The Eyewitness reporter
Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, the immediate past Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) has broken her silence for the first time since May 2021 when she was suspended from office as the Managing Director of the agency, a position she never returned to as she was eventually replaced by Mr. Mohammed Bello-Koko who was then the Executive Director, Finance and Administration.
Hadiza, who was a member of the Bola Ahmed Tinubu Campaign Organisation, chose to disclose the details that led to her unceremonial removal through her book titled: “Stepping On Toes: My Odyssey At The Nigerian Ports Authority” which was launched Tuesday.
She explained that her battle to restore sanity, and due process in the nation’s port system led to her removal from office.
Hadiza further disclosed that expired contracts, breaking Intel’s oil and gas monopoly, violation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy by Intels, LADOL vs Samsung issues and the tango with BUA are part of the issues that led to her exit.
According to her, the refusal of the authority under her watch to pay $22 million for the dredging of the Calabar channel and the renewal of the INTELS Boat Service contracts also caused her to lose her job as the MD of NPA.
In the book, the former NPA boss, who revealed issues behind the dredging of the Calabar Channel, said by the end of her first six months as Managing Director/CEO of the NPA, it was obvious to her that she was going to be swimming with sharks.
She said, although she had some inkling of irregularities, there was no way of knowing the pervasiveness until one got into the system.
Usman said dredging of the four ports would throw up additional risks with an attendant increase in insurance premiums due to insecurity issues and inadequate road infrastructure.
“In addition, decisions as to the destination of cargoes are at the discretion of the consignee. To that effect, consideration for the cost of transportation of cargo to the ultimate destination is a major factor in reaching a decision.
”Lagos remains the commercial capital of the country and most consignees prefer to ship their goods through the Lagos ports where there are ready consumers. Goods designated for other parts of the country are then transported by road by middlemen or directly to consumers.
“Consumers may also receive the goods in Lagos and make their own arrangements for transportation.”
She further explained in chapter seven of her book that, there is the vexed issue of the shallow draughts of the ports outside Lagos, except for the Onne Ports, which she said has an average depth of 12 metres.
She said none of the Eastern ports has a draught deeper than 8 metres, and that even the 8 metres were achieved at the Warri Port with the Escravos Channel in 2019.
Usman said the answer to the question of why NPA hasn’t dredged the Warri, Onne, Port Harcourt and Calabar Ports, is that the ports are currently river-based ports with limitations of depth because of the design depth of the quay structure.
She said her problems started in 2017 when her office received a letter from the Ministry of Transportation, entitled: ‘Joint Venture Partnership between the Nigerian Ports Authority and Messrs. Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Ltd on the Management of the Calabar Channel,’ with a petition attached by the Minister from the law firm of Martin Aguda & Co.
“The law firms were solicitors to Messrs. Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Ltd and requested the minister’s intervention in their client’s claim for the sum of $22m purportedly owed to their client by the NPA.”
She explained that upon investigation as directed by the Minister of Transportation then, Rotimi Amaechi, the authority found no proof of the work that the company claimed to have executed, even though they had already received the sum of $12.5m.
She said NPA set up a committee, which discovered several irregularities surrounding the work and that the NPA was therefore constrained to decline the request for payment and instead, demand a refund of the sum previously paid.
In chapter 8 of the book, Usman spoke about the Integrated Logistics (INTELS) boat service contract. She said, “The Nigerian government adopted the landlord ports model, which allows for separate roles and tasks between public and private sectors.
According to her,25 private terminal operators out of about one hundred bids received for the three major categories of cargo that were established in accordance with global best practices emerged from this exercise. INTELS was one of these 25 terminal operators.
She said the company is better known for the service boat operations management, which was a constant source of altercations between NPA and INTELS from 2017 until the end of her tenure.
On how she got the appointment as NPA MD, Bala Usan said that Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the then Minister of Transportation, nominated her for the position.
It was speculated on the assumption of office that the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, whom she was serving as Chief of Staff, influenced the plum job for her, a position that has never been occupied by a woman in the annals of NPA.
“I was surprised. It was the last thing I expected at this time, just as I was settling into my role as the Chief of Staff” she revealed in her book ‘Stepping on Toes, my odyssey at the NPA.
