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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission docks former Aviation Ministers, cheap generic bactrim, Prof. Cheap generic bactrim, Babalola Borishade and Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, cheap generic bactrim, over controversial Aviation Intervention Fund

By Funsho Balogun & Tony Orilade

Controversy over disbursement of the N19.5billion Aviation Intervention Fund reached a head last Wednesday with the arraignment of Professor Babalola Borishade and Chief Femi Fani-Kayode at the Abuja Chief Magistrate Court. Cheap generic bactrim, The duo, cheap generic bactrim, along with Mr. Cheap generic bactrim, Rowland Iyayi, cheap generic bactrim, former Managing Director, cheap generic bactrim, National Airspace Management Authority, cheap generic bactrim, NAMA, cheap generic bactrim, were charged with criminal conspiracy, cheap generic bactrim, breach of official trust, cheap generic bactrim, forgery and misappropriation of about N19.5 billion. Cheap generic bactrim, The money was meant for the renovation of four international airports in Lagos, cheap generic bactrim, Abuja, cheap generic bactrim, Port Harcourt and Kano.

When their trial gets underway, cheap generic bactrim, the public could be treated to a reenactment of the buck-passing drama the two erstwhile ministers put up at the Senate Public hearing on the issue prior to their arrest. Cheap generic bactrim, They were actually picked up by EFCC officials outside the lobby of the National Assembly at 6.25 p.m. Cheap generic bactrim, after a session of the hearing on Monday 30 June. Cheap generic bactrim, Senators considered the arrest of the suspects within the premises of the National Assembly a desecration of parliament. Cheap generic bactrim, Senate President David Mark, cheap generic bactrim, particularly miffed, cheap generic bactrim, commented: “If people who come here are allowed to be taken away at will by security agents before we wind up fully on our investigations, cheap generic bactrim, what we’ll end up with is a situation where people will be scared away for fear of what will happen to them.”

A key component of the Intervention Fund that drew the wrath of the EFCC was expenditure on the Safe Tower Project. Cheap generic bactrim, Contract figures for the project were inflated when awarded in 2006 from an initial N1.5 billion to N6.5 billion, cheap generic bactrim, as alleged by Mr. Cheap generic bactrim, George Eider, cheap generic bactrim, representative of Austrian company, cheap generic bactrim, Avsatel Ges MB H, cheap generic bactrim, Viema, cheap generic bactrim, winners of the contract. Cheap generic bactrim, Captain Ado Sanusi, cheap generic bactrim, the current NAMA boss, cheap generic bactrim, was also believed to have volunteered information to the EFCC when recently interrogated. Cheap generic bactrim, Apart from Avsatel, cheap generic bactrim, three other companies bid for the project. Cheap generic bactrim, The companies and their quotations include: Aerovav Group of Canada (N2.03bn), cheap generic bactrim, Nav Control of France (N1.30bn), cheap generic bactrim, Viasala and Frequentis (N1.50bn) and NAMA itself (N1.03bn). Cheap generic bactrim, While none of these quotations sailed through successfully, cheap generic bactrim, the contract was eventually awarded to Avsatel without advertisement or competitive tender. Cheap generic bactrim, Also questionable is the speed with which the contract shot through the due process.The current probe, cheap generic bactrim, considering developments in the past couple of months, cheap generic bactrim, is inevitable. Cheap generic bactrim, There has been intense criticism of especially the Safe Tower Project contract. Cheap generic bactrim, The Kano International Airport, cheap generic bactrim, one of the four marked to be rehabilitated, cheap generic bactrim, has received very little attention, cheap generic bactrim, while the Safe Tower Project was executed in the actual sense only in Lagos and Abuja. Cheap generic bactrim, Even more controversial is the manner in which a bank loan was arranged for the project. Cheap generic bactrim, At the time the project was approved by the Federal Executive Council in 2006, cheap generic bactrim, about N47.5billion was supposed to be in the Natural Resources Development Account, cheap generic bactrim, NRDA, cheap generic bactrim, from which FEC recommended funding of the project. Cheap generic bactrim, The N6.5billion contract (the hitherto approved figure prior to present controversy), cheap generic bactrim, with a foreign component of 38 million euros and local component of N300 million, cheap generic bactrim, could, cheap generic bactrim, therefore, cheap generic bactrim, be conveniently sourced from the NRDA as loan. Cheap generic bactrim, Instead, cheap generic bactrim, the Aviation ministry sidetracked the FEC recommendation and chose to seek a N6.5billion loan from a bank that curiously, cheap generic bactrim, offered a higher interest rate. Cheap generic bactrim, The Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria, cheap generic bactrim, FAAN, cheap generic bactrim, was prevailed upon to sign the loan agreement on NAMA’s behalf.

