All is not well between the Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, Senator Hope Uzodinma and the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman.
SHIPS & PORTS DAILY findings reveal that the lingering face-off between the duo may not be unconnected with Bala Usman’s move to probe the activities of the Calabar Channel Management (CCM) and her refusal to honour a $21 million invoice from the company.
CCM, which is in charge of dredging Calabar Port, is a joint venture formed by NPA and a consortium of companies led by Niger Global Engineering & Technology Company Limited, owned by Uzodinma.
Speaking in an interview in Abuja recently, Bala Usman said her refusal to honour the $21 million invoice sent to NPA by CCM has drawn the ire of the promoters of the company.
Explaining the relationship between NPA and CCM, she said, “Basically, our dredging activities are being done through three channel companies. We have the Lagos Channel Management Company, the Bonny Channel Management Company and the Calabar Channel Management Company. They do our dredging works in terms of capital and maintenance dredging of the channels into Lagos, Bonny and Calabar.
“These companies are joint venture companies where the NPA has 60 percent and the technical partners have 40 percent. They were entered into in 2006 in the case of Lagos and Bonny channels while the Calabar Channel was entered into in 2013 and commissioned 2014.“
She said before her appointment, certain dredging work claimed to have been done by CCM was questioned by the former NPA management.
“They (CCM) had submitted invoices of $13 million in the first instance, the invoice was paid but upon payment, there was a petition and investigation by the EFCC questioning the validity of the dredging works that were done.
“The EFCC embarked on investigation and requested that bathometric forensic auditing is conducted to determine if indeed the dredging work happened because there where questionable positions around the dredging work that had been paid for.
“The NPA was mandated to engage a consultant to do the bathometric audit. I inherited that position. But I further received another invoice of $21 million from the same Calabar Channel stating they have done certain amount of work worth $21 million.
“We decided to constitute a committee to establish the validity of that claim. We did a detailed investigation, and the investigation provided a report, which stated that, we were not able to verify the dredging work claimed to have been done within the time stated.
“We stated the dredgers had come in without the notification of the authorities in Calabar. The report questioned the entire dredging work that was claimed by the company. We also recommend that the $21 million be subjected to forensic auditing as well,” Bala Usman said.
She further stated that NPA has established that the joint venture was entered into without following due process.
According to her, “The Bureau for Public Procurement had issued a memo to the then President (Goodluck Jonathan) stating that they had concerns with the technical partner of Calabar Channel Management Company.
“Also, the establishment of the company didn’t follow due process. This document was emphatic and it stated that the then President was misled about the company,” she said, adding that NPA management was “seeking the approval of our board to determine what we should do with the Calabar Channel”.
But Managing Director of CCM, Bart Van Eenoo, while speaking with newsmen on the matter, accused the NPA Managing Director of being “economical with the truth”.
“These are mere insinuations. They have no basis. The NPA MD is economical with the truth about the contract. The truth is that the NPA openly advertised for the establishment of a Channel Management Company for the Calabar navigation channel.
“Our company, Niger-Global Engineering & Technical Company Limited, duly bided and won the contract, leading to the establishment of Calabar Channel Management Limited, CCML, as a joint venture (JV) with the NPA on a 60:40 per cent equity,” Eeno said.
He also accused Bala Usman and her management team of shunning the company since she assumed office.
He said, “As a majority shareholder, the current management of the NPA has blatantly refused to hold any meeting with our company since it came aboard. But, it has been hobnobbing with, and speaking favorably about managers of other channels.”
He said the NPA management had instigated petitions against CCM, for which the company had been cleared. He also faulted claim by Usman that CCM was making claims for payment for jobs not done.
Eeno said, “With all these, I am not afraid to say that the recent petition against our company to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission alleging that we had not done any work, which necessitated an EFCC investigative panel to look into the contract, was instigated by the NPA.
“Despite that the EFCC certified that we actually worked, the NPA MD has been saying a different thing. How can anyone accuse our partners – Boskalis and Westminster Dredging, internationally acclaimed companies– of not doing a job they had satisfactorily executed, if not for mischief and ulterior motives?”
Hadiza Bala Usman has however accused the promoters of CCM and owners of Niger Global Engineering & Technology Company Limited of threatening her.
She said, “We have seen several layers of attacks from the promoters of the Calabar Channel Management Company even against our persons because of our position that the company didn’t follow due process.
“We also anticipate several layers of attacks on the ongoing investigation of their activities, but we have prepared ourselves to go the whole hog with the proponents of the Calabar channel. We are committed to unraveling the true position because we are sticking to the right thing.”
It will be recalled that last week, Senator Hope Uzodinma lashed out at the NPA management, accusing it of shunning his committee’s invitation over investigation of rice smuggling and of concealing information about ships that berthed at the nation’s seaports.
“We want Nigerian Port Authority to come and explain what happened to 282 vessels that disappeared from terminals.
“We have names of the releasing officers. This shows that there is no security at the terminal,” he said.
When Bala Usman and her team eventually appeared his Customs Committee on Thursday last week, he berated her for not honouring two earlier invitations of the committee and handed her a four-day ultimatum to “furnish the panel with details” of the missing vessels”.
He said, “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.”
And to be sure that she will not be able to pass the buck of the “missing vessels” to past NPA managements, Uzodinma emphasized that “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.”