Hadiza Bala Usman
By Ikechukwu Amaechi
Former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, is in the news again over allegations made by the former Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms. Hadiza Bala Usman.
Hadiza, the first female to be appointed NPA MD, one of the 13 agencies under the Ministry of Transportation, was sacked by President Muhammadu Buhari on Amaechi’s advice in 2021.
Now, Amaechi is also out of government and Hadiza, it seems, is bent on having her pound of flesh, believing in the maxim that revenge is a dish best served cold.
In April, she released her book titled, “Stepping on Toes: My Odyssey at the Nigerian Ports Authority,” where she claimed that Amaechi ensured her removal from office because she didn’t buy him a birthday gift.
Hadiza said many high-profile Nigerians, including governors, intervened on her behalf but Amaechi refused because she did “nothing for him.”
“He told another person who tried to intervene that I was so selfish that I … never even gave him a birthday present,” she wrote in the book.
The allegation is preposterous. But Hadiza doubled down last Saturday at the formal launch of the book when she claimed that she refused giving Amaechi a birthday gift because the notion is a “bad work culture.”
“Referencing the issue of the birthday present, the publishers and editors advised me to remove it. Why I insisted on putting it is because it was not like a side conversation he had. People went to him to plead on my behalf that why are you doing this to Hadiza? It’s like you want to destroy her. He then responded to say she hasn’t done anything for me,” she said.
Responding to reports that Amaechi would write a book on her, she said: “I am happy and I look forward to his book. He has an interesting career. He has been a Speaker for eight years and Governor for eight years, DG presidential campaign twice, and presidential aspirant. So, he has a lot to share with all of us and it will make a very interesting read because there are critical things we will learn from it.
“Nigeria Ports Authority is one of the 13 agencies under the ministry of transportation. I don’t want to think he will belittle his whole career and limit it to a Hadiza book. There is so much he has to share with us.”
She was too clever by half.
But I also encourage Amaechi to tell his own story not only on Hadiza’s NPA debacle but also his odyssey with the Buhari administration because what the former NPA boss has done with her book is what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the world-acclaimed Nigerian writer, calls “a single story.”
Hadiza’s one-sided story is self-serving and the timing is aimed at eliciting public sympathy and positioning her, once again, for political appointment.
Amaechi was her benefactor. After the 2015 elections, she was appointed as Chief of Staff to Kaduna State Governor Nasir el-Rufai. But the Minister brought her to Abuja and gave her the plum NPA job.
I met Hadiza in person for the first time in 2015 at the Rivers State Lodge in Asokoro in Amaechi’s company. As the Director General of the Buhari Campaign Organisation, the then Rivers State governor was the APC ‘golden boy’ that everyone paid homage to.
Hadiza claimed in her book that Amaechi “told another person who tried to intervene that I was so selfish that I did nothing for the NPA and never even gave him a birthday present.” For reasons that are not quite obvious to many, she deliberately refused to mention that other person by name.
In 2019, Hadiza unilaterally, without recourse to the Minister of Transportation, Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, or, indeed, any other authority, as required under extant laws granted rather discriminatory waivers to some companies.
Hadiza also lied when she claimed that she did not give Amaechi a birthday gift. The truth is that she actually did. She gave the former minister a Valentino Liuto bag, which the minister refused to accept and returned it to her.
She admitted on phone, to the hearing of the person she refused to name, that she, indeed, bought Amaechi a birthday gift, which he rejected.
Hadiza’s one-sided story was deliberately calibrated to obfuscate and present her as a victim and Amaechi the villain. While the issues were about contracts and money, they had nothing to do with any phantom reform embarked upon by the former NPA MD as claimed in some quarters.
In the course of investigation, Hadiza was given every opportunity to defend herself. An Administrative Panel of Inquiry was constituted in May, 2021 to look into the activities of the NPA between 2016 and 2021 and she was given the opportunity to provide a written submission on the issues covered by the Terms of Reference (TOR). She also appeared before the panel to verbally address those issues.
Following the submission of the panel’s report, President Buhari directed that she be issued a query in respect of the alleged infractions.
The query dated January 26, 2022, covered 10 broad areas, including alleged infractions against the Public Service Rules, Public Procurement Act 2007 and the Financial Regulations, serial disobedience of valid court orders, as well as conduct unbecoming of a public officer subject to ministerial supervision and directives.
The query represented the third opportunity afforded Hadiza to state her case, if any, in the course of the probe.
The allegations were weighty – Disregard of ministerial directives in respect of the Bonny/Port Harcourt and Lagos Port Channel Management Contracts; Unlawful procurement of the operation of Truck Transit Park (TTP) for Port-bound Trucks (E-Call Up); Unilateral execution of a Supplemental Agreement in respect of the Lekki Deep Sea Port Concession Project; Unilateral and improper use of the ‘Emergency Procurement’ mode to procure vehicles for NPA to the tune of N1.2 billion; Waivers, rebates and tariffs to commercial operators granted by NPA without requisite approvals; Lease of Koko Port to Messrs Creek Shore Jetty and Terminal Limited without due process – among others.
Take the issue of the unilateral use of the ‘Emergency Procurement’ mode to buy vehicles for NPA to the tune of N1.2 billion.
Hadiza acted in flagrant breach of the Public Procurement Act and extant procurement regulations and guidelines binding on Federal Government entities when she bought 28 new operational vehicles in the sum of N1,277,669,183.95.
She claimed that she acted in reaction to the destruction of NPA assets during the EndSARS protest. But she was aware that the N1.2 billion was way above the threshold of NPA’s procurement powers. Yet, she made no attempt to seek the approval of the Federal Executive Council. That is the impunity that defines the actions of those who feel they are sacred cows in Nigeria, particularly under Buhari’s watch.
It is also on record that the Bureau of Public Procurement in its July 2021 due process review report on the transaction noted that the 28 vehicles were over-priced to the tune of N52,866,790.90 and demanded a refund. Till date, the money was not refunded. Impunity!
These are the issues at the heart of Hadiza’s sack, not birthday gift(s). It is, therefore, insulting and Nigerians should be outraged over her infantile insinuation that she was sacked because she refused to buy Amaechi birthday gift.
Hadiza grossly mismanaged the NPA in the same way other sacred cows from her neck of the woods are mismanaging other national assets without any consequences.
Hadiza knows that given how much Buhari loves her and how well-connected she is, the only reason Amaechi succeeded in convincing the president to give her the boot was the unassailable evidence of her egregious abuses.
The last straw was the evidence that Mohammed Bello-Koko, in the few months he acted as NPA MD before his appointment was confirmed, remitted more money to the Federation Account than Hadiza did in four years.
She may have gotten away with the farce that passed as her stewardship at NPA and may, indeed, be rewarded with even bigger portfolios in the new dispensation, but she should spare us this fatuous heterodoxy.