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.
The Gradual Decapitation of Shippers’ Council under Jime.
The Politics of CVFF disbursement.
The Cabotage Vessel Financing Funds (CVFF) has become a wild card in the hand of the government which it uses at will to dribble the hapless indigenous ship owners in a game of deceit.
For about 18 years when the Cabotage Act of 2003 was promulgated and 14 years when the CVFF guidelines 2007 were issued by the Ministry of Transportation and approved by the National Assembly, the disbursement of the interventionist fund has become a rat race between the government and indigenous ship owners.
All over the world, governments seek and strive for the development of their maritime Industry either through direct intervention as the CVF was designed to be or through the creation of conducive environment to attract private participation.
It was with this mindset that the promoters of the Cabotage Act promulgated the ACT in 2003.
The ACT, akin to the Jones Act of the United States, was meant to reserve the opportunities in the coastal trade for the exclusive rights of indigenous ship owners.
To enable them to participate effectively in coastal trade, the promoters of the Act mooted an interventionist fund to be given to the operators as soft loans under the Cabotage Vessel Financing Funds (CVFF).
The fund, which is a pool of the deductions of the two percent of the contracts executed under the Cabotage trade, will be given out to qualified shipowners in a low-interest loan.
But 14 years after the fund berthed, no single operator has benefited from the fund.
Successive governments have played a game of deceit on the disbursement of the fund, making fools of the hapless indigenous operators.
Over the years, the accrued amounts of the fund from the deductions which are still ongoing despite non-disbursement, have been a subject of controversy as various, unverified figures are being churned out by the government and its agency, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and safety agency (NIMASA), thus leaving operators to make wild guesses.
The last unverified figures given out by NIMASA during the press conference to mark the one year in office of the incumbent Director-General of NIMASA, Dr. Bashir Jamoh, was $20m and N32 billion.
We call it unverified because the fund grows almost on daily basis from the two percent deductions from Cabotage contracts.
Unfortunately, the fund has been serially abused by successive governments which gleefully dip their hands into the hilt and use it for purposes other than what it was meant for.
The circus display of a game of deceit over the disbursement of the fund started during the last administration of President Good luck Jonathan when Mr. Patrick Akpobolokemi was at the helms of affairs as NIMASA DG.
The closest the indigenous operators came to getting the loans was the shortlisting of six applicants from the 100 applications for the loans.
Nothing was thereafter heard until 2015 when the Jonathan administration gave way to the present government.
It was even rumoured that the fund was depleted by the previous government in the run on to the 2015 General elections.
The game of deceit continued under the present government which even elevated the circus show into an act of mind game.
Under the present dispensation, promises of disbursement were not in short supply as the Chief Executive officers of NIMASA, starting from the erstwhile DG, Dakuku Peterside, regaled indigenous operators with his power of rhetorics to hoodwink them when he made several unfulfilled promises of disbursement.
This act of deceit continued under the present leadership of NIMASA which has continued with the same old tradition of unfulfilled promises.
Even though Dr Bashir Jamoh, the incumbent NIMASA DG, appears to be genuine in his passion to disburse the fund, but he was handicapped by the insincerity of his principals.
If the Jonathan Government was being diplomatic about its insincerity over the disbursement, the present government, who incidentally criticized its predecessor over the non-disbursement, left no one in doubt about its intention, to play to the gallery.
It was under this government that the fund was taken over and deposited into the TSA account at the Central Bank of Nigeria.
As laudable as the move was to safe guide further pilfering of the fund, the Buhari Government, through his Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, said the fund belong to the Federal Government.
Despite several efforts and promises made by NIMASA and the Ministry of Transportation to disburse the fund, the Presidency inexplicably yielded to the antics of the Finance minister who curiously objected to the disbursement.
To confirm that this government never had any intention of disbursement, Rotimi Amaechi, the Minister of Transportation, told the bewildered audience at a Lagos event last week, that the President has withdrawn his earlier approval granted for disbursement, thus shattering the forlorn hope of the expectant beneficiaries.
We are as confused and bewildered as the hapless indigenous operators over the turn of events.
Two months ago, Amaechi told his audience that the fund was on the verge of disbursement when the Minister of Finance, despite the approval of Mr President and the endorsement of the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, protested and stalled the process.
In another breath, the President was said to have withdrawn his approval over what Amaechi called the petition letters which he alleged the indigenous operators wrote against him to Mr President.
The whole thing doesn’t add up.
It was Amaechi who advised the operators to write a letter, protesting the meddlesomeness of Ahmed Zainab who allegedly stalled the process.
We find it curious that the same operators, who should be grateful to Amaechi for fighting their battle, would now turn against him and instead of protesting against Ahmed Zainab, their common enemy, will now turn their anger against Amaechi.
The whole scenario seems illogical to discerning minds.
To us, it was giving a dog a bad name before hanging it.
The government, as the risk of being controverted, had never intended to disburse the fund, if there is still any fund to disburse.
With the legendary propensity of this government for borrowing, we may not be entirely surprised if it later turns out that this government has “borrowed” the accrued amount into the fund while playing to the gallery to buy time until more money is accrued. After all, the two percent deductions and other fees accruable to the fund are done on an almost daily basis, if not on daily basis.
If this government could deplete the pension funds through borrowing, we would not bat an eyelid if the CVFF has suffered a similar fate.
We are sad to note that the noble objectives of CVFF have been distorted and bastardized on the altar of political expediency.
The fund, which has become an object of serial abuse, has been turned into a buffer to cash back political expenses while leaving the indigenous shipping to bleed and suffer stunted growth due to mindless neglect.
Going by the guidelines set by the Ministry of Transportation and approved by the National Assembly in 2007, the hijack of the fund by the Presidency and the interference of the Minister of Finance is illegal and negates the spirit and letters of the guidelines.
