EFCC, ICPC scared to probe Oduah $1.6 Million BMW- PUNCH Newspaper Investigation

(m) at 3-11-2013 03:48PM (6 years ago)

(19839 | Hero)

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission are at a crossroads over the investigation into the purchase of N255m bullet-proof cars for the embattled Minister of Aviation, Ms. Stella Oduah, SUNDAY PUNCH can authoritatively report.

Oduah on Thursday had denied that the NCAA bought the two bulletproof cars for her use, adding that they were bought for the use of the guests of her ministry. Our correspondents gathered on Friday that the EFCC and ICPC were reluctant to invite the minister for questioning because of her close relationship to President Goodluck Jonathan. Oduah emerged one of the President’s closest aides following the significant role she played in Jonathan’s 2011 election campaign.

There have been reports that the two anti-graft agencies are investigating Oduah’s role in the controversial vehicle purchase. However, SUNDAY PUNCH learnt that none of the two anti-graft agencies had made progress in its investigation. A senior official of the ICPC, who spoke to SUNDAY PUNCH over the weekend, blamed the slow pace of investigation on what he described as the “body language of the President.”

The source, who pleaded anonymity because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said, “If the President wants us to probe her, there would be no need for him to set up a three-man panel to probe her. Why set up a panel when the nation has capable anti-graft agencies?  “Ordinarily, the President should have asked us to take over the case instead of constituting his own panel. If you watch his body language, you will know that he does not want us to step in. “We will wait for the report of the panel and the final report of the House of Representatives. That is when we will know what to do. The truth is that we are not fully autonomous anti-graft agencies and that is a major handicap.”

Our correspondents also gathered that the EFCC was treading carefully and had no plan to invite Oduah to its Abuja office for questioning. A senior agency official who pleaded anonymity said the agency “did not want to incur the wrath of the President”. The reliable source said, “We are doing our best in this situation but this is a peculiar situation because the President has asked his committee to investigate her. Even though we don’t need the President’s directive based on the public outcry but the formation of that three-man panel passes a subtle message. We are also waiting for the report of the House and the President’s panel even though we are questioning the aviation agencies.”

Meanwhile on Monday, Oduah is to appear before the three-man administrative panel set up by Jonathan to investigate the scandal. Jonathan had, in the wake of public outcry over the matter penultimate Wednesday, constituted the panel headed by a former Head of Service of the Federation, Mr. Isa Bello. Other members of the panel are the National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.), and Air Vice Marshal Dick Iruenebere (retd.). Bello told SUNDAY PUNCH exclusively on Friday that the panel had contacted Oduah and that the minister would appear before members on Monday to answer questions bothering on the purchase of the cars.

The former HOS faulted media reports that the committee, which has two weeks to carry out its assignment, had not met since it was set up. “Whoever told you that we have not met told you a blatant lie. We have been meeting and we will meet with the minister on Monday,” he said. Bello also told one of our correspondents that the committee’s two-week deadline would expire November 11.  He said although the announcement about the committee was made penultimate Wednesday, their letters of appointment were dated October 28, hence their timeline would start from that date.

“It is not true that our deadline started running from penultimate Wednesday. Our letter of appointment was dated October 28, so it could not have been last Wednesday. You don’t just listen to (the details of) appointment on television or radio,” he explained. In announcing the establishment of the committee penultimate Wednesday, Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Dr. Reuben Abati, had said members were expected to ascertain whether the procurement of the vehicles followed due process.

SUNDAY PUNCH also learnt that the committee had been holding its sessions behind closed doors in the office of the National Security Adviser which serves as the committee’s secretariat. In a related development, the Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is to appear before the House of Representatives Committee on Aviation on Monday. The committee is investigating the purchase of N255m BMW bulletproof cars ahead of the report of the probe.

The committee took the decision following Thursday’s clarification by Okonjo-Iweala that she did not grant any waiver for the importation of the controversial bulletproof cars. The panel, which was given one week to conduct the investigation, had wound down its public sitting on Thursday after drilling Oduah for several hours. However, it said on Friday that the report would have to incorporate the testimonies of Okonjo-Iweala.

A member of the panel, Mr. Zakari Mohammed, told SUNDAY PUNCH in Abuja that it had resolved to hear the finance minister on Monday. He added that writing the report would come after hearing the coordinating minister of the economy. Mohammed, who doubles as the spokesman of the House, explained that the committee could still meet the one-week deadline. He spoke further, “It is true that we were given one week for this assignment. However, the one week is counted as sitting days.

“We have sat three times; meaning three days out of seven days. We plan to take the finance minister on Monday; that will be four days out of seven. “We will have three days left; so, we are still within schedule. “The minister made a statement that she did not grant waivers for the bulletproof cars. “That is interesting. Let her come before us to clarify the statement and to explain the nature of the waiver she granted.”

Okonjo-Iweala stated on Thursday that she only granted waiver to the Lagos State Government to import 300 vehicles for the hosting of the National Sports Feastival (EKO Games) last year. The statement, which was signed by her Special Adviser, Mr. Paul Nwabuikwu, noted that the waiver did not cover bulletproof cars.

The Nigerian Customs Service had informed the panel that the Federal Government lost N10.1million revenue as a result of the waiver. It disclosed that it later discovered that the bulletproof cars were among the vehicles Coscharis imported. Coscharis had told to the panel that it got a waiver but gave no satisfactory answers on how the bulletproof cars were included on the list.