By Emmanuel Aziken, Political Editor & Henry Umoru
LAGOS — MEMBERS of the Senate Committee on Aviation, yesterday, distanced themselves from the Aviation Road Show organized by the Ministry of Aviation after one of the senators(name withheld) had allegedly collected $7,000 estacode for the controversial trip.
The senator who collected the money was not part of the trip which commenced last Sunday and was firmly rooted in his constituency last night.
The decision of the Senate committee to boycott the road show,Vanguard learnt, followed stern warning from the senate leadership to members of the committee to distance themselves from the trip following misgivings on the administration’s implementation of the 2012 budget.
Senators and members of the House of Representatives are equally dissatisfied with the airports remodelling projects, a pet project of the Aviation Minister, Princess Stella Oduah. The remodelling projects which have led to the reconstruction of 11 airports across the country have been beset by controversy over funding and transparency in the award of the contracts.
The funds for the remodelling projects costing N7.5 billion have reportedly been sourced from the Bilateral Air Services Agreement, BASA fund. The money was reportedly sourced from the BASA fund without approval of the National Assembly.
The aviation road show is to take senior aviation officials and the minister to the United States, Canada and China where they are expected to showcase the investment potentials in the aviation sector.
It was learnt, yesterday, that three members of the committee were pencilled down for the trip but only one senator had by last weekend collected the estacode before the media frenzy on the issue sparked panic panic. The senate president sternly warned that no senator should go on the trip, a development that made the senator (names withheld) to step down.
The President of the Senate, Senator David Mark did not receive any request as expected from any senator for approval to travel abroad and was, therefore, shocked with the report on the senate’s involvement in the air show.
The senator who allegedly collected the $7,000 was, yesterday, expected to return the money to the Ministry of Aviation following the warning by the authorities in the senate to him to return the money immediately. It, however, could not be confirmed as at press time if the senator had returned the money.
“He is a new member even though a highly placed member of the society who collected the money without getting clearance from the Senate President to travel,” one source privy to the development toldVanguard yesterday.
“The fear of the senators is that they could be made to face the kind of embarrassment Hembe faced in the House of Representatives when he became a subject of blackmail.”
Members of the committee on aviation moved quickly, yesterday, to distance themselves from the road show.
Among those who denied knowledge of the Aviation Road Show were Senators Abubakar Tutare Umar and Shaaba Mohammed Lafiagi.
The chairman of the committee, Senator Hope Uzodinma in a response to enquiries from Vanguard through a text message claimed to be in a meeting.
Speaking with vanguard news, Senator Umar who is also the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on Police Affairs disclosed that he was currently in Abuja following the recess by the chamber, adding, ‘’I am in Nigeria, precisely in Abuja. I have never been invited by the Ministry of Aviation, I didn’t even know that there was any trip to somewhere; I never planned for anything.”
Also speaking with Vanguard, a member of the Senate Committee on Aviation and former governor of Kwara State, Senator Shaaba Mohammed Lafiagi, PDP, Kwara North said he was presently in Ilorin, the Kwara State Capital.
Senator Lafiagi who is also the Vice Chairman, Senate Committee on National Security and Intelligence said, ‘’we are in the country, not anywhere. I am in Ilorin as I am speaking with you now.”
Other members of the committee who could not be reached yesterday were the Vice Chairman of the Aviation Committee, Senator Garba Babayo Gamawa, Bauchi North; Senator Akin Babalola Odunsi, Ogun West; Mohammed Ali Ndume, Borno South; Ibrahim Gobir, Sokoto East; Domingo Obende, Edo North.
It was, however, gathered that Senator Obende was in the United States to deliver a paper at the annual Afenmai World Summit organised by the Afenmai World Congress, AWC.