The many sins of Stella Oduah, Minster of Aviation
By Franklin Ihejirika
In the past few months, the aviation industry has been dogged with controversies ranging from the October 3rd Associated Airline plane crash in Lagos which claimed the lives of about 15 people on board and the incessant incidents that followed afterwards.
But all these anger and backlash was compounded by the issue of the moment, the brewing car purchase scandal involving the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) and the Minster of aviation, Princess Stella Oduah.
Following the Associated Airline plane crash in Lagos, the Minster incurred the ire of Nigerians on her comment that the Associated Aviation Services plane crash of October 3, 2013 at the Murtala Mohammed Airport, MMA, Lagos was an act of God.
The Minster of Aviation has in the past been accused of shoddy deals in the remodeling of the airports across the country, especially in the area of the bidding process of the contracts which some aviation stakeholders said was not bidded for and the poor and substandard materials used in the construction works, including the non disclosure of the cost of the remodeled airports apart from the GAT, Lagos.
The national leader of All Progressive Congress (APC) and former governor of Lagos state, Bola Ahmed Tinubu had earlier criticised the aviation authorities saying that, “Nigeria’s Aviation is a risk, we have never allowed professionals to run the Aviation industry, and we created too much bureaucracy, kinsman ship, ethnicity and mediocrity to intervene in our decisions. We play with the lives of Nigerians, we have no infrastructure, and this runway that we landed on is one of the worst in the world. It does not meet world standards, you allowed non professional, fraudsters, corruption, to dominate, the ministry. Ministry should have nothing to do with all agencies. The professionals in the ministry of aviation should be adequately trained; they should be trained and retrained to meet the world standards, the independence of decisions.”
Before now, she was accused of preventing airlines from flying into the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano. But she denied the allegations adding that she had never at any time ordered some foreign airlines, particularly Emirates, Etihad and Turkish airlines not to operate into the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja and the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano.
This is coming just as The Patriots, an association has joined in the call for her immediate sack for corruption, incompetence and negligence of duties.
The Patriots in a letter to the presidency signed by Rose Ibekaku called for the immediate sack of the Minister of aviation who they accused of collecting the sum of N158m each from the accounts of aviation agencies like the Nigerian Airspace Management Agency, (NAMA), NCAA, FAAN and other agencies under her watch.
Ibekaku in the memo alleged that the deductions have successfully crippled the operations of the agencies concerned to the extent that paying staff entitlements have recently become a herculean task.
Oduah was also purported to have a stake in Price Waters Coopers, PWC, which audited various aspects of four agencies at N250m each.
According to the document, “Price Waters Coopers, PWC, has audited various aspects of four agencies under the Ministry’s financial operations for at least four times. As we speak PWC staff, young boys and girls who have hardly graduated from university are on ground at the Parastatals offices since January this year to date looking for God knows what.”
“The Minister usually fixes the audit fee to be paid by the aviation agencies to PWC for these phony consultancy audits at about N250m each, totaling to a whopping sum of N1bn on each occasion for FAAN, NCAA, NAMA and AIB. Sequel to our investigations, we have discovered that just recently, World Bank cancelled a long existing training grant to the NCAA because of the minister’s illegal over-bearing influence on the agency. Usually, the World Bank does only provide funds for the training, but also conducts the training itself. It’s shocking that Madam Minister in her bid to scoop every available kobo from the ministry and its agencies she directed that world bank to monitise it and put the funds under her supervision.” , the Patriots noted
The allegations of the Patriots is also coming on the heels of the recent revelations by Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) that the Minister and the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) breached the Public Procurement Act in the purchase of two armoured BMW cars for the Minister.
More so, it was discovered that apart from the two armoured cars, the NCAA purchased 52 other “operational vehicles” which exceeded the N240 million approved in the 2013 budget.
The BPE revealed to the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation led by Hon. Nkiruka Onyejocha investigating the controversial purchase of the two armoured BMW cars for the Minister that the NCAA spent N623million on 54 cars, instead of N240million on 25 cars (excluding the BMW armoured cars) as appropriated in the 2013 budget.
According to the DG of BPP, Engineer Emeka Eze, who was represented Mr. Ayo Adedigbe, at the House Committee’s probing stated that contrary to section 15 and other relevant sections of the Act establishing the BPP, the Due Process office and the civil society were not involved in the procurement process of the cars.
He explained that, no request letter was sent to BPP for the purchase of the vehicles, adding that a contract involving such huge sums of money can only be approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) as the Minister has no powers to approve any contract beyond N100 million.
Adedigbe cited a circular signed by the former Head of Service, Ahmed Yayale, drawing the attention of public servants to section 19 (2) of the Public Procurement Act to buttress his point.
According to him, “A circular issued on the 11th of March, 2009 and signed by the then Head of Service, Mahmud Yayale Ahmed, directs that such a contract should have been approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC), under section 19(2) of the Public Procurement Act.”