Schedule 4 of the guidelines spell out the parties to the fund which include the Ministry of Transportation as the supervising Ministry, NIMASA, the Primary Lending Institutions (PLIs) and the fund applicants.
Nowhere was the presidential approval nor the inputs of the ministry of finance indicated before the fund could be disbursed.
Using the fund for purposes other than what was stated in the guidelines was not only uncharitable but criminal.
Under the purpose and beneficiaries stated in the guidelines, schedule 3.1 (financial support), it states that:
” The fund shall be utilized by the agency (NIMASA) to offer financial assistance, create access to funding by financial institutions with the sole aim of increasing retail indigenous ship acquisition capacity.
“The disbursement of the fund shall be subject to the approval of the Minister of Transportation upon recommendations by NIMASA”.
For 14 years, these objectives were met in the breach
From the foregoing, the current circus show which the present government has engaged with the CVFF disbursement is against the spirit of the ACT.
For a government that prides itself as a defender of rule of law, it should have caused the National Assembly to amend the Act before the president took over the administration of the fund.
We find as distasteful the political game to which the present government has subjected the CVFF disbursement while neglecting its critical role of intervention to empower the indigenous operators to enable them to participate effectively in coastal trade.
We urge the National Assembly to step in and stop the serial abuse of the fund and cause a forensic audit to be carried out to ascertain the level of pillage that the fund has suffered since 2007.
Ending this rat rate and political circus show over the disbursement of the CVFF, to us, will halt the gradual but steady tipping of indigenous shipping from its present precipice of disaster.
ANLCA crisis: Unending naked dance in the market place
In March 2018, the association held its elections which ushered in a new National Executive Council led by Tony Iju Nwabunike who emerged as the President with a slim margin over his rival, Emenike Nwokeoji.
The following month, April, elections were also held into the Board of Trustees of the Association.
Alhaji Taiwo Mustapha was said to have defeated the incumbent, Chief Henry Njoku who was said to have been on the seat for over 10 years.
Chief Njoku was said to have rejected the outcome of the elections and refused to vacate the seat, allegedly emboldened by the tacit support of the President of the Association, Tony Nwabunike.
In the intervening period, the association has witnessed interplay of intrigues, intense political horse-trading, brit-bats, accusations and counter-accusations, blame-trading, name -callings, and mud-slinging which culminated in polarisation and eventual splitting of the association.
The unfolding drama suggests that the crisis is far from being over.
Our emotion was made poignant by the damage this intractable crisis has done to the integrity of the players in the freight forwarding profession.
ANLCA was established in 1954 and has come to define the freight forwarding practice in the country.
All other freight forwarding associations owe their existence to this great body.
As a result, ANLCA has become a reference point for professionalism, orderliness, organisational abilities, and internal democracy that it has earned as a result of long years of existence.
However, all these attributes may have gone up in smoke and filtered away on the altar of greed, ego and self-preservation.
Yes, we believe this avoidable crisis was sparked off by individual greed and personal aggrandizement, the inordinate attributes of those who are hell-bent on plunging ANLCA into an endless war of attrition.
We believe that a leader who is desirous of serving his people would not want to do so at the detriment of the corporate existence of the platform on which he wishes to serve.
Neither will he do so at the expense of the same people he wishes to serve.
The Eyewitness news views the raging crisis in ANLCA as needless and inordinate which has exposed the selfish intentions of the gladiators.
We are in no doubt that the founding fathers and other past leaders of ANLCA who had worked tirelessly to build this association into a great and virile body would wince at the level of corrosive effect the action of the present leadership has had on the association.
Our fear is further heightened by the fact that the gladiators are still at the throats of one another, as we write.
A factional group led by the Western Zonal Coordinator of the association, John Oforbike, and buoyed by Alhaji Mustapha whom it has loyalty for, purportedly excised the Western Zone, comprising Apapa, Tin Can Island, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Seme, Idiroko, Kirikiri Lighter Terminal and PTML chapters from the main association, while electing Emenike Nwokeoji as their President and vowing not to recognise Nwabunike as their President.
The Executive Council, in a counter move, suspended all the chapter chairmen, as well as few members of the National Executive members suspected to have sympathy for the break-away group and Oforbike, who is the rally point for the splinter group while replacing them with a caretaker committee.
The suspended members dared the National Executives, saying they remained immovable while warning the then caretaker committee members to steer clear.
It was a battle of wit and a stand-off between the two groups which is threatening to further plunge the association into a deeper crisis if nothing is done.
The signs are ominous and it is only the quick intervention of the past leaders of the association that could stave off what could be a great conflagration that could consume the 67-year old freight forwarding group.
It is as a result of this we call on the well-meaning leaders of the association to intervene in this needless battle of supremacy before the legacy they bequeathed on the present crop of leaders and members goes up in flame.
We also want to appeal to the National President of the association, Nwabunike, to rise up to the occasion and take a decisive step to douse the tension.
It is said that when two elephants fight, the grass suffers.
Unfortunately, while these shenanigans are going on, members who are supposed to be served are now like sheep without a shepherd, left unattended to while the freight forwarding profession which the leadership is supposed to protect and edify is being desecrated by this avoidable and needless crisis.
We, therefore, appeal to the warring parties to sheathe their swords in the interest of peace and the well-being of members they were elected to serve and in the larger interest of the freight forwarding profession.
They should allow the collective interests of members to override their own personal interests.
That is the hallmark of responsible and responsive leadership.
Our appeal is predicated on our concerns that as long as this “mud-fight” continues, it will bring public odium to the oldest freight forwarding group in Nigeria.
The gladiators should therefore end this public show of their naked dance in the market square which is embarrassing to the well-meaning stakeholders, the founding fathers of the association, and stakeholders generally.
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