah 72 hours to refund the N255 million used to purchase the cars. The group also threatened to sue her.
Other groups that called for the minister’s head include the Conference for Nigeria Political Parties, CNPP, Say No Campaign Nigeria, SNCN, and Centre for Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC.
Mrs Oduah had reportedly made desperate moves to suppress the matter since it blew open by reaching out to some influential individuals and socio-cultural groups, including Aka Ikenga to mount a campaign that she was being victimised for stepping on the toes of some influential forces in the aviation sector.
She was reported to have also reached out to some media organisations to help checkmate the attacks on her.
Besides, she tried unsuccessfully to seek audience with Mr. Jonathan.
On Tuesday, a day after the president’s query was issued, the NCAA made further attempts to save the minister.
Mr. Dati insisted in a statement Tuesday that due process was followed in the purchase of the vehicles for the minister.
He also claimed that those calling for Mrs Oduah’s head were doing so with the aim of preventing Mr. Jonathan from contesting the 2015 presidential election.