January 29, 2023

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Revealed: The many sins of suspended MD of NPA, Bala Usman 

For too long, the impression has been wrongly sold in the public space that in the ensuing imbroglio between the suspended Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms Hadiza Bala Usman and her boss, the Minister of Transportation, Rt Hon Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, the latter is oppressing the former.

But those who are sufficiently privy to the operations of the NPA and its supervisory ministry do know that she has been having a free reign, as the Transportation minister does not micromanage his appointees.

Nigerians are eagerly awaiting the findings of the 11-man Administrative Panel set up to enquire into the operations of the HBU-led board of the NPA in the last five years.

But before then, let HBU explain the following operational fogs in the NPA under her leadership.

The failure of the HBU to remit N165billion into the government’s Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) is crucial and at the nexus of the crisis rocking the NPA. Those keen on defending HBU should ask whether or not the Budget Office of the federation raised an alarm on the under-remittance from the NPA?

Those who do not know should ask the senate about their findings in their over-sight functions in the transactional details of the NPA. Anyone still doubting what the Budget Office said should listen to Senator Hassan Mohammed who said, the NPA had failed to remit over N177 billion into the federation account.

HBU however argues that the figure quoted by the Budget office is at variance with reality.

* In November 2019, a board meeting agreed that rather than expend as much as N50 billion annually on the dredging of the ports, it should buy its own equipment and dredge the ports by itself. The idea was that in two or so years, both equipment and manpower (including the requisite technical skill) would have been acquired. But did HBU follow this decision? No! She preferred the continuous award of the contracts for obvious reasons.

It was the failure of HBU to follow this instruction that led to the formal memo of the Ministry in February 2021, directing that the NPA should buy its own equipment, train necessary people to undertake the dredging. This, again, was defied as HBU circumvented the supervising ministry to procure approval for the award of the contract, directly from the presidency. Is this the due process?

Can HBU explain what happened to the first audit report of 2018? Is it true that the initial audit report was so damning on the integrity of the NPA that it had to be withdrawn? For the records, the Auditor General’s Office had remarked that the NPA books were riddled with sundry accounting deficiencies, irregularities and errors, while blaming HBU for “gross betrayal of public trust” by flagrantly by-passing official Due Process in most of her transactions. For months, everybody was searching for the 2018 audited reports, right from the office of the Auditor General through the National Assembly to even the NPA itself. It vanished! And when it eventually resurfaced, it had been thoroughly cleaned up, re-worked and deodorized. Where is the original 2018 audit report?

There were queries on excessive and constantly increasing administrative cost including excessive cost on hotel accommodation, under-disclosure of expenditure on hotel expenses.

The 2018 audit had also indicted HBU of unremitted deduction to Federal Inland Revenue Service to include N3, 667,750,470, $148,845,754.04, Euro 4,891,449.50 and 252,682.14 British Pounds

The HBU cheer leaders have refused, deliberately to address these indictments

The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) had refused to attend to HBU’s requests on award of contracts because they circumvented the laid down Due Process, as most of NPA’s memo’s were not routed through the supervising ministry, which the BPP said, invalidated the memos.

The manipulative HBU had craftily warmed herself into the people at the presidential Villa, including the Chief of Staff to Mr President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari (who was HBU’s father’s colleague as co-lecturer at the ABU)

 Those in defence of HBU should ask her who gave her the approval to expend N1.2 billion on “office cars” after the #EndSARS protesters attacked the NPA? Does she have the right to expend above her threshold of N5million, without the approval of the Board or the supervising ministry?

How does HBU explain the billions of Naira she expends on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) every year? What is more, the CSR are usually in Kaduna, Kano, Katsina etc? What is the business of the NPA in those states? Is there any port in the entire north? The closest, perhaps, is the Ship House in Abuja, which does not even approximate the shadow of a port. Yet, that is where our almighty HBU pours in billions of Naira every year servicing her private and primordial interests in the name of NPA’s CSR. Or in the many IDPs where HBU splurges public funds mindlessly? How is buying wrapper for women a CSR affair? How much of the CSR is done for the communities where the NPA really operates? Many people are asking if HBU is using public funds to feather her own political nest

Many people have also dabbled into the so-called INTELS contract without understanding the underlying tone thereof.

