Ask Buhari to reverse and probe allege contract sleazes
There appears to be let up in the tension generated by the recent reappointment of Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), following a petition to President Muhammadu Buhari to overturn the appointment.
Africa Maritime Development Initiative (AMDI) the petitioner, not only faulted the reappointment which it said was as premature, but urged the president to reverse same and wash his hands from the controversial appointment, it described as illegal and unacceptable in the light of its alleged clear constitutional breach of the Ports Act.
In the open petition written to the president, AMDI urged the president to commit to good governance and uphold the oath of office undertaken by him to pursue the path of truth, justice and fairness with the immediate reversal of the contemptuous re-appointment.
The petitioner averred that the reappointment has since created multiple adverse effects which it says include the premature termination of the NPA Board, which is statutorily tenured. The group argued that the illegality of the reappointment will promote an unhealthy precedence, and urged the president to tow the path of law by reversing the reappointment.
The petition signed by AMDI Executive Director, Elder Asu Beks, expressed concern that core career workers in the authority will be demoralized and that such would lead to unavoidable low productivity that will further negatively impact on an already low efficiency in ports operations.
The petition reads in part: “Mr. President, we recognize the fact that the Nigerian Ports Authority Act of 2004 is silent of the powers of the Minister of Transportation to recommend to the President a candidate for appointment, we are aware that the Minister of Transportation lacks the locus standi to claim that his position was usurped. According to the NPA Act of 2004, the Minister can only Institute a case against Bala Usman’s reappointment based on the validity of a renewal five months before the expiration of her tenure as Managing Director. Among other things, the appointment of Hadiza Bala Usman has violated the rights of existing Board members to see out their tenure.
“As critical stakeholders, Mr. President, we are not only concerned about the illegality of this action. It may also set a bad precedent for career officers in the organization who may no longer put in their best in the service of the nation. Our fear is that Mr. President may not have had the best of briefs on this issue. Other than legal implication of this action, the incumbent Managing Director of the Authority is currently compromised by a huge trust deficit from the Staff, Management and Board on account of her leadership style. With little or no experience in a sector driven by competence and a high degree of professionalism, Hadiza Bala Usman is not only a burden to herself but the entire maritime industry where she had struggled in the past four years to learn the ropes, and this appears to be the reason she gets entangled in dangerous administrative cobwebs.”
The petitioner informed Mr. President of Hadiza Bala Usman’s lack of operational competence which it says has so far reflected negatively on important issues of the authority, even as AMDI listed against the embattled NPA boss, a number of corrupt cases it claims stem from Hadiza Bala Usman’s incompetence, such as her alleged total disregard for the Public Procurement Act, purportedly evident in contract splitting.
Among other allegations, the petitioner charged Hadiza with high handedness and incompetence, which the petitioner reasoned were responsible, sadly, for her falling victim to contract swindlers, it further allege takes advantage of her supposed ignorance.
“It is clear from the above, Mr. President that her premature elongation would set a fertile ground for litigations. It would be wise to err on the side of caution rather than carry on with this seeming baggage for another agonizing five years; as AMDI urged the president to save the nation and the ports industry by extending her tenure.
“We therefore call for the immediate reversal of the premature reappointment of Hadiza Bala Bala Usman as Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority with immediate effect and replace her with a core professional to steer the affairs of the Agency, as evidenced in your appointment of a career maritime administrator at the helm of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
Hadiza’s reappointment has also stirred up quite an amount of political dust, seen as an affront on her boss, the Minister of Transportation, Rt. Hon Chibuike Amaechi. Her appointment also saw to the immediate disbandment of the NPA Board, in which the Minister’s protégé, Chief Akinwumi Ricketts was the chairman; who was however, retroactively demoted and reappointed as mere board member.
Industry gist report that the highly connected Hadiza got President Buhari to replace Ricketts with Mr. Emmanuel Olajide Adesoye as Board Chairman, as part of plan to have unimpeded control over the board, and thus also, get the minister off her back.
With the current development, industry pundits’ note that the minister has been reduced to a mere nominal head and no longer a factor in the affairs of the authority. Although the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Femi Adesina who disclosed Hadiza’s reappointment, gave no reason for the sudden, curious development, observers posit that the move may not be unconnected with plot to cover up some wrong doings at the authority.
While AMDI allegations aforementioned hint at some of the alleged insider deals under Hadiza, some stakeholders have also suggested that the burning of the NPA House during the EndSARS protests late last year may not be unconnected to tales of cover up of corruption in the authority.
Those whose business it is to know say the appointments pose direct assault on the Nigerian Constitution, any less an affront on the Ports Act, since the laws of the land do not envisage reappointment of the managing directors or board members when they are not due.
Apart from the wrong and illegal timing, informed sources say the appointments were not based on the recommendation of the transportation minister, who though is not constitutionally so empowered, is expected to be carried along, especially with regards to changes in the board.
While the Port Act appears silent on the role of the minister in the appointment of the managing director, the Port Act 2004 Section 3, indicate that appointments of board members are made on the recommendation of the minister; spelt out their tenure which is legally sacrosanct. The Act also clearly states the conditions for their removal.
