For the first time since she left office in 2021, the immediate past Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala-Usman has opened a can of worms on circumstances that led to her removal from office.
In a no-holds-barred insight into to her removal as the Managing Director of the NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman in a book which was released on Tuesday, gave vivid details of the intrigues which eventually led to her exit from office.
She revealed in her book titled: “Stepping on Toes”, how she faced powerful forces in the discharge of her duties, and the role that was played by certain individuals, especially the then-Minister of Transportation; Mr Rotimi Amaechi.
One of my ‘crimes’ was failure to give Amaechi birthday present
Hadiza Bala Usman said that one of the reasons she was persecuted by a former Minister of Transportation; Rotimi Amaechi, was her failure to give him a birthday present.
She wrote that many notable Nigerians met the minister in order to resolve the acrimony between them shortly after she was asked to “step aside” in May 2021.
According to her, the minister rejected entreaties from governors, Customs boss Hameed Ali and others to reinstate her, citing frivolous excuses of selfishness and failure to do “nothing for him”.
“Interest groups and leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) also tried to intervene. I know for instance that Governors elected on the platform of the APC, the Progressive Governors Forum, chaired by Governor Atiku Bagudu deliberated on the issue of my suspension and constituted a committee to intervene,” she wrote in the book.
“The Governors’ team met with the Minister to discuss a resolution of the matter. He insisted that my management of the NPA had to be investigated due to the amount unremitted to the CRF [Consolidated Revenue Fund]. He even tried to Sway the governors’ resolve by suggesting that the budget of the NPA was bigger than most of their state budgets so they shouldn’t bother about me.
“When the governors persisted, he told them that the matter was no longer just within his purview and that they may need to approach the Head of Service of the Federation.
“He told another person who tried to intervene that I was so selfish that did nothing for him from NPA and never even gave him a birthday present!
“The Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd.) also made efforts to resolve the issue by intervening at various levels.”
In the book, she also alleged how the minister attempted to rope her with bogus charges of non-remittance of operating surplus into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, noting that the probe panel at the end of its prolonged investigation never found her wanting.
“On 5 May 2021, I took an early morning flight to Abuja to honour an appointment. The meeting ended early enough for me to catch a 2pm flight back to Lagos. It was at this time that I learnt that the President had approved that I should step aside as MD on the recommendation of the Minister of Transportation.
“On arrival in Lagos, I went to the office at Marina to complete a letter explaining allegations of non-remittance of N165 billion operating surplus to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF), which the Minister had made against the NPA to the President.
“Unknown to me, in his determination to get me out of office, Mr. Amaechi had been fishing for a couple of months. In his desperation, he had approached the Director General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Mr. Ben Akabueze and obtained details of the NPA’s operating surpluses upon which he apparently arrived at the conclusion that the huge sum of money was unremitted.
“Without raising any queries about the matter with the NA, the Minister wrote to the President informing him of shortfalls in yearly remittance of operating surplus by the NPA between 2016 and 2020.
“He then concluded: In view of the above, I wish to suggest that the financial accounts of the activities of NPA be investigated for the period 2016-2020 to ascertain the true financial position and the outstanding unremitted balance of one hundred and sixty-five billion, three hundred and twenty million, nine hundred and sixty-two thousand, six hundred and Ninety-seven naira only (N165,320,962,697.00).
“He also sought Presidential approval that I ‘step aside from my position as Managing Director during the investigation, and that Mr. Mohammed Bello-Koko, Executive Director, Finance and Administration should act as Managing Director in the interim.
“Many Nigerians found the choice of Mr. Bello-Koko contradictory. They argued that as Executive Director, Finance and Administration, he should be found wanting if there are any financial infractions. People also wondered why I was the only one who was asked to ‘step aside, when the probe was purportedly, of the management of the Authority.
“To show that this was a deliberate ploy, the minister did not mention Mr. Bello-Koko’s designation as Executive Director, Finance and Administration in his memo to the President.
“Secondly, he asked in the memo that President Buhari’s approval should be communicated to him through the secretariat of the presidency. This was to ensure that the correspondence did not come to the attention of the Office of the Chief of Staff. The way the Minister went about his mission was curious. To start with, the Budget Office of the Federation was the wrong place to seek information about the frequency and accuracy of remittances from any government agency. The Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation was the appropriate place to have sought accurate information.
“I made this point in my letter to the Chief of Staff to the President in addition to providing details of the figures in question and the remittances made so far,” she wrote.
In the book, she revealed that the refusal of the NPA under her watch to pay $22 million for dredging of Calabar channel and the renewal of the INTELS Boat Service contracts caused her to lose the job as the MD of NPA.
Issues behind the dredging of the Calabar Channel
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 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”.
She further explained in chapter seven of the 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 was achieved at the Warri Port with the Escravos Channel in 2019.
Usman said the answer to the question 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.
Usman 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 said upon investigation as directed by the minister of transportation, 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. 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 added.
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.
How she got the appointment as NPA MD
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 assumption of office that 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.