Amid controversies surrounding the suspension of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala-Usman, a former member of the agency’s board, Senator Binta Masi Garba, has disclosed how she was unjustly removed from the board of the NPA without the knowledge of the Ministry of Transportation.
According to a statement by the Senator on Sunday, she said prior to her removal, she wasn’t comfortable with the way the board and authority were run and consistently expressed her displeasure, claiming it had made the suspended MD of the agency, Hadiza Bala-Usman to plot her removal.
It was rumoured that the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi had a hand in the suspension of the ex-MD.
But subsequently, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, disclosed that the reason for Usman’s suspension was to allow for an investigation into allegations levelled against her.
However, Sen Garba explained that her appointment into the NPA board was in March 2020, but the leadership of the agency, in January 2021, influenced the removal of both she and Senator John Akpanudoede from its board.
She noted that she was removed without the knowledge of the supervising ministry and Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, which was very uncommon.
She explained, “My observations and complaints with the suspended NPA MD were more with the financial statements of NPA and I worried that if she continued so, there would certainly be trouble and her sudden removal (suspension) would be inevitable.
“I noted discrepancies, I raised observations, I asked questions but I was completely ignored and disregarded. Answers were never provided, until my removal.
“When the board came in, its first meeting was in June 2020, with the aim of deliberating on the financial report. I made some observations on the report which, obviously, the MD, Hadiza Bala Usman, was not comfortable with.
“At the time, the report covered two years but I objected, pointing out that, under normal circumstances, procedurally and international norms, it should cover a minimum of three years. It was after my objection that the MD grudgingly and resentfully provided the third year’s report. I wasn’t really comfortable. I observed more discrepancies with the financials and asked questions about them.
“The MD was uncomfortable and even felt slighted by the objective comments and questions. Scrutinising the financial reports of the NPA is a very critical and very important aspect of my role and function as a member of its board, appointed by the President. I was not ready to abdicate that core responsibility.
“For me, my board membership of NPA, like every other public office I have held, was a call to serve my country and I was prepared to give it my all. But the suspended MD felt offended by my observations and questions. Answers were not forthcoming and, when they did, were less than satisfactory.
“Some members of the board felt I was the only one holding the financial report back. I had to meet with the Minister of Transportation and I told him I wasn’t comfortable with the way and manner the board was being handled and treated by the MD and that I wanted to resign.”
“The board chairman, Chief Akin Ricketts (whose removal as board chairman was also orchestrated by the MD) and some other members, prevailed on me not to resign and that, if I did, it would send the wrong signal and would not be good for the President. We settled down to work on it (the financial reports).
“After some time, my uneasiness did not go away. Again, I met with the Minister of Transportation and told him that I did not want to continue with the board, considering the way the MD was running the place.
“I met someone high up in the Presidential Villa and told him my own story and advised that the MD be called to order. I also met and made similar observations and complaints to the then Director-General of the National Directorate of Employment (NDE), Dr Nasiru and the then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transportation, Malam Zakari.
“Instead of making amends, the suspended MD’s next move was to go against the NPA Act by designing my removal from the board. The Act stipulates that it is the minister who should send the names of appointees of the board to the President for approval. For someone to unilaterally go against the Act and the Minister that brought her on board was rather unfortunate.
“I made it very clear to everyone I spoke with about the situation in NPA, stressing that it was not about me but the system, rules and procedures, as well as the survival of our institutions. I could not keep quiet and watch the suspended MD run the NPA aground. I wished she had listened but she didn’t and opted to plot my removal from the board. Unfortunately, I have been vindicated.’’