by Stella Oduah
Let me first and foremost apologise for my inability to honour your invitation to appear before you on the last day the public hearing held. My non appearance was not borne out of disrespect to this Honourable House. Let me also thank the Honourable Committee for rescheduling my appearance to today.
The invitation to appear before this Honourable Committee was brought to my attention while I was on national assignment far away in the State of Israel to conclude negotiations and sign a Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) on behalf of our dear country. I received the invitation with gratitude to God because of the promise of the opportunity it would afford me for Nigerians, and indeed the whole world, to hear my own side of the story.
In the last few weeks, I have received all sorts of bashings in the media. So many persons have also risen to my defense. My traducers have abused me, some of them out of a genuine sense of outrage that I allegedly spent the sum of USD1.6 Million of government funds to purchase for myself 2 nos bullet proof BMW Cars for my personal use while millions of Nigerians are unable to afford three square meals daily.
“You may recall that there have been attempts to clarify issues pertaining to this particular procurement. You will also recall that in the process some of the issues were further muddled up.
I mention in this regard the first attempt at clarifying the issue by the Coordinating Spokesperson for the Parastatals who, without recourse to the Minister or the Principal Officers of the Ministry and its Agencies described the information as a mere rumour.
“This was followed by the statement of my S.A Media who was himself guided by his own perception of the duties and challenges of the office of the Minister and possibly, even the danger to the person and office of the Minister.
This is made evident by the fact that his statement focused on the personal security of the Minister without recourse to the procurement process and policy file to which he did not have access; hence a statement that the procurement was for the “safety and security of the Honourable Minister whom he said was facing some imminent threats to her life on account of the reforms in the sector”.
“The last official intervention in this matter came from the Director General of NCAA, the agency charged with the oversight of the aviation sector and the agency that actually undertook the procurement.
Whereas the DG was right in saying that the vehicles were not bought for the Minister, the anticipated positive effect of this correct piece of information was marred by remarks credited to the DG suggesting that the agency was more concerned about issues of administration and information security that had no bearing on this issue. In this regard, we must bear in mind that the DG was very likely guided by the provisions of the Official Secret Act but which I make bold to state before you must not take precedent over the Freedom of Information Act or the powers of the National Assembly under Sections 88 and 89 of the Constitution.
Let me therefore state finally concerning the above and for the records that there was no attempt at anytime to either deliberately mislead the public or conceal any information regarding this transaction; and also to formally apologise for whatever tension or perception of same as a result of the foregoing. On that note therefore, I stand before you as the Minister of Aviation, a citizen of Nigeria and one of your constituents and affirm the foregoing clarifications.
“The second category of my traducers are the entrenched interests in the aviation sector who, for over 38 years have held the sector by the jugular and refused to allow any meaningful development and change take place. For the over 38 years that our airports were a damning commentary on our status as part of the civilized world; or when our airspace existed without the requisite
navigational equipments and facilities to make the airspace safe; these category of persons saw no evil and heard no evil while they happily clapped their ways to the banks! This group has carried on with bitter venom, .. throwing decency and honour overboard, lying and misleading the Nigerian populace even when they knew the truth because my team and I changed the game in favour of Nigeria attaining her pride of place in the comity of nations.
“It is for the first category, the Nigerian people who have acted out of a genuine sense of patriotism, that I seize this opportunity with both hands to let the world know the truth surrounding this matter. For the second category, that is the entrenched, corrupt and profligate individuals and entities who have caused the serious rot in the aviation sector, I owe no apologies; all I owe them is to further inform them that the current generation has seen through them and are no longer willing to tolerate their antics.
