Abuja, Lagos — The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on Monday demanded for the immediate sack and prosecution of the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and the suspended Managing Director of the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala-Usman.
The call by the opposition party for a new approach to the crisis at the NPA came hours after Amaechi inaugurated the administrative panel he set up to probe Hadiza Bala-Usman.
Some analysts were of the opinion that an administrative will amount to a waste of time, insisting that even the composition leaves much to be desired.
The minority caucus in the House of Representatives agreed with this observation, saying the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) must do its work of unravelling financial malfeasance in government instead of allowing the political class to reduce a serious financial misconduct to the normal ritual of setting up a committee that will not lead to anywhere.
Amaechi, Hadiza must come out clean
The PDP in a statement by its spokesman, Kola Ologbondiyan, said the alleged looting of over N165 billion at the NPA must be thoroughly investigated by the EFCC which is saddled with such responsibility.
"The party also asks the transport minister to come clean on his reported connection in the alleged involvement of his wife, Mrs Edith Amaechi in the exposed N48 billion contract scam currently rocking the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
"The foul stench of corruption oozing out of the NPA, NDDC and other agencies of government in the last six years has shown that our MDAs have become the cash cows and Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) of greedy leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) and their cronies in government in their unbridled looting of our patrimony under President Muhammadu Buhari's watch.
"Our party asserts that the fact that it took the minister a clear six years (2016 to 2021) to query the NPA managing director over the alleged looting of N165 billion unremitted operating surplus of the agency, which is under his purview, is suspect and raises public belief that he (Amaechi) only acted apparently to shied himself after indicting audit documents had already been exposed.
"This is in addition to reports from the office of Auditor General, which also unearthed the looting of unremitted deduction to Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) amounting to N3,667,750,470; $148,845,745.04, Euro 4,891,449.50 and £252,682.14 under the suspended NPA Managing Director and Amaechi's ministerial supervision," the PDP said.
Minority caucus tells EFCC to join probe
On its part, the Minority Caucus in the House of Representatives called for the involvement of the Economic and other Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the investigation process.
In a statement signed by the House Minority Leader, Ndudi Elumelu, on Monday, the lawmakers insisted that a huge economic crime against the nation should not be left to an administrative panel of inquiry, but committed to an anti-graft agency like the EFCC for an independent investigation.
The lawmakers stated that they were concerned that the alleged NPA looting was committed to an administrative panel, saying that political manipulations and partisan influences had taken precedence over what should have been a system-wide investigation into a monumental fraud.
"Our caucus holds that the mere suspension of the indicted Managing Director of the NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, and the resort to an administrative panel of inquiry even after the report by the Supervising Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, exposed an unremitted and possibly diverted operating surplus of N165 billion, amounts to romancing and perfuming corruption by the APC-led Federal Government.
"The minority caucus also believes that the recourse to an administrative instead of a full-scale criminal investigation can only serve as a decoy to shield some other APC government officials involved in the looting spree at NPA and other affiliated agencies in the transport sector."
The caucus said as representatives of the people of Nigeria, they were worried about the alleged monumental lootings going on at a time terrorists, bandits, unknown gunmen, and criminal militias were wreaking havoc across the length and breadth of the country and life has consequently become the cheapest article in the country.
"We imagine that such resources if channeled to the security sector and well managed would have made a world of difference in addressing the problem of insecurity in the country.
"It is a shame that a party that came to power with the promise to fight corruption, build the economy, and fight insecurity has ended up destroying whatever gains that were made before it came to power," the caucus said.
The contentious probe c'ttee
Daily Trust reports that President Muhammadu Buhari had on May 6, 2021, approved the recommendation of Amaechi for the setting up of an Administrative Panel of Inquiry to investigate the Management of the NPA. In line with this, the transportation minister on Monday inaugurated the 11-member committee drawn from his ministry and the Office of the Head of Service of the Federation that will investigate the alleged shortfall in operating surpluses by the NPA under the leadership of suspended Hadiza Bala- Usman.
The Chairman of the committee is Mr Auwalu Suleiman, the Director Maritime Services and Co-Chaired by Mr Ben Omogo, Director, Organisation Design & Development (OHCSF).
Amaechi, while inaugurating the committee in Abuja, charged the members to be diligent and ensure they do a thorough job.
The committee's terms of reference, he said, include examining and investigating the administrative policies and strategies adopted by the embattled Hadiza Bala-Usman and confirm compliance with extant laws and rules from 2016 till date. He said the committee should also "Examine and investigate issues leading to the termination of other contracts of NPA and confirm compliance with the terms of the respective contracts, court ruling and presidential directives.
