On May 6th, 2021, the tenure of Hadiza Bala Usman, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), was abruptly disrupted by President Mohammadu Buhari.
In a terse Twitter message by his Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, President Buhari approved the recommendations of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi, that the financial activities of the NPA from 2016 to 2020, which have been a subject of controversy, be investigated while Hadiza, should step aside.
Since that announcement, there has been a flurry of reactions that are heavily steeped in mere insinuations, speculations, conjectures, assumptions, truth, half-truth and outlandish claims from stakeholders, depending on their interests and emotions.
But one thing stands out from the whirlwind of emotions that greeted Hadiza’s travails, and that is, the accounts of the NPA were not tidy. The public, ever since the announcement of the shakeup in the NPA, has been entertained with unsolicited official disclosure of secret memos which both the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi and the beleaguered Hadiza pushed to the public domain to justify their respective positions and possibly court positive emotions of the aghast public.
The official memos, which are marked “secret” in the civil service bureaucratic parlance, and which the two sides would have kept close to their chests, have become a common sight on social media.
But that was not the grouse of this platform nor the subject of its intervention on the matter.
We find the way and manner Hadiza’s suspension was couched and executed as curious, untidy and hasty which easily lends itself to wild speculations of a witch hunt.
Before we are accused of undue bias and sympathetic to Hadiza, let’s us state here that we are neither her friends nor foes.
After careful study of the whole drama, we discovered that there are more questions left unanswered.
Let us quickly state here that we are not absolving Hadiza of any complicity or making any attempt to portray her as a saint in this matter.
As a matter of fact, we wholeheartedly welcome the audit exercise of the NPA accounts and any other public accounts of government agencies, for that matter.
We also support the probe and sanction of any public holder who may have betrayed the public trust bequeathed to them.
However, what this platform frowns at is if the suspension order was done with malice and intention to settle political scores.
If this is so, such exercise would have lost credibility and moral values, no matter its good intentions.
We are puzzled by the issues surrounding Hadiza’s sack.
From the analysis of the event, it was the audit report from the Budget office of the Federation (BOF) that prompted Ameachi’s memo to the President for a full-scale investigation into the NPA’s finances.
We welcome this development as it tends to promote accountability.
But what we found discomforting is the prayer of the Minister, which the President curiously granted, that the Managing Director of NPA should step aside before the probe is conducted.
We are at a loss if such a probe could not have been done without the suspension of Hadiza.
To us, suspending Hadiza before the probe was prejudicial which would prejudice the outcome of the probe.
It also presupposes that the accused have already been found guilty before the actual probe begins.
Curiously, apart from the Chairman and the Secretary of the probe panel, other members are yet to be appointed before Hadiza’s sack.
Also, in as much as the buck stops on her table as the Managing Director, Hadiza alone does not constitute the management of NPA which accounts are under scrutiny.
Curiously, Mohammed Koko, the Executive Director, Finance and Administration, who is the Chief accountant of the NPA and under whose purview these spurious transactions are supposed to be made, was not only spared the searchlight but asked to step in as an Acting Managing Director.
To us, this arrangement stands logic on its head.
As the Head of Finance in the NPA, one would have thought all these controversial expenditures over which dust is now being raised, should have passed through his table.
Unless, of course, if they have been done without his approval and protest of which the yet to be constituted panel has not heard.
We are not trying to shield Hadiza from being investigated not justifying any sleazy activities in NPA, but our stand is that such investigation should be carried out within the ambit of the law and in deference to the civil service extant laws which govern such procedures.
Accordingly, the accused should have been given a fair hearing before any action is taken.
If found guilty, then she could be removed and probably prosecuted to serve as a deterrent.
But now that she was first removed before the panel, which was supposed to investigate her was even constituted, is tantamount to having found her guilty before she is heard.
What happens if, after the investigation, Hadiza is found not guilty of this alleged monumental fraud?
Of course, there is no way we can search the anus of an old woman and not finding feces
Would she be recalled if not found guilty?
We doubt that possibility because there was no such precedence of a sacked CEO of a government parastatal who was recalled.
The only of such scenario was Habib Abdullahi whose recall as MD of NPA during Jonathan administration was terminated by Buhari who incidentally appointment Hadiza in his stead.
If that is the case, it would have amounted to a miscarriage of justice.
The frenzy of activities that eventually culminated into the suspension of Hadiza gives little room for thoroughness on the part of the Minister, a hasty action which could easily be constructed to mean that Hadiza may have been a victim of political vendetta.
The Minister, based on the audit report from the budget office of the Federation(BOF), raised a memo to the President on March 4th, 2021.
He got the Presidential approval on March 17th, 2021.
Hadiza, apparently having got wind of the memo and the Presidential approval, put up her defence in a four-page memo to the President through his Chief of Staff on May 5th, 2021.
In the memo, which was personally signed by Hadiza, she tried to controvert the N165.3 billion which the Budget Office said was the shortfall in the amounts which the NPA was supposed to remit to the federation account between 2016 to 2020, on the basis which Minister got the presidential approval to suspend and probe Hadiza.
“We wish to state that the Authority’s basis for arriving at the Operating Surplus on which basis the amount due for remittance to the CFR is guided by the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 as amended and further based on the statutory mandate
Part 1, S.3(1) (b) &(d) whereby the Fiscal Responsibility Commission issued a
template for the computation of Operating Surplus for the purpose of calculating the amount due for remittance to the CRF ( attached herewith as annex 2 is the template as conveyed to the Authority).
“Accordingly, the figures so provided by the Budget Office of the Federation as the Operating Surplus for the respective years on which basis they arrived at the shortfall are derived from submission of budgetary provision, not the actual amounts derived following the statutory audit of the Authorities financial statements.”
The next day, on May 6th, 2021, Hadiza was suspended.
The whole drama smacks of high wire political deft moves by both sides.
From the two memos, we find out, and sadly too, that there was no love lost between Hadiza and Ameachi.
Ameachi, having secured the Presidential approval to hit Hadiza with a sledgehammer, probably held back possibly to strike at the least provocation.
Hadiza provided the opportunity when rather than addressing her defence of the allegations to the Minister as her immediate boss, chose to go straight to the President through his Chief of staff.
This, we believe, may have prompted Amaechi to activate the lethal weapon he has secured from the President.
Because the second day she addressed the memo to the President through his CSO and which we are not even sure had gotten to the CSO, she was suspended before the letter could get to Mr. President, thus effectively foreclosing any shift in the President’s approval.
This scenario, unfortunately, showed an arrogant act of insubordination on the part of Hadiza who side-tracked her boss and chose to go straight to the President, an action which we unequivocally condemn.
It has become a subject of gossip in the industry how Hadiza has routinely disregarded official protocols by going straight to Mr. President in matters she should have referred to the Minister, her immediate boss.
Her memo to the CSO of the President at least gives legitimacy to this ‘gossip’.
To us, it was this flagrant disrespect to the office of the Minister that Ameachi wanted to punish which led to this avoidable crisis.
To us, this has established that the roforofo fight at NPA was between Ameachi and Hadiza which we believe was personal and an attempt to settle political scores.
Being that as it may, we also find it strange and curious that Hadiza, whose tenure was renewed six clear months before it expires, could suddenly fall out of favour.
In an unprecedented move, Hadiza, appointed in July 2016, had her tenure renewed in January 2021, six whole months before she completes her first tenure, and was gifted with another five-year tenure, which would have made her the longest-serving Managing Director in the history of the NPA, if she has been allowed to