“Honourable Chairman, my initial enthusiasm was almost doused when I became aware of what transpired when the Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Aviation appeared before this Honourable Committee as my representative, with a letter conveying my regards and requesting to present the position of the Federal Ministry of Aviation. I have it on good authority that after his appeal and the presentation of my letter, he was, in the words of some newspaper headlines, “walked out of the House”
“I do not know why the Honourable Committee acted in the manner it did, knowing that the Permanent Secretary is a bona fide Nigerian citizen and therefore entitled to observe the proceedings of his representatives assembled in parliament like any other citizen, more so when the matters being discussed at a “public hearing” are of interest to him. I wondered why this Honourable Committee did what it did: Was there an agenda to harass, cow and intimidate me and ensure that I am unable to state my own side of the story fearlessly? I wondered whether some persons were afraid of the truth being told as it is. ” –
“ I believe that the Honourable House harbours no such agenda. I believe that it was one of those moments when, the false accusations and my trial in the media, had affected the sense of outrage of the Honourable members as citizens of our great nation.. Fortified in this knowledge of the fairness of this Committee, I prepared my presentation knowing that the Honourable Committee will continue to treat me fairly and afford me the opportunity to present it to the Nigerir people without let or hindrance. My humble appeal is that the Honourable Committee will discountenance the blatant falsehoods that have been peddled against me in the media and patiently hear my side of the story.
The Allegations Against Me
“Honourable Chairman, as you are all aware, what necessitated this public hearing were the events that followed a false and malicious online publica—tion that I compelled the NCAA to purchase for me 2 nos BMW bullet proof cars at the cost of USD1.6 Million. Let me state emphatically from the onset that the allegation against me concerning the purchase of 2 nos bulletproof cars for me by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) is false in its entirety.
“Your Honours, ladies and gentlemen, our nation is at a cross road in its history. The transformation agenda of Mr. President has changed our ways of doing things significantly. Mr. President recognized the infrastructural deficit in our nation and has taken very bold steps to address this and in order to bequeath to the next generation a nation that can compete favourably in the comity of nations and imbue our next generation with pride and patriotism.
“The massive investment and the aggressive prosecution of this agenda in this regard have seen the aviation sector being transformed. Today, 22 Airports owned by the Federal Government are at various stages of becoming decent and world class terminals. Nigeria’s airspace has become one of the safest in the world with the deployment of modern navigational equipments and infrastructures. The oversight capacity of the whole sector
has been strengthened with the relevant regulations in place and the training and retraining of personnel. Our National Aviation Policy has been reviewed to chart the path to a safer and secure aviation sector. The plan to make Nigeria have a national carrier is at an advanced stage of implementation. The pursuit of an aviation sector that is self sustaining is being pursued with all aggression and vigour.
“All the efforts to bring change to the aviation sector have been resisted with vigour by the entrenched interests that have been ripping off the nation. We have had to put our foot down in the national interest and stopped the rape of our national patrimony. We have had to confront frontally very powerful forces that have held the sector hostage. My team and I are not people who will see things going very wrong, fold our arms and complain and not lift a finger to do anything. We dared to act, convinced that it was in the national interest to do so.
“We are not at our destination yet, but Nigerians who are witnesses to the rot of yesteryears are now proud of their nation seeing what is going on in the aviation sector. What we are doing in the sector, together with the effort in other equally important sectors, have given hope to the mass of our people that we can do something, apart from complaining, about the decay in our national life. ;
“In doing what we have done, the purveyors of the rot and corruption that have characterized the sector have at no time folded their arms. They have fought back every inch of the way. The latest false and wicked allegation of purchase of 2 nos bulletproof cars for me by the NCAA is another of the fabrications in their arsenal of lies to discredit my team and make our reformation of the sector lack credibility in the hope that that will clear the coast for them to return to their wicked old ways. But we have only one message for this group: The Nigerian people now know better and will no longer tolerate them!
“ Matters Arising from the Lease Financing Arrangement for Operational Vehicles by the NCAA
Did the NCAA Spend Monies Not Approved by the Appropriation Act, 2013?
