On May 6th, 2021, the tenure of Hadiza Bala Usman, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), was abruptly disrupted by President Mohammadu Buhari.
In a terse Twitter message by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, President Buhari approved the recommendations of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi, that the financial activities of the NPA from 2016 to 2020, which have been a subject of controversy, be investigated while Hadiza, should step aside.
Since that announcement, there has been a flurry of reactions that are heavily steeped in mere insinuations, speculations, conjectures, assumptions, truth, half-truth and outlandish claims from stakeholders, depending on their interests and emotions.
But one thing stands out from the whirlwind of emotions that greeted Hadiza’s travails, and that is, the accounts of the NPA were not tidy.
The public, ever since the announcement of the shakeup in the NPA, has been entertained with unsolicited official disclosure of secret memos which both the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi and the beleaguered Hadiza pushed to the public domain to justify their respective positions and possibly court positive emotions of the aghast public.
The official memos, which are marked “secret” in the civil service bureaucratic parlance, and which the two sides would have kept close to their chests, have become a common sight on social media.
But that was not the grouse of this platform nor the subject of its intervention on the matter.
We find the way and manner Hadiza’s suspension was couched and executed as curious, untidy and hasty which easily lends itself to wild speculations of a witch hunt.
Before we are accused of undue bias and sympathetic to Hadiza, let’s us state here that we are neither her friends nor foes.
After careful study of the whole drama, we discovered that there are more questions left unanswered.
Let us quickly state here that we are not absolving Hadiza of any complicity or making any attempt to portray her as a saint in this matter.
As a matter of fact, we wholeheartedly welcome the audit exercise of the NPA accounts and any other public accounts of government agencies, for that matter.
We also support the probe and sanction of any public holder who may have betrayed the public trust bequeathed to them.
However, what this platform frowns at is if the suspension order was done with malice and intention to settle political scores.
If this is so, such exercise would have lost credibility and moral values, no matter its good intentions.
We are puzzled by the issues surrounding Hadiza’s sack.
From the analysis of the event, it was the audit report from the Budget office of the Federation (BOF) that prompted Ameachi’s memo to the President for a full-scale investigation into the NPA’s finances.
We welcome this development as it tends to promote accountability.
But what we found discomforting is the prayer of the Minister, which the President curiously granted, that the Managing Director of NPA should step aside before the probe is conducted.
We are at a loss if such a probe could not have been done without the suspension of Hadiza.
To us, suspending Hadiza before the probe was prejudicial which would prejudice the outcome of the probe.
It also presupposes that the accused have already been found guilty before the actual probe begins.
Curiously, apart from the Chairman and the Secretary of the probe panel, other members are yet to be appointed before Hadiza’s sack.
Also, in as much as the buck stops on her table as the Managing Director, Hadiza alone does not constitute the management of NPA which accounts are under scrutiny.
Curiously, Mohammed Koko, the Executive Director, Finance and Administration, who is the Chief accountant of the NPA and under whose purview these spurious transactions are supposed to be made, was not only spared the searchlight but asked to step in as an Acting Managing Director.
To us, this arrangement stands logic on its head.
As the Head of Finance in the NPA, one would have thought all these controversial expenditures over which dust is now being raised, should have passed through his table.
Unless, of course, if they have been done without his approval and protest of which the yet to be constituted panel has not heard.
We are not trying to shield Hadiza from being investigated not justifying any sleazy activities in NPA, but our stand is that such investigation should be carried out within the ambit of the law and in deference to the civil service extant laws which govern such procedures.
Accordingly, the accused should have been given a fair hearing before any action is taken.
If found guilty, then she could be removed and probably prosecuted to serve as a deterrent.
But now that she was first removed before the panel, which was supposed to investigate her was even constituted, is tantamount to having found her guilty before she is heard.
What happens if, after the investigation, Hadiza is found not guilty of this alleged monumental fraud?
Of course, there is no way we can search the anus of an old woman and not finding feces
Would she be recalled if not found guilty?
We doubt that possibility because there was no such precedence of a sacked CEO of a government parastatal who was recalled.
The only of such scenario was Habib Abdullahi whose recall as MD of NPA during Jonathan administration was terminated by Buhari who incidentally appointment Hadiza in his stead.
If that is the case, it would have amounted to a miscarriage of justice.
The frenzy of activities that eventually culminated into the suspension of Hadiza gives little room for thoroughness on the part of the Minister, a hasty action which could easily be constructed to mean that Hadiza may have been a victim of political vendetta.
The Minister, based on the audit report from the budget office of the Federation(BOF), raised a memo to the President on March 4th, 2021.
He got the Presidential approval on March 17th, 2021.
Hadiza, apparently having got wind of the memo and the Presidential approval, put up her defence in a four-page memo to the President through his Chief of Staff on May 5th, 2021.
In the memo, which was personally signed by Hadiza, she tried to controvert the N165.3 billion which the Budget Office said was the shortfall in the amounts which the NPA was supposed to remit to the federation account between 2016 to 2020, on the basis which Minister got the presidential approval to suspend and probe Hadiza.
