N255 million Armoured Cars Scandal: Aviation ministry backtracks, refuses to show cars to journalists

The NCAA boss had claimed the cars could be viewed by journalists.

Four days after the Director General of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, Fola Akinkuotu, bragged before journalists that the two armoured vehicles controversially purchased by his agency for the aviation minister were available for inspection at anytime by journalists, the agency and indeed the Aviation Ministry have refused to make it available for any inspection.

Mr. Akinkuotu had told journalists during a press briefing on Friday evening in Abuja that the cars were parked at the agency’s pool and were available for inspection by journalists.

“The cars are parked at the pool and are available for you (journalists) to see,” he said.

Immediately after the briefing and after answering questions, Mr. Akinkuotu walked out unable to show the vehicles to journalists.

Repeated efforts by PREMIUM TIMES to view the cars since then have been unsuccessful.

While trying to get access to the cars, PREMIUM TIMES first contacted the spokesperson of the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, spokesperson, Fan Ndubuoke, on Monday. After listening to the reason for the telephone call, Mr. Ndubuoke told our reporter that he was unable to hear her clearly; and promptly terminated the call.

Subsequent calls and text messages went unanswered.

On Tuesday, PREMIUM TIMES visited the Aviation Ministry, where Mr. Akinkuotu had briefed journalists four days earlier.

Efforts to see Mr. Akinkuotu were unsuccessful, with other officials declining to comment on the scandal. However, Joe Obi, the spokesperson for the Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah, was in his office.

A clerk at Mr. Obi’s office attended to our reporter and asked her to wait while he goes to brief his boss about the visit.

“My oga says he is busy that you should go and come back later,” the clerk said, upon returning from Mr. Obi’s office.

“But he did not tell me the time you should come back,” he added.

The reporter decided to wait reminding the clerk that based on the comment of the NCAA boss who spoke on the directive of Mrs. Oduah, Mr. Obi could ask any of his numerous Aviation staff to show her and another waiting reporter the vehicles.

The clerk went inside to deliver the message to Mr. Obi, and returned shortly afterwards with a disgruntled look, saying nothing. About two hours later, he told the reporter who was waiting outside the office (no seat was offered in the office) that Mr. Obi had left the building.

PREMIUM TIMES’ check at the car pool of the minister and other senior officials also showed no sign of any of the exotic BMW armoured cars.

The purchase

The vehicles, two black BMW Li HSS vehicles, with chassis numbers WBAHP41050DW68032 and WBAHP41010DW68044 respectively, were purchased for about N255 million from Coscharis Motors, with payment processed by First Bank of Nigeria.

Mr. Akinkuotu, whose agency purchased the cars on the directive of the minister, said, during his Friday briefing, that the cars were to be used for various NCAA operations, such as transporting the minister, as well as aviation-related foreign dignitaries.

He also claimed that due process was followed in the purchase of the two cars.

PREMIUM TIMES findings, however, revealed that due process, was not followed in the purchase.

The purchase was not contained in the approved budget of the aviation ministry or any of its parastatals including the NCAA, neither was it openly advertised or bidded for.

A member of the Aviation Committee of the House of Representatives, Matthew Omegara, also confirmed that the lawmakers expunged the proposal from the approved budget of the ministry. The House has already ordered an investigation into the scandal, with a report due in a week.

Further investigations also revealed that the price of the cars may have been inflated. A check at Freedom Global Cars, a supplier in the global sales of both luxury and armoured vehicles, showed that a Sapphire black 2012 BMW 760Li High Security car costs £265,000 – including VAT – (about N64 million).

At the press conference on Friday, Mr. Akinkuotu also revealed that the NCAA was probing the source of the leaks that led to public awareness of the purchase of the rather expensive cars. He expressed concern that there might be other confidential information that had been obtained from the agency ‘illegally.’

“It is not fair for someone to obtain information illegally and we must accept that this is not the way to do it.

“If somebody breaks into someone’s office, makes copies of important document; tell me, is the breaking act not criminal?” he asked.

Amidst the calls for the sack of Mrs. Oduah, PREMIUM TIMES exclusively revealed that President Goodluck Jonathan has queried the minister, asking for explanations on the controversy surrounding the purchase.

The query dated October 21 is already a source of worry for Ms. Oduah whose aide on Monday declared that those calling for her sack were those opposed to President Goodluck Jonathan’s 2015 re-election bid.

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