Honourable Chairman, the NCAA, as a result of the daily interaction with the law in its regulatory and enforcement roles, is at all times and in all matters conscious of its obligations of complying with the law and all extant rules and regulations of the Government. The NCAA is therefore conscious of its obligations relating in particular to appropriation and will never spend monies that have not been appropriated by the National Assembly.
“It is in this regard, therefore, that the NCAA, within the framework of the Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) approved by the National Assembly as a planning tool, planned its budget with regard to acquisition of operational and other security and safety vehicles for the next three years in a manner compliant with Section 80 (4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as Amended), that prohibits the spending of monies from any fund of the Federation except as appropriated by the National Assembly.
“The media has been awash with the purported spending of monies by the NCAA to the tune of USD1.6 million, N255 million and other figures on the purchase of vehicles by the NCAA. Honourable Chairman, IT IS NOT TRUE THAT THE NCAA HAS SPENT SUCH AMOUNT OF MONEY ON PURCHASE OF VEHICLES, It is also NOT TRUE THAT THE NCAA HAS PURCHASED 2 BULLETPROOF BMW VEHICLES FOR THE HONOURABLE MINISTER OF AVIATION.
“Honourable members, as pointed out above, what the NCAA has done, is to plan for the acquisition of vehicles for the next three years within the MTEF through a LEASE FINANCING ARRANGEMENT with First Bank of Nigeria, Pic. Under this arrangement, NCAA’s obligation to First Bank of Nigeria, Pic is N23 million monthly which will be liquidated in 3 years (36 months). By the end of the year 2013, the total amount the NCAA would have spent on the acquisition of these vehicles will be N116 Million only. This is below the amount of N240 million appropriated by the NASS for the purchase of vehicles by NCAA in the 2013 Appropriation Act. What the NCAA has done within the framework of the MTEF and its desire to be prudent, is to plan its budget in a manner that the cash flow of the Authority is to accommodate spending effortlessly. The relevant portion of the Approved budget is annexed as Annexure FMA “1″.
Justification for the Lease Financing of the 2 Nos BMW Cars
“Honourable Chairman, the NCAA owes its very existence to the benevolence and wisdom of the National Assembly expressed through the making of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Act, 2006. As the regulator of the entire aviation industry, the NCAA, pursuant to powers granted under the Civil Aviation Act, 2006 makes and enforces Regulations towards ensuring safety and security of Nigeria’s airspace. The NCAA in addition, plays a pivotal role in carrying out Nigeria’s international obligations and responsibilities.
“NCAA has done this with distinction over the years ensuring that Nigeria currently has attained the coveted Category One certification of the U.S FAA; Nigeria is currently a member of the ICAO Council with the strong probability that a Nigerian may emerge the President of the ICAO Council in a matter of days, hopefully by the end of the month of November, 2013 and on the 6th of December, 2013, both the outgoing President and incoming President of ICAO will be in Nigeria. The aggregate of the various victories of Nigeria in the international arena, including the re-election of Nigeria as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, is that Nigeria is increasingly readdressing the negative perceptions about our nation.
“The inadequacy and unreliability of NCAA existing operational vehicles due to old age and depreciation necessitated the acquisition of the new ones. Furthermore, with the appointment of a new Director General, Directors, General Managers and other Management Staff there was the need for additional operational and service vehicles. Moreover, the fact that NCAA, as the regulator of the industry, often plays host to dignitaries from ICAO, IATA, US FAA, AFRAA, AFCAC, BAG, CANSO, ACI and a host of others made it imperative to have various specifications of operational vehicles including the purchase of the 2 nos security/safety vehicles. Certification is a continuous exercise in aviation and surveillance is a part of the daily operations of the NCAA.
“As pointed out above, Nigeria is an important player in ICAO circles and Nigeria’s emergence as a member of the General Council has increased the expectations in international aviation. Most importantly, the expected emergence of a Nigerian as the President of the General Council of ICAO will make Nigeria one of the most significant destinations for actors in the international aviation sector. This will place additional burdens on us as a nation.
