Between Hadiza’s “Stepping on Toes” And Impunity: Revisiting The BUA Saga

Former NPA Managing Director Hadiza Bala-Usman

By Ibrahim Mohammed

I remember how Hadiza Bala Usman happened in Nigeria’s public sector as a special assistant to then Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Malam Nasir el-Rufai and was exposed during a senate committee’s public hearing on the FCT, during which the public was apprised of how she was being paid a whopping N1,000,000 monthly salary as far back as between 2003 and 2007 for her services as special assistant. She was not the only one. I think there were two others who qualified as el-Rufai’s special assistants to be so specially treated. There was so much ballyhoo about their monthly pay, but el-Rufai defended his action, stood his ground and the Senate could not do anything other than the spotlight it gave to the salary package, which Hadiza and others were preferentially paid.

When el-Rufai became governor of Kaduna State in 2015, he tapped and employed Hadiza as his Chief of Staff. It was from that position that she was recommended for appointment by the former Minister of Transportation, Hon. Rotimi Chibuike Amaechi in 2016, having worked under Amaechi as the Director General of the Buhari/APC Presidential Campaign Organisation in 2015. I have decided to begin my intervention by providing this history to establish a context within which I can draw comparisons and make deductions or inferences about the characters of Hadiza and el-Rufai, who, I am convinced obviously somewhat affected or influences her worldview. I may be wrong, though. It could be that el-Rufai identified his kind of traits in her and resolved that she was the kind of person he would like to work for him.

Two quick noticeable similarities ramify the dispositions of el-rufai and Hadiza as I skimmed through Hadiza’s odyssey at the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), in an account entitled: “Stepping On Toes”. I recalled that this book route was how her former boss, el-Rufai, declassified official engagements and decisions that were taken as Director General, Bureau of Public Enterprises and Minister of FCT in his chronicles entitled “Accidental Public Servant.” One, I cannot deny them the right to put together their memoirs in public office, if they have done so in line with the provisions of extant laws, rules or regulations. I am thinking of Official Secrets Act and declassification law in Nigeria, if there is one in the country.

Two, there is this streak of hot temperament that runs through the dispositions of the duo, which they had allowed to preponderate their administrative deportment. The demonstrated “hotheadedness” has only made analysts to characterize them as gadflies in government, whether rightly or wrongly. Now in the instant case of Hadiza, as I skimmed through Chapter 12 of her account, entitled “The Tango with BUA”, because I followed media report on it when it unfolded, the impression I got as a reasonable third party from the NPA-BUA duel was that of administrative impunity on the part of Hadiza’s leadership of the NPA. Now, in the account of Hadiza, BUA Ports and Terminals, a subsidiary of the BUA Group, got the concession to operate Terminal B at Rivers Port, Port Harcourt for 20 years beginning from 2006. The necessary agreements were signed to regulate the relationship and the attendant obligations.

Hadiza gave some fine details of the contractual agreement and some purported defaults on the part of BUA when the NPA team visited the Rivers Port in 2016 in the form of dilapidated state of infrastructure at the Terminal and the dangers that the state of berths and quays at the Terminal posed to the safety of users of the port, claiming, as it were, that the attention of BUA management had previously, on different occasions, been adverted to the state of dilapidation. Read her: “In fact, a notice of default had been issued to them dated 11 February 2016, which was prior to my appointment, and addressed to the General Manager BUA Ports and Terminal from the NPA, had the following subject: “Notice of default: Non-compliance with the reconstruction of Berths 5-8 in line with your terminal development plan as contained in your lease agreement.”

Hadiza claims that a year later, BUA did not take steps to make the terminal safer. Read her again: “Consequently, in November 2017, the Authority wrote BUA Ports and Terminal (as a follow up to the notice of default issued), to terminate the Agreement on grounds of their failure to rehabilitate/reconstruct the berths, which the NPA handed over eleven years ago.” Of course, BUA had its counter claims or narratives, which Hadiza laid out in her accounts, which were to the effect that BUA asked the NPA to fulfil its side of the Agreement as a precondition to its expected actions of emplacing infrastructure that would bolster safety of users of the port. To me, that was a reasonable claim on the NPA since it was supposed to keep fidelity with its own side of the agreement in satisfaction of some preconditions.

Expectedly, BUA instituted legal proceedings at the Federal High Court Lagos to protect its rights and investments from a rampaging administrative honcho. It got an injunctive order in 2018, restraining NPA from giving effect to the notice of termination. The court had also ordered the parties to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the terms of the Agreement. Hadiza says that the Authority then approached the London Court of Arbitration while BUA also filed a counter claim against the NPA. She claims in her narrative that aside from approaching the London Arbitration Court for a resolution of the conflict with BUA, the NPA complied with the injunction order of Court. According to her, “Between January 2018 when the injunction was granted and June 2019, BUA continued their operations unimpeded. In those 18 months, 117 vessels made up of liquid and dry bulk cargoes called at Terminal B of the Rivers Port.”

The NPA would, consequent upon a letter received from BUA Ports and Terminal Limited on May 16, 2019, adverting the attention of the Authority to the state of total dilapidation of the jetty at the terminal and the urgent need to repair or reconstruct it, go ahead to decommission the jetty at the terminal, resulting in claims by BUA Ports and Terminal that the action contravened the dispute resolution provisions of the agreement and violated the court injunction. The NPA and BUA engaged each other over the noncompliance with the court order by the Authority. Hadiza says that BUA Ports and terminal insisted that it was obligatory for the NPA to obey the court order. Whereas Hadiza says that the NPA obeyed the court order, BUA Ports and Terminal claims otherwise.
Who then is purveying the incorrect narratives? I got a piece of information from a grapevine that Hadiza was actually queried as Managing Director of the NPA and the crux of the query was that she wrongfully approved the issuance of a letter dated 17the June, 2019 addressed to Messrs. BUA Ports and Terminal Limited to convey the decision by NPA to decommission the jetty at a time when she was aware of the pendency of a court order by the Federal High Court dated 19th January 2018, obtained by the said BUA Group restraining NPA from interfering with its operation. Her action was said to have resulted in the filing of contempt proceedings against the Authority, thereby portraying it as a lawless organization acting in contempt of the judicial arm of government and thereby exposed the federal government to the risk of potential damages arising from willful disobedience of a valid court order, which have been concurrently been computed by BUA Group (and submitted to Administrative Panel) as amounting to USD 10,074,055.41 and loss of earnings of N559,320,800.67 thus exposing Federal Government of Nigeria to the potential loss of revenue.

If the NPA obeyed the order of the court as Hadiza claimed in the answer to the query, why did the Authority proceed to decommission the jetty at the Terminal , an action she said was to not endanger the lives of Nigerians? Hadiza had cheekily latched onto the concerns raised by BUA Ports and terminals Limited to decommission the company’s jetty when she knew that the matter was subjudice. That simply portrayed her as an impulsive executive and one that is intensely consumed by administrative impunity that verges on unconscionable exercise of power in satisfaction of some over bloated egotism, which rubbed off negatively on the public image of the NPA. In summation, Hadiza really did not step on toes; she only succeeded in elevating executive mischief to some new heights.

(Mr. Mohammed, a lawyer, writes from Kaduna.

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