“We wish to state that the Authority’s basis for arriving at the Operating Surplus on which basis the amount due for remittance to the CFR is guided by the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 as amended and further based on the statutory mandate
Part 1, S.3(1) (b) &(d) whereby the Fiscal Responsibility Commission issued a
template for the computation of Operating Surplus for the purpose of calculating the amount due for remittance to the CRF ( attached herewith as annex 2 is the template as conveyed to the Authority).
“Accordingly, the figures so provided by the Budget Office of the Federation as the Operating Surplus for the respective years on which basis they arrived at the shortfall are derived from submission of budgetary provision, not the actual amounts derived following the statutory audit of the Authorities financial statements.”
The next day, on May 6th, 2021, Hadiza was suspended.
The whole drama smacks of high wire political deft moves by both sides.
From the two memos, we find out, and sadly too, that there was no love lost between Hadiza and Ameachi.
Ameachi, having secured the Presidential approval to hit Hadiza with a sledgehammer, probably held back possibly to strike at the least provocation.
Hadiza provided the opportunity when rather than addressing her defence of the allegations to the Minister as her immediate boss, chose to go straight to the President through his Chief of staff.
This, we believe, may have prompted Amaechi to activate the lethal weapon he has secured from the President.
Because the second day she addressed the memo to the President through his CSO and which we are not even sure had gotten to the CSO, she was suspended before the letter could get to Mr. President, thus effectively foreclosing any shift in the President’s approval.
This scenario, unfortunately, showed an arrogant act of insubordination on the part of Hadiza who side-tracked her boss and chose to go straight to the President, an action which we unequivocally condemn.
It has become a subject of gossip in the industry how Hadiza has routinely disregarded official protocols by going straight to Mr. President in matters she should have referred to the Minister, her immediate boss.
Her memo to the CSO of the President at least gives legitimacy to this ‘gossip’.
To us, it was this flagrant disrespect to the office of the Minister that Ameachi wanted to punish which led to this avoidable crisis.
To us, this has established that the roforofo fight at NPA was between Ameachi and Hadiza which we believe was personal and an attempt to settle political scores.
Being that as it may, we also find it strange and curious that Hadiza, whose tenure was renewed six clear months before it expires, could suddenly fall out of favour.
In an unprecedented move, Hadiza, appointed in July 2016, had her tenure renewed in January 2021, six whole months before she completes her first tenure, and was gifted with another five-year tenure, which would have made her the longest-serving Managing Director in the history of the NPA, if she has been allowed to go the whole hog of her tenure.
Was the presidency not aware of the Budget office report before Hadiza was gifted another five-year tenure?
We however believe that the true complexion of the drama at NPA will emerge in the days, weeks, or months ahead as the macabre events unfold.
Editorial! The incursion of Chinese into Nigeria’s revenue vault.
The ubiquitous Chinese is gradually getting a foothold in the nation’s economy.
On May 30th, 2022, the controversial concession of the Nigeria Customs Service was consummated at the national headquarters of the service in Abuja.
Despite the outcry of stakeholders against the concession of the operations of the Nigeria Customs Service, the Federal Government signed a tripartite concession agreement with a Chinese company, Huawei Technologies, and their Nigerian counterparts, Trade Modernisation Project Limited with Africa Finance Corporation as the lead financiers.
The agreement was facilitated and midwifed by the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission(ICRC).
The concessionaires, under the agreement, will drive the modernisation project for 20 years.
Last Monday’s consummation of the concession agreement was preceded by the approval granted by the Federal Government in September 2020 to concede the operations of the customs to concessionaires
The concession agreement, which spans a period of 20 years, will involve the modernisation of the processes and procedures of the Nigeria Customs Service, including its revenue generation which the concessionaires will take over through which they are to recoup their $3.2 billion investments.
Expectedly, the decision of the Federal government, which was clinically executed in the mould of a coup d’é tat, caught many industry stakeholders pants down.
It also generated animated discussion as the approval and eventual concession was granted in defiance to the popular wish of the operators.
Since 2019, when the industry got wind of this concession deal before the 2020 approval, there has been concerted opposition mounted by the aghast operators who felt the move was an attempt to give away our common patrimony to the foreign interests.
Then, Hon. Jerry Alagbaso, a former Customs chief and erstwhile member of the House of Representatives, rallied the National Assembly against the move.
But to the chagrin of everyone, the Federal government pulled a fast one on all the antagonists of the project.
We are less disconcerted over this concession deal which we believe was willing away the nation’s cash cow for 20 years to the foreign imperialists and their local collaborators.
We are at a loss on which powerful forces could have forced the hands of the Federal government to enter into this type of deal against the popular counsel of knowledgeable stakeholders.
Modernisation of Customs, they said.
What is there to modernise in the processes and procedures of the Nigeria Customs Service?
At the risk of being controverted, we dare say the Nigeria Customs has the most advanced form of automation process among the government agencies in the industry and one of the most automated in Africa.
