My refusal to give a birthday gift to Amaechi made him removed me from office – Former NPA boss Hadiza Bala Usman
Hadiza Bala Usman, the immediate-past managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA, has claimed that one of the reasons why she was persecuted by a former minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, was her failure to give him a birthday present.
She made this allegation in her new book released on Tuesday, April 11, titled “Stepping on Toes: My Odyssey at the Nigerian Ports Authority”.
The former NPA boss wrote that many notable Nigerians met the minister in order to resolve the acrimony between them shortly after she was asked to “step aside” in May 2021.
According to her, the minister rejected entreaties from governors, Customs boss Hameed Ali and others to reinstate her, citing frivolous excuses of selfishness and failure to do “nothing for him”.
“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,” she wrote in the book.
“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.
“He told another person who tried to intervene that I was so selfish that did nothing for him from 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.”
In the book she also revealed how the minister attempted to rope her with bogus charges of non-remittance of operating surplus into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, noting that the probe panel at the end of its prolonged investigation never found her wanting.
She wrote: “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.
“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,” she wrote.
She said the former minister told her that he took the steps against her because he no longer wanted her in the office and asked that she resigned voluntarily or challenge her suspension in court.
“I told him I wasn’t going to do either especially now that the probe panel was in place,” the author wrote in the memoir. “The public service does not in fact accept resignations from staff under probe. I was convinced that doing either would make me appear guilty. I told him that I would rather wait for the panel to complete its task and present their findings, as I was sure I had done nothing wrong.”
Upon rejecting Mr Amaechi’s advice, Ms Bala Usman claimed that the former minister “then told me that he would ensure that the investigation went on until 2022 when political activities would have started, and the president would not remember that I was still on suspension. He said what mattered to him was that I was no longer the MD of the NPA.”