Early in May this year, the President, Muhammadu Buhari, suspended Hadiza Bala-Usman as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA). The suspension was swiftly followed with the setting up of a panel of enquiry to probe into the matter that led to her suspension, in addition to other sundry issues.
Just a few days later the panel of enquiry was inaugurated by the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, who told the panel to investigate all the policies and actions of Hadiza Bala-Usman as NPA managing director. Specifically, he asked the panel of enquiry to investigate the policies, strategies and other management activities undertaken by the suspended NPA boss during her tenure at the ports authority.
Earlier in March, the minister in a letter to the President (March 4, 2021) had alleged that the NPA under the leadership of Bala-Usman failed to remit N165.32bn to the Consolidated Revenue Fund from 2016 to 2020.
The minister, therefore, called for an investigation and audit of NPA’s accounts and further stated that there were unremitted deductions to FIRS by NPA that includedN3,667,750,470; $148,845,745.04; €4,891,449.50; and £252,682.14. These allegations as contained in the minister’s letter formed the basis for the former NPA MD’s suspension.
Though no deadline was given for the panel to submit its report, maritime stakeholders had thought that the matter was urgent, going by the tag of suspension hanging on Hadiza’s head. More so, as the government two weeks later said the former NPA managing director would remain suspended pending the outcome of the investigations against her.
This statement notwithstanding, however, two months later (July), while investigations were still ongoing, the government announced the termination of Hadiza’s appointment to the amazement of stakeholders and observers.
With the termination of the appointment, one had expected that the investigation will progress faster, but nearly six months after, it appears that the panel is nowhere in completing its assignment let alone submitting its report. This has sent tongues wagging if this probe would not be another of the numerous probes in NPA in the last three to four years whose reports were never seen.
Most of these investigations were conducted by the various committees of the national assembly which would usually raise hell over one fraud, infraction or the other at Hadiza Bala-Usman’s NPA, and at the end nothing will be heard again. No reports.
One can still remember the July 2020 $1billion probe of NPA under Hadiza by the House of Representatives. Following a disclosure by a whistleblower, the House resolved to investigate the alleged secret account with a balance of $1billion being kept by the Nigerian Ports Authority at Unity Bank. The account was said to be for collection of revenue from vessels.
After unanimous adoption of a motion to investigate the alleged secret account, the House mandated the Committees on Finance, and Ports and Harbours to “investigate these allegations and counter-allegations, determine if the Nigerian Ports Authority or any of their personnel committed any infractions.” But up to now, the public has not seen the report of the investigations, let alone seeing any action taken on the matter.
The point being made in this write-up is: even though the ministerial panel of enquiry into the activities of Hadiza Bala-Usman was asked to take its time to do the job, does this amount to indefinite probe? Will the probe last for the whole year?
Many maritime observers are beginning to feel that with the termination of Hadiza’s appointment, there is no more urgency in the probe, which may proceed indefinitely until everything fizzles out.
The federal government and the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, that called for, and inaugurated this investigative panel, should know that maritime stakeholders, and indeed, Nigerians are interested in this report. Hence they are asking, where is the probe report