Written by Yemi Adebowale
Hadiza Bala-Usman assumed office in 2015 as the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) with so much enthusiasm. She came with a reform agenda, largely, to block leakages of revenue and to stifle companies/contractors taking advantage of the NPA to line their pockets with money due to the federal government. Hadiza hit the ground running, tackling the big boys milking the country at the ports. It was as if for once, all revenues due to government at the ports would be realised and those exploiting the system would become history. But five years down the line, most of the steps taken by this young woman to block leakages have been successfully reversed by the powers that be in Abuja. Hadiza is obviously tired, but still hanging on for God knows what. Her brawls with our system present some of the contradictions that have kept our country paralysed. They exemplify the tragedy of the Nigerian nation.
Let’s look at the Secure Anchorage Area, created on the Nigerian high sea by a Nigerian private company since 2014 and provides security at a high cost in USD to vessels calling at the Lagos ports. Normally, the business of protecting ships on the sea and our territorial waters is largely that of the Nigerian Navy. This is backed by our laws. Over the years, the NPA assists the Navy with equipment to carry out this task. Unfortunately, the leadership of the Navy provides the services to the Hosa Wells Okunbo-led firm in charge of the so-called Secure Anchorage Area exploiting foreign ships heading to Lagos ports. Vessels purchased by the NPA for the Navy to secure our waterways are used to service the secure anchorage.
The SAA managers tell ship owners that they run the risk of being attacked by pirates if they don’t use the secure anchorage. Nigerian consumers are paying heavily for this. How? The cost of shipping goods to Nigeria increases with this extra security bill for ships, which is invariably passed on to the final consumers – Nigerians.
Hadiza moved against the cartel, declared the operation of the secure anchorage firm illegal and pressured the Navy to assume its responsibilities.
Unfortunately, nothing happened thereafter. The Navy snubbed her and refused to kick out Hosa Wells Okunbo, while the powers that be in Abuja refused to back Hadiza. Of course, one powerful cabal is running the show at the secure anchorage. Hosa Wells Okunbo is a key member of the ruling APC. He dines with any government in power. His conspirators, the Nigerian Navy leadership inclusive, are Nigerians above the laws of our land. This is why a private company can slice out a portion of our territorial waters and name it, “Secure Anchorage Area”, then, charge foreign vessels in USD for protection. It can only happen in Nigeria.
The big men in Abuja are not concerned about Nigeria’s security and the rising cost of shipping goods to Nigeria. For obvious reasons, those with statutory responsibility for the security of the country’s waterways – Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Marine Police, and the Nigerian Navy – are unperturbed by the activities of the secure anchorage firm.
Early this year, a frustrated NPA wrote to all Mariners in the Lagos Pilotage Area, warning against patronising the Hosa Wells Okunbo’s SAA. It states: “NPA is ensuring a safe NPA Lagos Anchorage (NPA LA) in the Lagos Pilotage District (LPD). The Secured Anchorage Area (SAA) whose Centre Point Coordinates 06° 17’30N/003° 12’00E and radius of 2.5NM is discontinued with immediate effect. NPA Lagos Anchorage (NPA LA) is now the only designated anchorage in the Lagos Pilotage District (LPD). Owners, Agents and charterers should ensure that the contents of the Lagos Pilotage District notices to Mariners are made known to their Masters and persons in-charge of their vessels and marine operations whilst within the jurisdiction of this Pilotage District.”
It is still business as usual at the SAA. As at press time, Hosa Wells Okunbo and the other schemers were still smiling to the banks with their US Dollars from the secure anchorage, while Nigerians are forced to pay more for goods shipped into the country. Vessels pay $2,500 for the first day at the anchorage and $1,500 for following days. Some stay as much as 30 days before exiting the anchorage. The talk about war against corruption does not apply here. What a country!
Hadiza’s NPA also moved to ensure that the federal government gets full value for its land at Tarkwa Bay, Lagos, by sanctioning Amy Jadesimi’s Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Base (LADOL) for allegedly violating the terms of the land leased to it in the area. LADOL is profiting at the expense of the federal government by sub-leasing 11.2 hectares of the total 121 hectares leased to it at huge amount without recourse to NPA. The firm is believed to have collected $45 million from Samsung Heavy Industries Nigeria Limited (SHIN) for the sub-leased land for which it paid $524,105 to the NPA.
The land lease was revoked by Hadiza and the firm was granted a fresh lease under new terms, excluding the 11.2 hectares that constitute the premises of the fabrication and integration yard of SHIN. The 11.2 hectares was then leased to SHIN at $219,700 annually. The powerful LADOL mounted pressure on the big boys in Abuja and Hadiza was told to step back. So, LADOL retains its deal with SHIN, and it is still beaming to the bank at the expense of Nigeria.
What about the Calabar Channel dredging contract scam? NPA paid $15 million to a company called Niger Global Ltd for the dredging of the Calabar Channel.
Hadiza came in and terminated the contract for non-compliance with due process and requested for a refund of $15 million payment made to the company for lack of evidence of dredging claimed. The firm is yet to make the refund and the promoters are walking free.
The termination of BUA Terminal lease agreement in Port Harcourt, over non-adherence to development plan, has also been tactically reversed. NPA moved against the terminal over health and safety issues. The owner of BUA pressed the Abuja button and Hadiza was asked to step back.
So, what happened to Hadiza and her reforms at NPA? What happened to all her moves to ensure that the federal government gets good returns from its ports and surrounding land? The NPA boss was simply swallowed by the big men in Abuja and some chieftains of the ruling All Progressives Congress. Hadiza was told to keep off Secure Anchorage, OMSL Limited, LADOL, Niger Global Ltd, BUA Terminal and the rest of them. At the NPA, the hypes about accountability and transparency by the Buhari government have been discarded. This is the tragedy of the Nigerian nation I have been talking about. For Hadiza, I am shocked that she is still parading herself as the Managing Director of the NPA. She ought to have resigned to make a statement. This is the only way we can build a new Nigeria.
Culled from Thisday.