The senate’s decision is the latest in a string of failings by federal lawmakers to appropriately respond to scandals in the aviation ministry.
In a startling decision Thursday, the Nigerian Senate reversed its decision summoning aviation minister Stella Oduah for questions on her troubled ministry, putting off an appearance that was to shed light on Nigeria’s recent air crashes, and fraud allegations against the minister.
The Senate suspended several of its scheduled engagement for the day and approved a motion overruling its earlier resolution to have the minister appear before a plenary.
A new motion said Mrs. Oduah would now “brief” the senate committee on aviation, headed by Hope Uzodinma.
“The Senate accordingly resolves to rescind its earlier resolution that the minister of aviation and chief executives of the aviation parastatals to brief the senate plenary,” the motion read.
The minister will now on an unstated date, “brief the Senate committee on aviation on the state of aviation sector and highlights number of aviation incidents,” it adds.
No senator questioned the decision, and the Senate leadership did not explain why it resolved to discontinue with the summons beyond stating that it was agreed at a closed-door session of lawmakers.
Coming after Mrs. Oduah’s scheduled appearance before the Senate had repeatedly been shifted, amid a somewhat controversial investigation of the minister by the House of Representatives, Thursday’s decision appeared to reflect just how the National Assembly is struggling to firmly respond to an ailing aviation sector, made worse with allegations of graft against the minister.
Mrs. Oduah has been at the centre of a multi-million scandal in which she allegedly askedthe Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA-an agency under her supervision- to purchase for her use two armoured cars at an inflated cost of N255 million in breach of budget and public procurement laws.
The minister has denied wrongdoing and has shrugged off calls to step down, and President Goodluck Jonathan has rejected calls to fire the minister for allegedly squandering public funds.
In the last few days, Nigerians have found a new rallying point for same call after the Ghanaian President John Mahama last week sacked a close minister barely 24 hours after a leaked tape of the minister vowing to remain in government until she made $1 million, went public.
The House of Representatives is expected to deliberate on a report of its investigation into the Oduah car transaction next week; and a separate report is expected from a three-member panel set up by President Jonathan to probe the case.
The deadline for the presidential panel elapsed Tuesday. The panel has not given any reason for its delay.
The car purchase scandal came shortly after an air crash in Lagos killed at least a dozen people. The Senate’s summons was to deal with what lawmakers called the “incessant” air crashes and what the minister was doing about them.
But some Senators signalled the minister would be prompted to take questions on the N255 million car deal as well.
A resolution to have the minister appear before the Senate was first approved on October 8.
The final date for the summons last Thursday was rescheduled on a specific but unusual directive by the Senate President, David Mark, that he personally presides over the hearing.
Mr. Mark was to lead the Nigerian delegation to United Arab Emirate where Nigerian’s junior national side was to play Mexico. Eventually, he did not travel for the final match, and he did not attend the senate session that day.
Before affirming the decision on Thursday to finally jettison the appearance, Mr Mark asked his colleagues if there was any dissent. No one responded.
Hope Uzodinma, chairman of the senate aviation committee, later denied the senate was acting under pressure.
He dismissed questions from journalists on whether the decision was taken in response to pressure from the presidency to offer Mrs Oduah a “soft-landing”.
“I don’t know where you heard what you heard but what I had just said is the decision is in order. I think it is proper and it is in order and in accordance with the Senate rules!” Mr Uzodinma said.
He did not provide a definite date for the aviation minister to appear before the aviation committee. “The time table will be worked out as soon we meet at the committee level,” he said.