For Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi and Hadiza Bala-Usman, It’s Personal
By Festus Akanbi
The suspension of Ms Hadiza Bala-Usman as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority last Thursday by the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, against civil service rules for the removal of heads of MDAs, was the culmination of the personal desire of the minister to remove Hadiza and truncate her second term as Managing Director of agency.
Hadiza was not told what her offences were or formally communicated, before her suspension was announced by the presidency.
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. A government circular dated May 19, 2020, and endorsed by the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, stipulated that 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 in line with its enabling law and chapters three and 16 of the Public Service Rules on discipline in government parastatals.
The board will then issue the affected official a query and subsequently advise the minister of its findings and recommendations. But if the board itself is the source of the allegation of misconduct against the chief executive or the chief executive is the chairman of the board, the minister, on the advice of the permanent secretary, still has to ensure a query is issued, requesting an explanation from the accused official.
In this case, neither the governing board nor the SGF was carried along before action was taking against Hadiza.
In the beginning, it was all well between Amaechi and Hadiza, who closely worked together when the minister was DG of the Buhari campaign and Hadiza was a close confidant of candidate Buhari, resulting in Amaechi recommending her as MD of NPA. When Amaechi became transport minister, things began to degenerate when he found Hadiza too independent to rein her in or control and the suspended MD would not serve in his court full of political courtiers.
Things came to a head when Amaechi wanted to renew all dredging contractors of NPA. Many of the contractors had served for decades and Amaechi got Hadiza to cancel her public advertisement for bid but was later overruled by the BPE, acting on the orders of the president that a public bid be held.
The crisis deepened from one contract to the other as Hadiza insisted on due process and more often had presidential backing to the anger of Amaechi, who then promised that Hadiza would be a one term MD. To the minister’s shock and consternation, Hadiza got a second term without his input and since then vowed to oust her.
The first attempt was when Amaechi accused Hadiza and the NPA of not auditing their books and recommended KPMG Nigeria; Deloitte Nigeria; Price Water House Coopers, Ernst and Young and Mckinsey and Company Nigeria. The Auditor-General of the Federation informed Amaechi that the NPA had engaged Messrs Muhtari Dangana and Co (Chartered Accountants) and SIAO Chartered Accountants in that respect.
The Auditor General of the Federation also told the minister that the NPA was in compliance with yearly audit unlike other government agencies.
From that, the crisis culminated into the issue over remittance of operations’ surplus to the Consolidated Revenue Funds between 2016 and 2020 to Consolidated Revenue Funds (CRF) and the CBN.
Before Hadiza could respond to the query to show that NPA had indeed been remitting to the CRF and the CBN, Amaechi got the President to approve her ouster without due process on the pretext that a panel had been set up to probe her management of then agency. Ironically, the person to act for her while on suspension is the Executive Director, Finance of NPA, Mohammed Koko, who was not suspended, despite the planned probe of NPA’s finances.
The Minister alleged that the NPA under Hadiza could not account for N165.320 billion between 2018 and 2020 in the record of its remittance of operations surplus to the Consolidated Revenue Funds. Amaechi in a letter addressed to the office of the President on March this year, alleged that NPA’s yearly remittance of operating surpluses from year 2016-2020 fell short of the actual amount due for actual remittance.
Amaechi wrote: “In view of the above, I wish to suggest that the financial account of the activities of Nigerian Ports Authority 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).”
The minister therefore sought that “the account and remittance of NPA in the period of 2018-2020 be audited to account for the gross shortfall of remitted public funds.”
The Presidency, in a letter dated March 30, and which was signed by the Chief of Staff to the President granted the prayers of the Transport Minister on the need to audit the books of NPA
However, there was a drama as the office of the Auditor General of the Federation clarified that the NPA Act did not give anyone the responsibility of authorising the Auditor General of the Federation to audit its accounts. It however explained that it is within the purview of the office of the Auditor General of the Federation to provide NPA with a list of auditors qualified to be appointed by them as external auditors, among others.
In the memo signed by the Auditor-General of the Federation, the Transport Minister was informed that the NPA had engaged Messrs Muhtari Dangana and Co (Chartered Accountants) and SIAO Chartered Accountants in that respect.
The memo also said that both firms had audited and published the audited accounts of NPA as approved by the board for 2016, 2017 and 2018, adding that the audit of 2019 was ongoing, awaiting NPA’s approval to be published.
Apparently not satisfied with the position of the AGF, Amaechi, through a memo issued by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Transportation, Dr. Magdalene Ajani and addressed to the Auditor-General of the Federation, called for a holistic audit of all financial activities of the NPA and went further to list some selected audit firms for the job.
Those familiar with the crisis said it has been a cat and mouse relationship between the Minister and the embattled chief executive of NPA, for over five years climaxing in the rejection of the record of NPA’s remittance of operations’ surplus to the CRF.
The cat and mouse relationship between Amaechi and Hadiza was also fuelled by the suspicion that the executive director was too close to the supervising minister, a development that was said to have raised the fear that the director had been leaking some sensitive information especially of the finances of NPA to the Minister.
Koko is known to be close to Amaechi in his days as governor of Rivers State. Koko was then a staff of Zenith Bank in Port Harcourt.
There was also the battle over the sack of Intels, a major contractor of NPA by Bala-Usman. The firm was a major sponsor of APC in the 2015 election and the transport minister was looking towards the firm for support in 2023. Amaechi wanted Intels badly but Hadiza denied him.
Bala-Usman finally played into the hands of those plotting her ouster with her recent political tweet on the state of the nation.
Reacting to the rising insecurity in the country, Hadiza on February 27, tweeted, “The state of insecurity in the country that has led to the kidnap of Kagara boys and Zamfara girls need to be addressed urgently…We can’t go on like this! Rescue our children and secure our country that’s all we ask…#SecureNorth #SecureNigeria.”
The tweets caught the attention of her opponents who intensified moves to remove her for daring to take on a government which she served.
President Buhari and her other sympathisers in the Presidency could no longer help her case when attention were called to the tweet which presented her as a sharp critic of the administration, who could no longer be trusted because of the suspicion that she might be working for the opposition.
Bala-Usman’s last-Minute Efforts
However, Bala-Usman, who got wind of the plot against her, had on Wednesday fired a memo addressed to the Chief of Staff to the President, stating her position and calling for involvement of the office of the Accountant General of the Federation to establish the true position of the authorities’ remittances.
In the memo she personally signed, Bala-Usman explained that the Authority’s computation of its remittances to the CFR are concluded arising from numbers from the audited financial statements using the template forwarded to the authority from the Fiscal Responsibility Commission and not budgetary provision.
She insisted that the NPA has remitted the full amount due it to CFR for the periods 2017 and 2018 arising from the operating surplus derived from the audited financial statement for the period totalling N76.384 billion as evidenced in treasury receipts.
According to her, NPA had remitted a total of N82.687billion for the period 2019 and 2020 pending the audit of the financial statement at which point the amount so much computed arising from the value of the operating surplus to the audited financial statement will be remitted to the CFR.
“We wish to request that the Chief of Staff requests the Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation who are the statutorily custodian of status of payment to the CRF to provide clartrue position of the Authorities remittances to the CFR,” she submitted.
“At the end of the day, pundits are wondering if President Buhari will discard his adopted daughter for an unreliable former governor of Rivers State who ditched his predecessor Peter Odili and not on speaking terms with his successor, Nyesom Wike.