In what appeared like a slap on the recently passed Freedom of Information Bill by the National Assembly, journalists who were supposed to cover the budget defence by the Minister of Aviation, Ms Stella Oduah were on Monday told to leave the venue of the budget presentation by the Minister and the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation, Senator Hope Uzodinma. Reason: they were told that their presence would jeopardize the budget presentation.
The Minister who had commenced the defence of the 2012 budget execution mid way sought the permission of the Committee Chairman to continue the presentation behind closed door and the Chairman without asking how immediately approved the Minister’s request thereby asking the journalists at the hall to excuse them.
Just at the defense of the 2012, the Minister suddenly coughed and raised her hand up and on recognition, the Committee Chairman asked what she wanted and she quickly responded, “Can I come over to see you sir” and the chairman obliged.
“Can you please kindly allow me to present this budget behind closed doors and therefore we shall need to ask the journalists to excuse us”, the Minister said to the ears of the chairman and his deputy.
The request however didi not go down well with a member of the committee, Senator Ali Ndume as he was seen grumbling and talking under to himself, he immediately left the hall for some minutes before coming back for the presentation.
Before the journalists were sent out, the Minister while defending the 2012 budget told the committee that the main ministry had executed over 66 percent, NCAT, 46, NIMET, 46, NAMA, 46 and FAAN, 53 percent execution of the 2012 budget.
While she put the general average of budget execution at 63 percent, the Aviation minister said the accomplishment was based on the budget released.
It was however gathered that the Aviation minister after the 2012 budget defense and presentation of the 2013 budget was grilled by Senators over seeming duplication in the 2012 budget of the Ministry.
A lawmaker who spoke under anonymity, said, “you know you were asked to go out, please, be wise spotted the duplication of the amount and therefore demanded to know from the Minister why the sum in question with the same wordings appeared in the breakdown of allocation for the main Ministry and also appeared in the allocation for the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN).
The lawmaker wondered why the amount was listed in the breakdown of allocation to FAAN when the total capital vote for FAAN was just a little above the sum in question. He described the amount as “curious” and demanded an explanation from the Minister.
“The figure was reflected in the allocation for the main Ministry. The same amount is also duplicated in allocation for FAAN with the same words. May we know what accounted for this?” He said,
The Minister simply described the reflection of the amount in two places as a “copy and paste error.” The committee asked her whether the amount should be deleted, and the Minister answered in the affirmative.
There was also confusion as to the amount earmarked for “remodeling,” “renovation” and “modernization” projects in 11 airports as the Minister struggled hard to convince the committee that the three words are not the same. The senators also demanded to know why all the projects were warehoused in the Ministry leaving out agencies like FAAN.
The Minister explained that agencies under her Ministry would come in where necessary. Oduah was also asked why she wanted to spend so much money remodeling and renovating when what is in vogue is the Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) concession deals.
The Minister noted that “BOT is not doable in aviation” saying concessioning takes a longer process. She said that 125 concessions have been made on many projects without a single one working.
According to her, what is needed in the aviation industry is a joint venture arrangement as BOT would not be favourable to government. She added that joint venture is only required at the management level and not at the terminals.
Oduah who christened the 2012 budget of her Ministry as “Renaissance Budget” explaining that the budget is a renaissance because “it marks the true rebirth of the aviation industry in Nigeria.
She noted that the state of facilities and infrastructure at the nation’s airports are quite appalling, saying, since assumption of office in 2011, one of her major concerns has been to give the airports a facelift saying, the focus gave rise to the remodeling projects being under taken in the airports across the country.