“It is all these factors that the NCAA considered in planning for the acquisition of the different specifications of vehicles through a Lease Financing Arrangement. The security challenges in Nigeria today are known to all and the efforts and concern of government at all levels towards tackling this have been very glaring. However, while government is tackling the matter, the impact of an attack leading to the death, kidnapping or other injuries to international aviation actors in international circles will simply be disastrous. In addition, matters of insecurity do not wait until you have the resources to fight them before they occur. It requires proactive interface and preventive measures.
“The NCAA considered that it will not be in the interest of our nation if the security issues above were to occur and so ought to be avoided at all cost. The NCAA acted with the highest patriotic consideration within the ambit of the Law and the Constitution.
“Did NCAA Purchase 2 Nos Bulletproof Vehicles for Me as the Honourable Minister of Aviation?
“Honourable members, another falsehood in the public domain relating to this Lease Financing Arrangement is that the NCAA purchased two bulletproof vehicles for me as the Honourable Minister of Aviation. This is TOTALLY FALSE. The 2 nos security/safety BMW vehicles which the NCAA acquired are for security and safety as appropriated by the NASS in the 2013 budget in Item 6. The title documents which are in the names of NCAA/FIRST BANK PLC, as well as spare keys of all the vehicles purchased under the lease financing arrangement are currently with First Bank of Nigeria, Pic as is the case with such arrangements and best practice.
“Honourable Chairman, in addressing the issue of authorization by the NASS as contained in Item 6 of the budget, we invite your honours to consider the narration. In the narration, your honours will observe that the 2 nos security/safety vehicles are provided for distinctively. They are separate from the other vehicles listed. The legislative process, including the process of appropriation, involves a lot of explanations by the beneficiaries of legislative powers in that regard, but when the explanations eventually find merit and is passed, all that happened preceding the passage of the Law cannot be the basis of any meaningful discussion.
“There was nothing in the approved documents reflecting my name, when the budget was being made. At no time did I ever request for any vehicle from the NCAA. It was the agency that had the need and made the request to the Federal Ministry of Aviation. After the purchase on a 3 year Lease Financing arrangement, the vehicles were never delivered to me. The vehicles were also not registered in my name but that of the agency.
“Your Honours, I draw attention to this fact because of the erroneous belief in some quarters that, because in the course of the NCAA defending its budget proposal for 2013, it had to return to the NASS a few times to explain their proposal, therefore the purchase was never appropriated. That is false as the budget is before the Nigerian people and as pointed out, 2 nos security/safety vehicles were appropriated by the NASS.
“Honourable Chairman, on the procurement procedure for the lease arrangement for the acquisition of the vehicles, let me reiterate that the NCAA followed the due process required by law. As we gather here today, there exist no guidelines issued by the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) on lease financing arrangements. Despite this lacuna occasioned by the absence of such a guideline, the NCAA followed the due process by involving all the Banks in Nigeria. The Federal Ministry of Aviation under my watch has always been mindful of the need to ensure that we act in a prudent manner and within the ambit of the law and this can be testified to by the tremendous transformation that has occurred in the sector in the last 2 years.
“Specifically, I wish to draw the attention of the Honourable Committee to the procedure adopted by the NCAA in procuring the operational vehicles:
*On the 15tl] of April, 2013 an official letter was written by the NCAA requesting for approval to procure operational vehicles through Lease Financing. The NCAA’s letter is annexed herein as Anncxure FMA
*On the 25th of April, 2013 approval was conveyed to NCAA for the acquisition of operational vehicles through Lease Financing, The letter annexed is Annexure FMA “3″.
*On the strength of the above letter of approval, the NCAA got the list of all Banks in Nigeria on 7th May, 2013 and circulated a Request for Expression of Interest on the financing of the lease. The letters to all the Banks requesting for Expression of Interest (EOI) are annexed as Annexures FMA “4 – 22″.
