N255m Car Scandal: Stella Oduah, NCAA Officials Risk 10-year Jail For Violating Budget, Procurement Laws
If Nigeria’s anti-corruption authorities would, for once, punish violators of federal budget and procurement laws, then aviation ministry officials involved in a scandalous purchase of two armour-plated BMW vehicles at an inflated cost of N225 million, would be facing charges leading from three to 10 years in jail.
Our sources can authoritatively report today that the multimillion contract that has sparked anger across the country was never listed or approved in any government budget as required by law, neither was it openly advertised or bided for. The contract was not listed in the budget by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, 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. 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.
A spokesperson for the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission, Folu Olamiti, said the anti-graft body would make its position on the matter known later. A representative for the Bureau of Public Procurement, said the “law was clear” on this case. He did not want to be named because he was not authorized to speak.
After its initial denial of a contract that has shocked a nation with majority of its population poor, the ministry of aviation, on Sunday, admitted that two reinforced BMW sedans had been purchased for Mrs Oduah at the total cost of N255 million, a sum enough to deliver at least five of such cars. Joe Obi, Special Assistant on Media to the Minister, said the cars were to protect Mrs Oduah from “imminent threats” bred by the minister’s purported radical reforms in the aviation industry, the Punch newspaper reported.
“When she came on board as the minister, she inherited a lot of baggage in terms of concession and lease agreements in the sector, which were clearly not in the interest of the government and people of Nigeria,” Mr Obi said. “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 imminent threats to her life; therefore, the need for the vehicles.”
Mr. Obi did not elaborate on the processes leading to the procurement of the cars, whether it followed due process or not; or why the minister chose to mandate an agency under her supervision to deliver the cars, or still, why the contract was directly awarded to Coscharis Motors-the company that supplied the cars- in breach of government procurement laws.
But sources confirmed that the agency’s budget, which is not usually open to the National Assembly for appropriation, had no provision for a car, or more, for the minister. This paper has also established why the aviation minister, Mrs Oduah, possibly opted for the NCAA, out of the six offices under her regulation, to bankroll the exotic vehicles.
NCAA’s secrecy Of the six offices under the ministry, NCAA is the only fully self-sustaining organization with no kobo provided by the government for its operation. All the funds used by NCAA are internally-generated, from charges on airlines, passengers and fines etc, as stipulated by the Civil Aviation law, setting it up.
The FAAN and NAMA, are also as revenue generating agencies. Government agencies under such arrangement, illegally spend their revenues without the approval of the National Assembly, and usually refuse to disclose their budgets. Although believed to be in hundreds, offices officially listed by the government in the Fiscal Responsibility Act as revenue-generating total 31.
They include big spenders such as Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, and the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC. With the title, comes a somewhat self-imposed privilege of maintaining secret budgets, in the belief that since they source their own funding, they should not be appropriated for.
That claim has irked Senators and House of Representatives members for years, and the lawmakers have repeatedly threatened not to pass federal budget until the 31 agencies make open their spending proposals yearly. The legislators accuse the agencies of violating the constitution and the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which makes it mandatory for all spending be approved by the National Assembly.
The two arms of the National Assembly are currently pushing amendments to compel the 31 agencies to make their budgets public. It is the secrecy that has predictably helped NCAA and others spend freely with little or no oversight, lawmakers say, making the NCAA the likely choice for the controversial and unapproved car purchase contract.
Between 2009 and 2012, the agency raised N35.3 billion, and spent all of that on its internal needs, according to the National Assembly Budget and Research Office. The research office predicted that NCAA will raise N10.6 billion in 2013, and if allowed, will fritter all on operational cost. The cars purchased for the minister came from the 2013 revenue.