NPA: How Buhari’s Order on INTELS’s Contract Rubbished Amaechi’s Insubordination Charge Against Hadiza

One of the strong pillars on which the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, rested his call for probe of the former Managing Director of the Nigerian ports Authority, Hadiza Bala-Usman, was insubordination.

Amaechi had listed failure to honour a presidential directive on the restoration of INTELS pilotage contract as one of the terms of reference for the panel of enquiry.

But a recent directive by President Muhammadu Buhari which cancelled his earlier directive for the restoration of INTELS pilotage contract appears to have vindicated Hadiza Bala-Usman. The former NPA managing director was suspended and later sacked in May last year over charges of insubordination, which emphasized the non-implementation of the President’s directive on restoration of the INTELS contract, among other charges.

Meanwhile, the probe panel that was set up to probe the alleged insubordination and financial misdeeds appears to be making no progress, as it is yet to conclude work and submit its reports eight months after it was inaugurated.

BMWA recalls that Bala-Usman had explained that President Buhari had withdrawn the directive pending further advice from the Attorney- General of the Federation and the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP). But the explanation was ignored by Amaechi who went ahead to make the issue a term of reference for the probe.

The term of reference read, “Examine and investigate issues leading to the termination of pilotage and other contracts of NPA and confirm compliance with the terms of the respective contracts, court ruling and presidential directive.”

But recent development has clearly vindicated Hadiza with regards to the said presidential directive, thereby nullifying the terms of reference.

Reports have it that in a letter addressed to the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and the Minister of Transportation, with reference number: SH/COS/23/A/229, dated January 7, 2022, and signed by the Chief of Staff (COS) to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, the president directed that the procurement process initiated by NPA, the procuring authority, that was submitted to the Federal Ministry of Transportation, be forwarded immediately to the BPP for action.

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The COS in the letter stated: “The president has also directed that upon receipt of the No-objection approval from the BPP, a memorandum be presented by the Ministry of Transportation to the Federal Executive Council for consideration, that the Ministry of Transportation should ensure that the process is concluded within 60 days of the president’s directive to avoid further loss of revenue by the federal government.

NPA was also directed to ensure that the sanctity of the agreements with respect to Onne 4 (Berths 9, 10 & 11) is maintained, “as there is no subsisting contract with INTELS for their utilization.”

Buhari also directed the AGF to ensure quick determination of the cases in court in view of their economic importance, stressing that the above set of directives prior approval dated January 22, 2021 be granted on the matter.

BWWA learnt that President Buhari’s recent action followed submissions made to him by both the AGF and BPP who expressly warned of the danger of further litigations if the pilotage contract is restored. The AGF had two months ago written to the president after a review of submissions by the NPA and INTELS.

In the letter dated November 18, 2021, with reference MJ/DSD/23/VII, the AGF had stated that the NPA neither suspended nor terminated any of its contracts with INTELS, “which therefore obviates the need for any restoration”.

The AGF said, “There is certainty in the duration of the contract and the position of the law remains clear that a written contract freely entered into by the parties is binding on them. “Accordingly, the contract for Managing Agent awarded to Messrs INTELS in 2007 validly came to an end and extinguished pursuant to the terms of agreement between the parties, which specified an end date of August 2020. The agreement did not provide for any further extension of the contract in favour of INTELS.

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“It is also to be noted that NPA pursuant to the expiration of the contract, kick-started the procurement process to appoint another managing agent in order to forestall any break in the service being rendered.

“NPA submitted that it concluded the tender/bidding process and forwarded the result to the Minister of Transportation for same to be presented for FEC’s approval.”

INTELS, the AGF added, resorted to litigation to frustrate the conclusion of the procurement process based on its grievance on a different subject-matter. This development, the AGF added, had created a vacuum in the provision of this critical service in the maritime sector, with the attendant loss of revenue from service boat operation to the federal government.

The AGF emphasized that the approval granted by the president in January last year, which Bala-Usman was said to have disobeyed, was based on insufficient information at the time. He concluded that the purported termination could not have occurred since the contract came to an end in 2020 based on the agreement by both parties.

Similarly, the BPP rubbished claims by the Ministry of Transportation and urged the president not to restore the contract to avoid further litigation.

The BPP in a letter addressed to the COS to the president, with reference, BPP/DG/2021/007, dated March 9, 2021, had stated that the decision by the NPA to initiate a procurement process in anticipation of the expiration of the contract for boat operation managing agent was in order.

The BPP in the letter signed by its Director General, MammanAhmadu, concluded that, “There is a compelling need to ensure that contractors and service providers do not take undue advantage of government agencies, and do not obtain contracts from government agencies through the court rooms.

“The correct procedure is that contracts should be won through a proper procurement process that complies with the provisions of the PPA, 2007. Furthermore, there is need to avoid the kind of monopoly currently enjoyed by Messrs INTELS which has cascaded into entitlement mentality being demonstrated by the firm.

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“Also, monopoly will inevitably result in charging a higher price to the consumer/client than what is obtainable from a competitive market, thereby eroding value for money.”

It can be recalled that NPA and INTELS have been at loggerheads since 2020 over the renewal of the pilotage or boat service contract.

NPA had insisted that the 10 years contract with INTELS expired on August 8, 2020, after which it initiated procurement processes for the contract. Accordingly, it submitted the outcome of the procurement process, which it said INTELS participated in, to the Minister of Transportation who, rather than forward same to BPP, sought the approval of the President to restore the contract to INTELS.

The two submissions by the AGF and BPP effectively cleared Hadiza Bala-Usman of any wrongdoing with regards to the president’s directive while exposing the Ministry of Transportation’s role in bringing the boat pilotage service operations to a standstill for about 16 months, with the attendant revenue losses to the nation.

While Hadiza still has to clear herself of other charges, including alleged misappropriation and not accounting for funds running into tens of billions of Naira, as the probe progresses at snail’s speed, one thing that is sure is that the charge of insubordination leveled against her by Amaechi, is already questionable

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