By Stephen Ubanna
Barely three months after the reappointment Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, by President Muhammadu Buhari, ppular, PMB, a retired Army General, on the recommendation of Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers state, and now minister of Transport, appears to have fallen out of favour with the NPA Managing Director over an undisclosed reason.
Signs that the NPA boss may have played into the hands of the minister emerged when he visited the premier port, Apapa, Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve centre last February. The widening gulf between the minister and he NPA Managing Director may have been made worse by the April15, 2021, protest by members of the Maritime Workers Union of Nigeria, MWUN, over alleged anti-Labour malpractices at the port. The protesters were said to have blocked the exit of freight from the port.
There was further disruptions of services at the port, an insider said, which the minister did not find funny. The minister was said to have engaged some people who gave him updates and confirm all Maritime shipments if the disruption persists . They may have given the former Rivers state governor their reports which was said to be very indicting.
More so, there have been a controversy over the Electronic Truck Eto, Call-up system designed for the movement and access from the Lagos ports of Apapa and Tin can Island. The policy had required that all trucks doing business at the port will park at the approved Truck park until they are called up into the port through the Eto application had remain a source of controversy. The policy which is responsible for the scheduling , entry and exit of all trucks into the port the ports had kick-started on February 27, 2021. The Association of Maritime Truck Owners , MMARTO, opposed to the Eto, had protested against the irregularities associated with the policy and had threatened to withdraw their services at the ports which could have caused more obstructions in port activities had protested by putting green leaves on their trucks.
The Senate Accounts Committee may have given the minister ammunition to probe the Hajia Usman led NPA Management, when it called on the office of the Auditor General of the Federation to beam its searchlight on the happenings of the big revenue revenue generating agencies including NPA and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA. The Lawmakers had accused Adolphus Aghughu, the Auditor General of the Federation and his staff of putting the smaller agencies on their watch list excluding agencies such as NPA AND NIMASA, which are heavy spenders in the award of contracts.
The Lawmakers had said that the refusal of the Auditor General to look into the activities of NPA and other big agencies has led to the institution of Corruption. The aggrieved Senator may have challenged Aghughu, the Auditor General of the Federation,and his staff to undertake a performance Audit at every stage of every project instead of waiting for it’’ to be Completed before raising the alarm and allow the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to step in and collect huge sums of money to fight Corruption’’.
Recall that when the going was good between Amaechi ad the NPA, boss, he had Commissioned two boats : MT Musawa and MT Ikor-Ekiti, procured by the Authority to facilitate the ease of doing business at the Nigerian ports. It could not be ascertained the cost of the contract of supplying the two tug boats to the Authority and several other juicy contracts awarded under Hajia Usman, the former Managing Director of NPA.
The minister of Transport who may be getting worried over what is happening at the Lagos ports and the gridlocks may have seen that something is wrong that needed to be corrected and further Compound the Apapa gridlock. Indeed, this is what Amaechi, the minister of Transportation had been avoiding to avoid throwing the port into crisis.
Hajia Usman may have gladdened the heart of NPA Customers, importers, exporters and other agencies working at the port environment in July 2016, of going to improve on the Authority service delivery to the nation,, stressing that she will do everything within her capacity to turn the Nigeria into world –class in the delivery of services but that was how far she could go.
Convinced that Hajia Usman, the NPA , boss, has a case to answer in the Authority in the running of the affairs of Apapa, over the years particular, recent happenings in the Authority, Amaechi, the minister of Transportation, was forced to set up an Administrative Panel of Inquiry to investigate the Hajia Usman led NPA Management which was said to have been approved by President Muhammadu Buhari, popular, PMB, a retired Army General.
He may have had at the back of his mind that if the NPA, Managing Director is allowed to remain in office while the investigation is ongoing, she might interfere with the process and the report will not enjoy wide acceptance. This may have informed why he had recommended to the Katsina state born Nigerian President for her immediate suspension from office which was said to have been approved by the Nigerian President.
Hajia Usman could not believe that her political mentor, retired General Buhari, who had brought her into limelight to Head, NPA, could still be the one that would give approval for her to step aside as the Managing Director of NPA, pending the outcome of the Investigation of the Authority.
A Statement by Garba Shehu a senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, had said that the retired army General has approved the appointment of Mohammed Bello –Koko, Executive Director , Finance and Administration, as the acting Managing of the Maritime agency and will perform her duties’’ while the Investigation on the NPA Management is carried out’’.
There was palpable calm at the Authority Marina office and the ports, late Afternoon on Thursday , May 6, 2021, as information filtered out that Hajia Usman, described as the Iron Lady inmaritime circles had been forced to step aside by the Nigerian President.
Her suspension from office had dominated the discussions of the staff from Lagos, Warri, Delta ports to Calabar ports, in Cross river state. They could not fathom what might have prompted the minister , who had a good working relationship with the former NPA Chief Executive Officer, CEO, of NPA, to set up an Administrative panel of Inquiry to probe her Management which was approved by the retired army General without a second thought, an indication that something may have gone wrong. The Administrative , according to Shehu, the Media Aide to Buhari is Headed Auwalu Suleiman, the ministry of Transport , Director of Maritime Services Director, while the Deputy Director Legal services would serve as the Secretary of the Pane. It was not clear when the Pane will submit tits report to the minister for consideration as Shehu, the MMedia Aide to the President did not capture it in the Statement issued announcing the suspension of the NPA, Managing Director from office..