Some documents seen by SaharaReporters have revealed how the suspended Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms Hadiza Bala Usman worked to frustrate the Integrated Logistics Services Limited (INTELS) and other contractors, by revoking their contracts and frustrating their concessions.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on May 5 approved Bala Usman’s suspension after a reported cold war between her and Rotimi Amaechi, Minister of Transportation.
She was accused of failing to remit the operating surplus of NPA to the consolidated revenue fund (CFR), an allegation she has denied.
A top official in the agency said the move was a grand scheme orchestrated and executed by Bala Usman for selfish reasons but made to outwardly appear like something that had the support of the kitchen cabinet of the Muhammadu Buhari’s Presidency.
He added that the suspended NPA MD might have deliberately hoodwinked bigwigs of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and officials within the Presidency into believing that she was working for the party’s interest while pursuing a selfish agenda.
“The resultant conflict between NPA and INTELS caused the company so much financial losses and consequently forced their management to restructure; their shareholders insisting that their business have been hindered by political influences from above. Surprisingly, the cancellation of INTELS’ contracts was simply to create opportunities for companies affiliated to some prominent Nigerians who are said to have links with the suspended MD.
“INTELS, formerly known as Nigeria Container Services (NICOTES) was founded by one Gabriela Volp, an Italian and former Vice President Atiku Abubakar in 1982. The company was operating from a container office in Apapa. NICOTES later related to Federal Lighter Terminal in Port Harcourt when their business began to grow. The company grew gradually to become the leading provider of logistics services for oil and gas industry in Nigeria in the last thirty years.
“INTELS had a major break during the (Shehu) Shagari administration. The company took a loan to finance the completion of the building of Onne Ports. Afterwards it became a major player employing thousands of persons with a worthwhile turn over. It was only during the (Sani) Abacha regime that INTELs was seized temporarily because the late Shehu Yar’Adua was believed to be an investor in the company using Atiku as a front.
“INTEL as well got Atiku to divest from its services and fired three of his children practically sitting idle in the company.
“Hadiza cancelled INTELS boat service contract in brazen defiance of court orders as part of her selfish plan. Although there were court orders restraining the suspended MD from doing so, she ignored them. To accomplish her plot, the suspended MD got NPA accuse INTELS of refusing to remit to the federal government some service boat pilotage revenue said to be in the firm’s custody amounting to $207,646 million (N78.905 billion) as at September 30, 2019.
“It was a screaming headline in the media designed to win cheap public sympathy for her actions. However, INTELS swiftly denied owing NPA to the tune of $145.8 million, insisting that NPA instead owes it over $750 million and decided to recourse to a litigation to resolve the dispute. On the 28th of August 2020, the court granted an interim injunction restraining NPA from giving effect to the purported notice of expiration that was issued on the 15th of August 2020 or tampering with the status quo. The matter was heard on the 26th of November 2020 and was adjourned for judgment on the 21st of January 2021. The court could not sit on that day and a new date has not been communicated to the parties.
“From the forgoing, it is evident that INTELS contract is still subsisting by the combined effect of the order of the Federal High Court made in Suit No FHC/L/CS/1058/2020 filed by INTELS against NPA and the provision of Article 13.7 of the agreement following the clause that any dispute under the agreement should be referred to arbitration at the Regional International Commercial Arbitration, Lagos. In line with this, it was gathered that an arbitration was filed at the Regional International Commercial Arbitration Centre in Lagos. Although it has commenced its work, a statement of defence is still awaited from the respondent.
“Hadiza’s procurement posturing through selective tendering was in contempt of the courts. The implication of the orders which were duly served on the NPA is that the NPA together with its servants, agents and/or privies are legally prohibited from disrupting the performance of duties or functions of INTELS under the agreement until the said preservative order is set aside. Despite all these, the suspended MD went ahead and directed all the ports and users not to deal with INTELS as the managing agent for boat service revenue collections. She believed that her contacts within the seat of power could save her in case of any backlash or eventuality.
“With the office in charge of procurement already excised from the supervision of the Executive Director Finance and Administration and moved to her office to oversee directly, it was easy for her to superintend over the conduct of what an insider described as a heavily compromised procurement process through ‘selective tendering’ for three companies to replace INTELS. This medium made several inquiries but could not ascertain whether INTELS or anyone initiated a litigation to challenge this contempt of court. The idea to hastily proceed with procurement despite court orders and recommendations to the contrary from the Ministry of Transportation is said be geared at paving the way for the emergence of proxy companies owned by a rich Nigerian who is Hadiza’s close friend,” the source told SaharaReporters.
SaharaReporters gathered that Usman Bala also withdrew an offer given to INTELS to integrate Berths 9,10 and 11 after she authorised the berths be integrated in a preexisting concession agreement with the company.
The source said, “Curiously it was the same MD who authorised that Berths 9, 10 and 11 be integrated in a pre-existing concession agreement with INTELS and informed them about same in a letter on the 7th of November 2018 REF ONN/LG/AD/T.3/599 signed by one Alhassan Ismaila Abubakar, Port Manager, Onne. A reminder was written on the same issue on the 23rd of November.
“An acceptance from INTELS was conveyed to NPA in a letter Ref INTELS/2018/11/27/OUT/001752 dated 27th November 2018 signed by the Managing Director where he pointed out that the computation of the fees for the berths for 2013 was erroneous. A reconciliation meeting was proposed for the integration process to commence.
“Agreement was reached between INTELS and NPA. Payment commenced and midway NPA reneged. On the 4th of December, a debit not of N1,035,000,000 was issued to INTELS by NPA which was accepted on the 20th of December and reiterated its acceptance for Berths 9,10 and 11 into their concession agreement and agreed that payment will be in three installments commencing from January 2019. Payments commenced on schedule.
“Things were going on smoothly and INL was waiting for the final execution of the agreement when it was revoked by NPA in a letter signed on behalf of the Managing Director by one Engr. A. R Mohammed, General Manager, Engineering, asking INTELS to vacate the premises on Berths 9, 10 and 11. INTELS had no option but to head to court to protect their rights.
“While the controversy raged, the Minister of Transportation tried to direct her to halt the hostilities against the company and she rebuffed the idea. Although a court order granted by a Rivers State High Court ring fenced INTELS from being ejected from berths 9/10/11, Hadiza went ahead and kicked them out. At one point she manufactured an alibi to make it look like the ministry was blocking her from commencing procurement because someone up there apparently had pecuniary interest.
“Meanwhile, officials of the ministry had clarified the position of the Minister of Transportation is for NPA to purchase the relevant equipment in other to build domestic capacity for dredging rather than spending heavily awarding contracts.
“Hemorrhage of the nation’s revenue continues amidst investor apathy.
Africa has a massive blue economy potential which can be a source economic fortune when the natural resources like oil and gas have been exhausted. So far more than 70% of the countries in the continent have territorial coastlines and extensive kilometres of exclusive economic zones (EEZs) in the sea which are still largely untapped. The financial and technological capacity to harvest these assets hardly exist. It is therefore crucial to draw adequate attention to the maritime sector and create the enabling environment that will boost investor confident and draw in the necessary resources to ensure the strategic development of our maritime resources.
“The current perception of instability created by the numerous actions of the suspended MD targeted at investors have sent negative and contradictory signals sufficient to discourage potential investors from having confidence in Nigeria. They would rather have their investments to other countries elsewhere in the continent considered to be more stable.”