When President Muhammadu Buhari appointed Hadiza Bala Usman as the first ever female Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) in July 2016, many Nigerians received the news with mixed feelings.
Prior to her appointment, she was the Chief of Staff to the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir el-Rufai, helping to spearhead reforms in a state that badly needed rejuvenation.
By entrusting the herculean task of reforming one of the most important agencies of government to a young Hadiza, President Buhari seemed to have dispelled all sentiments of his perceived aversion to youth and women inclusion in government.
The appointment also signalled the intentions of his administration to tackle corruption in a major revenue generating agency, as well diversify the nation’s revenue stream with a major break away from over-dependence on oil.
However, Hadiza Usman was recently suspended by the president because of issues bordering on corruption.
Ms Usman was suspended following the recommendation of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi to the presidency.
The minister, in a letter sent to President Muhammadu Buhari, said the NPA under Ms Usman, failed to remit about N165 billion (N165, 320, 962, 697) to Nigeria’s purse between 2016 and 2021 and should therefore be probed.
Following the minister’s accusation, President Muhammadu Buhari approved the recommendation of the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, to set up an administrative panel of inquiry to investigate Ms Usman’s management of the NPA.
The President also approved that the Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman, step aside while the investigation is carried out. Mr Mohammed Koko will act in that position pending the outcome of the investigation.
The suspension of the former NPA Boss has continued to generate debate. It is believed in some quarters that not querying her or making her aware of her offence(s) before suspending her was a clear breach of the processes stipulated in the government’s regulation for disciplining heads of government agencies.
According to a government circular dated May 19, 2020, and endorsed by the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, when there is an issue of impropriety against the head of an agency, the Federal Government requires a minister, through the permanent secretary of the supervising ministry, to refer the matter to the governing board of the affected agency in line with its enabling laws and chapters three and 16 of the Public Service Rules on discipline and government parastatals.
The board will then issue the affected official a query and subsequently advise the minister of its findings and recommendations.
But whether the board is itself the source of the allegation of misconduct against the chief executive, or the chief executive is the chairman of the board, the minister, on the advice of the permanent secretary, still has to ensure a query is issued, while requesting an explanation from the accused official.
The minister after due consideration of the submission from the Board shall, on the advice of the Permanent Secretary, forward the ministry’s position along with the recommendations of the Board and explanation of the Chief Executive Officer to the Secretary to Government of the Federation for processing to Mr President, for a decision.
In contrast to the specifications of the above circular, Hadiza Usman said she was not queried neither were her offences made known to her before her suspension.
Also, one of the allegations levelled against Hadiza Usman was that she used her position to award a contract to a company owned by Aliko Dangote, a position she said was false.
A document obtained by an online news portal, Sahara Reporters had accused Ms Usman of removing Integrated Logistics Services’ (INTELs) from operating some coastline terminals in Onne ports complex, and handing the job to Mr Dangote through a proxy company, International Container Terminal Services (ICTS) Nigeria limited.
Ms Usman in her statement said she could not have awarded any contract without the management team of the NPA:
“To start with, the Nigerian Ports Authority has an executive management team which always considers and takes business decisions on all assets of the Authority in the best interest of Nigeria.
“To claim that I singlehandedly awarded a contract in my capacity as Managing Director, is therefore, irresponsible, mischievous, and defamatory.
“The report also mischievously lumped the now expired service boat contract between the NPA and the Integrated Logistics Services’ (INTELs), which took off in 2007 with a review of a ten-year extension in 2011 to culminate in an expiration in August 2020 with the lease under discussion.
“The service boat contract expired through the effusion of time and the Authority initiated a procurement process in which INTELs participated in line with all extant laws.”
Concerning Onne berths 9, 10 and 11, which the report alleged were “clandestinely” taken from INTELs, she said the Authority offered those berths to INTELs in 2013 without any contractual agreement even though the offer letter required that the company should pay rent to the Authority for the use of the berths.
It is also worthy of note that several reports have traced the “cold war” between Rotimi Amaechi and Hadiza Bala-Usman to the renewal of $1.5 billion channel management contracts.
The ministry of transportation says it objected to the award of channel management contracts by the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) because it is more cost-effective to procure necessary equipment and execute the contracts in-house.
Reacting to media reports, Magdalene Ajani, permanent secretary, ministry of transportation, described the allegation that Amaechi recommended two Chinese companies to execute the contracts as a “deliberate attempt to drag the integrity of the minister in the mud”:
“It is necessary to place on record that while Channel Management contracts have been routinely awarded over the years by the Nigerian Ports Authority at a cost of between 50 and 60 billion naira on an annual basis, the Honourable Minister has adopted a firm position that the NPA should undertake the job of channel management on an in-house basis through the acquisition of the necessary machinery and professional capacity given the humongous annual sums paid out to dredging contractors by the authority.”
Nigeria is faced with the challenge of a dwindling economy, therefore, wastage of resources should not be encouraged.
However, the spirit of fairness, equity and justice should prevail when investigating the matter in question.
Maritime industry players, business commentators and other observers are eagerly awaiting the report of the committee set up to investigate all allegations against the suspended Managing Director of NPA.