Rotimi Amaechi, the minister of transportation, has made a u-turn as the panel of enquiry he set up by to investigate an alleged shortfall in operating surpluses by the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, under the leadership of the suspended MD/CEO, Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, will now probe her for insubordination instead of earlier allegations of not remitting operating surplus of N165 billion to the Consolidated Revenue Fund account, CFR.
This is coming on the heels of calls that President Muhammadu Buhari should disband the 11-man investigative panel inaugurated by Amaechi to probe Bala-Usman by Katsina youths under the aegis of Katsina Youth for Sustainable Change.
It has been confirmed by a member of the administrative panel that rather that allegations of not remitting operating surplus, Bala-Usman, would now be probed for “insubordination,” adding that “we are looking at two things. One, the suspended managing director was in the habit of communicating directly with the president and bypassing the honourable minister. This is gross indiscipline and a breach of public service communication line. That is enough to get her sacked.
“Two, the minister directed her to restore all Intels’ contracts that were suspended or terminated. What she didn’t know was that the president was in the know of it. She failed to comply. This is insubordination and she is not above discipline.”
It was however revealed by inside sources that the president had withdrawn his approval for the reinstatement of Intels’ contract after Bala-Usman wrote to his Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, to explain NPA’s position and Gambari had forwarded her response to the Attorney-General of the Federation, AGF, Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), for a legal opinion.
According to the source, Malami wrote to the president to state that the NPA was right and that no contracts were terminated or violated and the president withdrew his approval for the reinstatement of Intels’ contract which allegedly infuriated Amaechi, who accused Usman of insubordination.
“If you look at the terms of reference properly, we are to examine and investigate compliance with the communication channel as obtained in the public service. Insubordination is not a small offence,” the source said.
The panel member however accused Bala-Usman, of bypassing the minister and dealing directly with the president despite a “clear reporting hierarchy,” adding that available evidence shows that the allegation about the N165 billion non-remittance claims may not be true as it is merely a matter of reconciliation of what the Budget Office thought should be the remittances with what the actual remittances should be.
“Since audits have been done over the years, there is obviously nothing more to that. It is not as if NPA’s monies are in private banks. Everything is with the CBN, so if there were no remittances, it is just about looking at NPA’s accounts with the CBN,” another source said, adding that although the minister asked the eleven-member panel to “examine and investigate the procurement of contracts from 2016 to date” as part of the terms of reference, it was going to be a “tricky job.”
“At NPA, any contract beyond N50 million for goods and services and N200 million for works are referred to the ministerial tenders board (MTB), which is headed by the permanent secretary of the ministry. If we go into probing contracts since 2016, we may end up probing the minister himself. About 70 per cent of the contracts for capital projects go to the MTB, after which the minister presents them to the federal executive council (FEC), presided over by the president himself, for approval. We will check if all the procedures were followed, but I am personally not optimistic about that. The suspended MD, from indications, is a process person,” the source claimed.
However, Amaechi, has denied allegations that he is fighting a personal war with Usman, whom he nominated for the position in 2016 after working with her in the APC Presidential Campaign Council though there are reports of a “cold war” between the duo was a result of the renewal of $1.5 billion channel management contracts in which the minister is said to have gone against a competitive bidding process in favour of companies nominated by him.
Magdalene Ajani, the permanent Secretary of Ministry of Transportation, has in a paid advertisement, denied the allegation against Amaechi, insisting that he did not at any time seek to bypass the process.
However, members of the Katsina Youth for Sustainable Change, have called on Buhari to disband the 11-man investigative panel inaugurated by Amaechi, describing the investigative panel as a Kangaroo board of inquiry singlehandedly picked by Amaechi “from his cronies in order to unjustly nail his victim (Bala-Usman).”
The youths, speaking through their counsel, E. O Obunadike, further condemned the suspension of Bala-Usman, describing it as unlawful, illegal, and unconstitutional as the NPA boss was suspended from office without constitutional rights to fair hearing as enshrined in Section 36 of the 1999 Constitution as altered.
Obunadike said the suspension of Bala-Usman contravened the Approved Disciplinary Procedure Against Chief Executive Officers of Federal Government Parastatals, Agencies, and Departments approved by President Buhari on May 2020.
He urged Buhari and Malami to immediately intervene in what he termed the flagrant breach of the fundamental rights of Bala-Usman.