Speaking before the House of Representatives aviation committee investigating the car purchase, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala repeated her earlier claim — made in a statement last week — that the approval for a waiver granted by her office was for 300 cars required by the Lagos state government for the National Sports Festival, and that it did not cover “any” armoured cars.
The minister was invited to testify on the issue of waiver granted Coscharis Motors to supply the NCAA the two armoured cars.
The purchase of the cars for Mrs Oduah has generated outrage for weeks because its cost was inflated, and it was neither listed in the government-approved budget nor did itcomply with the Nigeria’s public procurement law.
The Nigeria Customs service had told the committee last week that the two cars were imported in the name of the Lagos state government for the sports festival, and under an import waiver approved by the Ministry of Finance.
“What I know of the matter is that on June 23, 2012, the Lagos State government applied to the president for a waiver as it is normally done for inspection charges and duty exemptions on assorted brand of vehicles in favour of Coscharis Motors for the conduct of the 18th National Sports Festival or the Eko Games,” Mrs Okonjo-Iweala said.
“Having met all due requirements, the Lagos State was granted this waiver for the import of 300 units of cars of various types, and this was granted. What I know is that on this list, there was no mention of bullet-proof cars, and that is all I want to say. So, no waiver was granted for bullet-proof cars.”
The minister said it was usual for state governments to apply for waivers for purchase of cars. “And once they have shown how many units, the cost of these units, how they are going to be used, and so on and so forth, we go through, and the application is made, and the waiver granted, if all the parts are clear. It is under that particular law,” she said.
On face value, her remarks are not different from Coscharis’ claim that it sought for, and received waiver from the finance minister. The car firm said it was a normal practice to assist governments through sponsorships during events and then ask them in return to assist in securing waivers to import new cars.
In the case of Lagos, the company said it made available several vehicles for the state government to use during the sports event, after which they were returned while the government also helped secure waivers for new imports to be made to replace the cars, while the donated cars were sold off.
In real sense, what the testimonies from the firm and the ministry highlight is that Coscharis passed the two armoured cars to the ministry, through the Lagos state government, as ordinary vehicles, without making it clear they were bullet-proof cars meant for Minister Oduah.
On Monday, when asked by Jerry Manwe, a member of the House committee on how the lost waiver, totalling N10.1 million, according to Customs, could be recovered, Mrs Okonjo-Iweala said: “I do not really feel it is in my place to give advice on this particular matter. I want to limit myself to the invitation, which was sent to me to come and speak about the waiver. Honourable chair, I think you have to refer to other authorities on that.”
The committee is expected to complete its work this week.