The Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) said it ordered the BMW 760 Li vehicles for 225 million Nigerian naira two months ago at the request of Aviation Minister Stella Oduah, saying they were necessary for security.
“It is internationally customary to convey our minister and … foreign dignitaries in a security vehicle whenever they are in Nigeria,” NCAA Director General Fola Akinkuotu told journalists over the weekend.
News of the car purchase was revealed in a document leaked by a whistle-blower to U.S.-based Nigerian diaspora website Sahara Reporters last week. Oduah’s supporters say the story is an attempt by her enemies to smear her reputation.
But Nigerians, fed up with what they see as politicians’ squandering of public money on flash cars and houses while education and health budgets are squeezed, expressed outrage.
“When poverty is eroding the lives of the citizenry, it is outrageous for such an amount of money to be used to purchase armed vehicles for the minister,” an activist group called the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice said, calling on called on Oduah to resign.
Oduah’s spokesman Joe Obi was not immediately available for comment, but he was quoted in The Punch newspaper on Monday as saying the vehicles were needed because of “clear and imminent threats to her personal security.”
Around 70 percent of the budget of Africa’s top oil producer is spent on running the government, leaving the remaining 30 percent for investment in badly needed infrastructure.
Almost 100 million Nigerians live on less than $1 a day.
“In another land, this act of recklessly spending public funds … would be a political suicide,” blogger Tolu Ogunlesi wrote in The Punch. “But this is Nigeria, where such irresponsible acts are welcome.”
Adding to the controversy is that fact that the cars retail in the West at a third of the price, around $250,000. Akinkuotu attributed the price difference to a monopoly position enjoyed by the importer.
Oduah, a close ally of President Goodluck Jonathan, upset relatives of plane crash victims this month by calling such incidents inevitable acts of God. There have been two deadly plane crashes in the past 15 months, including one that killed 163 people last year.