The Senate, three weeks ago resolved to begin probe into the $3bn allegedly spent by the Nigerian Ports Authority on the dredging of Lagos, Bonny and Calabar water channels.
The move followed a motion titled, ‘Senate‘s Intervention to Urgently Stop Monumental Financial Recklessness and Economic Waste by the Nigerian Port Authority Under Its Joint Ventures, moved by Senator Ovie Omo-Agege (Delta Central) and co-sponsored by five others at the plenary.
The Joint Ventures are the Lagos Channel Management Limited, Bonny Channel Management Company Limited and Calabar Channel Management Company Limited. The Lagos Channel Management and the Bonny Channel Company were established in August 2005 for the management and routine maintenance dredging of Lagos and Bonny navigation channels, while the Calabar Channel Management Company Limited was established for the management and capital dredging of the Calabar channel.
But while the decision of the senate is a welcome one, investigations reveals that the target of the probe is the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, following the reforms she embarked upon since her assumption in NPA which is hurting the business interest of some ‘powerful people’.
At the heart of this vested interest is the chairman of the Chairman, Senate’s Joint Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff and Marine Transport, Sen. Hope Uzodinma.
Investigations revealed that Senator Uzodinma is the owner of Niger Global Limited, one of the venture partners for the Calabar Channel Management Company Limited.
Niger Global Limited has allegedly been the major beneficiary of its Joint Venture with the NPA as the company keeps collecting funds for the dredging of the Calabar water channel despite not executing the job at all or to its specification.
For example, the company, according to a very reliable source requested and was paid the sum of $13million under the management of the then Managing Director, Sanusi Ado Bayero as claims of cost expended in the dredging of the Calabar channel. This payment was made towards the end of the tenure of former president Jonathan even though the company never carried out the dredging exercise.
The company is also reported to have submitted another claim of $21million to the NPA, but the present management has refused to honour that claim because according to the source, there are no prove that Niger Global Limited which owns 40% stake in the Calabar Channel Management Company Limited carried out dredging of the channel.
The further added that the company in an attempt to justify its claim for the $21million engaged the services of an audit firm which it also pays from what is supposed to be the revenue owned by the Joint Venture to write a report certifying the dredging work on the Calabar water channel for which the company is claiming the fund for.
So the NPA, rather than make profit from the Joint Venture is spending out of its budgetary provisions to pay off debts incurred by the joint venture partner.
“The NPA despite being a major stakeholder in the joint venture is not carried along in the whole exercise. The company awards the dredging contract to itself, assess the work done by itself and then make claims as to what it should be paid, a source in the know said.
Although, the NPA owns 60% stakes in the three joint ventures, the way and manner the JV has being run in the past results to huge revenue loss to the authority as over 60% of its goes into dredging alone, the source added.
It was further gathered that out of over $70million that is supposed to accrue to the Joint Ventures as profit, the NPA only gets $2million as revenue even after it must have spend huge sums in servicing the operations of the Joint Venture.
“The Joint Venture is only a tool for the other partners to amass as much wealth as possible even though they were conceived to operate a public-private partnership (PPP) model and to reduce financial burden on the Federal Government,” the source added.
It is these challenges the NPA management under the leadership of its Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman identified and took immediate steps to address that has set her against key interests in the Joint Venture.
As part of the reforms the NPA under Ms Usman is carrying out, the organisation advertised for the Expression of Interests for “Consultancy Services for Dredging and Channel Design Optimisation Studies which will provide an accurate information on the depth and siltation levels of the channels and ultimately, guide the NPA in its next line of immediate and future actions on the channels.
The decision of the NPA to carry out this exercise according to the Principal Manager, Public Affairs, Ibrahim S. Nasiru will additionally provide a comprehensive review of the dredging practices currently adopted for the management of the Bonny/Port Harcourt Channel as well as the Calabar Channel and Lagos Channel.
“The NPA discovered that the cost of dredging of the channels has increased on yearly basis in the past and that the studies would provide guidance on specific measures to take to save cost,” Nasiru said.
But seeing that the new measures employed by the NPA management which also includes reviewing the terms and conditions of the Joint Venture agreement that has turned out to be a drain pipe for the NPA will affect his interest in the Calabar Channel Management Company Limited, Senator Hope Uzodinma who is allegedly the owner of Niger Global Limited operating the Joint Venture, championed the probe of the NPA under the guise of detecting waste in the agency.
However, our source revealed that the real reason behind the probe is to intimidate the NPA Managing Director, Hadiza Bala-Usman, whose reform in the NPA has unsettled many interests.
“We have it on good authority that Senator Uzodinma induced some senators particularly members of the committee on maritime transport with $10,000 each to probe the activities of the NPA under the management of Hadiza Bala Usman,” said the source.
He added that “even though they know that there is nothing really to probe on the tenure of the Managing Director, since most of the issues referred to occurred before she was appointed to head the organisation, the plan is to paint her black before the public so as to justify the calls for her removal as NPA boss.”
The source cited the recent order by Senator Uzodinma, asking the NPA MD to within four days, provide information about the whereabouts of over 282 vessels allegedly missing from the sea ports, failure of which the committee he chairs will be forced to pursue a financial crime case against her as a direct act of intimidation.
“We are looking for these vessels. We have the date of arrival, the ports of discharge and manifest.
“Everything is with us but in information available to us, no money was collected by Customs, the NPA or any other person.
“So you have four days to do your written explanation otherwise, we will consider it a financial crime,’’ he said.
Incidentally, Ms Usman had herself spoken on the issue of threat and intimidation she is facing in office. Speaking during a breakfast television show on TVC about two weeks ago, Ms Usman said “there have been circumstances where people have threatened me, but I confronted them and made them understand that I cannot be intimidated by anyone.”
As the senate embarks on this probe, we wait to see what the outcome would turn out to be. Curiously, the NPA welcomed the probe by the senate, saying it is in line with the determination of the authority to open its books for probity at all times.