Stakeholders task authority on probe of burnt hqtrs
There are strong indications that the presidency is currently shopping for the replacement of Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman, Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), ahead of her expected exit in July 2021, after a single term in office.
Top sources informed that President Muhammadu Buhari declined to grant her a second term, despite her famed closeness to the president, and in spite of high level lobby by influential power brokers in the emirates. Hadiza allegedly expended huge financial resources in the high heel lobby.
Meanwhile, despite the huge traffic of solidarity visit to the management of the authority over the burning of its corporate headquarters, and the equally the mono-syllable expressions of anger and condemnation of the arson reportedly by hoodlums who hijacked the EndSARS Protest, calls has also come from certain quarters that the Nigerian Police and relevant security agencies should undertake a thorough investigation of the incident in other to establish a reliable, concrete, verifiable and professional report, while warning against attempt to sweep the matter under the carpet on the basis of mere rumour.
Although the Nigerian media in March this year was awash with reports of the extension of Usman’s tenure, fresh facts indicate that the reports were faulty and may have been politically motivated. Checks reveal that Hadiza Usman was appointed in July 2016 for five years first term tenure.
Under the NPA Act the Managing Director is appointed for a five year term, renewable for a four year second term. However informed sources note that President Muhammadu Buhari has so far not been favorably disposed to extending her tenure, sequel to feedback by all the power brokers believed to have been involved in the lobby for her second term bid.
Political observers say one of the reasons President Buhari is reluctant in granting the NPA boss tenure extension may not be unconnected with alleged reports of financial and contractual deals, in addition to some of her perceived high profile decisions affecting the businesses of certain VIPs in the ports industry.
With the recent burning of the authority’s corporate headquarters, those whose business it is to know say it will be a miracle for the presidency to reconsider its earlier position not to reappoint her, in view of the continued mild lobby by her promoters; who are said to be relying on possible last minute change of mind by the president to grant her a second term.
To compound her woes, the presidency is believed to have ordered a discreet investigation of the burning of the NPA House, which has suffered two major fire incidents in recent years, one under President Goodluck Jonathan’s government in 2013, and under the administration of Abdulsalam Mohammed as Managing Director of NPA; and the current one that happened last month, October 2020, under Hadiza Usman.
Those whose business it is to know say the two fire incidents are the only ones since the establishment of NPA in 1963. Although records show that the Federal Executive Council earmarked about N5.1billion for the renovation and expansion of the corporate head office, the authority was believed to have abused contractual processes, setting off high level query and legislative probe; all of which ended in a blind alley. The said renovation was believed to have been awarded to a former Vice President with an architectural engineering background.
Last year, the House of Representatives grilled NPA over irregularities associated with the renovation contract, which as usual yielded nothing, including formal legislative report on the probe, after the lawmakers visited NPA in Lagos.
The House of Reps Committee on Public Accounts probe was sequel to a query issued by the Auditor General of the Federation. The AuGF had queried the deal awarded in 2011 with a completion period of 15 months for lacking valid papers and contractors.
The then committee chairman, Wole Oke, alleged that the contract awards were without legal documents, an allegation Hadiza Usman denied, insisting that due process was followed and the deal approved by the Federal Executive Council (FEC) in 2013.
But the panel in its usual official theatrics countered, and rejected photocopies of the supposed legal documents on the ground that the contents were unreadable, and insisted on being presented with the original copies of the agreement. The probe committee therefore directed that the audit query be stepped down for NPA to produce the originals. Ironically, the matter ended there, after the lawmakers and NPA top management team reverted to its genial atmosphere as they left the conference room and collapsed into informal chat.
Regarding the recent incident however, there have been concerns that the NPA boss may have constituted herself into a stumbling block in view of the insurer’s obligations to rebuild or renovate the burnt house as well as replace equipment damaged and stolen; by making preemptive statements to weaken NPA’s insurance claims.
While addressing journalists on the burnt property, Hadiza not only attempted to shield the insurers from their obligations, but also demonstrated conducts that clearly sought to insulate and protect the insurers from fulfilling their total, honest and legal obligations to NPA. While fielding questions from journalists over concerns that the burning of the NPA House may be more than arson.Commentators believe that her narrative has the tendency to make the insurers create unnecessary legal hurdles and contractual bias to evade its liabilities and obligations.
