By SaharaReporters, New York
The paper’s report is carried in its October 17, 2013 edition and titled, “Ministry confirms purchase of N255m vehicles for Oduah”. The story, reported for Punch by Udeme Ekwere, stated, “The Ministry of Aviation has confirmed that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority bought two bulletproof vehicles worth $1.6m (N255m) for the Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah.
“An online news medium, SaharaReporters, had reported on Tuesday that the armored vehicles were delivered to the minister in August.
“The medium reported that documents in its possession showed that the transaction for the purchase of the two BMW cars started in June, but the request for the delivery of and payment for them was fast-tracked between August 13 and 15, 2013.
“The transaction involved the NCAA, First Bank of Nigeria, and Coscharis Motors Limited, according to the report.
“The two black BMW 760 Li HSS vehicles had chassis numbers WBAHP41050DW68032 and WBAHP41010DW68044, and were reportedly delivered to the NCAA on August 13, 2013. They were received by two store managers, F. Onoabhagbe and Y. A. Amzat, who is also the agency’s head of transport.”
The paper stated that Joe Obi, the Aviation Minister’s special assistant on the media, confirmed the purchase, claiming that “the vehicles were purchased to protect the minister from some external threats.” According to the Punch, Mr. Obi had told the paper, ‘“Yes, it is true that some security vehicles were procured for the use of the office of the honorable minister in response to the clear and imminent threat to her personal security and life following the bold steps she took to reposition the sector.”’
The paper further quoted the minister’s media aide as stating: ‘“When she came on board as the minister, she inherited a lot of baggage in terms of the concession and lease agreements in the sector, which were clearly not in the interest of the government and people of Nigeria. And so, she took bold steps and some of these agreements were reviewed and some were terminated, and these moves disturbed some entrenched interests in the sector, and within this period, she began to receive some imminent threats to her life; therefore, the need for the vehicles.”
Mr. Obi added: ‘“It should be noted that these vehicles are not personal vehicles and were not procured in the name of the honorable minister; they are utility vehicles and are for the office of the minister, and if she leaves the office, she will not be taking the vehicles along with her.”’
However, the Punch reported that the NCAA’s spokesperson, Mr. Fan Ndubuike, “feigned ignorance” about the cars.
‘“I am not aware of anything like that,”’ he told our correspondent at 8.05 p.m. on Wednesday.”
The Punch report added that “two major air crashes have occurred under Oduah’s watch.
These were the Dana Air crash in Lagos on June 3, 2012, in which 163 people died; and the Associated Airlines crash of October 3, 2013, also in Lagos, which claimed 15 lives. A day after the Associated Airlines’ crash, a Kabo Airlines’ Boeing 747-400 plane carrying 512 pilgrims made an emergency landing at the Sokoto airport with deflated tires and damaged the airport’s Instrument Landing System.
“On Sunday, an IRS Airlines Fokker 100 plane carrying 99 passengers also made an emergency landing at the Kaduna airport, after developing hydraulic problems mid-air. Four days after the tragic crash involving Associated Airlines’ Embraer 120 plane, Oduah described air accidents as God’s will that were inevitable.” She said notwithstanding this reality, the Federal Government would continue to ensure that there were no accidents.
“The minister made the submission while fielding questions from State House correspondents on investigations into the crash. The minister said, ‘We do not pray for accidents but they are inevitable. But we will continue to do everything to ensure that we do not have accidents. But an accident is an act of God. Again, we do not speculate on the causes of accidents. Until they happen, you cannot say this is the cause or that is not the cause. But what is obvious and is the truth is that in aviation, there are shared responsibilities, starting from the man that carries your luggage to the man that makes sure that your boarding pass is issued to you. And so, the regulatory agency, the operators, the management, everybody has his/her responsibility and all must work in tandem for there to be an optimal, secure and safe aviation sector in the country. And that is what we have been working on.”’
The paper further reported that Ms. Oduah “described those saying that she left the issue of safety in the airspace to dwell on money-making ventures as ignorant.”
Sources within the NCAA had told SaharaReporters that the minister was irresponsible for demanding the purchase of two armored BMW cars for her personal use when the agency is unable to buy critical equipment and send its staff for important training. In her statement after the October 3, 2013 crash of an Associated Airline plane, Ms. Oduah herself “had explained that security and safety could not be achieved without proper funding,” according to the Punch.
The NCAA is responsible for monitoring the airworthiness of commercial planes flying within Nigeria’s airspace.
The Punch reported that the agency “has been under fire lately over a series of mishaps and near crashes involving planes being operated by domestic airlines that were certified fit for flight operations by the NCAA. There have also been rumors that the NCAA does not have enough funds to upgrade its equipment, send its employees for critical training and hire enough qualified hands, while questions are also being raised by industry watchers on the ability of the cash-strapped agency to procure such expensive vehicles.”
The paper reported that the NCAA’s Director-General, Captain Fola Akinkuotu, “had on Monday denied the claims of being cash-strapped, saying that the agency was buoyant.” Mr. Akinkuotu reportedly stated, “We are not broke, we have been carrying out all our responsibilities and have been undertaking the training of our staff as and when due. I can tell you that right now, some of our staff members are undergoing training abroad and we still have others that are waiting for approval; we do not joke with training here and I challenge anyone to come up with anything otherwise to that effect.”