By Stephen Ubanna
The removal of Hajia Hadiza Bala Usman, an activist, and Managing, Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, by President Muhammadu Buhari,popular, PMB, a retired Army General, last Thursday has sent a signal to other Chief Executive Officers, CEOs, of government owned agencies that anyone could be relieved of their appointment at any time and therefore need to sit up and avoid being used by politicians and technocrats in the system to achieve their selfish ends. Hajia Usman may have played into the hands of the politicians and Technocrats in the Authority to do their bidings which may have exposed her weaknesses in financial management.
The former NPA, Managing Director may have come into light because of her association with Aisha Yesufu, and Oby Ezekwesili,a former minister of Education, during Olusegun Obasanjo presidency and Co-directors in the ’’Bring Back Our Girls,’’BOG Campaign which involved the276 Chibok girls Kidnaped by the Islamic Fundamentalist, Group, BokoHaram insurgents in 2014.
As a close political ally of Nasir el-Rufai, a former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, PDP, and now governor of Kaduna state who may have decided to decide to be of help her, had secured her a job for at the Centre for Democratic Development and Research in Zaria, Katsina state, where she was said to have spent one year as a Research Assistant. She had earlier worked at the Bureau for Public Enterprises, BPE,as an enterprise officer between 2000 and 2004, which may have brought her closer to el-Rufai, the then Director General of the agency.
He had made her his Special Assistant, Project Implementation , when he was appointed minister of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, by former President Olusegun Obasanjo, a position she occupied between 2004 and 2008. She was said to have been sponsored by the ministe to contest election as a Candidate of the defunct Congress for Progressive Change, CPC, a party floated by the Katsina state born Nigerian President in Musawa Matazu, Federal Constituency of the state but lost in 2011. This may have brought her close to the Nigerian Prsident as she was said to have joined the Good Governance Group for Nigeria, a Non- Governmental Organisation, NGO, as Director of Strategy from 2011 to July 2015.
She may have won the heart of the retired Army General, when the BOG group master-minded a protest in 2016, to create awareness to the plight of the Chibok Girls and the need for the government to expedite action to facilitate their release. Many see it as a political strategy, which may have been sold to her by El-Rufai, the god father in order to win the heart of Buhari as she was appointed as the Managing Director of the NPA, in Compensation in July 2016.
Given the powers behind her, she may have been running the affairs of the agency without carrying Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers state and minister of Transport along, particular, in the a reas of the award of contracts and initiation of policies which requires ministerial approval.
Insiders told The Value News that she had on several occasions by-passed the minister to deal directly with the President and regularly consult with her godfather who gives instructions on what to do at the Authority. The bubble may have burst about the rot in the agency when the audited report of the office of the Auditor General of the Federation which was a closely guided secret which very indicting filtered out. The report was said to have asked her to refund the sum of N5.18 billion. She Audited report had accused her of ‘’administrative arbitrariness, financial recklessness and a disdain for due process’’.
The report which was very damning was said to have also indicted her in’’ inflation of contracts and operational expenses by over N5.18 billion within two years’’. The alleged fraud was said to have been exposed following the audit query of the activities of the between 2016 and 2018.
Adolphus Aghughu, the Auditor General of the Federation who was said to have signed the report and copied Lawan Ahmad , the Senate President, and Femi Gbajabiamila, Speaker of House of Representives and the Presidency including of the office of the Secretary General of the Federation.
The Senate President was said to have referred the Audited report to the Public Accounts Committee for discussion , a report which , had accused the former NPA boss of a ‘’gross betrayal of trust’’, as demonstrated by her ‘’flagrant abuse for due process in the way and manner she runs the agency’’.
A copy of the Audited report cited by The Magazine, had cited her failure’’ to remit VAT deductions running into billions of naira and in foreign currency denominations to the Federal Inland Revenue Services, FIRS, Account’’ .The Auditor General had said that the VAT deductions to FIRS, alone, within the two yeas covered by the Audit included N3,667,750,470.00, $148,845,745.04,Euro4,891,449.50 and #252,682.14.
More damning in the report , was her massive increase in’’ administrative expenses, extra budgetary expenditures on hotel accommodation and under disclosures on hotel expenses, Corporate social Responsibility, CSR, diversion of funds through the Nigerian Port Today and Sponsorship of National Assembly Programmes amongst others’’.
