By Ayo Oyoze Baje —
“The pushback has to do with corruption fighting back. When you institute reforms that seek to prioritise government’s interests and recognise that the citizens and Nigeria as a country is a priority, over private companies that have signed some agreements that are not in compliance with regulatory obligations. That is a huge pushback that I have received”
– Hadiza Bala Usman (Suspended Managing Director, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, speaking on corruption on ARISE TV on December 3, 2020)
She must have seen it all coming, going by the above-stated quote. But to her legion of admirers, in and outside the effervescent maritime industry the piece of news of the steamy allegations of financial impropriety recently leveled against her came like a bolt out of the blues! Not a few Nigerians have been jolted by it. One is talking of course, about the hitherto much-respected Hadiza Bala Usman, the erstwhile Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
So far, the recommendations of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi which informed the decision of President Muhammadu Buhari that Hadiza should step aside from the slippery stairs of the NPA has generated more heat than light. It is couched, and unfortunately so, with the undercurrents of high-wire political intrigues and subterfuge. And at the end the melodrama currently playing out may turn out with the actors chasing the shadows of mischief-making and leaving the substance of administrative competence.
According to the Budget Office, Hadiza has to explain the N165.3 billion shortfalls in the amounts which the NPA was supposed to remit to the federation account between 2016 to 2020. It was on the basis of this allegation that the Minister got the presidential approval to suspend and probe her. Ever since, the related official memos, which are marked “secret” in the civil service bureaucratic practice, have become sleazy entertainment buffs on social media. The scandalous scenario has no doubt thrown up some burning questions begging for urgent answers.
For instance, why did Mister President acquiesce to the demand from Amaechi that the Managing Director of NPA should step aside even before the probe ever kicked off? Does that not mean that Hadiza has been pre-judged and termed guilty even before members of the probe panel began sitting? More curiously, does it not stand logic on its head that Mohammed Koko, the Executive Director, Finance and Administration, who is the Chief accountant of the NPA was not asked to step aside with his boss? Why was he left off the hook and even patted on the back, to step into Hadiza’s shoes as the Acting MD, NPA all on a platter of gold? Was Koko not fully aware of all the financial transactions during the period under investigation? There is more to this than meets the eye.
Furthermore, how do we explain the fact that 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, got the Presidential approval on March 17th, 2021 while 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”, but directed to step aside the following day on 6th May, 2021?
What about Hadiza Usman’s confirmation to Premium Times that she neither received a query nor a suspension letter before she was asked to step aside? “Not querying her or making her aware of her offence(s) before suspending her is a clear breach of the processes stipulated in the government’s own regulation for disciplining heads of government agencies”. That is the concern of those watching the newly released Nollywood blockbuster movie as it unfolds.
According to a government circular dated May 19, 2020, and endorsed by the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha when there is an issue of impropriety against the head of an agency the federal government requires a minister, through the permanent secretary of the supervising ministry, to refer the matter to the governing board of the affected agency. That is in line with its enabling law and Chapters three and 16 of the Public Service Rules on discipline and government parastatals. The board will then issue the affected official a query and subsequently advise the minister of its findings and recommendations.
Not long after the news got into the public sphere, some people were already jumping into weird conclusions. But a maritime industry advocacy group, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Importers and Exporters Coalition (SNFFIEC) led by Osita Chukwu Patrick blamed the travails of Hadiza Bala Usman, on mischief makers. That includes those uncomfortable with her uncompromising attitude for her refusal to bend to their whims and caprices.
Specifically, the group is pointing a finger at Mohammed Koko. To them he must have carried out a hatchet job against his boss. In his words: “Whatever fraud allegation against Bala- Usman should be a shared responsibility because the acting MD was the Executive Director, Finance and Administration of the agency and whatever transpired could not have been without his knowledge”. This surely must be food for thought for those meant to investigate the allegations against Hadiza. Trust takes years to build but seconds to break! “Sometimes the person you’d take a bullet for is standing behind the trigger” (-quotesambtion.com). In fact, it is “better to have an enemy who slaps you in the face than a friend who stabs you in the back”.
As if that was not enough to the high octane drama, what do we make of ‘ThisDay’ newspaper’s story of May 13, 2021 that: “Amaechi Makes U-turn as Panel Investigates Bala-Usman for ‘Insubordination’, drops ‘unremitted’ N165bn claim”? Should the political elites be personalizing power at the detriment of national economic growth? It is nauseating enough to see what might- is -right has done to our corporate unity, economic growth and security under a democratic dispensation. The sudden change of tactics by the honourable minster, if true, certainly leaves a sour taste on the tongue.
For now, Hadiza must come to terms with the admonition that: “Life is not about who is real to your face. It is about who is real behind your back”(-etandoz.com). Perhaps, the Katsina youths currently urging President Muhammadu Buhari to disband the investigative panel against her understand the political games entrenched in her sudden removal from office! Suddenly, no one is talking about the massive institutional, infrastructural and socio-economic achievements brought to bear in the maritime industry under her tenure, again!
While one would want the investigation carried out to its logical conclusion, such a process must be stripped of any personal or political vendetta, victimization, mischief and muscle flexing. Before we crucify Hadiza Usman let the truth prevail, all in the national interest.
Will she get justice based on her defence that: “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 atemplate 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!
This piece was first published in Yes International