Due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government, in its wisdom, had directed through the Bureau of Public Procurement that no new non-urgent contracts should be awarded. That meant that there should be the maintenance of status quo ante. But no, Madam MD wanted to be more catholic than the Pope and insisted on awarding a fresh contract. In her determination she scaled over the ministry to the BPP, and when that one did not work, she went to lobby the presidency to get approval for the award of a fresh contract.  HBU was determined to work from the answer to the question. She conducted a kangaroo bid process, which expectedly found the existing contractor wanting. So, the contract was then awarded to…, guess who, Aliko Dangote who not only has more than ethno-filia relationship with HBU, but has also benefited immensely from HBU’s administration of the NPA.  What is more, even when the dredging contract was awarded to Dangote, it was still NPA staff that are used to do the job, yet, HBU argues mendaciously that the NPA does not have the requisite skill set and manpower to do the job? Who is fooling who?

As a little digression can somebody tell HBU that until 2004, under the Chief Adebayo Sarumi MD-ship, NPA used to undertake all the dredging tasks of the ports? The NPA had dredging vessels such as Suction Dredger—Md SD Sea Lion, SD Gumel and SD River Tiga. They maintained the Lagos Channels faithfully. But under Sarumi, they privatized the Harbour Department, Dredging and the Pilotage units. Where are the equipment? Where are those men? Nigerians hope it is not the same NPA equipment and manpower that are being used, yet it is being presented as a privatized venture? It is an area the Administrative panel must carefully look into.

This same Dangote has enjoyed sundry waivers, including cancellation of port charges for over a thousand containers, to the detriment of the federal purse, courtesy of Madam HBU questionable discretion, yet records indicate that he (Dangote) still owes the federal government over $38million dollars. Is anybody still wondering why there is an under-remittance? Not only is he granted an unfair edge over and above his competitors, HBU also exempted Dangote from paying in US Dollar while the same NPA insists that other competitors to Dangote pay in US Dollar. What is more, terminals and platforms are arbitrarily cancelled and awarded in favour of Dangote. Many have wondered why HBU, in pursuit of her personal relationship with Dangote, has practically short-changed the entire federation. And they talk about equity?

The NPA runs an annual budget of N400billion. Which of the 19 northern states, including HBU’s Kaduna State runs any budget near that?  Does HBU not understand the common wisdom that it is the colour of the feather that defines the bird?

The Administrative panel will also do well to do a forensic examination in checking how proxy persons and companies have been used time and time again to harvest contract awards from the NPA.

Finally, what degree of insubordination was HBU showing to her boss? For over three years, HBU had over-rated herself as being too big to attend inter-parastatal board meetings of the ministry. She kept sending a junior manager to represent the NPA. It was not until a new Perm Sec, Dr Mrs Magdalene Ajani, replaced the former Perm Sec who retired, refused to attend to NPA memos and budgets, unless HBU attended the meetings by herself, did HBU start attending the meetings. What else was keeping HBU away from such meetings, if not a butterfly thinking itself a bird?

In pursuit of the belief in her connection with the powers that be, she bye-passed the MOT and headed straight to the Presidency, enroute the Chief of  Staff, Ibrahim Gambari to procure a second term, without the recommendation and approval of the MOT, as the Public Service ACT prescribes.

Being haughty and toxic are two behavioural toxins that limit the height a person can attain. Those vaunting and condemning the suspension should not forget that the same powers that caused the suspension were the same power that brought forth HBU in the first place and allowed her to run the show for over six years. They must not forget that the technology that produced the pencil is the same technology that produced the eraser.