A lot of dust has been raised since the suspension of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman, two weeks ago. Her suspension was at the request of the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi who reportedly got the approval of President Muhammadu Buhari to do so. An Administrative Panel of Inquiry has since been set up to investigate the allegations leveled against her. Meanwhile, forceful reactions have trailed her sack, some in support of the government action, others against.
No one can say with certainty, or vouch for the veracity of the facts that culminated in her suspension. But one thing is plain: At this time of drastic shortfall in government’s revenue and the avalanche of allegations that many key government agencies, of which NPA is one of them, are emeshed in intolerable violation of fiscal and audit rules, anyone accused of a breach of remittance of funds and insubordination to lawful authority, seems in the eye of the public, to have plenty questions to answer. In the instant case of Hadiza, the allegations are weighty enough to warrant a suspension, at least until proven not guilty of all the allegations.
Until then, she is, in the eyes of the law, presumed innocent. But the media had since gone to town with various accounts of what led to her suspension. According to The Nation newspaper of May 8, allegation of non-remittance of 2016-2020 operating surpluses, totaling N165bn to the Federation Account, may have led to her suspension. The paper also claimed to have “sighted documents from the Budget Office of the Federation on the finances of the agency between 2016 and 2020, which so convinced President Buhari to approve Hadiza’s probe”. This was after Amaechi was reported to have petitioned the President on the matter. Beyond that, The Nation account also claimed that “findings however confirmed that the observations of the Budget Office of the Federation and insider abuse were official justifications to rein in Hadiza”.
Before you are done with digesting The Nation account of what possibly went wrong, This Day newspaper of Tuesday, May 11, claimed that Hadiza’s suspension was “the culmination of a two-year war of attrition” between her and Amaechi, “triggered by disagreement in 2019 over whether or not to renew the channel management contracts”. The contracts are said to worth $1.5bn. The channels in contention are: Lagos, Port Harcourt (Bonny), Warri, while Calabar is under litigation. Not all the details of these issues are clear. But by and large, this is the stuff of which power play is usually made.
Power play is not fought where there’s no money, loads of it. Power play is a tough turf, driven by a single-minded purpose to gain advantage of another that one is more powerful than the other. Plainly, it’s an attempt to attain an end, as in politics, or business, through the use of power and influence rather than finesse. That’s what I see in the Amaechi, Hadiza tango. The NNDC is another classic example of where power play is constantly at work. It has claimed many victims.
Anyone who has read Robert Greene: “The 48 Laws of Power”, and Robert A. Caro, the journalist/ historian and Pulitzer prize award winner , known for his well-researched biographies of United States political figures, will see through the window, how strategy can be deployed , the use of power and lessons in power. For me, Amaechi has mastered power, how to use it to attain an end. “You never outshine the master”, Greene had warned, a long time ago. That, in the end, may come to hurt Hadiza, badly.
As Caro cautioned, many promising stars have stumbled on the last rung of the ladder or failed at the top of the ladder because they could not make the switch from ambitious executive to corporate leader. Hadiza, in my view, has not been able to master the lessons in power, neither has she been able to make that necessary switch from being a ex-Chief of Staff (CoS) to Gov Nasir El-Rufai, before she was plucked and appointed to the money-spinning, but slippery pole that’s NPA. Having a larger end has always been important for political leaders. It has worked for many, just as it has hurt some. Let’s leave that for now.
The truth is that quite a number of unsavoury observations have been made in recent years about the lack of accountability and transparency in public auditing processes in the country. Clearly, in the absence of due process and proper public accounts auditing that complies with international standards, the desire for good governance will be a mirage, especially at this time dwindling revenues. It is principally for this reason that the Senate’s Public Accounts Committee recently sought a detailed audit of accounts of top government revenue generating agencies. Pushing for such audit is, therefore, proper and timely. Among the agencies that have not come clean in remittances are the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), NPA, the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Authority (NIMASA), Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), among others. Miffed at the poor auditing accounts of these key revenue agencies, the Senate’s Public Accounts Committee, headed by Senator Matthew Urhoghide had last year challenged the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation (AUGF) to focus more on financial transactions of big revenue generating agencies instead of beaming more searchlight on the small organisations. I agree.
Beyond the ongoing probe into the books of NPA, and what wrong Hadiza could have done, no revenue generating agency should be excluded from accounting for and remitting surpluses generated by it. A recent AUGF report found that smaller agencies are as guilty as the bigger ones in remitting revenues to the Federation Account. All the same, the statement last week by the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, Solomon Adeola captures the essence of proper public accounts auditing, especially the big spenders. No doubt, the poor accounts auditing has been going on for years and should no longer be tolerated. A thorough revenue and expenditure profiles of all revenue generating agencies has become imperative to ensure transparent accounts and auditing.
One recalls that in 2018, the National Economic Council (NEC) ordered some of the aforementioned agencies to refund unremitted revenues totaling N8.526trillion to the Federation Account. Only few did. In 2017, the Fiscal Responsibility Commission (FRC) indicted some MDAs of defrauding government of over N1trillion. The unremitted amount covered payment of revenue to the Federation Account from 2010 to 2015. Few year ago, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) was appointed to conduct a forensic audit of NNPC. It is not clear the extent to which the recommendations of the audit report was implemented. But many audit reports of top revenue generating agencies in the country are observed in breach and largely unimplementable, a situation that has eroded public confidence in their operations.
The 2017 audit report of the AUGF revealed that 16 revenue generating agencies failed to remit a total of N20bn to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF). The Bureau of Public Enterprises (BPE) topped the list of unremitted revenue, with N7.5bn, even as the report accused many of the agencies of misapplying funds on excessive overheads and extra-budgetary expenditure on contracts.