A former Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, in a book published on Tuesday, has said that President Mohammadu Buhari told her that the former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi had requested for her sack as MD of NPA twice before her final removal from office.
This is even as the former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, in an exclusive chat with the Nigerian Tribune, revealed that his own book detailing how things transpired between him and Hadiza Bala Usman will soon be published anytime soon.
According to excerpts of Hadiza Bala Usman’s book, titled “Stepping on Toes: My Odyssey at the Nigerian Ports Authority” which was obtained by the Nigerian Tribune on Tuesday, the former NPA MD explained how the former Minister of Transportation hurriedly pushed for the reconstitution of the Governing Board of the NPA, without putting into consideration geo-political balancing.
According to Hadiza Bala Usman, under the sub-topic: ‘Reconstitution of the NPA board’; the former NPA MD stated that, “As Chief Executive Officer of the Nigerian Ports Authority, every day came with a different issue. By the beginning of 2020, we were approaching our fourth year in office and had acclimatised to the turbulent environment.
“The year 2020 however came with a peculiar challenge, with the COVID-19 Pandemic disrupting business activities globally. But the maritime sector had a critical role to play in fighting the pandemic. Supplies needed to be transported. Anyone familiar with maritime activities knows that it is a 24-hour industry. While our administrative offices were closed, the ports remained open for operations.
“Two weeks before the Federal Government declared a full lockdown in Nigeria, there was a significant development at the NPA. Out of the blue, we learnt about the approval by the President for the reconstitution of the Governing Board of the Authority.
“The announcement of the replacement of the board that was appointed in 2016 raised a lot of concern in the industry. However, the Act provided for a four-year term for Board members and Executive Directors, while the Managing Director/CEO had a five-year term.
“On 10 March 2020, the appointment of a new governing board for the NPA with Mr. Akin Ricketts as Chairman was announced.
“He replaced Mr. Emmanuel Adesoye, who had been Chairman since 2016. The Minister also appointed Mr. Ghazali Muhammed, Sen. John Akpanudoedehe, Sen. Binta Masi Garba, Alh. Mustapha Dutse and Abdulwahab Adeshina. The Minister announced the renewal of the appointment of two of the three Executive Directors and members of the Executive Management team whose tenure should ordinarily expire in July 2020. Mr. Muhammed Bello Koko, Executive Director, Finance and Administration and Prof. Idris Abdulkadir, Executive Director, Engineering and Technical Services were retained. Dr. Sekonte Davies, Executive Director, Marine and Operations was removed and replaced with Mr. Onari Brown.
“A few weeks after the appointment of the new board, Nigeria went into the COVID-19 lockdown. This made familiarisation between the Executive management and board members a bit challenging. Remote work became the order of the day and most meetings held virtually. We however managed to keep the NPA running.
“Along the line, the #ENDSARS protests broke out. On 21 October 2020, hundreds of miscreants marched on the Marina Headquarters of the Nigerian Ports Authority, vandalised the building and set a substantial part of the premises on fire. During the assessment of damage afterwards, it became clear that the Authority suffered damages running into billions of Naira.
“Vehicles belonging to the Authority and some of its staff were burnt, as well as a part of the building. Most offices on the sixth floor were vandalised and equipment taken away, but my office seemed to have been targeted. After destroying everything within sight in the ante room and inner office, the attackers took my seat away, which made it appear as if the vandals were on a special mission.
“Of the four photographs hanging in the waiting area of the NPA headquarters, the photographs of President Buhari and myself were damaged by the assailants. The other two of the Minister, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi and Minister of State, Senator Gbemisola Saraki were left untouched.
“Weeks went by after the incident and we settled down to work, I took time to ruminate on the events of 21 October and could not help but conclude that some people used the cover of the widespread protests to target the NPA, the MD of the NPA and also to embarrass the Federal Government.
“In my private moments during the weeks following, it occurred to me that the attack on the NPA may have been a direct reaction to exclusion of the South-West and South-East from the new board appointments.
“From my analysis of the distribution of the people on the governing board and executive management at this time, three (including the chairman) were from the South-South, three were from the North-East, three (including the Managing Director) were from the North-West, one person was from the North-Central while the South- West and South-East had no representation at all.
“A few weeks after the attack on the NPA, I secured an appointment to see President Buhari at the Presidential Villa in Abuja.
