From Majeed Dahiru, Abuja
Following shocking discoveries in documents circulated recently which showed that Senator Hope Uzodinma owns a substantial interest in NigerGlobal Engineering and Technical Company Limited, lawmakers have commenced agitation for his removal as Chairman of the Senate Joint committee, Customs, Excise & Tariff and Marine Transport.
According to the lawmakers, his continued stay as Chairman of the joint committee may further ignite conflict of interests and cause the Senate a series of embarrassments as witnessed with his allegations of 282 missing vessels leveled against the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA).
The Senate Joint committee had on July 17, 2017, held a public hearing where it accused the NPA of “failing to provide records of 282 vessels that berthed in its terminals between 2010 and 2016.”
But the NPA in a swift reaction to the allegation which was conveyed via a letter from its Managing Director on the 26th of July, 2017, contended that the allegation by the committee was not based on verifiable evidence, stating that there were no names of vessels; no dates of arrival; no rotation numbers and registration dates in respect of the vessels as required to enable the NPA investigate the matter.
However, after reviewing documents provided by the Committee, the agency discovered that: “of the 29 items handed over to the NPA on July 20, 2017, only five vessels were identifiable.
NPA maintained that it discovered that the other 24 items are repetitions of the five vessels that were identified. A report to this effect, with relevant supporting documents evidencing payment of all charges for the five vessels, is said to have been forwarded to the Senate Committee by the NPA as requested.
Clearly disappointed with the series of unfolding developments, some Senators who spoke on condition of anonymity with our correspondent said his removal by the Senate President as chairman of the committee would be in the interest of the upper chamber, as doing so would save the Senate from further embarrassments.
One of the lawmakers said: “In all fairness, I think with all that we read in the media about Hope’s involvement in NigerGlobal and his lingering feud with the Managing Director of NPA, is enough to see to his immediate removal.
“In saner climes, this sort of revelation alone ought to have made him resign chairmanship of the committee because it is clear why his actions and utterances are always against the interest of NPA.
“Besides, attempting to use the institution of the Senate to settle personal scores or have things work in your favour, or compel persons in authority to do pecuniary biddings to me is completely unacceptable.
“As an institution, we have always tackled the executive arm of government, that whenever one is found wanting in certain areas, such a person must be sacked or suspended pending the outcome of investigations. And we saw compliance to this in the events that led to the suspension of the former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal. Why then should ours (NASS) be any different?
“If documents have emerged that Uzodima’s actions are driven by his interests, then he cannot be said to be fair anymore. That places the Senate in an awkward position in terms of its image, and the right thing to do is for the Senate President to have him removed immediately.”
Recall that recent reports indicated that the feud between Senator Hope Uzodinma was stirred as a result of the refusal of the Nigeria Ports Authority to make further payments to NigerGlobal, a company in which the lawmaker owns substantial interest.
NPA had in the past expressed reservations about the Joint Venture contract with Niger-Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited with successive management board refusing to accede to demands for payment by the company.
The board of agency which has Hadiza Bala Usman as Managing Director, has also refused to accept liabilities in respect of the said agreements worth over N26 billion Naira.
In a letter to the Managing Director of the NPA by Martin Aguda & CO, a law firm representing the interest of Niger-Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited, the company demanded the payment of the sum of $22, 065, 998.21 dollars in respect of the Calabar Ports Dredging Contract.
The company, it was further gathered, admitted receiving the sum of $12.5 million from the agency in 2015 without certificate of completion, a crucial requirement for compensation, in line with the Public Procurement Act.
The NPA, had in April 2017, presented an estimate of N234 billion Naira as its budget for the 2017 fiscal year for approval by the legislature.
Investigations by our correspondents revealed that several efforts were made to ‘insert’ the sum of N25 billion in the agency’s budget before passing it into law.
The sum, it was further gathered, is claims for works allegedly done by Messrs Niger-Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited in respect of the Joint Venture Contract it entered into with the NPA in 2015. Specifically, the company was awarded the Capital Maintenance Dredging Contract of the Calabar Channel valued at N26 billion Naira.
The development was said to have prompted Senator Uzodinma to declare war against the Managing Director of the NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman, who, according to our sources, is bent on having the budget passed without the N25 billion Naira new line items.
The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPE) had on March 3rd, 2015 directed the then Managing Director of the NPA “to put on hold all matters relating to the Capital and Maintenance Dredging of Calabar Channel” until the matter was “discussed with the President”.
Subsequently, in a memo to former President Goodluck Jonathan in May 2015, the BPP drew the attention of the president to the unlawful practices that saw to the emergence of Niger-Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited as the preferred bidder for the contract for the dredging activity at the time the company and its JV partners, were said to have no legal personality to be so qualified.