She said, “It was vandalization because items were looted such as air conditioners, water dispensers, television sets, printers, some small tables and chairs, among others. So, you can see that new items were also stolen. Three brand new NPA vehicles were also stolen. Motorcycles were also stolen. So, there was an element of looting as well as vandalism within the attack.
“We want to see what the insurance company can address and the gap that may require the intervention of the Federal Government.”
Her conducts have been interpreted as undue interference, much as the conduct of the Joint National Assembly Committee, in their eagerness to fund the repairs and replacements from public purse, despite the existence of a policy cover. Concerned Nigerians have expressed outrage at this apparent double standard and attempts to shield the insurers from obligations.
Policy analyst and maritime resource person, Mr. Lucky Amiwero, reacting, said that a legislative budgetary intervention in the face of a subsisting fire and theft insurance cover by NPA will amount to clear expression of official fraud that relieves the affected insurance company of its obligation to indemnify the authority.
Amiwero who doubles as the President of the National Council of Managing Directors of Licensed Customs Agents (NCMDLCA), explained that since NPA is not in default of its premium obligations, the rehabilitation of the burnt property and replacement of stolen items, rests squarely with the insurance company.
His words: “There are classes of insurance but if the losses suffered by the NPA in the incident were covered, then the insurer takes full responsibility to indemnify the insured of the losses suffered.
That is the essence of insurance. Going again to take money from government is double charge. I don’t want to call it fraud. Once the building is insured, the insurance company takes responsibility for everything; that is the truth.”
A source familiar with the embattled NPA boss’ attempt to renew her appointment for second term, said the possibility is grim as her efforts in that direction has so far proven abortive. The source who prefers to be anonymous, also believe that her failed ambition to get reappointed may not be unconnected with the recent arson at authority’s head office.
According to the source, “Her tenure is ending in June and there was nothing she hasn’t done to get renewed but no way. There has never been a time in NPA that a management steals like this one does.
“Because they don’t know how to do it through the system, they are stealing by contracts which leave a lot of paper trail. This is what they want to destroy.”
….Media group invokes FOI to compel NPA divulge name(s) of insurer(s)
Meanwhile, the Association of Maritime Journalists of Nigeria (AMJON), a body of journalists reporting the maritime sector is set to invoke the Freedom of Information (Fol) Act on the Management of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) to compel the authority to release to it, the name (s) of its insurer(s) and the status of its premium obligations before the recent fire incident.
A statement by the group notes that “The invocation of the Fol Act has become necessary in view of the refusal of the Authority to release the information to reporters despite multiple requests made in this regard.
“This action also becomes expedient in view of the fact that the public is yet to know the value of the loss over one month after the incident, and the insurer(s) is/are yet to announce payment of compensation as per the value of the loss.”
AMJON expressed surprise that whereas the Lagos State Government which recorded much more destruction and looting has released an estimate of what it will cost to replace destroyed properties and looted assets, a key parastatal of the federal government is hoarding information and playing some sort of hanky-parky with Nigerians.
The statement signed by AMJON’s President, Mr. Paul Ogbuokiri, further reads:
“The invocation is also necessary as the federal lawmakers during their recent sympathy visit to NPA, to commiserate with Management of the Authority over the incident, advised NPA to adjust its 2021 budget to cover the repairs and replacement of stolen and damaged assets.
“Since NPA is yet to publicly reject the advice of the lawmakers to jack up its 2021 budget to provide for the ‘rebuilding’ of the burnt headquarters, we suspect that the NPA has already done as advised by NASS. To this end, we are minded to invoke the Fol and do hereby request that the NPA 2021 Budget be made available to us to enable us to properly inform the public.
“AMJON as a responsible media group view this effort as a patriotic duty to save the country billions of naira of taxpayers’ money which will be wasted if the National Assembly approves money for the replacement of the NPA losses in the incident when those losses are legally supposed to be replaced by the insurer(s), with taxpayers money used for the payment of its annual premium.”