The immediate past Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, has disclosed how the former Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, orchestrated her removal from office in May 2021.
Usman, made the disclosure in her new book released on Tuesday, titled “Stepping on Toes: My Odyssey at the Nigerian Ports Authority”.
In the book, she noted that many prominent Nigerians, including governors and Nigeria Customs Services boss, Hameed Ali approached the former minister to secure her reinstatement, but he refused, citing frivolous excuses of selfishness and failure to do “nothing for him”.
She wrote, “interest groups and leaders of the All Progressives Congress (APC) also tried to intervene. I know for instance that Governors elected on the platform of the APC, the Progressive Governors Forum, chaired by Governor Atiku Bagudu deliberated on the issue of my suspension and constituted a committee to intervene.
“The Governors’ team met with the Minister to discuss a resolution of the matter. He insisted that my management of the NPA had to be investigated due to the amount unremitted to the CRF [Consolidated Revenue Fund]. He even tried to sway the governors’ resolve by suggesting that the budget of the NPA was bigger than most of their state budgets so they shouldn’t bother about me.
“When the governors persisted, he told them that the matter was no longer just within his purview and that they may need to approach the Head of Service of the Federation”.
The former minister added, “He told another person who tried to intervene that I was so selfish that I did nothing for the NPA and never even gave him a birthday present!
“The Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Col. Hameed Ali (Rtd.) also made efforts to resolve the issue by intervening at various levels.”
She further revealed in the book that Amaechi attempted to implicate her with bogus charges of non-remittance of operating surplus of the NPA into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, of which according to her, the probe panel at the end of its prolonged investigation never found her guilty of the allegations leveled by Amaechi.
She explained that “On 5 May 2021, I took an early morning flight to Abuja to honour an appointment. The meeting ended early enough for me to catch a 2pm flight back to Lagos. It was at this time that I learnt that the President had approved that I should step aside as MD on the recommendation of the Minister of Transportation.
“On arrival in Lagos, I went to the office at Marina to complete a letter explaining allegations of non-remittance of N165 billion operating surplus to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF), which the Minister had made against the NPA to the President.
“Unknown to me, in his determination to get me out of office, Mr. Amaechi had been fishing for a couple of months. In his desperation, he had approached the Director General of the Budget Office of the Federation, Mr. Ben Akabueze and obtained details of the NPA’s operating surpluses upon which he apparently arrived at the conclusion that the huge sum of money was unremitted.
“Without raising any queries about the matter with the NA, the Minister wrote to the President informing him of shortfalls in yearly remittance of operating surplus by the NPA between 2016 and 2020.
“He then concluded: In view of the above, I wish to suggest that the financial accounts of the activities of NPA be investigated for the period 2016-2020 to ascertain the true financial position and the outstanding unremitted balance of one hundred and sixty-five billion, three hundred and twenty million, nine hundred and sixty-two thousand, six hundred and Ninety-seven naira only (N165,320,962,697.00).
“He also sought Presidential approval that I ‘step aside from my position as Managing Director during the investigation, and that Mr. Mohammed Bello-Koko, Executive Director, Finance and Administration should act as Managing Director in the interim”.
Usman explained further, “Many Nigerians found the choice of Mr. Bello-Koko contradictory. They argued that as Executive Director, Finance and Administration, he should be found wanting if there are any financial infractions. People also wondered why I was the only one who was asked to ‘step aside, when the probe was purportedly, of the management of the Authority.
“To show that this was a deliberate ploy, the minister did not mention Mr. Bello-Koko’s designation as Executive Director, Finance and Administration in his memo to the President.
“Secondly, he asked in the memo that President Buhari’s approval should be communicated to him through the secretariat of the presidency. This was to ensure that the correspondence did not come to the attention of the Office of the Chief of Staff. The way the Minister went about his mission was curious.
“To start with, the Budget Office of the Federation was the wrong place to seek information about the frequency and accuracy of remittances from any government agency. The Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation was the appropriate place to have sought accurate information.
“I made this point in my letter to the Chief of Staff to the President in addition to providing details of the figures in question and the remittances made so far.”