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Maritime industry rattled as Bala Usman faces probe

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Hadiza Bala Usman

The suspension of Hadiza Bala Usman as the managing director of Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA) has caused a crack on the wall of the authority, leaving the maritime sector with substantial afflictions.

Few days after the suspension of Bala Usman who is currently facing a probe, the development has unsettled the NPA and the entire maritime sector.

The Guardian gathered that the removal of Bala Usman has caused a row among various powerful blocks in the transport sector and loyalists of the Transport Minister, Rotimi Amaechi; the Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari among others.

While many believe that the suspension was hastily taken due to personal grudges and to pave way for Mohammed Koko to head the agency.

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Koko, according to sources, was the former account manager of Amaechi when he was at Zenith Bank PLC, and his role in the scheme of things raises questions.

Top officials of NPA who spoke with The Guardian on condition of anonymity described the suspension of Bala Usman as shocking.

“NPA officials are currently in a state of confusion because we don’t know our fate,” one of the sources told The Guardian.

Although no reason was stated in the letter announcing the suspension of Bala Usman, it was observed that Amaechi had petitioned President Muhammadu Buhari, alleging that the remittance of NPA between 2016 and 2020 was short of the actual amount due for remittance.

The letter, dated 4th March 2021, and signed by Amaechi stated: “I wish to suggest that the financial account of the activities of Nigerian Ports Authority be investigated for the period 2016 to 2020 to ascertain the true financial position and the outstanding unremitted balance of N165.3 billion,”

On May 5, 2021, NPA in a letter signed by Bala Usman and addressed to the Chief of Staff to the President, said the Authority made all the due remittances for the full amount required for the period as stipulated by the template issued by the Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC).

She stated: “The authority has remitted the full amount due to it to CFR for the periods of 2017 and 2018 arising from the operating surplus derived from the Audited Financial Statement for the period totalling N76.384 billion as evidenced in attached treasury receipts.

“The Authority has remitted a total of N82.687 billion for the period 2019 and 2020 pending the audit of the financial statement at which point the amount so computed arising from the value of the operating surplus in the audited financial statement will be remitted to the CFR.”

Meanwhile, a renowned maritime lawyer, Osuala Nwagbara, in an interview with The Guardian, said the removal was invalid in the eye of law, as she was not given a fair hearing.

Nwagbara, who is a maritime lawyer and Managing Partner, Maritime and Commercial Law Partners, said: “If anybody is accused of wrongdoing in the course of discharge of their employment, such persons are supposed to be allowed to refute or to deny the allegations against them. That is to meet the principle of fair hearing before deciding on an allegation against someone.

For instance, you have removed the person without giving the person a fair hearing; it is for the court to determine incest of that removal on the person. Various judicial opinions have been given in this regard.

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“Where for instance a person has a job, which has a statutory flavour which is that the office has a fixed tenure, the removal is invalid. For instance, if I am employed for an office and my office gives me a four or five years term and you remove me because you have the power to sack me. In the eyes of the law, my employment continues, But if you remove me from that office and I stayed for the rest of the term and I was not recalled, the law will see me as being in that office till the end of my term.

“That means that I will have to be paid for the period that I was supposed to serve until my period is over. That is what we call statutory flavour in an employment matter.

“When you say that employment has statutory flavour, it means that you cannot terminate that employment for the period that the office is supposed to last, except for a very serious infraction which must have been duly established.

“But, if you remove me without giving me a fair hearing like people are alleging in this case, it means I remain in office in the eyes of the law until the term expires and I am entitled to all my salaries and benefits of the office.”

Usman, the first female Managing Director of NPA, was first appointed on July 11, 2016.

President Buhari had in January reappointed her for another term of five years. But the tenure was abruptly cut short with a directive asking her to step aside for a probe of the agency.

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