Amid disputation of impropriety, Hadiza Bala Usman was on Wednesday told to step aside as the Managing Director of the Nigeria Port Authority, a post she had held since 2016.
Usman, who has a stint in the public service, had occupied key positions in government including being a senior officer at the Bureau of Public Enterprises and a chief of staff to the incumbent Governor of Kaduna, Nasir El-Rufai in 2015. This made her familiar with the power blocs in the political sphere. The fact that she is a Fulani woman from Katsina, the home-state of President Muhammadu Buhari, who has a track record of shielding his loyalists, also dazed on-lookers.
“President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the recommendation of the Ministry of Transportation under Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi for the setting up of an administrative panel of inquiry to investigate the Management of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA,” the president’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, said, announcing her suspension.
According to Mr Amaechi, the yearly remittance of the agency dwindled under her watch with over 165 billion naira unremitted.
“In view of the above, I wish to suggest that the financial account of the activities of Nigerian Ports Authority be investigated for the period 2016 to 2020 to ascertain the true financial position and the outstanding unremitted balance of one hundred and sixty five billion, three hundred and twenty five million, nine hundred and sixty two thousand, six hundred and ninety seven Naira only (N165,320,962,679),” a leaked memo from the minister to the Presidency, read.
Beyond the fiscal reasons, these are the issues that culminated into the sack of Usman, an ally of the Presidency who wielded so much power in the maritime sector.
Fall out with Amaechi
Nigeria has a long history of political appointees clashing with their superiors in government and in most, the latter prevails over the former.
It happened in the case of Nasiru Ladan, former Director-General of National Directorate of Employment (NDE), whose path crossed with that of his then boss, Festus Keyamo, the state minister of Labour and Employment. Mr. Ladan was later ousted from office and replaced with Abubakar Nuhu Fikpo.
The same appears to have occurred in Usman’s case, who served alongside Amaechi in the Buhari campaign organisation.The relationship between the two hit the brink when Usman refused the renewal of certain contracts against the wish of her boss. This infuriated Amaechi who found Hadiza too influential to be controlled.
The Minister was however dumbstruck when she got a second term in 2019, against his wish. In consternation, Amaechi drew the battle lines.
‘Romance’ with Dangote
The close relationship between Usman and Aliko Dangote, Africa’s richest and a major player in the maritime industry, also culminated into her sack, sources reveal.
Using her office, the former MD afforded Dangote an edge over other competitors, revoking licences and terminating contracts in favour of her ‘friend’. This brought her into the bad books of companies like INTELs and many others who felt cheated. For instance, in 2019, she spearheaded the decommissioning of BUA Ports Terminals in Port-harcourt, despite court injunctions against such.
Also, in 2020, she confiscated some terminals formerly operated by Integrated Logistics Services’ (INTELs) in Onne ports complex, Rivers state and subsequently awarded them to Dangote through a proxy company, International Container Terminal Services (ICTS) Nigeria limited. Meanwhile, in January, a Nigerian newspaper, Peoples Gazette, uncovered how Dangote transferred N200 million to a bank account run by Usman during the build up of the 2015 general election.
The transactions were sent in two tranches from two different bank accounts of the Africa’s richest man to Ms. Bala Usman’s account with Access Bank, the newspaper reported.
“Ms. Bala Usman received the first N100 million transfer on February 6, 2015; while the second N100 million came through three days later on February 9. The transfers carried ambiguous descriptions that made it difficult to conclude their purpose.”
While both parties failed to clarify the transactions, many have posited that it brings to question the integrity of the former NPA MD.
Criticism of Buhari government
Despite serving under the current administration, Usman has publicly criticised the government, an action condemned by Buhari’s loyalists. She is the co-founder of the Bring Back Our Girls (BBOG) campaign, a group at the forefront of the advocacy for the release of the Chibok girls kidnapped in 2014.
But years after, it appears Usman was oblivious of the fact that she is now a government official, calling out her principal on social media.
“The state of insecurity in the country that has led to the kidnap of Kagara boys and Zamfara girls need to be addressed URGENTLY…We can’t go on like this! Rescue our children and Secure our country that’s all we ask ���…#SecureNorth #SecureNigeria,” she wrote in February over the worsening security situation in the country.
With no inkling of what the outcome of the investigation would be, no one can say for certain whether the former NPA MD will be recalled or not.