BY TONY OHAKWE
The sacked immediate past Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority, Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman controversial memoir titled “Stepping On Toes: My Oddysey At The Nigerian Ports Authority” has since its release thrown the nation into a frenzy of political spasm.
Give it to her, Usman did justice to the audacious personal conviction as she unveiled the regime of certain opaque regime of official idiosyncrasies which even though are clearly detrimental to national wellbeing, are however, often pushed through under the watch of government.
Her book revealed some of the present government allowable economic crimes, as she also launched scathing allegations of improprieties against her former boss and immediate past Minister of transportation, Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi; including for her own reason, the declaration that one of the reason Amaechi sacked her was for refusing to present him a birthday gift.
To the discerning readers, there is no doubt that singular allegation bears the stamp of a likely agitated writer, and even of a disgruntled mindset as some are won’t to doing when they seek to settle scores. Overall, Usman delivered a fine piece of academic expose detailing her perspective of the underground workings of the authority, that she apparently found alarming and which she finds unacceptable.
Aside conveniently leaving out some critical cases and important nexus in her sojourn at NPA, such as the charge of financial irregularities leveled against her, including ultimately, the probe panel that investigated her; it is also quite strange that she glossed over the controversial cancellation of the equally controversial dollar spinning security contract in respect of the so-called Safe Anchorage Area of the Lagos port channel, operated by Ocean Maritime Solutions Limited (OMSL), and for which she caused a huge national uproar with claims of attack on her person.
It will be recalled that the erstwhile NPA boss in December 2019, after an interval of power play that culminated in the ignominious sack of OMSL, shocked the nation as she raised the alarm of attack on her person at the senate wing of the National Assembly Complex, Abuja, as she fingered the Chairman of OMSL, Capt. Hosea Okunbo as the attacker.
Usman had called for investigation of the said attack which purportedly took place on Tuesday, December 3, 2019. In a petition to the Inspector General of Police, President of the Senate and Director-General of the Department of State Services (DSS), she explained that she was at the Senate on the said date to honour the invitation of the Joint Committee on Navy, Marine Transport and Finance to its public hearing on her termination of the SAA contract when Okunbo stormed out angrily, and thereafter alleged arranged her attack.
According to a statement signed by Jatto Adams, then General Manager, Corporate and Strategic Communications of the NPA, the visit to NASS followed a motion on ‘illegal security activities by Ocean Maritime Solutions Limited (OMSL) at the Safe Anchorage Area of Lagos Ports and the need to investigate their excesses.’
The statement reads: “In the course of the session, Idahosa Wells Okunbo of OMSL, having made his submission, stormed out visibly angry breathing fire and brimstone. Following his outburst and abrupt exit, the chairman of the Joint Committee closed the session.
“On leaving the meeting room, some hoodlums that accompanied Okunbo to the hearing, ambushed me at the exit door and tried to push their way towards me to physically attack me, raining abuses on me that I was taking food away from them and their boss, and that they will find me and destroy me.”
She further claimed that she took refuge in Senator Danjuma Goje’s office, whose security personnel alongside her own security details were deployed and which made it possible for her to leave the premises unhurt.
Reacting, OMSL and Okunbo now late, urged Nigerians to dismiss the alarm as false and a calculated smear campaign.
The national uproar was most significant in the sense that the complainant is not just anybody but the CEO of the NPA, any less her alleged attacker was not just anybody but a respected and accomplished Nigerian, a retired military chief, one with a history of national service and honour.
Thus like Usman, Okunbo represents many things for many people, besides being a man of affluence, he was a man with an intimidating record of consequential standing, both in national service and private undertakings, and therefore a man of immense respect and one whose sensibilities and affinity to natural justice and accountability cannot be questioned and the matter is swept under the carpet.
Being no ordinary woman, much is expected from Usman, especially in matters that hinges on the moral gauge of society. Thus it bears asking whether the NPA boss was truly attacked or whether she played a fast one; and this clarification is necessary to reset the national ethos of our collective values.
Sadly, as it is with everything else, despite the sensitivity of the allegation, the relevant authorities expected to make pronouncements on the matter all went to sleep, creating the impression that the former NPA boss may have lied; since no one can assault a high standing public official like the NPA boss and the matter is treated with contempt.
At the senate hearing, the OMSL chairman apparently channeling his tears inward, had accused Usman as power hungry violator of the due process, noting that the company was not given fair hearing by Usman before the contract was abruptly terminated.
He said, “There was no discussion; only to be sacked on the pages of newspapers after these investments. What is painful is that they denigrated my image and my integrity. I don’t do business because of money; I have served this country meritoriously with my integrity intact.
“I have 50 vessels with the Navy. That is the extent of our commitment to national development. Our records are there in NNPC and IOC. NPA did not contact us for a meeting; they never wrote to us to say you are terminated; they never called us for anything at all.”
Following this disturbing tears, Hadiza was invited by the senate to state her case and defend herself against Okunbo’s submissions. Then came the calamitous hissing of her alleged attack, in a sequence discerning minds would regard as too cold for comfort.
Despite claims of petitions addressed to the above named organizations, there is no evidence to show that the respective authorities invited either party for interrogation.
A responsible government would have immediately taken up the matter, especially in view of their weight and the political and economic weights of those concerned, and report back their findings to Nigerians.
If the issue had political undertone, as many were wont to believing, which no doubt also have political solutions, the government of President Muhammadu Buhari did nothing.
Usman has been sacked and Okunbo dead. As the country prepares to have a new government in which the living are already, clearly aspiring for appointment, the outgoing government owes the Nigerian people the duty of soaking away the excreta of the concerned VIPs and to follow up by fumigating their elevated latrines to mitigate the offensive stench it subjected our national psyche.
On the other hand, now that Usman who apparently acted on the directive of Amaechi in sacking OMSL has turned around to say the former minister’s directives were questionable, perhaps, she should also speak the truth of what actually transpired regarding the OMSL security contract. Was she directed to push the cancellation of the contract and to lie about the alleged Abuja attack?
This clarification will be necessary, especially given the marine notice for a fresh quit notice she slammed on OMSL, despite the position of senate that the parties should maintain the status quo as at the material time.
No white paper authenticated Usman’s claims just as there was no legal action against Okunbo on the alleged assault.
It must be emphasized that all parties to the controversial attack were too eminent, too polished to engage in the fallacy of intellectual deceit and to be allowed to drive the illusion that Nigeria is a banana republic.
That this important matter is missing from ‘Stepping On Toes: My Oddysey At The Nigerian Ports Authority’ smacks of selective amnesia; and reinforce concerns in certain quarters that the whole effort was politically motivated, and hence of no moral and empirical value.