"Examine and investigate compliance with communication channel, as obtained in the public service.
"Examine and investigate the procurement of contracts from 2016 to date.
"Come up with suggestions and advice that would strengthen the operations of NPA and forestall such occurrences in the future.
"And any other matter that may be necessary in the course of the assignment."
Though the names of other members of the committee were not made public at a time observers were raising eyebrows on whether they would be fair to all, Amaechi said during the inauguration that the investigation "is part of the mandate of the ministry to oversee activities of its various parastatal agencies."
He said: "This is in the discharge of our responsibility as a ministry and I don't see why anybody is complaining. What is wrong in looking at what is happening in NPA? I don't see what is wrong in that. As the minister of transportation for four years, I hardly know what is happening and I want to know now.
"The president agrees with me that it is my responsibility as minister to find out what is going on. It worries me that people are saying we should not ask questions. Nobody has been indicted. It is just, can we know what is going on in NPA? That's the question," he said.
Daily Trust learnt that the panel is expected to focus on N165.32 billion alleged to be unremitted to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) by the NPA management under her leadership.
The panel is also expected to look into the issue of award of contracts by the agency.
Other allegations include awarding Cargo Surveys Contracts to unqualified companies and to self through her elder brother, identified as Attahiru and acolytes for 10 years.
It has also been alleged that under the watch of Hadiza Bala-Usman, the Corporate Social Responsibility projects of the agency were allegedly turned into a jamboree and avenue for the indiscriminate award of inflated contracts in contravention of Procurement Laws and Extant Financial Rules and above the MD's Financial Limits.
It was said that some of the projects were awarded indiscriminately and not as palliatives to communities impacted by port operations.
Hadiza is also accused of allegedly misleading the Board into approving promotions for selected officers over their seniors through improper placement and promotion in contravention of the federal government circular referenced FC.6243/S.1/Vol.XV111/5 of 28th May 2010 and the presidential directive conveyed vide letter referenced PRES/30-1 dated 20th September 2004.
Hadiza denies allegations
The embattled MD has denied the allegations against her in a letter to the Chief of Staff to the President, Amb. Ibrahim Gambari, dated May 5.
She said the figures provided by the Budget Office of the Federation as the operating surplus for the respective years on which basis they arrived at the shortfall were derived from the submission of budgetary provision and not the actual amounts derived following the statutory audit of the authorities' financial statements.
She said remittances of audited financial statements of the authority for the period 2017 and 2018 provided operating surpluses of N76.782 billion and N71.480 billion for 2017 and 2018, respectively, contrary to the sums of N133.084 billion and N88.79 billion arrived at by the office from the budgetary submission.
Probe good for Nigerians - Expert
An economist, Tope Kolade Fasua, has said that the ongoing probe of the revenues and remittances of the NPA is good for Nigerians.
"I think it is good that this is happening no matter that it shows that the government is against itself and all of these conflicts that have happened, which is not the first time. Such conflicts have always been happening," he said.
Fasua, who is a member of Daily Trust's Board of Economists, said if money has been found missing under Hadiza Bala Usman, the money must be found.
He called for an expanded probe to other government-owned enterprises, parastatals and departments that may be collecting revenues on behalf of the government and mismanaging the way they have always done.
"NPA has always been very notorious for that. Before now, they are the kind of organisations that will tell you they spent 99 percent of everything they collected on behalf of the government and the people of Nigeria on a given year on themselves.
"We thought that under Hadiza Bala-Usman things had improved, but invariably it hasn't improved well enough," he said.
He observed that the federal government did not keep its promise to feature government-owned enterprises (GOEs) such as the NNPC and the NPA in the 2021 budget for transparency.
"What is most important for me is that in the 2021 budget, the government promised that government-owned enterprises (GOEs) will be featured in the 2021 budget and going forward. Recently, when the NNPC said they won't be able to make any remittance, I was also wondering why some of the major collectors of revenues for the government like the NPA and others are not already featuring," he said.
On the disagreements among key government players on the ongoing probe in the NPA, Fasua said, "Sometimes this kind of things work for the people of the country. We hope that we will see this to a logical conclusion. The public should add some more fire to know the real truth of what has happened."
Chris Agabi, Balarabe Alkassim, Hamisu K. Matazu, Francis A. Iloani & Eugene Agha