There are more questions for the embattled minister of Aviation Mrs Stella Oduah over the alleged fraud in the purchase of two armoured cars at the outrageous cost of N240 million as new revelation shows a duty waiver for the vehicles.
Fresh revelations emerged on Wednesday at the resumed investigation of the House of Representatives into the purchase that the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) was directed by the Federal Ministry of Finance that a waiver of N10.1 million be granted in the importation of the cars.
But the minister of aviation again was not in attendance to answer queries of the committee. The committee had on Tuesday adjourned its hearing to enable Oduah return from Israel and appear before it.
A letter signed by the permanent secretary in the ministry of aviation, George Ossi delivered to the committee by NCAA stated that she was in transit at the time she was expected to appear yesterday, but would be available at 2.00 pm today.
Committee chairperson, Hon Nkiruka Onyejiocha, however, insisted that she appear unfailingly at 10.00 am today, stating that her failure to do so would be assumed an indication that she does not want to attend the hearing.
“Tomorrow’s date is sacrosanct, please communicate that to her,” Onyejiocha said, explaining that it was in the spirit of fair hearing that the lawmakers had shifted the dates to enable her state her case before the committee.
Mr Manasseh Daniel Jatau, a Deputy Controller of Modernization, Research and Economic Relations in the service, who represented the Custom Controller General of NCS, Abdullahi Dikko, said the point of entry of the cars was Tin Can Port in Lagos.
He said that no import duty was collected from the owner of the goods, Coscharis Motors, as a one-year duty waiver for 300 cars was granted in the name of the company, for importation of cars for the 18th National Sports Festival, EKO 2012 Games in Lagos.
Jatau said the exemption on the two BMW cars along with 298 others, was at the expense of the Lagos State Government, who would have been the beneficiaries of the payment of N772.132m for the 300 cars and N10.1m for the two BMW cars.
Documents presented to the committee by the NCS showed that the Import Duty, VAT, ETLS, CISS and Port Charges Waiver Certificate was issued by the ministry of finance on November 20, 2012, and was signed by the director of revenue, Mrs Rose Ngozi Maranzu, on behalf of the minister of finance.
It read in part, “I am directed to refer to your letter dated 23rd June, 2012 on the above subject matter and to convey the approval of Mr President and commander-in-chief to the Lagos State Government for waiver on 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 certified attached list”.
Jatau also argued that contrary to earlier claims, the office of the National Security Adviser did not have information on the armoured cars, a signed copy of a pre-shipment inspection end-user certificate issued by the NSA on June 6, 2013 showed that due approval was gotten from the office, for Coscharis Motors to import three armoured cars valued at $USD223,653.48 into Nigeria for commercial purposes.
The document, identified as Form A, had the stamp of the office of the national security adviser on it.
In his presentation, the President of Coscharis Motors, Mr Cosmos Maduka said the price of the vehicles was high due to their quality, adding that, “To the best of my knowledge, we followed due process in the purchase of the cars, adding that, “We were interviewed by the SSS and the NSA.”
Explaining the waiver, he said it was an agreement between the federal government and Coscharis, that when they have a major event such as COJA and EKO Games and cannot afford to buy cars, the company would provide cars for use, while the federal government grants it waivers in return.
According to him, “We have a duty waiver from the federal government for 300 vehicles. This is not the first time we are getting this, we got it during COJA.”
The lawmakers however rejected the explanation about the price of the cars, saying it was higher than any other price around the world. They also demanded from Maduka documents and an explanation for why the chasis number of one of the bulletproof cars, which they inspected on Tuesday, did not match any of those in the document presented to the committee.
In its own submission, First Bank Plc, the financier of the deal said its role was just to finance the purchase of the vehicles for operational use of NCAA, adding that it complied with all requirements in the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
Speaking on behalf of the bank, Group Head, Retail, Mr Seyi Oyefeso, said the bank paid N643m to Coscharis and Metropolitan Motors on behalf of NCAA. They also added that in compliance with the Fiscal Responsibility Act, they demanded and received an approval letter for the permission to take a loan, before they granted the facility to NCAA.