The suspension of the Managing Director of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, is causing ripples in the Presidency, The Nation can report.
Hadiza was asked to step aside on Thursday while an administrative panel examines the books of the organisation.
Although the Presidency which ordered the suspension gave no reason for its action, sources said it has to do with the alleged non-remittance of N165.3 billion surpluses of the NPA into the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) by the suspended MD.
However, barely 48 hours after the announcement of the suspension, pressure is being piled on President Muhammadu Buhari by some stakeholders for the appointment of a co-chairman or alternate chairman for the probe panel.
Some governors who are pleading Hadiza’s case with the Presidency are said to have accused Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi of violating administrative procedure in getting the MD suspended and in the composition of the probe panel.
The stakeholders are also objecting to the appointment of all members of the panel coming from the Ministry of Transportation.
Following agitation for fairness, Transportation Minister Rotimi Amaechi was said to have approved a seven-man probe panel yesterday with three members from the ministry and the remaining four to be nominated by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.
Besides, supporters of the suspended Managing Director of NPA have rejected the choice of the agency’s Executive Director of Finance and Administration, Mohammed Kolo, as acting MD.
They want Kolo dropped and returned to his desk as Executive Director because he was a nominee of Amaechi.
It was learnt that Kolo was not affected by the shake-up because Procurement Unit has been relocated to the office of the Managing Director.
Sources said the division in the Presidency and government over the suspension of Hadiza stemmed from alleged support Hadiza enjoys from the President’s Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari.
It was Gambari who wrote a memo to Buhari for the renewal of the tenure of Hadiza as MD of NPA on January 21.
It was learnt that Gambari acted without any recommendation for renewal from the Transportation Minister or the supervising Minister of State, Senator Gbemisola Saraki.
A source in government however said the Chief of Staff only raised the memo in line with the prerogative of the President to make any appointment.
One source said appointment and reappointment of any public officer can be done directly by the President.
An angry Amaechi however protested to the President alleging that the Chief of Staff was usurping his (Amaechi’s) duties.
In retaliation, Amaechi also took his memo on the unremitted N165.3 billion surpluses and request for the auditing of NPA to the President without routing it through the Chief of Staff.
Although Gambari later conveyed the letter of suspension of Hadiza to Amaechi, a source said “it was a burden he could not resist because it was a presidential directive.”
Despite the cracks, Hadiza was battling for survival last night with clarifications that all audit certified surpluses were remitted into the CRF.
Buhari had suspended Hadiza through a statement by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu.
The statement said the President also approved the recommendation of the Ministry of Transportation for the setting up of an Administrative Panel of Inquiry to investigate the management of the NPA.
It said the panel is to be headed by the Director, Maritime Services of the Ministry while the Deputy Director, Legal of the same ministry will serve as Secretary.
It said other members of the panel would be appointed by the minister.
Stakeholders kick over choice of panel chairman
Investigation by our correspondent revealed that the choice of Auwal Suleiman as chairman of the administrative panel has not gone down well with some top government functionaries, ministry officials and stakeholders because he is a member of the board under probe.
Some forces in government are claiming that since it is an administrative panel, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation ought to have been mandated to select an experienced director outside the Ministry of Transportation to head the committee.
It was gathered that some stakeholders are demanding the appointment of an independent co-chairman or alternate chairman for fairness and justice.
Others claim that it would be unfair for all the members of the panel to come from the Ministry of Transportation.
A reliable source said: “In the last 48 hours, there were a lot of issues on the appointment of the chairman of the panel, the composition of the members and the need for a co-chairman or an alternate chairman.
“The ideal thing in the civil service is to direct the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation to raise the administrative panel or to mandate the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation to investigate issues surrounding the operating surpluses. Alternatively, the President can set up an independent probe panel.
“Some government officials said since Auwal Suleiman is a member of the board under Hadiza, it will not be right to sit in judgment on his own affairs. They said the ideal thing was to ask the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation to raise such an administrative panel.
“But since the error came from the Villa, there was an agitation for the appointment of a co-chairman or an alternate chairman in case issues are raised against Auwal himself and in the interest of fairness and justice.
“We were on all these issues till the close of work on Friday. We could not agree on the composition of members.”
Findings revealed that Amaechi, who has insisted that he has no personal grudges against the MD of NPA, yesterday tried to douse the tension.
“The minister has approved a seven-man probe panel with three members from the Ministry of Transportation and four members to be nominated by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation,” a source said last night.
“Also, it has been agreed upon that one of the four nominees from the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation will be an alternate chairman or a co-chairman. This is to show that the minister is committed to a transparent investigation.
“I think members of the panel may be unveiled on Monday.”
Governors accuse Amaechi of impunity, want suspension quashed
Another battle raging last night was the move by some governors and sympathisers of the MD of NPA for the reversal of her suspension.
It was learnt that the affected governors, mostly from the North, had made representation to the Presidency on the need to “reverse the suspension and compel Amaechi to follow the right procedure as laid down in a policy approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.”
A northern governor said: “We are tired of impunity. We are appealing to the President to allow due disciplinary process instead of ambush. Hadiza ought to be queried and be subjected to all necessary disciplinary procedures and punishment meted out if found guilty.
