The Minister of Transport, Mr. Rotimi Amaechi failed to mention the allegation of unremitted N165 billion levelled against the suspended Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) Managing Director, Hadiza Usman, between 2016 and 2020, to the federal government, a document detailing the query and responses on the matter has shown.
The document obtained by THISDAY from Ministry of Transportation sources indicated that rather, Amaechi, in the 20-point query issued to Usman, accused her of granting waivers to billionaire businessman, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, issuing exemptions to Neconde and bypassing him to communicate directly with the presidency.
But in a point-by-point response to the query, sent to the permanent secretary in the ministry of transport, copied the chairman, governing board, NPA, dated February 4, Bala-Usman explained that she remained innocent of all the accusations.
Several reports had alleged the non-remittance of N165.3 billion “operating surpluses” to the Federation Account by the NPA under Usman, a development that led to her suspension.
Amaechi, it was gathered, had thereafter written a memo to the president, recommending a ministerial investigation of the activities of the NPA under her. The administrative panel has since submitted its report.
But despite the much-talked-about N165 billion, the document mentioned waiver, rebates and tariffs granted by NPA without requisite approval in the query, accusing Bala-Usman of acting beyond her authority as MD/CEO of the NPA in taking and or approving the action.
“In 2019, you unilaterally granted a waiver to Dangote Cement Plc on applicable tariff for export of cement/clinker based on the company’s projections to export up to 5 million metric tons annually.
“The said waiver was discriminatory in nature as it was applicable to only one company operating in the sector and there was no justification as to why a selective approach was adopted,” the query read.
By virtue of another letter ref No: HQ/ED/M&OP/191 dated 23 March 2021, it stated that NPA clarified to Dangote Cement that the 2019, approval was actually meant to be applicable strictly to the export of clinker and not inclusive of cement.
By in another memo dated March, 31, 2021, the document had stated that the NPA decided to extend the waiver granted to Dangote to all companies in involved in the export of clinker, raising suspicion.
But in her response, Bala-Usman stated that the approval she granted for the reduction in applicable tariffs for the export of clinker was from the beginning granted to all exporters of clinker as contained in the directive noted in the memo dated June 18, 2019.
She added that she “minuted” the executive director, marine and operations to implement the recommendation for all clinker exports, stressing that based on the above, it was evident that there was no discrimination or selective approach in granting the waiver as all companies operating in the sector were granted the waiver.
Usman averred that the reason for the subsequent directive in March 2021 was because she noticed in a memo dated February 5, 2021, that the marine operations directorate had not acted in line with her directive which stated that the reduction in tariff was applicable to all the clinker export.
“ I therefore ‘minuted’ the following to the general manager, tariff and billing. The approval was for all clinker export to all companies,” she explained.
Another point of contention, according to the document, was that pursuant to a request by Neconde Energy Limited, Bala-Usman authorised vide letter dated February 28, 2019, granting an exemption to the company from the payment of cargo dues from vessels conveying waste waters derived from OML 42 to designated disposal zones.
But in her defence, Usman stated that the approval granted to Neconde Energy Ltd was based on a request made by the company stating that oil producing operations of the Nigerian Petroleum Development Company(NPDC) in partnership with the company at the facility, produced wastewater which was required to discharge at offshore.
“This operation of the movement of vessels to dispose wastewater at the designated locations are non-revenue generating, hence the ship dues for these non-economic cargo being at par with economic revenue generating vessels movements was considered unjustified.
“Hence, I granted the approval for the waiver to enable them effectively discharge the wastewater in line with Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) guidelines,” she pointed out.
In addition, Amaechi accused Bala-Usman of unilaterally granting a waiver without recourse to the Executive Management Committee (EMC) and or board of the NPA to Messrs Port & Terminal Operators Nigeria (PTOL) in respect of its outstanding indebtedness to the NPA in the sum of $100,985,846.83 as at September 2019.
He stated that the suspended MD further granted a waiver to enable the company pay 25 per cent of its contractual lease fees to the NPA, thereby leading to the loss of significant revenues to the federal government.
However, Bala-Usman said she did not unilaterally grant a waiver/downward review of 25 per cent and the lease fee to PTOL, but only implemented the approval/no objection granted by the ministry on the waiver/downward review of the 25 per cent on the lease fee as conveyed via letter dated June 11, 2015 with ref. T.3999/5.39/C.12/T1/366.
“Hence, I have not committed an act of misappropriation but only approved the implementation of a directive given by the Federal Ministry of Transportation. I am not aware of approving any waiver of the debt of $100,985,846.83, as at September 2019 to PTOL. Hence, I did not commit any act of misappropriation,” she added.
The document stated that in granting the waivers and rebate to the commercial entities, which led to substantial loss of government revenue, Bala-Usman did not make any recourse to nor seek the approval of the minister of transportation as well as finance, budget and national planning respectively.
In her response, Bala-Usman noted that she did not grant any waivers that will constitute a substantial loss of revenue to the government.
She contended that all waivers granted was to support the export of solid minerals (export of clinker and disposal of wastewater arising from crude oil exploration) which will in turn improve the foreign exchange earnings for the country.
“ The waivers granted are within the purview of the managing director and do not require the approval of the honourable minister,” she wrote.
Other issues the minister sought responses to included willful refusal to comply with an order of the Federal High Court in Suit No FHC/L/CS/785/2020 which restrained the NPA from giving effect to the engagement of managing agent for service boats in respect of the management of the pilotage.
However, Bala-Usman in her defence, said the NPA engaged the services of an external Counsel, Messers Banwo & Ighodalo which provided a legal opinion stating that the order could not prevent the Authority from carrying out its statutory functions.
Amaechi further accused the suspended NPA boss of wrongfully approving the issuance of a letter to BUA to convey the decision of NPA to decommission the Jetty at a time when she was aware of the pendency of a court order.
In her response, Bala-Usman stated that she took the action out of safety concerns after BUA wrote that the jetty was in a state of total dilapidation and in urgent need of repair or reconstruction and might collapse at any moment.
“The NPA would be an irresponsible organisation if it had disregarded this counsel and endangered the lives of Nigerians, more so, when the company that operates the jetty conveyed this concern in a letter to the Authority,” she affirmed.
On the issue of disregard for presidential directives for the resolution of the LADOL/Samsung dispute conveyed, Bala-Usman argued that after receiving the directive, she told the legal department to issue a notice of termination to Samsung on the lease granted them.
She added that this was to give rise to reinstating the premise back to LADOL in line with the presidential directive, as the Authority needed to terminate the lease it granted Samsung before it could reinstate it to LADOL.