The former Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman, last week released her new book, Stepping on Toes: My Odyssey at the Nigerian Ports Authority, by Cable Books, in a tell-all attempt to gain moral high ground against her traducers, especially the former Transport Minister, Mr. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi, who insisted on her sack.
In her words, “I felt the compulsion to tell my story. If my father spoke so passionately about setting the records straight decades ago, how much more should one take this seriously in this post truth and internet era? So, I wrote this book as a token of the spirit to always render account with which I was raised. I wanted to share my experience at the NPA and give insight into some of the controversial issues that came up during my tenure. Not that I am infallible. Like all human beings, I am very often prone to errors, but these are most often than not, honest mistakes to which I always own up and make amends. This book recounts the modest efforts we made to turn things around at the NPA.”
However, her narrations have been countered by some industry practitioners. The trio of Messrs Asu Beks, Tompra Abarowei and Miebi Senge who instituted the court case against her reappointment at the Ikoyi High Court in April 2021, fired back that contrary to her protestations of innocence, “she got booted out of office for acts bothering on gross financial impropriety and insubordination”, according to a Daily Trend report.
There were instances reported in the book when the NPA under Bala-Usman’s headship interacted directed with the Presidency, the BPE, BPP, ICRC and other arms of government without going through the supervising Federal Ministry of Transport, including the process of her reappointment, which were alleged as insubordination.
Another report in the Pinnacle said that “The Hadiza regime upon assumption of office targeted the service boat monitoring agency contract by Intels for dismantling. Our sources indicated that the onslaught on Intels was fueled by the failed unofficial meeting between Intels and herself along with a sitting Northern Governor in 2018 in London for a slice of the business. Due to the failure of the parley, the Authority under Hadiza threw caution to the winds at severing relationship with Intels.”
Bala-Usman in the book revealed that the boat management contract and the channel management were the chief activities of the Authority with the highest monetary values and, ab initio, were fingered by observers to pose likely dangers to her altruistic management ideas. This proved to be true.
NPA listed several infractions committed by Intels in the matter of its management of fees from supply boats operations as the fees received on behalf of NPA which ought to be paid into the Federal Government Treasury Single Account (TSA) of NPA were never paid despite protests by NPA, and the use of a higher commission than was originally agreed with the company rankled the port landlord and sparked disagreements.
Moreover, when the contract for the supply boat management services ended in 2020, Intels, through the Honourable Minister of Transport insisted on continuing to function in the capacity of the expired contract. Many of these issues were not settled until Bala-Usman was ordered to step aside in May 2021 with the setting up of the probe panel by the Federal Ministry of Transport.
Again, NPA, under Bala-Usman, took up the issue of monopoly over oil and gas related cargoes which Intels claimed was approved for it by the Federal Government.
According to the book, after the conclusion of the 2003-2007 seaport reforms and the concession programme, the “… BPE soon added a fourth categorisation which it called ‘oil and gas,’ without the knowledge or consent of all other stakeholders, as stipulated by the agreement. The NPA consequently designated the Onne Port Complex, Warri and Calabar Ports, which were all managed by Intels, to receive oil and gas related cargoes”, stating that this action displeased other concessionaires who complained against it.
Hence, “…on 16 May 2006, the Dr. A.S.P Sekibo-led committee submitted a report recommending that “importers of oil and gas cargo should be free to choose their ports of preference””, according to the book. However, Intels did not recognise this development and kept pressing for the ersthwile monopoly whichh NPA rebuffed.
With regard to the channel management contract, NPA’s attempt to re-procure new contracts for the Lagos, Bonny, Warri and Calabar pilotage districts ran into headwinds. Since the publication of the Bala-Usman’s book, however, allegations have been made in an industry publication that former NPA MD tried to favour cronies in the re-procurement contracts for the channel management of the pilotage districts.
The report alleged that “Hadiza hurriedly embarked on a predetermined procurement process that pre-qualified her cronies and potential beneficiaries … Jan de Nul, promoted by Waffa/Dangote for Lagos Channel, Oldham Ltd. (owned by her brother’s lawyer and front for most juicy NPA contracts for Bonny Channel, [and] Redstar Ltd./ China Harbour for Warri Escravos.”
Other issues covered in the book included LADOL (the problem of sub-leasing part of its lease at Takwa Bay to Samsung Heavy Nigeria Limited (SHI-MCI) for the hosting of the FPSO Egina); BUA Terminal (over the collapse of part of the quay wall of Port Harcourt Port Quay under BUA’s concession); Calabar Channel Company/Niger Global Ltd (over the claims for payment by Niger Global Ltd and NPA’s counter claim of no work done at the Calabar channel dredging project and therefore a refund of the initial $12.5m paid for the job), etc.
However, other sources have listed sundry grievances such as the employment pattern of 95% North and 5% South which worsened under Bala-Usman’s tenure, the promotion of juniors above seniors, and the contract appointments of retired officers which stalled the promotion of succeeding officers, much to their chagrin.