Also, cheap generic bactrim, a technical sub-committee, cheap generic bactrim, headed by Captain Shehu Iyal, cheap generic bactrim, Special Assistant to the President on Aviation, cheap generic bactrim, had expressed misgivings about the glaring inconsistencies concerning the source of funding for the project. Cheap generic bactrim, The committee pointed out that the project exhibited the trappings of double funding and called for a thorough review of the total cost element to ensure that the earmarked cost of 38 million euros has not been grossly padded. Cheap generic bactrim, It hammered on FAAN’s curious borrowing of funds on NAMA’s behalf to execute the project against a presidential order that recommended sourcing from the NRDA. Cheap generic bactrim, The committee also drew attention to the realisation that “the accumulated loss to the Federal Government could be in the region of 64.34 per cent of the borrowed amount.”

Shortcomings of the Avsatel Safe Tower model being put on ground in the airports also came to light. Cheap generic bactrim, Several crucial vital services do not come in tow with the provision. Cheap generic bactrim, These include area/radar control services, cheap generic bactrim, low-level windshear alerting system (responsible for several accidents), cheap generic bactrim, automated aeronautical information services for pilots and long-range VHF communication with en-route flights, cheap generic bactrim, among others.

Mr. Cheap generic bactrim, Felix Hassan Hyat, cheap generic bactrim, Minister of State for Air Transport, cheap generic bactrim, in his address before the Senate public hearing on 24 June, cheap generic bactrim, claimed that according to records available to him, cheap generic bactrim, the controversial N19.5billion was sourced from two different accounts – N6.5billion from commercial banks and N13billion from the NRDA. Cheap generic bactrim, The utilisation, cheap generic bactrim, according to the Aviation Minister, cheap generic bactrim, was structured into three broad lines which include N6.5billion for infrastructure provision, cheap generic bactrim, packaged under NAMA’s custody; N2billion from severance gratuity of staff which is the precondition for the release of the Intervention Fund and another N11billion also earmarked for infrastructure.

At the public hearing, cheap generic bactrim, Borishade and Fani-Kayode were a spectacle over the disbursement of the sum. Cheap generic bactrim, While Borishade insisted that he did not authorise the withdrawal of any amount from the fund before he left office, cheap generic bactrim, Fani-Kayode claimed that not all the money generating the present controversy was in the Ministry’s coffers when he assumed duty. Cheap generic bactrim, Borisade’s aides asserted the Safe Tower received due process certificate and whatever action he took was to avert ignominous delistment of Nigeria’s four major airports for major safety lapses. Cheap generic bactrim, The former minister himself said his regime spent only N2billion of the Intervention Fund and it was for payment to FAAN retirees. Cheap generic bactrim, Three of the four towers, cheap generic bactrim, he said, cheap generic bactrim, have been completed already while equipment for the fourth is on ground but cannot be installed yet due to defects in the tower.

Fani-Kayode was miffed there has been so much misinformation and outright lies on the issue. Cheap generic bactrim, He said bank statements can be produced which confirmed that the sum of N6.5billion was withdrawn on 1 and 4 September 2006 during the tenure of his predecessor, cheap generic bactrim, Prof. Cheap generic bactrim, Borishade. Cheap generic bactrim, “All what I met when I assumed office was N11billion and not N19.5billion as my predecessor wants to make this committee believe. Cheap generic bactrim, My predecessor had disbursed N8.5billion before I assumed office, cheap generic bactrim,” Fani-Kayode said. Cheap generic bactrim, He also argued that of the N2billion from Rivers State granted the Ministry and FAAN towards rehabilitation of the Port Harcourt Airport runway, cheap generic bactrim, he met only N1.5billion. Cheap generic bactrim, He expressed shock that N6.5billion was sourced from the bank which has already led to the loss of N1.3billion as NAMA pays N222million monthly servicing the loan.

