President Goodluck Jonathan has set up a three-member administrative panel to investigate the armoured car scandal involving aviation minister, Stella Oduah.
The three-man panel is to be chaired by the immediate past Head of Service, Sali Bello. Other members include the National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, and Dik Iruenebere, an Air Vice Marshall.
Mr. Abati also confirmed PREMIUM TIMES’ earlier report that the president has queried Mrs. Oduah and asked her to provide explanations on the controversial purchase.
He said the new panel of enquiry is to investigate whether the procurement of the vehicles for about N255 million followed due process or not. The panel is also to look into the main reasons for procuring the vehicles.
PREMIUM TIMES had reported how the two armoured BMW exotic cars were bought outside budget provisions, and in violation of procurement processes.
The spokesman said the panel has two weeks to conclude its task and would give the President the necessary advise on the matter.
Mr. Abati did not state if the minister would step aside while she is being investigated, although Mrs. Oduah was conspicuously absent at Wednesday’s FEC meeting.
“President Goodluck Jonathan has taken the initial step of asking the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah for explanations and that is in public domain.
“But also President Jonathan has also today taken a step further … by setting up a three-man administrative panel of inquiry.
“This panel has the assignment to investigate whether the procurement process with regards to this armoured vehicles follow due process,” he said.
Mr. Abati said the three-man panel is also to find out the purpose for which the vehicles were procured and to “inquire into any other instrumental matter”.
He added that “the secretariat of the panel which is expected to submit its reports within two weeks will be provided by the office of the NSA.”
No sacred cows
Mr. Abati also said nobody would be exempted from the panel’s enquiry.
“Let me assure you that President Jonathan will like to assure the general public that nobody no matter how highly placed will be shielded or exempted from this inquiry that he has directed and that appropriate action will be taken against any person or persons who maybe found guilty of misconduct or misappropriation of public funds either in this respect or in any other respect,” he said.
“Indeed Mr. President considers this very a weighty matter and that is not true as some people have been alleging that no action has been taken.”
When asked whether the minister would step aside while the panel carries out her investigation, Mr. Abati said, “well, I have just announced to you what I was asked to announce that a panel of inquiry has been set up, this panel will address all the relevant questions and advise Mr. President accordingly within two weeks”.
He said there was still good news in the aviation sector following Nigeria’s very good outing at the 38th General Assembly of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and how Nigeria was unanimously chosen as a sole candidate for the presidency of ICAO coming up in November.
“When the election is conducted, the candidature of Dr. Olumuyiwa Babatunde Aliyu is rectified, he will become the first African, first Nigerian President of ICAO which is a major positive for Nigeria,” he said.
The Israel trip
While Mrs. Oduah is expected to submit her response to the query before President Jonathan returns from his Wednesday evening trip to Israel, PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the aviation minister is already in Israel.
Mr. Jonathan is travelling to Israel on a Christian pilgrimage and a state visit; and Mrs. Oduah is not officially listed on the President’s team that includes other ministers like those of agriculture and foreign affairs.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that Mrs. Oduah was scheduled to be on the delegation but was dropped because of the car scandal. Her initial membership of the delegation was because aviation issues would be some of the most important topics of discussion between the Nigerian delegation and its Israeli counterpart. Mr. Jonathan is also expected to sign a Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) with the Israeli government as part of his state visit.
Mrs. Oduah’s spokesperson, Joe Obi, did not pick calls or respond to text messages on the reason for the minister’s trip to Israel.