Former Minister of Aviation and serving Senator, Princess Stella Oduah, has absolved herself of guilt in the controversial purchase of two bullet-proof BMW cars by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) in 2013 in a law court.
Senator Oduah told a Federal High Court in Lagos that the cars bought at the cost of N255million, a staggering amount that sparked nationwide outrage, was not procured for her personal use but for the operations of the ministry.
Oduah, who represents Anambra North Senatorial zone in the upper chamber claimed the bullet-proof car purchase saga was an attempt by her political enemies to persecute and humiliate her. According to the former minister, the controversial vehicles were bought for the use of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) officials, who were in the country to inspect and certify the 22 airports being rehabilitated under her watch.
The vehicles, she argued, were acquired to safeguard the lives of foreign officials so that they would not be bombed, attacked or abducted by the rampaging Boko Haram insurgents, who were creating havoc in the Northeast. According to her, the bulletproof cars were especially necessary because the visit of the airport inspectors coincided with “the peak of Boko Haram terrorists’ menace in the country when the United Nations building and the headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force were bombed in Abuja.”
“It was thus imperative that the NCAA, which is an apex regulatory authority in the Nigerian aviation industry, operating under the SARPs of the ICAO and subject to assessment by ICAO, acquires its own armoured vehicles for the use of the ICAO officials coming for inspection and certification at the time,” Oduah said.
She added that the bullet-proof vehicles were captured in the 2013 budget, adding that they were duly procured in line with the Bureau of Public Procurement regulations.
Oduah further disclosed that upon her assumption of office as Aviation Minister in 2011, she “quickly realised that the quest for direct foreign investment in Nigeria could not be optimally successful without world standard airports for international and domestic air travels.” To this end, she directed that the proposal of N9billion made for the rehabilitation of four airports be made to cover the 22 airports.
In the papers she filed before the court, the former minister said the bid to arrest her for a crime she did not commit began as the general election approached. According to her, the House of Representatives, led by Aminu Tambuwal (now Sokoto State governor), and its Committee on Aviation, were especially out to nail her and should be stopped.
She claimed her ordeal was part of a grand plan by the All Progressives Congress (APC) to capture power by all means. The party, she argues, carried out a campaign of calumny by “demonising” the most visible leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). According to Oduah, being a frontline PDP member, she also became a target, especially as she was seen as playing a crucial role towards the realisation of President Goodluck Jonathan’s re-election bid.
She said as part of the APC’s campaign of calumny against her and others, the party’s leadership commissioned some faceless organisations to write letters to the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation. Among others, she said she was falsely accused of “all manners of corrupt practices and offences in respect of my stewardship as Minister of Aviation.” She expressed shock that despite her selfless service to Nigeria and the positive changes made by the ministry under her watch, including the revamping of the country’s air transportation, Tambuwal still ordered her investigation based on the petitions containing “spurious and wild allegations.”
She said because of her electoral value and strategic politicking, she had been a target of the ploy by the APC to weaken the PDP and distract its leaders with trumped up charges.According to her, part of the APC plan was to charge PDP leaders “in a criminal trial in a Lagos State Government-controlled court.”
According to Oduah, unless the court intervened, “the APC will unleash repression against her and others and this may cause the country to recede to a one-party state, with gross adverse effects and irreparable damage to our nascent democracy.”
The court has, however, restrained anti-graft agencies from inviting her for questioning concerning the purchase. Justice Mohammed Yunusa barred the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from arresting Oduah until her suit is determined.
The judge also stopped the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), the Attorney-General of the Federation and the Inspector-General of Police from inviting the former minister for interrogation. Justice Yunusa adjourned to October 2 for hearing of her suit.
By Olisemeka Obeche (with Agency reports)