Bala-Usman Suspended Till Panel Concludes Investigations – FG

President Muhammadu Buhari-led government on Tuesday said the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala-Usman, remain suspended from office until the outcome of the investigation being done by the panel.

The Federal Government on Monday inaugurated the panel of enquiry on the management of the NPA and ordered the panel to investigate policies of Bala-Usman, who was suspended last week for allegedly failing to make required remittances to the Consolidated Revenue Fund.

This is coming after the Federal Ministry of Transportation condemned a report that linked the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, to two Chinese firms that submitted bids to manage some port channels which was allegedly against due process.

The report had noted that the minister requested that two Chinese companies should be selected to manage Bonny and Warri channels which were rejected by the NPA because they violated due process.

The Permanent Secretary, FMoT, Magdalene Ajani, while reacting to the development in an article said the minister had inaugurated an administrative panel to investigate certain alleged infractions within the NPA from 2016 till date.

“This panel was constituted pursuant to the approval and directives of President Muhammadu Buhari, who also approved the suspension of Ms Bala-Usman pending the outcome of the panel’s assignment,” she said.

Ajani said the panel had since commenced its assignment in the light of the position and consistent with the admonition of the minister at the inauguration.

On the allegations against the minister as regards the management of Bonny and Warri channels by Chinese firms, she said channel management contracts had been routinely awarded over the years by the NPA at a cost of between N50bn and N60bn on an annual basis.

Ajani noted that while this had been on, the minister had adopted a firm position that the NPA should undertake the job of channel management on an in-house basis through the acquisition of the necessary machinery and professional capacity.

This, she said, was due to the humongous annual sums paid out to dredging contractors by the authority.

The permanent secretary said, “Indeed, following the expiration of the channel management contracts for the Lagos, Bonny and Port Harcourt channels in 2020 and the initiation of the contractual process for the renewal of the said contracts early in 2021, the minister on January 22, 2021, while responding to a request for the NPA to provide requisite details related to the proposed transactions directed in the following words:

“Para. 10 approved. There is the need for NPA to know that NPA should purchase their own equipment and not award any contract.”

She stated that pursuant to the above directive, the ministry’s Maritime Services Department vide a letter No. T0160/S.30/T4E/T2/61 dated February 2, 2021, to the Managing Director, NPA titled ‘Request for Information on the Expired Channel Management and Managing Agents Contracts’.

Ajani added, “The letter, inter alia, requested the NPA to provide the following information for the ministry’s records and further necessary action:

“The current status of the managing agent contract and the measures put in place to cover the vacuum created as a result of the expiration of the contract to prevent revenue loss to the government;

“The current status of the Lagos and Bonny/Port Harcourt channel management companies and the measures put in place to cover the gap created by the expired contracts to ensure the channels are maintained for safe navigation and efficient service delivery;

“The volume dredged annually from the channels and the depths achieved from inception management contracts to date and the amount expended;

“The number of wrecks removed annually by the channel management companies from the inception of the contracts and amount spent, and the total number of buoys replaced or maintained during the life span of the contract and the amount spent.”

She said the letter also conveyed the directives on the need for the authority to procure its equipment for the service and cease awarding any such contract.

Ajani argued that it was instructive to note that despite the fact that the letter was duly received by the NPA on the same February 2, 2021, the authority had not deemed it necessary till date to respond to the ministerial directives contained in it.