“As Chief of Staff to the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, the workload was enormous. I usually did not take most calls until I accomplished my daily deliverables. But this was no random call.
“It was Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi, who until a couple of months back, was the man I worked for in the Campaign Directorate for the Muhammadu Buhari 2015 Presidential campaign.
“Good morning, sir, “ I said as I picked up the phone with a smile.
“How are you, Hadiza?” He responded.
“I am fine, thank you, sir. How are you too?”
“The President has approved your appointment as Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority; you have to start work immediately!
“Before he hung up, I asked if he had told my boss, Governor el-Rufai about the appointment and he replied in the negative.
He reiterated the need for me to come over to the ministry and see the permanent secretary, whose duty it was to facilitate my resumption at the NPA.
Bala Usman, said internal reforms, expired contracts, breaking Intels oil and gas monopoly, violation of the Treasury Single Account (TSA) policy by Intels, LADOL vs Samsung issues and the tango with BUA are part of the issues that made his relationship with Amaechi went sour.
“I found it incomprehensible that a Minister could ask that we stop a public tender process and instead re-appoint a company whose contract had also expired without a tender process.
“Without raising any queries about the matter with the NPA, Amaechi wrote to the President informing him of shortfalls in yearly remittance of operating surplus by the NPA between 2016 and 2020,’’
She said the former Minister of Transportation went further to seek Presidential approval that “I step aside”.
“As the days went on, many people encouraged me to meet with him to find out why things had degenerated to that extent, and apologize if need be. So, on 20 May 2021, I went to see him in Abuja. At the meeting, he accused me of writing directly to the President without recourse to the ministry.
“He said he made the move because he wanted me to resign as he didn’t want me in the office anymore. He concluded by saying that I should resign or go to court.
“I told him I wasn’t going to do either, especially now that a probe panel was in place. The Public Service does not in fact accept resignations from staff under probe.
“I told him that I would rather wait for the panel to complete its task and present their findings as I was sure that I had done nothing wrong,’’ writes Bala Usman.
She also said Amaechi told her that he would ensure that the investigation went on until 2022 when political activities would have started, and the President would not remember that she was still on suspension.
“He also said that what mattered to him was that I was no longer MD of the NPA.’’ Hadiza explained in her book.
Customs, UN agency collaborate to fight smuggling
“On behalf of the entire Management Team of the Nigeria Customs Service, I wish to inform you that we will partner with you in this campaign, and we will grant you all forms of support you may need to carry out this campaign — and I want to assign one of our amiable DCGs, Abba Kura, to work with you closely.”
He appreciated how they traveled from afar to inform the Nigeria Customs Service of their campaign against smuggling, which, according to him, the Nigeria Customs Service has already started yielding positive results in suppressing the menace of smuggling.
The CGC also welcomed Dr Raymond’s offer to engage officers and men of the Service in capacity—building to enhance their understanding of digital literacy skills, adding that the Service has already started embracing technology to advance its work by introducing related courses to officers.
The CGC appreciated the collaborative effort between the Nigeria Customs Service and UN—Habitat and believes that the collaboration signifies a commitment to tackling smuggling and enhancing trade facilitation in the nation, setting the stage for a more prosperous future.
He also appreciated their pledge to train officers and men of the Service in digital literacy skills, assuring that the Service will continue to prioritize proficiency in the fight against smuggling through a technological approach.
He underscored the importance of digital skills, promising that the relevant Service department will enhance trade facilitation.
On his part, the Director of UN—Habitat, Dr. Raymond Edoh, appreciated President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for reposing the responsibility of heading the Nigeria Customs Service on the Acting Comptroller-General, describing him as “a competent Customs officer who knows the terrain and masters the job.”
According to him, they decided to visit the Ag. CGC at the Customs Headquarters to express their interest in partnering with the Service.
He appreciated the Service for being a “gatekeeper of the country” that protects citizens against border threats, stressing that his organization will collaborate with NCS to mitigate the smuggling of illicit goods and train officers and men of Customs on digital literacy skills and certification.
UN-Habitat is the United Nations entity responsible for developing urban policies and translating them into action to create sustainable cities and promote viable urban development and adequate shelter for all.
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