By Kenneth Jukpor
The suspension of the Managing Director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Hadiza Bala-Usman onThursday last week has elicited more skepticism as due process was jettisoned in her suspension.
Most online sources have been awash with allegations of financial misappropriations following the dissemination of a letter from Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Amaechi to the President, titled; “Remittance Of Operating Surplus To The Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) Account By Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) from 2016 – Date” which indicted the NPA Managing Director of outstanding unremitted balance of over N165billion for the period 2016 to 2020.
Bala-Usman said that contrary to the figures given by the budget office as outstanding operating surplus, the NPA had remitted all that was due to the CFR — as stipulated in the fiscal responsibility Act of 2007.
Meanwhile, concerns have been raised over the singling out of Bala-Usman for suspension when financial infractions couldn’t have been carried out by Hadiza without the endorsement of the Executive Directors who were appointed to provide checks and balance.
Speaking to our correspondent on the condition of anonymity, a maritime expert said, “If Hadiza is said to have committed monetary infractions, shouldn’t it be a collective responsibility? When you look at the issue critically, isn’t the Executive Director, Finance, Mr. Mohammed Koko the person who makes disbursement and should vet financial dealings of NPA? Why was he and other Executive Directors exempted from the suspension?”
“Are we saying that Koko and other Executive Directors were not privy to her financial dealings? If the Executive Directors, especially the one incharge of Finance who appends his signature to all outgoing financial commitments, isn’t culpable, then there is more to this than we are being told.”
Meanwhile, leadership expert and Founder of Centre for Value in Leadership (CVL), Prof Pat Utomi argued that it would be inappropriate to comment on the issue without relevant information on the reasons that led to Hadiza’s suspension.
“I really don’t have sufficient information on this issue. I only got to know about this on the news media and there isn’t an explanation on the reason. It would be inappropriate for us to begin to analyse or comment without these facts,” Utomi told our correspondent.
However, a veteran maritime lawyer, Barr. Emmanuel Nwagbara noted that all officials linked to financial misappropriations should be suspended if the offence borders on finances.
According to Nwagbara, the exemptions to suspend the Managing Director alone is when the actions were done unilaterally, but such a scenario might be difficult, if not impossible in a public enterprise like NPA.
Nwagabra noted that the NPA boss could stand alone if the issues bothered on highhandedness, disregard for the Governing Board, Executive Directors or Supervisory Ministry.
Meanwhile, the suspension of the NPA negated due process as she was neither queried, nor was she made aware of the allegations against her management prior to her suspension by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, just abruptly announced on Thursday night that Buhari had approved the recommendation of the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, to set up an administrative panel of inquiry to investigate Usman’s management of the NPA.
However, the NPA Managing Director has revealed that she was not told what her offences were or formally communicated before her suspension was announced by the presidency.
Although she declined to comment further, she affirmed that she neither received a query nor a suspension letter.
The move to suspend her without a query or making her aware of her offence(s) is a clear breach of the processes stipulated in the government’s own regulation for disciplining heads of government agencies.
According to a government circular dated May 19, 2020, and endorsed by the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, when there is an issue of impropriety against the head of an agency, the federal government requires a Minister, through the Permanent Secretary of the supervising Ministry, to refer the matter to the Governing Board of the affected agency in line with its enabling law and chapters three and 16 of the Public Service Rules on discipline and government parastatals.
Part of the document read: “The Board shall in line with due process, issue him/her a query requesting an explanation with respect to the specific act(s) complained about. The Board shall forward its findings and recommendations to the Minister for further consideration and necessary action.”
According to the document, this procedure shall serve as a mandatory guide and all Ministers of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and any other Public Officer in similar supervisory position, are enjoined to strictly abide by it.
“For emphasis, on no account shall a Minister of the Federal Republic unilaterally or arbitrarily remove a sewing Chief Executive Officer, without recourse to the procedure contained in this Circular,” nevertheless, this has been flouted.