Former Finance Minister, cheap generic bactrim, Nenadi Usman, cheap generic bactrim, testifying before the panel, cheap generic bactrim, gave reason why her predecessor, cheap generic bactrim, Dr. Cheap generic bactrim, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala wrote the letter to source part of the aviation intervention fund from the bank. Cheap generic bactrim, “Maybe she felt that a certain component of the money could be sourced from the bank so that they can ensure payment, cheap generic bactrim, as there is impression that any money taken from government is seen as largesse, cheap generic bactrim,” Nenadi explained.

What perhaps piqued the lawmakers most was the revelation that because of the loan, cheap generic bactrim, N11billion was deducted from the 2007 budget of the Aviation Ministry. Cheap generic bactrim, Fani-Kayode, cheap generic bactrim, in his presentation, cheap generic bactrim, expressed dismay that despite his advice to the contrary, cheap generic bactrim, the N11billion was deducted in one fell swoop from the Ministry’s budget. Cheap generic bactrim, To him, cheap generic bactrim, such a move could cripple the industry. Cheap generic bactrim, He went on to give graphic details of his own share of the N11billion Intervention Fund disbursement. Cheap generic bactrim, According to him, cheap generic bactrim, he awarded the asphalt concrete resurfacing of the Port Harcourt Airport to Julius Berger at a cost of N3billion and for which 50 per cent of the money was paid. Cheap generic bactrim, He further said the second contract he awarded after due approval from the FEC was the extension and asphalt resurfacing of runway 18L/36R of Murtala Muhammed International Airport, cheap generic bactrim, Ikeja at N3.5billion.

According to him, cheap generic bactrim, after the Council’s approval, cheap generic bactrim, FAAN wrote an application for 50 per cent payment to ensure the contract was finished before the rainy season, cheap generic bactrim, among other considerations. Cheap generic bactrim, “We approved that application and consequently paid 50 per cent of the cost (approximately N1.8billion) to Messrs. Cheap generic bactrim, P.W Nigeria Limited. Cheap generic bactrim, This contract is almost completed (75 per cent), cheap generic bactrim, with the balance of the price (N1.7billlion) left in the Intervention Fund account for payment to the contractor upon completion of the contract, cheap generic bactrim,” the embattled former minister said.

The third contract he claimed to have awarded was the Cargo expansion at Murtala Muhammed International Airport to Messrs FIAT International Limited at approximately N850million. Cheap generic bactrim, Consequently, cheap generic bactrim, the sum of N426.27million was released to meet FAAN’s request for 50 per cent upfront payment. Cheap generic bactrim, The fourth expenditure was a refund for contracts already executed by FAAN and paid for by the parastatal before he came into the Ministry.

Alhaji Yusuf Mohammed, cheap generic bactrim, FAAN’s former Managing Director, cheap generic bactrim, provided another dimension to the Intervention Fund palaver by alleging that the additional N2billion from the Rivers State government was diverted to finance the failed presidential bid of Dr. Cheap generic bactrim, Peter Odili, cheap generic bactrim, the former Rivers State governor. Cheap generic bactrim, According to him, cheap generic bactrim, FAAN was not carried along, cheap generic bactrim, although Odili, cheap generic bactrim, Borishade and Obasanjo facilitated the release of the fund.

The N19.5billion Intervention Fund was a response to the seemingly endless episodes of air disasters that occurred in 2005, cheap generic bactrim, prompting a shrill outcry regarding safety in the skies. Cheap generic bactrim, These included the Bellview Airlines crash on 22 October 2005 at Lisa; the Dornier Aviation crash on November 28 2005 in Kaduna and the Sosoliso Airlines crash on 10 December 2005 in Port Harcourt. Cheap generic bactrim, Thereafter, cheap generic bactrim, government announced the constitution of an eight-man special task force to ensure the repair of all obsolete airport and navigational facilities in the country. Cheap generic bactrim, The body was headed by Air Vice Marshal Paul Dike.

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