Hadiza Bala Usman, Story of a square peck in a round hole

Peter Jerome
In every responsible administrative set-up, due process and proficiency should be the hallmark of its operations. In situations where these values are thrown overboard in preference for ambition, sentiments and political rewards, then expect anything as outcome including disagreements and failure. This appropriately discribes the ugly story of the Nigerian Port Authority (NPA) under the headship of the impressionable Hadiza Bala Usman, a politician in the guise of her friends and activist in the mold of her father, the celeberated Yusuf Bala Usman of blessed memory. Until last Thursday, May 6, Hadiza was the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA. Although her appointment left several tongues wagging, observers and commentators could not but keep quiet since her sponsors held the levers of power and were prepared to flaunt it beyond estimation.
It was a well-known fact even to Hadiza herself was surprised at that kind of appointment to the headship of the NPA. Her technical bareness with regards the job knowledge was intentionally sacrificed on the altar of political mechanics. Making a harmless profiling of Hadiza, one would see a woman who bagged a first degree in Business Administration polished it up with a second in Development Studies with scanty work experiences with a circle. From her father’s office for ideologues as a Research Assistant in the Democratic Development and Research Training Centre in 1999, an office established by her father, professor Bala Usman, she became an Enterprise Officer with the Bureau of Public Enterprises from July 2000 to August 2004 when Nasir el Rufai was incharge. From October 2004 to January 2008, she was Special Assistant, Project Implementation to aqdian to Nasir el Rufai as Minister of the Federal Capital from Hadiza returned to her 2011 to July 2015. At the end of that mission, as Director of Strategy of the NGO she Co- founded, from whence she was appointed Chief of Staff to the Governor of Kaduna State, Nasir el Rufai. Curiously and with a new government smartimg with victory based on promised integrity, she was catapaulted up to the apex seat at the NPA. Her crashlanding was as expected as it was factual only that we never knew when. In fact, success would have been prophetic even when her failure was just at the palms bet.
That was the unfortunate favour the Buhari Government did to a woman who needed time to learn and grow where she was planted. I am not saying she was destined to fail but calling her a Father in her state of Sonship, was a deliberate move against the direction of success.
The core mandates of the NPA are to develop, own and operate ports and harbours, provide safe and navigable channel, offer cargo handling and storage services, maintain port facilities and equipment, ensure safety and security and develop and own property. The agency is involved directly in, or supervising cargo handling, stevedoring, warehousing and delivery, acquisition of cargo handling and operations related equipment, development and maintenance of ports’ superstructure, maintenance of safety and security within the terminal, towage, mooring, bunkering, ship chandelling and ship repairs. These job descriptions are way too technical for a greenhorn’s back to bear.

Frankly speaking, her falling pit became deeper in her administrative orchestrations in a dispute between an indigenous company and a foreign contractor who had entered a partnership on a project. The Federal Government had in 2006 leased a Free Zone land to the company. But the contractor had in 2017 approached the NPA for direct deals, thereby bypassing the Nigerian company. However, the NPA under Usman, in a November 6, 2017 letter, advised the foreigners to channel their applications through the Nigerian company which had the land lease.

On November 26, 2018, President Buhari approved a new 25-year Presidential lease of the land to the Nigerian company. This was conveyed to the company by the parent Ministry of Transport, while the NPA under Usman implemented the Presidential approval by accepting the Nigerian company’s consent letter and receiving its lease payments for the years 2018 –2020 for which it issued receipts.

But in a strange twist, the Usman NPA management on November 14, 2019, without giving the Nigerian company any hearing or notice, carved out 11.2426 hectares of the leased land and handed it to the foreign contractors. When the company protested and pointed out that the NPA’s actions amounted to overriding a Presidential decision, the Usman administration began to give excuses for its illegal actions.

First, it claimed the company subleased that portion of the land without permission. But the company put a lie to that by producing the permission the NPA had given it five years earlier. Then, it changed gear by claiming the Nigerian company did not forward the sublease agreement timeously. Again, the company punctured this claim. Then the Usman management accused the company of subleasing the land at a higher rate than it pays NPA. The company’s response was that first, there is no rent control or ceiling. Secondly, that it had developed the leased land with over $100 million, including a $25 million loan from the Bank of Industry, N6.09 Billion loan from the Central Bank and a $25 million loan guaranteed by the Nigeria Local Content Development and Monitoring Board, NCDMB. So, it cannot sublease a developed land at the same rate it pays the NPA for a swampy land.

The Nigerian company also claimed that the foreign contractor had manipulated documents leading to the watering down of its shared ratio from the initial 80:20 per cent, to 30:70 per cent in favour of the contractor. The contractor used the lease documents the NPA had given it to apply to the Nigeria Export Processing Zones Authority, NEPZA, to be granted the status of a free zone. But the latter rejected it on the basis that the company needed Presidential approval and that from its records, the land in question belonged to the Nigerian company.

The company petitioned the Federal Government, and as expected, the Ministry of Justice stepped into the case. The foreign contractor agreed to abide by the Ministry’s arbitration. The Ministry having heard all sides and consulted bodies like the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, NEPZA, NCDMB, Customs and the Industry and Trade Ministry, on January 30, 2020, issued its 14-page findings personally signed by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami, SAN.

The Ministry found that the NPA’s “actions amount to an attempt to unilaterally overturn Mr President’s 2018 actions(that) NPA did not follow the law and due process…” The findings also showed the NPA violated the indigenous company’s tenant rights and worked with the foreign contractor “to attempt to usurp” the company’s lease and investments in favour of the foreign contractor. The Justice Ministry also directed the restoration of the 80:20 per-cent shareholding ratio of the project in favour of the local company because a so-called agreement cannot be used to amend a subsisting law. But our dear Hadiza, riding on the wings of unfathomed power, ignored both the Ministry’s findings and the country’s laws.
This alongside other oversized administrative blunders premised her inglorious retirement from the NPA job by the Presidency where she was unconventionally square pegged in a round hole.

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