“After exchanging pleasantries, I brought him up to speed about the attack on the NPA and he asked how we had fared in the aftermath. I told him my suspicions about what might have motivated the apparently targeted attacks. He expressed surprise at the zonal imbalance and asked if it had always been like that. I reminded him that he had approved the dissolution of the board earlier in the year which had as its chairman a person from the South-West but still no representation from the South- East and approved the appointment of a new board in accordance with the request of the Minister. I also indicated that there was a chance that the Minister planned to nominate someone from the South-West as Managing Director since my tenure was due to expire in June 2021 just about seven months away to create a balance of having a South-West person on board.
“The President expressed surprise that my tenure would soon expire. He informed me that the Minister had requested for my removal on two occasions but that he intended to retain me at the NPA until the end of his administration. He asked who the immediate past Chairman was, and I told him it was Mr. E. O. Adesoye, who retired as a Director at Exxon Mobil and was reportedly nominated by Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu.
“I explained to him that the former Chairman’s experience as an accountant was of tremendous value to the Authority and had helped immensely in our bid to clear the backlog of unaudited financial accounts that we inherited.
“He then directed the Chief of Staff (COS), Prof. Ibrahim Gambari who was at the meeting to work on the reconstitution of the board of the NPA to have representatives from every geo-political zone. He also directed that my reappointment should be brought to him so he could approve.
“Upon exiting the office of the President, I told the Chief of Staff (COS), that Mr. Adesoye was from Ekiti State so he could engage stakeholders in the state to verify. I added that I would like to recommend Mr. Ekenyem Nwafor-Orizu, a loyal party member from Anambra State who chaired the transparent primary election committee that saw the emergence of Mallam Nasir el-Rufai as Governor of Kaduna State as nominee for the South-East. I suggested that he could contact Mallam el-Rufai, Senator Osita Izunaso, and other stakeholders to verify.
“As it turned out, the Chief of Staff prepared a memo for the reconstitution of the board, and the request for my reappointment as directed by the President, and they were approved at the same time.
“On 21 January 2021, Mr. Femi Adesina issued a press release announcing the President’s approval of my re-appointment as Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority for a second five-year tenure. He also approved the reconstitution of the Board of the NPA with Chief Adesoye (from South-West zone) as Chairman. Other members of the Board included: Mr. Ekenyem Nwafor-Orizu (South-East zone), Mr Akinwunmi Ricketts (South-South zone), Mr. Ghazali Mijinyawa (North-East zone), Mr. Mustapha Dutse (North-West zone), and Mr Abdulwahab Adesina (North-Central zone). The board now reflected an even geographical spread.
“Although the President had indicated that he would approve the renewal of my appointment, I was surprised that it came so early. I had thought that even if it would happen at all, it would be much closer to the date of the expiration of my first term in June.
“More significantly, I had the feeling that the Minister would succeed in replacing me. Apart from the President, two other people had told me that the Minister wanted me out of office, so I was not optimistic about my reappointment. I recall that when I got into my office on 4 January that year, some of my colleagues gathered to felicitate me on my birthday which had been two days earlier.
“While in my office, I told them that we needed to start preparing my handover notes. I wanted to be prepared for anytime the Minister chose to appoint another Managing Director. However, sixteen days later, the reappointment was announced quite unexpectedly.
“Congratulatory messages poured in from everywhere. And as soon as I heard the news, I called the Minister to inform him about it and thank him for the opportunity to serve. He did not take my call then and in the following months up until my suspension. I later heard that he was furious at my reappointment.
“Apart from wanting me out of office, he was also angry that the President reconstituted the board without his input as the Act required. He blamed me for this oversight and vowed to deal with me for the perceived slight. So, it was not surprising when on 25 March 2021, a group of “concerned stakeholders” filed a suit at the Federal High sitting in Lagos, challenging President Buhari’s decision to re-appoint me. The suit challenged the powers of President Buhari to take “lawfully” and “prematurely” that step six months before the expiration of my first term.”
when contacted for his response to the allegations made by the former NPA MD, the immediate past Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi told our Correspondent that he will soon release his own book detailing the true pattern of development.
In the words of the former Rivers State Governor, “Ask her (Hadiza Bala Usman) whether she can stand the truth which will also come out in my book