In his presentation at the panel, former acting director general of NCAA, Mr. Joyce D. Nkemakolam who is now the director of Aerodrome and Airspace Standards (DAS) who was the acting director general of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) at the time of the transaction from April 14 to August 14, 2013 when the contract for the purchase of the vehicles was done between First Bank of Nigeria, Coscharis Motors and NCAA, disclosed that the agreement was signed for the purchase of the two BMW cars at the rate of N127million each and 52 other “operational vehicles” were also procured at a total cost of N623million.
Nkemakolam explained that the deal between Coscharis and FBN, was that the BMW armoured cars bought at N255m at the rate of N127.575 each, would be paid in installments, adding that NCAA would pay N23.249.181 million monthly to Coscharis for the two cars through FBN.
He noted that the NCAA, besides the two vehicles for the Minister, also on 13th August, 2013, contacted Metropolitan Motors and other car companies to supply 17 vehicles for N78m at the rate of N4.5m each. Toyota Hilux cars for N81million at the rate of N5.428m each; 14 Toyota Prado Jeeps at the rate of N14million each and N12m and a Toyota Land Cruiser GX, for N15m, rising to a total of N387.938million.
Speaking earlier, the director-general of the NCAA, Capt. Fola Akintuotu, exonerated himself that he was not in charge of affairs when the transaction took place.
Akintuotu stated that he assumed duties on August 14, after the expenditure had been done.
Joe Obi, the Aviation Minister’s special assistant on the media, who confirmed the purchase claimed that “the vehicles were purchased to protect the minister from some external threats.” ‘“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”, Obi said.
According to Obi, ‘“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.”
Obi stated that, “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.”’
The lawmakers had earlier rejected the presentation from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Aviation, Mr. George Ossy, who represented the Minister and insisted that the Minister must appear in person next Tuesday.
The Permanent Secretary had explained that the Minister was away to Israel on official assignment and would not return until Monday.
While declaring open the investigation, Speaker Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, warned that the House would not tolerate a violation of the Constitution, the Appropriation Act, 2013(Budget 2013) and relevant laws in respect of the purchase of the said cars.
The Speaker, who was represented at the investigative hearing by the Deputy Leader of the House, Hon. Leo Okuweh Ogor(PDP-Delta), described the transaction as unfortunate.
As the controversy rages on the car purchase scandal, President Goodluck Jonathan had on Tuesday issued a query to the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah over the N255 million armoured cars scandal involving her and the NCAA.
President Jonathan had also on Wednesday set up a three-man administrative panel of enquiry to probe the embattled Minister of Aviation, Mrs. Stella Oduah, over the purchase of two bullet-proof BMW cars worth $1.6m (about N255m) by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority on her orders.
Members of the panel include Alhaji Sali Bello, a former Head of Service of the Federation, who will serve as chairman; Col. Sambo Dasuki (Rtd.), the National Security Adviser; and Air Vice Marshal Dick Iruenebere (Rtd.).
According to the presidential spokesman Reuben Abati, the panel would, among others, ascertain whether the procurement of the vehicles followed due process, ascertain the purpose of procurement and inquire into any other incidental matter. The panel was given two weeks to submit its report.
President Jonathan has in the query asked the minister to explain her role in the purchase of the vehicles and the circumstances under which the purchase of the cars were made.
In her response to the query by Mr. President, Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, stated that the procurement of the cars followed due process and was provided for in the NCAA 2013 budget.
In her defence titled: Executive Summary on the Procurement of NCAA operational vehicles, Oduah maintained that the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, is the statutory regulator of the Nigeria Civil Aviation Industry charged with oversight responsibilities over all civil aviation operations in the country, including safety, security and strict compliance with ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices, SARPs, and Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations, NCARs.
According to her, “towards the effective implementation of its statutory regulatory responsibilities, therefore, it is imperative that the NCAA is fully equipped with highly specialised tools and facilities, including adequate operational vehicles to cover all 22 national airports and over 400 airstrips. In keeping with standard practice, provision is therefore made annually for the replacement of obsolete, inadequate and unreliable monitoring equipment. In the 2013 budgetary appropriation, provision was made for the procurement of specialised equipment (including operational vehicles) to complement and in some cases replace obsolete ones.”
“Furthermore, the fact that NCAA, as the regulator of the industry, often plays host to dignitaries from ICAO, IATA, US FAA, AFRAA, AFCAC BAGASO, CANSO, ACI and a host of others makes it necessary to have specialised operational vehicles..With regard to the procurement of additional operational vehicles (including BMW Security Vehicles), the following due process was observed: By letter dated April 15, 2013, NCAA officially requested authorisation from the Federal Ministry of Aviation to procure 56 operational vehicles through lease financing. This option was proposed to the ministry to enable the NCAA make 36 monthly payments based on receipts from Internally Generated Revenue, IGR. The Ministry therefore granted due approval.
