N19.5bn Aviation fund: Count me out – Fani-Kayode

DAILY SUN, The Sunday Newspaper, Fridat July 10, 2009
Embattled erstwhile minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, has said his present trial at a Federal High Court is completely unconnected with the contentious N19.5 billion Aviation Intervention Fund.
Reacting through an aide yesterday, the former special assistant to immediate past president Olusegun Obasanjo also denied that any money from the fund got missing, misappropriated or squandered during his tour of duty at the aviation ministry.

Fani-Kayode and his predecessor in office, Prof. Babalola Borisade are standing trial for allegedly misappropriating the fund which was created by the Obasanjo administration in the wake of the plane crashes that dogged the nation’s airspace in 2005.
Rising from the Federal Extensive Council meeting on Wednesday, incumbent Aviation Minister, Babatunde Omotoba, said he met only N3.5 billion of the fund without any trace of how the N16 billion was spent.
“The total amount of money allocated for the special aviation fund was N19.5 billion out f this, the Federal Government contributed N13 billion while the remaining sum of N6.5 billion was borrowed… I inherited N3.5 billion out of that amount,” the minister said.
But an aide to the former Aviation minister, who preferred anonymity put the lie to any suggestion that Fani-Kayode is being prosecuted in connection with funds that were purportedly missing from the N19.5 billion aviation intervention fund.
“That is not true,” the aide said, adding that “While we will not talk about a matter that is subjudice, we wish to set the record straight. The fact of the matter is that Chief Fani-Kayode’s trial has absolutely nothing to do with the N19.5 billion Aviation Intervention Fund and neither did one kobo of that fund got missing or was misappropriated or squandered under his watch.
“For the record, before he became minister of Aviation in November 2006, N8.5 billion of the fund had already been spent by his predecessor in office and there was nothing left in the intervention fund account.”
The source said following this development, President Obasanjo then released the balance of N11 billion to Chief Fani-Kayode out of which, Chief Fani-Kayode spent N3.8 billion on three major contracts, including the new Port Harcourt runway and the second Lagos runway and he left a whopping N7.2 billion in the intervention fund account when he left office in May 2007.
“We have all the banks statements and documents to prove these assertions and they can be made available to you,” the aide said.
It described as completely unfair and unacceptable for anybody or newspaper to suggest that “Fani-Kayode’s trial is in connection with the intervention fund when it is not.”
According to the aide, nowhere in the proceeding has the intervention fund been even mentioned.
“It was in July 2008 that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) charged chief to an Abuja Magistrate Court in respect of matters touching and concerning the Aviation Intervention Fund but those charges were withdrawn from court by the EFFCC themselves for lack of evidence about two months later (September 2008) and the matter died there,” it said.
“The present trial at the Federal High Court is completely unconnected to the aviation intervention fund.”