EXCLUSIVE: Amaechi soft-pedals on ‘unremitted’ N165bn claim, tackles Hadiza for ‘insubordination’
The war between Rotimi Amaechi, minister of transportation, and Hadiza Bala Usman, the suspended managing director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), has taken a turn, with the minister apparently dropping his claim that the agency did not remit an operating surplus of N165 billion to the consolidated revenue fund account (CFR).
A member of the administrative panel set up by Amaechi to probe Usman has told TheCable that the focus will now be “insubordination”.
“We are looking at two things. One, the suspended MD was in the habit of communicating directly with the president and bypassing the honourable minister. This is gross indiscipline and a breach of public service communication line. That is enough to get her sacked,” the member, who cannot be named, said.
“Two, the minister directed her to restore all Intels’ contracts that were suspended or terminated. What she didn’t know was that the president was in the know of it. She failed to comply. This is insubordination and she is not above discipline.”
However, TheCable learnt that Buhari withdrew his approval for the reinstatement of Intels’ contract after Usman wrote to the chief of staff, Ibrahim Gambari, to explain NPA’s position.
Gambari forwarded her response to Abubakar Malami, the attorney-general, for legal opinion.
Malami, TheCable understands, said the NPA was right and that no contracts were terminated or violated.
Buhari then withdrew his approval for the reinstatement of Intels’ contract and that is believed to have infuriated Amaechi, who accused Usman of insubordination.
He, nonetheless, was still able to get the president to approve Usman’s suspension and probe.
The insider further said: “If you look at the terms of reference properly, we are to examine and investigate compliance with the communication channel as obtained in the public service. Insubordination is not a small offence.”
The panel member accused Usman of bypassing the minister and dealing directly with the president despite a “clear reporting hierarchy”.
Asked about the N165 billion non-remittance claim, the member said: “Available evidence shows that the allegation may not be true… it is a mater of reconciliation of what the Budget Office thought should be the remittances with what the actual remittances should be.
“Since audits have been done over the years, there is obviously nothing more to that. It is not as if NPA’s monies are in private banks. Everything is with the CBN, so if there were no remittances, it is just about looking at NPA’s accounts with the CBN.”
Although the minister asked the eleven-member panel to “examine and investigate the procurement of contracts from 2016 to date” as part of the terms of reference, the source said it was going to be a “tricky job”.
“At NPA, any contract beyond N50 million for goods and services and N200 million for works are referred to the ministerial tenders board (MTB), which is headed by the permanent secretary of the ministry,” the insider said.
“If we go into probing contracts since 2016, we may end up probing the minister himself. About 70 percent of the contracts for capital projects go to the MTB, after which the minister presents them to the federal executive council (FEC), presided over by the president himself, for approval. We will check if all the procedures were followed, but I am personally not optimistic about that. The suspended MD, from indications, is a process person.”
A VERY PERSONAL WAR
Amaechi, who is one of the very few ministers with direct access to Buhari since 2015, has denied allegations that he is fighting a personal war with Usman, whom he nominated for the position in 2016 after working with her in the APC presidential campaign council.
Several reports have traced the “cold war” to the renewal of $1.5 billion channel management contracts in which the minister is said to have gone against a competitive bidding process in favour of companies nominated by him.
Amaechi has denied the allegation, insisting that he did not at any time seek to bypass the process.
However, he has recently been making a strong case for Intels, the ports logistics company which has several contracts with NPA.
Former vice-president, Atiku Abubukar, was a major shareholder in the company.
He has sold down his shares, complaining of a political witch-hunt.
Amaechi got the president to approve that all Intels’ contracts that were “terminated” by NPA be restored.
Gambari then wrote to Usman to ask for details on the contracts as highlighted by the minister.
‘INTELS CONTRACTS NOT TERMINATED OR SUSPENDED’
Usman, in her response to Gambari, denied that any contract was terminated or suspended.
Excerpts from her response read thus: “Concession agreement for Onne Terminal A and B in Rivers Ports, Rivers State – This Contractual agreement remains valid and has not been terminated. It commenced in 2005 and will come to an end in 2030 (Copies of the agreement attached herewith as annex 1).
“Concession agreement for Calabar Terminal A in Calabar Port, Rivers State – This Contractual agreement remains valid and has not been terminated. It commenced in 2005 and will come to an end in 2030 (Copy of the agreement attached herewith as annex 2).
“Concession for Warri New and Old Terminal, Delta Port, Delta State – This Contractual agreement remains valid and has not been terminated. It commenced in 2005 and will come to an end in 2030 (Copies of the agreement attached herewith as annex 3).
