The Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority(NPA), Ms Hadiza Bala Usman, may have stoke the fire of discord with Senator Hope Uzodinma, the Chairman , Senate committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff and Marine Transport over her cancellation of the multi-million dollar Calabar channel dredging contract believed to worth $21.5billion.
In 2014, Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited, believed to be owned by the Senator, signed a contract agreement to dredge the approach to Calabar port.
The contract,which was later found not to have followed due process, was given to a third party vehicle company, the Calabar Channel Management (CCM).
However, when Ms Hadiza resumed duties as the new NPA MD, she pored over the books of the contract agreement and discovered that not only was the contract not won through competitive bidding, but no job was actually done.
“When she discovered that there was fraud in the execution of the contract, she ordered that further payments should be stopped”
“It is also true that she invited the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) when she discovered that the dredging contract was not carried out.
“It is true that there were protests from the contractor; they wrote to the Minister of Transport kicking against the stoppage, but madam (NPA MD) also wrote to the Minister detailing the various underhand dealings in the contract”, a top NPA source claimed.
In her memo to the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Ameachi on why she refused to pay the contractor, Hadiza detailed how Messrs Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited not only refused to carry out any dredging, but how the contract did not meet procedures.
In one of the memos, the NPA MD told the Minister that “all efforts to find details of dredging activities for the period during which CCM claimed to have dredged Calabar Access Channel (November 2014 to January 2015) proved abortive”.
“The Harbour Master and port Hydrographer during the period stated that they were unaware of any dredging undertaken by CCM during the period. Further, there was no communication between the company and the Port Management on their purported dredging activities during the period”, the NPA MD stated in her memo to the Minister.
Consequently, request for payment of another tranche of $21m was refused by the NPA MD.
That signalled the trouble for Hadiza who innocently thought she was sanitising the highly compromised dredging contract arrangement with the Joint venture partners of the NPA.
However, the miffed Senator Uzodinma was not amused by the refusal of Ms Hadiza to honour another tranche of $21m invoice presented by his company on Calabar dredging and waited for the opportunity to hit back.
However, the opportunity came when his Committee was mandated to probe the activities of the alleged cabal in the port industry who allegedly looted 30trillion in the port in the past years.
According to the Chairman of the committee, Senator Uzodinma, 282 vessels in the custody of NPA were discovered missing between 2010 and 2016.
The committee Chairman, while chastising Usman who was summoned to appear before the Committee, gave NPA four working days to explain the circumstance behind the missing vessels or the committee would be forced to treat the matter as economic crime.
“We are looking for these vessels. We have the dates of arrival, the ports of discharge and the manifests. Everything is with us, but information available to us is that no money was collected by either the Nigeria Customs Service, the NPA or any other person.
“So, you have four days to do your written explanation, otherwise we will consider it a financial crime.
“There are also recent missing vessels that we discovered; I mean recent ones that happened under the new management. The NPA is the custodian of the vessels, it received the cargoes and the terminal is theirs. We want to know under whose authority the cargoes were released.”
But the NPA management fired back, describing the claims of the Committee as spurious and bogus.
The NPA management, through a statement signed by Ibrahim Nasiru, the spokesman of the agency, inferred that the information given in the query was largely bogus and repetitious which lacks clarity.
”On Thursday, July 20, 2017, the Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff handed over documents containing a list of 29 items which are a combination of vessels and details of individual Bill of Ladings of consignments carried by different vessels to representatives of NPA for review.
”On July 24, 2017, the NPA received another set of ten volumes of items numbering 1-1252 alleged to have been transported by vessels said to have called at the NPA. This was delivered to the Authority by the Nigerian Shippers Council on the instructions of the Senate Committee.
”The NPA has reviewed the documents as requested by the Committee and has made the following discoveries:
”Of the 29 items handed over to the NPA on July 20, 2017, only five vessels were identifiable. We discovered that the other 24 items are repetitions of the five vessels that were identified. A report to this effect with relevant supporting documents evidencing payment of all charges for the five vessels has been forwarded to the Senate Committee as requested.
”Concerning the ten volumes of items numbering 1-1252 handed over to the NPA by the Nigerian Shippers Council, the NPA was unable to conduct a meaningful review as the documents did not provide the data that will enable verification.
”For the purpose of clarification, the documents provided did not have the following:
No vessel names were provided
No dates of arrival of the vessels were given (This makes it impossible for us to establish links with the manifest, bill of lading and consignee)
No port of call and name of terminal where vessel berthed were provided
No rotation number of vessels was supplied.
”The Authority has conveyed these observations to the Senate Committee and looks forward to receiving the required information to enable full investigation.
”On the whole, the NPA restates its commitment to every single effort aimed at sanitising operations at the ports and will co-operate with all stakeholders and arms of government in the achievement of same”, the NPA submitted.
“How can they say 282 vessels just disappeared at our ports? Is that possible at this age? With all the technology we have at the ports?
“These are just mere allegations, until they prove it, we consider such as mere allegations. With the technology system that we currently have at our ports; our Tracking system, our Command and Control and Communication System; how can vessels just disappear like that? .It’s just a subject of controversy.
“The MD is not having any sleepless nights over this. Everybody is sleeping like babies. The people that are insinuating, let them come and prove that vessels disappeared from our ports”, Ibrahim Nasiru, who is a Principal Manager in the Corporate Affairs of the NPA, further clarified.
Industry Commentator however accused the Uzodinma- led Committee of witch- hunt.
”It was a way of getting back at the woman for her refusal to pay the bogus amount his company was asking for a job which the NPA discovered was not carried out”, a shipping operator alleged.
”Are these vessels they claimed were missing spirit? It was a figment of their imagination, that vessel disappear is not true. We have vessels tracking, command and control technology so how will it disappear. The story was a recycled story that was carried many years ago and someone went to dig it up to settle a score.
“He was bringing it up because of CCM. We should ask why as a Senator he is the chairman of a company where he is using his position to intimidate people”, another NPA source interjected.
Calabar port dredging contract has been as controversial as it has become a honey pot for contractors over the years.
The contract for the dredging of the Calabar port channel was first awarded at the initial cost of N3billion in 1996, but it was later re-awarded in 2006 at $56 million. The Federal Government awarded yet another contract in November 2014 at N20billion to complete the project. It remains uncompleted till date.
The contract for the dredging of the Calabar port channel, which was signed by the NPA, the Bureau of Public Enterprise (BPE) and the Calabar Channel Management, was for the channel to be dredged up to 9.8 meters.
It was learnt that Rotimi Amaechi had in 2016 directed the Managing Director of NPA to carry out a review of the works that had been done on the dredging of Calabar channel and to ascertain if the contract was actually carried out.
Hadiza had confirmed that the government is no longer making use of the Calabar channel management company in carrying out dredging of the channel. She equally disclosed that government is also probing the emergence of the Calabar Channel Management as a company, to ensure that due diligence was followed and to ensure that there was competition and transparency in the setting up of the joint venture company.
However, the battle line is drawn between the two gladiators who are engaged in an eye-ball to-eye-ball confrontation and time will tell who blinks first.