*On 24th May, 2013 the Request for Expression of Interest (EOI) was publicly opened. Three Banks submitted proposals.
*The Evaluation of the Expression of Interests was held on 31^ May, 2013 during which First Bank Pic, Union Bank Pic and Stanbic IBTC responded.
*On the 10th June, 2013 the above three banks were invited to submit Financial Proposals. Thereafter, First Bank of Nigeria, Pic emerged the highest rated responsive bidder.
*Between 20th and 25th June, 2013 NCAA received invoices from various accredited motor vehicle dealers during which only Coscharis Motors Limited quoted for BMW Bulletproof Vehicles. Copies of the invoices are attached as Annexure FMA “23 – 42″. ;
*On 28th June, 2013 NCAA Parastatal Tenders Board approved the selection of First Bank of Nigeria, Pic for the Lease Financing as well as Metropolitan Motor Vehicles and Coscharis for the supply of the vehicles. This approval was predicated on the due process documentations done by the NCAA.
*On 1st July, 2013 the NCAA sought the approval based on the invoices and the final negotiations with the financing Banks.
*Based on the outcome of the negotiations as contained in the invoices from the Banks, on 5th July, 2013 the approval of the Federal Ministry of Aviation was conveyed to NCAA. The letters dated 5th July, 2013 is annexed as Annexure FMA “43″.
*I am aware that between 8th July, 2013 to 121’1 August, 2013 various meetings were held with First Bank of Nigeria, Pic and necessary documentations were carried out A copy of the Letter of Offer of Credit Facility containing the terms of the relationship dated 30th July, 2013 is attached as Annexure FMA “44″.
*On 13th August, 2013 the suppliers of the vehicles were contacted at the instance of First Bank of Nigeria, Pic.
The Honourable Committee may wish to confirm that the NCAA sent out Expression of Interest (EOIs) to the following banks:
1. Sterling Bank Pic
2. Zenith Bank Pic
3. Keystone Bank Limited
4. Access Bank Pic
5. Diamond Bank Pic
6. Skye Bank Pic
7. Standard Chatered Bank Nig Ltd
8. Mainstreet Bank Limited
9. Union Bank of Nigeria Pic
10.Unity Bank Pic
11.Fidelity Bank Pic
12.Guaranteed Trust Bank Pic
I3.Ecobank Pic :
14. United Bank for Africa Pic
15.First City Monument Bank Pic
16.First Bank of Nigeria Pic .;.
17.Wema BankPlc IS.Citi Bank Pic
19.Equitorial Trust Bank Limited
20.Enterprise Bank Pic
22.Heritage Bank Limited
Honourable Chairman and members, we have made all of these explanations because we believe that the essence of this hearing is to confirm whether we acted responsibly and in the best interest of our nation and within the framework of the Constitution and the Law. We believe that all of this is meant to make our nation and her citizens have the best value for whatever money is appropriated and spent. It is in this belief and our duty under the Law and the Constitution that we have placed all materials involved in this transaction before you in order that you may be able to arrive at a fair and just determination in the larger interest of our people.
“We reiterate that NCAA has not spent any money not appropriated by the National Assembly. Indeed what they have spent so far on ALL the vehicles acquired through the Lease Financing Arrangement with First Bank of Nigeria Pic is N52,000,000.00 (Fifty Two Million Naira only). By so doing, they have saved the nation cost and the possible embarrassment that may arise if the events we have pointed out earlier were to occur.
“We further reiterate that the NCAA DID NOT purchase 2 nos bullet proof vehicles for me as the Honourable Minister of Aviation. We reiterate that the NCAA purchased 2 nos security vehicles for the operations of the NCAA in line with monies approved for the NCAA under the Appropriated Act passed by the National Assembly.
“Thank you for the opportunity afforded me to make this presentation and for your patience in listening to us.”