“Some of us are angry that the way this issue has been handled, the MD’s image is already battered. We must toe the path of decency in treating public officers. We are not calling for a cover up but we want an end to the violation of procedures.
“Some governors, stakeholders and APC stalwarts are also concerned about the propriety of the Executive Director, Finance, Mohammed Kolo, being in office as acting MD while Hadiza is being investigated. If nothing is against Kolo, he should at best revert to his position in the interim.”
A source in NPA said: “What really happened was that at a point, Kolo was sidelined. In fact, at a stage, the Procurement Unit was transferred to the Office of the MD/CEO of NPA.
“The same way some procurement requests were taken to the Villa before the MD of NPA was directed to send all her requests through the Ministry of Transportation.
“Hadiza had no respect for the two ministers. She would not attend meetings convened by the ministers and she was not relating with even the Permanent Secretary of the ministry.”
A reliable source said: “I think some forces in the Presidential Villa are also culpable. Apart from the fact that Hadiza was taking procurement requests directly to the Villa, her reappointment was handled by the Chief of Staff without the knowledge of the Minister of Transportation, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi, or the supervising Minister of State, Sen. Gbemisola Saraki, who were her supervisors.
“The justification given was that it is the prerogative of the President to make all appointments and the Chief of Staff is merely an executor of a directive emanating from such a prerogative. They claimed that Gambari, a decent international civil servant, could not have acted alone.
“Disturbed by the development, Amaechi drew the attention of the President to the administrative lapse which led to the renewal of the appointment of Hadiza.”
It was however learnt that Amaechi also launched a counter-attack by sidelining the Chief of Staff when he wrote a memo to the President on the alleged “red flag” by the Budget Office of the Federation on the non-remittance of N165.3 billion operating surpluses by NPA between 2016 and 2020.
A highly-placed source said: “Instead of routing his memo on the need to investigate the finances of NPA through the Office of the Chief of Staff, Amaechi tucked his memo under his dress and went directly to the President. He was able to get instance approval.
“The Chief of Staff got the President’s approval and as an obedient officer, he conveyed the presidential approval to Amaechi. The execution of the approval led to the suspension of the MD of NPA.
“Although Hadiza got a leak of the request, it was too late to stop her suspension because it had been approved by the President.”
What we remitted as surplus, by Hadiza
Before her suspension, Hadiza had written a memo clarifying the situation on the operating surpluses.
She said contrary to insinuations, operating surpluses of 2017 and 2018 were paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) accounts of the Federation.
She urged the Chief of Staff to ask the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, who are the statutory custodian of status of payment to the CRF, to provide clarifications on the above so as to establish the true position of the Authority’s remittances to the CRF.
She gave the clarifications in a letter to the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari. The letter was dated May 5, 2021 and referenced MD/27/MF/VOL. XX/541.
The letter was entitled: “Re: Request for the record of remittance of operating surpluses to the consolidated revenue funds account, CFR by the NPA.”
She said in part: “This arose from a correspondence between the Budget Office of the Federation and the Federal Ministry of Transportation where the Budget Office of the Federation conveyed to the FMoT an observed shortfall of the Authority’s remittances to the CRF.
“We wish to state that the Authority’s basis for arriving at the operating surplus in which basis the amount due for remittance to the CRF’s 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 amount due for remittance to the CRF.
“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 if the Authority’s financial statements.”
She said the 2017 and 2018 audited financial statements provide operating surpluses of N76.782 billion and N71.480 billion respectively contrary to the sums of N133.084 billion and N88.79 billion arrived at from the budgetary submission.
The suspended MD said by the template of the Fiscal Responsibility Commission, the accessible operating surplus of the Authority stood at N51.09 billion and N42.51 billion for 2017 and 2018 respectively.
She said: “These amounts will give rise to a remittance due to the CRF in the sum of N40.873 billion and N34.065 billion representing 80 per cent of the surpluses for the years 2017 and 2018.
“Accordingly, the Authority consequently made a remittance of N42.415 billion and N33.969 billion for the years 2017 and 2018 respectively for the full amount required as remittance for the period.”
She gave insights into the remittances of 2019 and 2020.
She added: “But thus far, the Authority has made a remittance of N31.683 billion for the 2019 remittance while the sum of N51.049 billion has also thus far been remitted for 2020 while awaiting the audited financial statement to determine the final amount required for both 2019 and 2020 at which point the Authority will make the payment of the balance as required.”
“Based on the above, we wish to clarify the following:
The Authority’s computation of its remittances to the CRF are concluded arising from numbers from audited financial statements using the template forwarded to the Authority from the Fiscal Responsibility Commission.
That the Authority has remitted the full amount due it to CFR for the periods 2017 and 2018 arising from the operating surplus derived from the Audited Financial Statement for the period totaling N76.384 billion.
That the Authority has remitted a total of N82.687 billion for the period 2019 and 2020 pending the audit of the financial statement at which point the amount so computed arising from the value of the Operating Surplus in the audited financial statement will be remitted to the CRF.”