“Service Boat Operations Managing Agent – This contract commenced in June 2007 with a review of an extension of 10 years in 2011 to culminate in August. The Authority had in 2017 served INTELS with a notice of termination for its refusal to comply with the TSA policy of the Federal Government. Following the receipt of the termination notice, the Company complied with the Policy and a supplemental agreement was signed to recognize the compliance to TSA and the notice of termination was accordingly withdrawn. It is important to note that the agreement with INTELS on this service was not terminated but it reached the end of its contractual period in August 2020. In compliance with the Public Procurement Act, the Authority in Dec 2019 initiated a public tender process in anticipation of the expiration of the contract for the appointment a contractor to provide the Authority with that service. INTELS alongside other bidders submitted their bids to qualify for the tender in line with the criteria spelled out in the public advert. INTELS violated one of the criteria advertised for the tender process and was accordingly disqualified. The tender process proceeded accordingly and the companies that scored the highest were prequalified and the outcome of the transparent tender process was forwarded to the Federal Ministry of Transportation for onward transmission to the Federal Executive Council (FEC) for its consideration. We are still awaiting feedback from Federal Ministry of Transportation on concluding the tender process. It is pertinent to note that the Federal Government is losing revenue due to non-conclusion of the tender process to engage a contractor for the service as currently no one is providing the service and the Authority is not equipped to do that. Upon disqualification in the tender process, INTELS initiated a court suit against the Authority to prevent the Authority from proceeding with the tender process citing a debt owed one of their sister companies Deep Offshore Nigerian Ltd for the development of Onne 48 an amortization project whose payment will be derived from the revenue raised from this service (this contract is explained in item 5 below). They filed this suit knowing fully well that the two contracts are not linked in any way as there is no clause in any of the agreements which states that INTELS has to be the collecting agent to enable payment of the construction work for Onne 48 or any debt arising from it. What the contract states is that payment for the construction of Onne 4 B will arise from revenues of service boat operation which the Authority will continue to service irrespective of who the collecting agent is. (copies of the agreements, letter to FMoT on the tender process are attached herewith as annex 4).
“Construction of Onne 4 – This contract was signed in 2011 for the construction of Onne 4 which comprises of berths (9, 10, and 11), road networks and other infrastructure in Onne Port at a cost of $370.4 million USD. The payment for the construction work will be through amortization from revenues raised from the service boat operations. This contract commenced in April 2011 for a forty month period which is deemed expired and not terminated. The project works as detailed in the agreement was completed. (copy of agreement attached as annex 5).
“Construction of Onne 4B – This contract was signed in 2013 for the construction of Onne 4B which comprises of additional berths, dredging and reclamations, shore protection, road infrastructure in Onne Port at a cost of $2.79 Billion USD with a completion period of 6 years for the works and a concession of 25 years of the completed works to INTELS. The payment for the construction work will be through amortization from revenues raised from the service boat operations. The project works were suspended in 2017 with mutual agreement between the Authority and INTELS as there was a need to make payment for works that had already been done and payment not made which had become a huge debt burden to the Authority. The Authority then proceeded to reconcile pending certificates for work done to enable payment through the revenue source. This contract was suspended with mutual agreement not terminated. Following the expiration of the contract for the service boat operations, the Authority has confirmed to INTELS that it remains committed to discharge its debt obligations and will do so irrespective of the expiration of INTELS contract as service boat operations management agent. (copy of agreement attached herewith as annex 5).
“Utilization of berths 9, 10 and 11 – There was never a contractual agreement on relationship between the Authority and INTELS on the utilization of these berths. The Authority offered these berths for use to INTELS from 2013. In 2018 it was discovered that INTELS had not been making the payment for the use of the berths for the period of 5 years and was also not putting the berth to optimal use. The Authority requested for INTELS to make the payment for the use for the 5 year period it had been using the berth following which it withdrew the offer it had given INTELS for the use of the berth due to their attendant delay in making the requisite payments required and its lack of optimal use of the facility. It is pertinent to note that no agreement was signed with INTELS for the use of the berths but only an offer letter which was withdrawn. The Authority consequently offered the berths for use to an internationally renowned container handling company Messer International Container Terminal Limited for use of the berth for discharging container cargo which the Authority requires urgently in order to decongest Lagos Ports. The company has duly signed an agreement with the Authority for the use of the berths and has commenced installation of container handling equipment when INTELS filed a court suit against the Authority challenging the withdrawal of the offer for the use of the berths. We are currently in court on the matter.
“Managing Agent for the maintenance and operations of water supply at Onne – The Authority appointed INTELS to manage its water treatment plants at Onne Port in 2018 for a period of 5 years. This contract is subsisting and has not been terminated. (copy of agreement attached as annex 7).”