Nigeria’s Aviation Ministry has decided to go after one of its officials on suspicion that he leaked the information on the purchase of two luxury armored vehicles for the private use of its Minister, Stella Oduah. A hint to the ministry’s decision was given at a press conference in Abuja on Friday addressed by Folayele Akinkuotu, the Director General of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), the agency implicated in the scandalous purchase of the two vehicles at a whooping cost of $1.6 million (or N255 million).
Mr. Akinkuotu stated that “Nicholas Edwards”, a member of staff of the ministry who allegedly leaked the information to journalists, was on the run. He also condemned the leak that exposed the purchase of the two armored cars.
In what turned out to be a second rationale for the fraudulent purchase, Mr. Akinkuotu described the two cars as operational vehicles. He also claimed that transporting the Minister and aviation-related foreign dignitaries was part of this operation.
“It is internationally customary to convey our Minister and these visiting foreign dignitaries in security vehicles whenever they are in Nigeria,” he said. “It must be noted that during such visitations, the security of members of the delegations is the sole responsibility of the host country. The vehicles are therefore in the pool of the NCAA for these special assignments and are available at NCAA office and can be shown to you.”
Mr. Akinkuotu further said that the purchase of the two cars was not the first time his agency had procured high security vehicles for the aforementioned purposes, although he did not provide any details of previous transactions, their cost, or why two new vehicles were required at this time. Automobile sales companies in the US and the UK stated that each of the cars should be priced between $167,000 and $200,000. Mr. Akinkuotu insisted that necessary procurement procedures and due process were followed.
Ms. Oduah has come under the relentless scrutiny of civil society and commentators who are calling for her to be fired, with the Anti-Corruption Network and prominent human rights attorney, Femi Falana, also threatening to file a civil suit on Monday morning.
SaharaReporters had revealed that Ms. Oduah compelled the NCAA, a cash strapped agency under her supervision, to procure the cars for her with public funds in a case that reeks of corruption, conflict of interest, and abuse of office.
Documents published by SaharaReporters show that the transaction to procure the cars started last June. Things were then sped up with the cars supposedly delivered on August 13, 2013. J.D Nkemakolam, the former Acting Managing Director of the NCAA, sent a letter to the Managing Director of Coscharis Motors asking the company to deliver two BMW 760 armored vehicles to the agency based on a pro-forma invoice dated June 25, 2013 at the cost of N127, 575,000 ($796,846.21) each.
The total amount for the two black BMW Li HSS vehicles, with chassis numbers BAHP41050DW68032 and WBAHP41010DW68044 respectively, was N255,150,000, or $1,593,687.31.
Further investigations have shown that the cars cost considerably less everywhere else in the world.
Trying to limit the damage on Friday, Mr. Akinkuotu said that not only was his agency focused on enforcing standards and promoting safety in line with ICAO and Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (NCARs), but that NCAA has the appropriate resources required for discharging these functions.
Without providing contrary information to what has been reported, notably by SaharaReporters, he said he was “shocked to note that online media platforms (paparazzi) are now the sources of information for some mainstream media.”
Commenting on Mr. Akinkuotu’s “tales by moonlight” on Friday evening, a commentator told SaharaReporters, “If the Minister of Civil Aviation requires a pool of cars that cost N127 million each, how many cars, and of what caliber, does the President of the Federal republic require?” Earlier in the day, Premium Times reported that the whereabouts of the two luxury cars remain a mystery. Sources told the online newspaper that Ms. Oduah had never been seen riding in them or using them for any official purpose, contrary to the story told by Mr. Akinkuotu at his press conference.
Later yesterday, a source at the NCAA also told SaharaReporters that the cars were never physically delivered to the agency, adding that the minister just ordered the transport manager at the NCAA to sign a delivery note. The question is whether the cars were ever actually bought, or the transaction was a ruse aimed at looting public funds the Minister knew to be available to NCAA.
Although Mr. Akinkuotu claimed the cars were in the pool of the NCAA at yesterday’s conference, he did not show any evidence of their existence, only bragging that he could take reporters to see them if they wanted. Mr. Akinkuotu shocked reporters at the press conference when he claimed he did not know the cost of the vehicles.
It was learnt that the Presidency pressured Mr. Akinkuotu to hold the press conference in defense of the minister following the public outcry that greeted the revelations of the transactions, especially the scandalous price of the two cars.
Remarkably, Mr. Akinkuotu’s reasons for purchasing the cars differ from the initial reason offered by the minister’s spokesperson, Joe Obi. Earlier, Mr. Obi had claimed that the vehicles were purchased for the sole use of the minister because her life was in danger due to some “reforms” she carried out in the aviation sector.