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Troubled waters at the NPA: Questions Hadiza Bala Usman should answer

From many quarters have come the same complaints that Ms Hadiza Bala Usman , the suspended Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), failed to recognize constituted authority, even when occupancy of that office comes with a responsibility to report the state of affairs to her superiors periodically as needed.

While the imbroglio involving failure of the NPA under the suspended MD’s watch to remit N165 billion became public as an administrative inquiry by the Budget Office of the Federation, the mirage of defense of Ms Bala Usman  on the pages of newspapers did not make a difference that she had been asked to give account of how she managed the parastatal in the last five years.

It was only reasonable that the Federal Ministry of Transportation did what it did setting up an Administrative Panel to ask requisite questions pertaining to operations at the NPA under Ms. Bala Usman’s  watch. Of course, she did not have to remain in office in the course of this probe.

For the benefit of clarifying any doubts, the Federal Ministry of Transportation in a statement signed by the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Magdalene Ajani, on May 10, 2021, disclosed that all actions with regards to the 11-man Panel set up by the Minister, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, was as approved by President Muhammadu Buhari. And the simple reason for the President’s approval is for accountability.

Well, if it worried any right-thinking person why the embattled MD got so unsettled about the development, the statement by the ministry indicating insubordination by Ms Bala Usman, reveals she may not be used to getting ruffled as she refused to respond to a memo by the minister requesting that she provided situation reports concerning the ports channels dredging contracts.

That statement reads in part that: “It is instructive to note that despite the fact that the above letter was duly received by the NPA on the same 2nd February; the Authority has not deemed it necessary till date to respond to the Ministerial directives contained therein.”

The issue in question is that Ms Bala Usman preferred the annual N50 billion port channel dredging contract to working with an agreement reached by the NPA Board, sometime in November 2019, to acquire its dredging equipment and build the needed capacity to carry out the routine port channel dredging in-house. And since the ministry did not walk her path, she bypassed it and made her way straight to the presidency to get the contract approval she wanted!  Note, it was her failure to comply with the agreement at that meeting that made the ministry serve her the memo of February 2021, instructing that the NPA should buy its own dredging equipment and train staff for required capacity for the job. Yet, she did not respond to that memo.

It is no doubt the same influence she exhibited going to secure a second term of office for herself without passing through her supervising ministry/minister. With easy access to the president’s Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, Ms Bala Usman would get away with many other acts including not attending inter-parastatal board meetings, until the Permanent Secretary, Dr. Magdalene Ajani, addressed that anomaly.

For the records, however, the NPA used to have dredging vessels including Suction Dredger—Md SD Sea Lion, SD Gumel and SD River Tiga, which maintained the Lagos Channels as needed. That operation stopped as a result of privatization of the Habour Department, the Dredging and Pilotage Units of the NPA. Nigerians deserve to know what happened to the equipment.

While the Administrative Panel sitting over this matter, with the task of handling the issues professionally, is believed to  highly competent for the job, Nigerians would be glad to know what truly happened while Senator Binta Garba, served  as a member on the NPA Board.

The Senator, representing Adamawa North Senatorial District, on Monday spoke on how Hadiza Bala Usman orchestrated her removal from the board, because she pointed out some financial discrepancies in the accounts of the NPA. According to the senator, the embattled Managing Director would not stand being questioned.

That may begin to shed more light on why the NPA’s original 2018 audit report could not be sighted, according to sources at the Federal Ministry of Transportation. But Nigerians want to know the truth here. Remember that the Auditor General’s Office had remarked that the NPA books were riddled with sundry accounting deficiencies, irregularities and errors, corroborating Garba’s story.

Nigerians would also want to know why Ms Bala Usman without the approval of the Board or the supervising ministry,  purchased official cars to the tune of N1.2 billion shortly after the #EndSARS attack on the marina Headquarters office of the NPA, when her approval limit was N5 million.

Again, she would need to explain the excessive cost on hotel accommodation and other administrative costs, as well as other allegations of unremitted deduction to the Federal Inland Revenue Service.

Explanations would also be needed to justify the billions of Naira she allegedly spent on Corporate Social Responsibility, which were mostly done in Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, to satisfy personal interest over and above communities where the ports operate.

With an annual budget of N400 billion, events over time with Hadiza Bala Usman as MD of the NPA have expressed the axiom that “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” If she had a free reign in the course of duty, the least would have been to recognize the fact that the office of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority could be held by any one of Nigeria’s 200 million citizens.

Record available in public domain also showed how she dealt blows to different economic investors in the nation’s ports; Intels, BUA, LADOL amongst others. As had been accused, Hadiza reportedly bypassed the ministry of transportation and straight to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), even when the federal government had stated that all matters of bidding and their processes wait due to the challenges of the Covid-19 outbreak. The events that unfolded through the period indicated that it didn’t matter if other companies that had been running operations in the sector died, so long as her preferred company, Dangote Group thrives.

Several reports in public domain have also alleged that the same Dangote  kept enjoying sundry waivers, including cancellation of port charges for over a thousand containers, to the detriment of the federal purse, courtesy of Hadiza’s questionable discretion. And with Hadiza’s support, Dangote enjoys an unfair edge over his competitors, like in instances where the NPA insists that payments be made in USD, Dangote  had been allowed to do such payments in Naira. How fair is that to people who invest their resources in the port sector yet struggle to be sustained.

This Administrative Panel probing activities of the NPA under Hadiza Bala Usman as managing director, should be allowed to do its due diligence on the issues raised, to restore credibility and put an end to impunity from one who was given an opportunity to serve.





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