The Secretary-General of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), Wamkele Mene said as much when he visited Apapa Customs command last week.
Mr. Mene said Nigeria Customs has the most advanced and comprehensive automation programme among its peers in Africa.
The only challenge which the service has is human.
Some of the men and officers of the service are clearly aversed to full automation due to their selfish and pecuniary interests.
The automation process will eliminate human contacts which is the avenue for extortion and exploitation.
Since 2003, Nigeria Customs has gone through a series of automation processes that have made its processes and procedures seamless.
The Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) and its advanced form of ASYCUDA+, ASYCUDA++, the Nigeria Customs Integrated System (NCIS1 &11), and Pre-Arrival Assessment Report (PAAR) are some of the automation platforms created by the customs management over the years to make customs operations seamless.
Even, in 2013, the Service developed a web-based application to provide information and guidelines for international trade business processors, export and transit trade which is called Nigeria trade Portal which is interactive.
To our mind, what the service needs is to upgrade these automated platforms, and integrate them with other players in the cargo documentation and clearance chains under the neglected single window project.
With adequate capital outlay, we believe Nigeria Customs can achieve full automation status without the involvement of foreign economic imperialists, aided and abetted by their avaricious local collaborators.
The anti- automation officers, who are averred to technology due to their selfish interests, could be reformed.
If they are adamant, they could be shipped out.
Cargo scanning could be emphasised while physical examination of cargoes could be sparingly used.
With these and all other automation platforms well integrated into the single-window under the supervision of a willing Customs administration, the Nigeria Customs will be a world-class agency.
We are however least surprised at the tenacity of these economic vultures in their quest to lay hands on the Nigeria Customs Service, which is gradually emerging as the cash cow of the nation.
Apart from oil, maritime is the second-highest revenue earner for the country and Nigeria Customs plays a key role in this regard.
With the yearly earnings in the excess of a conservative estimate of trillions of naira and the capacity to do more, as well as the dwindling earnings from oil due to the global crisis in the oil market, the maritime industry nay Nigeria Customs is understandably the preferred bride for these economic speculators.
Various attempts have been made in the past to dip their hands in the Customs’ till without success.
In 2011, the illegal concession of Customs key functions between the ministry of finance and a company called Single Window System and Technologies was shot down.
In 2017, another move for Customs modernisation was made by the technical committee on the Comprehensive Import Supervision Scheme(CISS) which was pretentiously acting on behalf of the Federal government, with a technical partner called Adani system Nigeria limited.
The attempt, which sought to concession the Customs then for 25 years, was frustrated.
However, in a blatant disregard for popular opinion, the Federal government, after several failed attempts, eventually forced down the throat of the unwilling stakeholders, the concession of the agency.
However, the deeds have been done.
Any further lamentation by the stakeholders on the issue is crying over spilled milk.
Now that the government has had its way, we can only hope that its aspirations for the concession will be realised.
The Minister of Finance, Budget, and Planning, Zainab Ahmed, has said the government stands to realise $176 billion from the project without spending a Kobo.
The question is how much will the concessionaires realise within the 20- year period of the deal beyond the $3.2billion investments they are expected to sink into the project?
What would be the fate of the customs officers whose jobs will be affected by the take-over of the revenue functions of the agency?
Even though the Comptroller General of the service, Col. Hameed Ali, has allayed the fear of job loss, the redundancy of some categories of officers could not be totally ruled out.
It is instructive to note that one of the two core functions of the customs, which is revenue generation, has now been concessioned under the guise of this new modernisation project, leaving them with the anti-smuggling function.
We hope rather than render some crop of officers reductant which may lead to possible right-sizing of staff, they could be redeployed to beef up the anti-smuggling function of the service.
We are worried about the involvement of the Chinese in the project as represented by Huawei which serves as a technical partner.
The ubiquitous Chinese have gradually become a leech on Nigeria, sucking on the economy of the nation.
We can only hope that the modernisation project will leave the Nigeria Customs service better than it met it.
We equally hope the project will not be sabotaged by disgruntled insiders whose means of livelihood is being threatened.
The misadventure of the Professional Import Duty Administrators (PIDA) between 1996 and 2000 in the Nigeria Customs Service is still poignant in the memory of those who were in the know.
At that period, a firm of an accounting/consultant was engaged as professional Import Duty Administrators to complement the Nigeria Customs Service in the task of revenue generation.
They left the service worst off than they met it.
We appeal to the Federal government to ensure that this project transforms the service into a technologically-driven agency whose operations are seamless and paperless.
Editorial! Chairmanship of CRFFN: Mortgaging the Freight Forwarding industry
“Following Chibuike Amaechi’s imposition of one Alhaji Tsanni as chairman of the governing council, Amaechi’s action, contrary to the legal provisions of the CRFFN Act as regards the position of chairman and vice-chairman, has automatically placed the Council on the precipice.”
“It is absolute disregard of the rule of law. It’s not even healthy for the political future of Mr. President (Buhari).
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