The House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, Wednesday, continued the suspended investigative hearing into an alleged purchase of two armoured BMW cars at N255million by the Minister of Aviation, Princess Stella Oduah, with startling revelations highlighting the day.
Despite all threats and pleas, the aviation minister was not present at the hearing. However, the Nigeria Customs Service, NSC, FirstBank PLc and Coscharis Motors made presentations on their level of involvement in the purchase of the cars.
Aviation Minister, Stella Oduah requested to be allowed to appear by 12 noon on Thursday following her inability to appear on Wednesday, but the committee turned down the request, declaring that “she must appear here by 10am on Thursday.
The Committee’s Chairperson, Rep Nkeuruka Onyejeocha declared that “tomorrow, is sacrosanct, the minister must appear here by 10.am.
The startling revelations started when the Deputy Comptroller General of Customs, DCG Mannasseh Daniel Jatau who represented the Customs CG, Abdulahi Dikko said a N10million waiver given to Lagos state government to purchase vehicles for Eko 2012 sports festival was used to clear the cars.
According to Jatau, ”the 10million import duty payable on the 300 vehicles meant for Eko 2012 festival was used to clear the armoured cars. ”
He explained that since the waiver was still effective the Customs had no choice than to allow the cars cleared from the ports.
Jatau also noted that the office of the National Security Adviser,NSA endorsed the clearance of the armoured cars.
Rep Zakari Mohammed asked the DCG to explain the procedure for such a waiver and the exact number of vehicles cleared by the Customs.
In his response, Jatau said, “the armoured vehicles were cleared because there was an authorisation letter from the Minister of Finance.
Asked whether such a waiver was transferable, Jatau said, ”to the best of my knowledge it is not transferable and the total vehicles were 300 units”.
Rep Ahmed Ali queried Jatau further whether it is possible to use such an exemption for another purpose other than what it was meant for as in the case of NCAA.
Rep Jerry Manwe also demanded for evidence to show that such a waiver was granted by the Minister of Finance.
Jatau replied, saying, ”among the 300 vehicles only 3 were armoured cars and whether another beneficiary enjoyed the waiver I cannot tell you that because we are not magicians. ”
“At the clearance point, all the requirements of the law were met and we are under the Ministry of Finance, if you give us till tomorrow, Thursday we will provide the evidence you demanded for. ”
But a copy of the letter authorising the Customs was eventually presented which reflected that “I am directed to refer to your letter dated 23rd June 2012 in the above subject matter and to convey the approval, of Mr. president and Commander in Chief to the Lagos State Government for the waiver for waiver of Import Duty, Value Added Tax ( VAT) ETLS, CISS and other port charges in respect of the importation of 300 units of BMW, Ford, Land Rover, Range Rover, Lexus, Mercedes, Escalade, Jaguar and buses ( Petrol/Diesel) for use during the 18th National Sports Festival ( EKO 2012) to be imported through Messrs Coscharis Motors Nigeria Limited, as indicated in the duly attached list.”
He further said that but for the waiver, the service would have generated the sum of N10, 133, 533 and stated however, that the end user was diverted from its original user, Coscharis Nig. Ltd and Lagos state as the beneficiary not the NCAA which it was unaware of.
He related that if the service was in the know of the diversion of beneficiaries before the vehicles left the port, it would have demanded that import duty be paid on them. .
The Lenders, First Bank of Nigeria has refuted claims by NCAA that it is in no way committed to the Bank as regards the loan of N643m for the cars.
Group head, retail services of the bank, Seyi Oyefeso, told the committee that NCAA is committed to the bank having agreed to, and signed all the documents for the loan that was meant to cover 52 units of vehicles which does not include the BMW armoured cars.
Coscharis Nig Ltd also maintained that due process was followed in the purchase of the cars and regards the exemption of duty, the President of the company, Cosmos Maduka said it had an agreement with Nigerian government to waive import duties on cars it purchases for the government at a given time.
While the committee insisted that the current price of the vehicle shouldn’t have ordinarily exceeded 50 million Naira each, Coscharis outrightly rejected it, saying it that could never be the case with BMW B 7 series anywhere in the world.
But in a bid to state the fact, Coscharis revealed that the NCAA demanded a jerk up of the prices of the controversial vehicles from what the company had submitted earlier.
According to the Chairman of the company, Mr. Cosmos Maduka “NCAA told us that the initial price is not proper”.
The hearing further revealed that the controversial cars were originally purchased on behalf of the Lagos State Government for the 2012 18th National Sports Festival and later sold to NCAA.
Explaining the controversy, Maduka said that the delay encountered when the company sought clearance from the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) when the demand came made it necessary to sell the cars to NCAA.
But the Committee insisted that Coscharis deceived the public and the government by saying that the cars were bought for NCAA when actually they were purchased on behalf of the Lagos State government.
The committee also accused the company of ripping Nigerians off.
According to the Committee, the change on the prices of the vehicle from the initial amount of N70 million Naira to N127.5 even when the company had admitted that it got waiver from the government not to pay customs duties on the cars cast aspersion on the company position on the prices.
Similarly, the hearing later took a dramatic turn when the committee discovered the company that the vehicles supplied were of different make and types.
For instance, a member of the Committee and spokesperson of the House of Representatives, Hon. Zakari Mohammed said that the chasis of one of the vehicles inspected by a delegation from the committee was DW68011.
He argued that the number differed from what Coscharis gave in their correspondences with the office of the NSA.
But in a swift response, the company refuted it.
It quoted the chasis numbers as 68044 and 68432 respectively.
It however promised to send the NSA certificate on the cars to the committee.
Earlier, the company had requested to play a video to demonstrate how exotic the cars were in a bid to justify the prices but was turned by the committee.