The minister explained further that: Based on the ministry’s approval, the NCAA invited Expressions of Interest from all Banks in Nigeria for the financing of the said vehicles. EOI was adopted because the procurement is two sided. First, the financier would have to be selected before the supplier is determined. This is in line with procurement best practices. On May 24, 2013, the response received from the various banks to the Expression of Interest, EOI, request was opened publicly and minutes of the opening exercise was duly documented. During the EOI opening exercise, NCAA got commendation from one of the Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, approved by BPP who were invited for the opening exercise.”
Oduah maintained that the evaluation of the expression of interests was held on May 31, 2013 during which First Bank Plc, Union Bank Plc and Stanbic IBTC emerged most responsive, adding that on June 10, 2013 the above three banks were invited to submit Financial Proposals and thereafter, First Bank emerged the highest rated responsive bidder.
She said between June 20 and 25, 2013, invoices were received from various accredited motor vehicle dealers during which only Coscharis Motors Limited quoted for BMW Security Vehicles.
On the Tenders Board, she emphasised that on June 28, 2013, NCAA Parastatal Tenders Board approved the selection of First Bank Ltd for the Lease Financing as well as Metropolitan Motor Vehicles and Coscharis for the supply of the vehicles as all necessary approvals were duly sought and obtained accordingly.
Between July 8, 2013 to August, 12, 2013 various meetings were held with First Bank Ltd, contract agreement was signed and necessary documentation executed, she said.
“Your Excellency is respectfully invited to note that: The crucial statutory role of the NCAA in regulating civil aviation operations in the country, including safety, security and strict compliance with ICAO Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) and Nigerian Civil Aviation Regulations (NCARs).The need for NCAA to be fully equipped with highly specialized tools and facilities (including operational vehicles) to enable the effective implementation of its statutory functions. The procurement of specialized operational vehicles is duly provided for in the NCAA 2p 13 (IGR) Budget and the need for adopting installment lease payments over36 months. That Due Process was followed in the procurement of the said operational vehicles. Please your Excellency my continued loyally and esteemed regards”, the minister concluded the answer to her query.
It would be recalled that Captain Dele Ore has lampooned the aviation minister for taken upon herself the safety regulation of the industry, stressing that, “when you dabble in to what is not your area of competency, you are bound to expose your ignorance. When you assume responsibility that is not yours, the tendency is misinformation and confusion.”
According to captain Ore, this is against international best practice and counter to ICAO expectation from member states. The summary of this is that the state exacts unnecessary interference and undue influence in safety regulation instead of allowing the regulatory authority to perform her statutory functions.
Although Oduah has erred in many areas, but you cannot take it away from her, her determination and resilience in the airport remodelling process. The remodeling of airports, the aeroptropolis project and general transformation that is ongoing in the aviation sector. The battle with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic Airline over slot allocation at Heathrow Airport in London which forced Arik Air to suspend its Heathrow operations. The various battles with airport concessionaires like, Maevis Nigerian Limited, AIC Limited, Bi Courtney Aviation Services Limited among others.
Maevis was managing the revenue of FAAN, but FAAN said that the agreement was lopsided against the agency to the extent that the agency did not know how much that accrued in its coffers as Maevis every months gave it a hand out, a situation where a principle is being handed over money by its contractor, but Princess Oduah ensured the contract was terminated.
Bi Courtney realising that it did not have enough apron to park aircraft at MMA2 claimed that the General Aviation Terminal (GAT) belonged to it and pointed out a clause in the agreement that said no other domestic airport terminal should be built in Lagos without deferring to Bi Courtney. Oduah defiantly made it clear that GAT which she dismantled and rebuilt under one year, did not belong to Bi Courtney. Then there was the AIC Limited which claimed that many years ago a portion of land meant for expansion of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos terminal was given to the company to build hospitality facility. But for years nothing was done at the portion of land and recently with terror threats and the inevitable need to have another terminal at the Lagos airport, it became unrealistic to build such facility at that portion of land and Stella Oduah overruled that quest.
The minister before her appointment as minister of the federal republic known as addressed as Princess Stella Oduah-Ogiemwonyi, but after her confirmation as minister, she dropped Ogiemwonyi her husband name.
She was born to Igwe D.O. Oduah of Akili-Ozizor, Ogbaru L.G.A. in Anambra State on January 5, 1962.
In 1992, she left the NNPC to establish the Sea Petroleum & Gas Company Limited (SPG), an independent marketer of petroleum
products in Nigeria.
She is married to the former Minister for Works, Engr. Chris Ogiemwonyiand has children.
She was confirmed a minister and sworn in on July 2, 2011 and was deployed to the Ministry of Aviation on July 4, 2011.
She was also active in the political campaign of President Goodluck Jonathan
where she served as his campaign’s Director of Administration and Finance.