Section 3 of the Act reads: “The Chairman and other members of the Board other than their ex-officio members—(a) shall hold office for a period of four years on such terms and conditions as may be specified in their letters of appointment; and (b) may be reappointed for one further period of four years
Section 4 which deals with removal from office reads: (1) Notwithstanding the provisions of section 3 of this Act, a member may at any time be removed from office by the President for inability to discharge the functions of his office (whether arising from infirmity of mind or body or any other cause) or for misconduct.
But hey, if the transportation minister didn’t make the necessary recommendations, who did? We may never get to find out under a government run by everybody and by nobody. However, scoops obtained indicate the former military president, Gen. Abdullsalami Abubakar, may have been instrumental in securing this questionable reappointment for Hadiza, using his closeness to President Buhari.
A competent top government source told our reporter that Hadiza had ran to the former military president to solicit his assistance, after a number of top influential senior Nigerians including first class emirs tried unsuccessfully to get the president to endorse her reappointment, which effort was afoot for the most part of last year.
According to our source, the president finally caved in when Gen Abubakar intervened, supposedly out of the huge respect the president is believed to have for the former comrade in power. What made Abubakar’s intervention more pronounced was the demand for a straight jacket approval not only of Hadiza’s reappointment, but also, of those she desire to work with at the board.
Given his heavy political weight and golden voice, Abubakar was believed to have simply walked away with Hadiza’s reappointment. The appointments as such also enjoyed unprecedented, concurrent endorsement of a new board and new leadership.
“She wrote who she wanted to work with and begged General Abdul Salam Abubakar to talk to the President about it. Out respect for Abdulsalam, the President approved it”, our source revealed.
Those in the Transportation Ministry, who joined in the coup de grace against the minister, may have also created credibility issues over the appointment, because the Ports Act does not recognise appointment of Board members based on geopolitical considerations.
Adeshina in his statement unwittingly tied the board members appointment to geopolitical qualification. The statement reads, ““Also approved is the reconstitution of the Non-Executive Board of the NPA, with Mr Emmanuel Olajide Adesoye (from South-west zone) as Chairman. Other members of the board are Ekenyem Nwafor-Orizu (South-East zone), Akinwunmi Ricketts (South-South zone), Ghazali Mohammed Mijinyawa (North-East zone), Mustapha Amin Dutse (North-West zone), and Abdulwahab Adesina (North-Central zone).”
Pundits say the zonal card is alien to appointment of board members and therefore, is illegal. The permutation to use the zonal spread to convey acceptability and integrity on the process appears farfetched, and under a true democratic setting, is qualified to be challenged in the law court, said Barrister Abel Iwarah, a legal practitioner.
“I am not a maritime lawyer but under general practice, there appears to have been a case of exception here, from what I have read.
“The Port Act didn’t tie appointment of Board Members to where they come from. So the appointment of these Board Members on the basis of geopolitical zones as contained in the announcement is curious. It is curious to the extent of prescribed conditions for making appointment, and so, the question can be asked, is this case legal?
“Constitutional issues are always very clear, if the position of the Ports Act has been breached, it makes the whole process a nullity and challengeable in the court of law”, he said.
“You know, we are in a very peculiar political system where leaders do as they please because there is so much indifference on the part of Nigerians and our lifestyle. People have stopped to care, we just don’t bother, and so, government have cashed in on our complacency. How can board appointment be made without ministerial recommendation as envisaged by the Port Act? So, everything is now politics, but like I said, any Nigerian willing can challenge these oddities and breaches in court.”
“Yes, I agree with you, they can compromise the judicial system and delay the legal process to allow the appointees serve out their terms. But you know what, society is advancing, a time will come names related to corrupt politicians and office holders will be called to question. I think that we are gradually getting there”, Iwarah said.
While Amaechi now stands naked at NPA, perhaps, what appears more dumbfounding is Hadiza’s strange reappointment which is coming six full months before the expiration of her statutory first term in office, due in June this year. The development brings to climax, rumoured power tussle between her and the minister, over the running of the corporation.
It is believed that Hadiza was introduced to the transportation minister and subsequently recommended for the plum job by the Kaduna State governor, Malam Nasil e-Rufai, when the going between the once budding political brothers, was good.
Hadiza, according to political industry gist has since created a divide between the two friends, who now relate at arm’s length in private, amid the façade of existing camaraderie while in the public. When NPA House went up in flames during the EndSARS protest in October, Governor e-Rufai paid the NPA boss a solidarity visit, while Amaechi failed to show up.
When he appeared on the scene a month after, he tagged along with the Minister of Defence, and when asked him why he was just visiting, his retort left maritime journalists dazed, renewing rumour about the cold war between the minister and his supposed subordinate.
It is said that Amaechi could not put up with the fact that while Buhari allowed Hadiza direct access over issues of the authority, she flaunted her closeness to the president by taking up critical issues of the organization direct with the president, thereby sidelining the minister. Even though analysts thinks that her conduct is a breach of protocol, she appears to have the president’s ears and backing; while Governor e-Rufai is believed to be providing her all necessary cover, and also alleged to be pumping her with overdose political adrenalin from the side, to do as she wish.
Will Amaechi call it quit at this stage? Will Ricketts still keep his appointment despite his ignominious demotion? The former chairman of board has reportedly shrugged off suggestion to walk away.