The Audit report had shown that the Authority spent N286,412,628,.00 on CSR, in 2016 while in 2017, the figure rose to N2,496,248,775.00 and N5 billion in 2018. The report noted that the needs of the benefiaries were not properly assessed or identified before the implementation of the CSR ,projects/programmes.
Indeed, one of the areas , in which the former NPA, Managing Director was said to have soiled her hands was in the award of Contracts. Take for instance, the contract ,with ref, HQ/GM/ROC/CON/C.11/PBT/16/322 dated 16/10/17, which was said to have been awarded to Messrs Ecomaxx Engineering Projects Ltd for the supply of items to the old people’s home in Yaba, Lagos, the nation’s Commercial nerve centre was awarded to the Company to he tune of #19,760,460.00 which was said to have been paid vide invoice no. HQ/CS/0711, DATED 01/06/17. The report revealed that ‘’there was no documentary evidence to show that the items were delivered to the home.
Even the contract for supply of items to Yaba Children Orphanage home was said to have followed the same pattern. But the Contract awarded to Tran-secure Ltd, to the tune of was #19,467,000.00 , was said to have been inflated as the actual market price at the time the Contract was awarded to the Company was #6,520,500.00.
The major worry of the Auditor General of the Federation was that the total expenditure by the agency had increased astronomically by 128 from #87.47 billion in 2016 to #198.98billion in 2017, without any justifiable explanation. Perhaps, what may have further provoked the anger of the Auditor General of the Federation was the administrative expenses which increased by 72% from #26.126 billion in 2016 to #44.93 billion in 2017.
More damning was how the Authority under the close watch of Hajia Usman, the suspended NPA, boss was how she claimed to have spent N22.16 million in revenue monitoring in 2016, which was said to have increased to N1.06 billion in 2017, an increase of over 689%. Training budget alone, was said to have also been inflated. Whereas, the agency under the close watch of Hajia Usman, was said to have spent N20.48million in traing in 2016, , it was said to increased to N470 million in 2017.
.The rot in the Authority became more pronounced with the alleged N15.31million claimed to have been spent on vessels/Crafts in 2016, which rose to N117.4 million, an increase of 666% in 2017.
The excessive expenditure of the agency on Pollution control may have also attracted the Federal auditors who were said to have refused to be Compromised when information filtered out that the report may very indicting. Aghughu,the Auditor General of the Federation had wanet the former NPA Managing Director to tell Nigerians, ‘’how N4.2 billion was spent in 2017 as against N29million in 2016, an increase of 310%.
Other alleged over bloated increase in expenditure include local and foreign medical expenses, legal fees , Corporate Souvenirs and expenditure on other government agencies which rose from N59 million in 2016, to N338.59 million in 2017, a 573% increase. The report was said to have queried the various expenditure by the Authority on behalf of Rotimi Amaechi, a former governor of Rivers state and now minister of Transport , ‘’for which a whopping $604,598.95 was paid without supporting documents’’. This may have informed why the Auditor General of the Federation had insisted that Hajia Usman must refund the sum of N5.18 billion into the government treasury.
This may have given the Senators who had seen the report of the office of the Auditor General of the Federation, on the NPA Management under the close watch of Hajia Usman , which was very indicting to finally nail her.
The Senate public Account, which hadscrutinised the Audited report, were said to have forced Amaechi , the Transport minister, to further probe NPA, preparatory to probing other agencies within the ministry , particular, the National Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, described as another heavy spenders.
The audited report on NPA, may have filtered to the hearing of Buhari but had waited to see the action that may be taken by the overseeing minister before taking a decision on her.
This may have informed why the minister set up an Administrative Panel of inquiry to investigate the suspended NPA boss which was said to have been approved by the Nigerian President. The minister may have provided the ammunition for the Daura Politician who had promised to fight Corruption in all its facets on assumption of office in 2015 and which he had repeated in 2019 to sack his political ally, as recommended by the minister to avoid interference in the investigation.
The Magazine learnt that there were several attempts by some power brokers to suppress the report but got it. This is because had filtered out how the former NPA, Managing plundered the agency. She was said to have ran to her el-rufai, her godfather to save her from the mess she had entangled herself but there was no much he could as the matter had gone beyond him as the retired Army would want use her to set example of his anti-Corruption.
The sack of Hajia Usman, the NPA, boss had made her the second top government official to be sacked in less than from office in less than one year. The first to be suspended from office was Ibrahim Magu, a Commissioner of Police and former acting Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, over alleged Corruption.