Many sins of suspended Nigerian Ports Authority MD, Bala Usman

Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman.

Insubordination may be one of the reasons that led to the suspension of the Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Ms. Hadiza Bala-Usman

Shocking details have emerged as to how Bala-Usman persistently refused to follow directives from President Muhammadu Buhari. 

In the case involving the lease of land in Tarkwa Bay granted to Global Resources Management Limited (GRML), owners of Lagos Deep Offshore Logistics Limited (LADOL), which she unilaterally cancelled and re-allocated to Samsung Heavy Industries Limited, even when the President had directed that the lease be restored.  

The directive was formally conveyed to her by both the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami (SAN), but she adamantly refused to comply, different sources told SaharaReporters.

In 2020, the suspended Managing Director of NPA repeatedly turned down directive from President Buhari to restore the approval of the 25 year lease agreement for about 114,552 hectares of land granted to Messers Global Resources Management Limited (GRML) in 2003. 

The land was proposed to house an industrial hub including a shipyard in an effort towards local content development to domesticate some of the projects sourced from outside the country.  

Things were going well with the construction of infrastructure including accommodation, storage facilities, and power generation on the site until November 14, 2019 when the NPA, under the directives of Bala Usman cancelled the lease alleging that the company contravened the terms of the agreement for the lease.

The letter dated 14th November, 2019 which was signed by NPA’s General Manager in charge of Land and Asset Administration, Yusuf Ahmed, conveyed the cancellation of the lease. 

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However after extensive review, President Buhari reversed the cancellation through a Presidential directive dated 27th of May, 2020 with Ref No.PRES/97/HAGF/93, directing the NPA to comply by restoring the lease.  

AGF Malami conveyed the directive in a letter dated 3rd June, 2020 titled Re: Brief on LADOL Free Zone Disputes and the Need for Federal Government to Intervene Urgently. A legal opinion was attached. 

SaharaReporters gathered that the suspended MD never obeyed the directive.  

It was learnt that it was the same Bala Usman who conveyed the approval of the President for extension of the lease in a letter dated 13th December, 2018 and exclusively obtained by SaharaReporters. 

Stakeholders were therefore taken aback when she turned around and cancelled the same lease after some months. 

Many observers raised concerns when the news broke because the LADOL project was considered a success story of indigenous investment and local capacity development within the maritime sector.

“The site in question was originally a disused swamp before it was leased to the firm led by Chief Oladapo Jadesimi

“For over 19 years, the swamp has been gradually transformed into a wholly developed terminal and industrial zone now known as LADOL Free Zone, a one-stop shop for multinational and industrial companies operating in West Africa. 

“It was commissioned by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo on the 10th of August, 2018 in an event hosted by the Managing Director of NPA. At the event, Bala Usman herself praised the operational efficiency and synergy between NPA and LADOL that culminated in the successful berthing of Egina FPSO. During the same event, the Managing Director of Shell confirmed that his company had already gained 40% cost savings from working with LADOL.

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“Among other benefits, the lease was yielding a minimum of about N419 million per annum on rent alone to the government, including other taxes.  

“However, after the swampy land was reclaimed and developed LADOL Free zone, the NPA cancelled the lease citing reasons that have not yet been substantiated logically. 

“For instance the claim by NPA under Hadiza’s leadership that the sublease was done without their knowledge in a manner that will short-change the country was later found to be false. 

“Actually, it was discovered that GRML had applied to NPA via a letter dated November 22, 2013, expressing its intention to sublease 11.246 hectares at the LADOL offshore facility. 

“Ironically, after the cancellation the NPA’s purported lease to Samsung Heavy Industries Limited was at the same terms as the subsisting lease to LADOL yet it was supposed to yield an income of N230.3 million almost half of what LADOL was paying as rent for the same land area.

“With the backing of NPA and based on the fictitious and unjustified pretext of investor protection to a foreign company who apparently has not invested a dime in the economy but who has allegedly repatriated over $2 billion in the five years of doing contracts in Nigeria, it was clear that Bala Usman wanted to hand over a strategic asset belonging to the country, especially the legacy of the multi-billion dollar investment made into the Egina field development as a gift to Samsung.

“As the controversy was raging, Samsung capitalised on the delay orchestrated by NPA and proceeded to court. The consequent disagreement sent mixed signals to many partners who stalled their transactions till the conclusion of the ongoing litigations including arbitration in London.

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“The question stakeholders are asking is the value that NPA will create for the country by cancelling a contract already awarded to an indigenous company and re-awarding it on the same terms and lower returns to a foreign company,” a source at the NPA told SaharaReporters.

Another source in Presidency expressed shock at how a public officer will flout directives from the President and allow herself to become an instrument for economic sabotage. 

Also speaking on the issue, a prominent maritime stakeholder said Bala Usman’s actions have led to destruction of investors’ confidence and huge capital flight

“The lady took many of such actions and we did not know she was not going through the necessary due process. We have now learnt that many of the arbitrariness and insubordination that characterised her tenure did not receive the blessing of either the Minister of Transportation or the President. The fear is that such actions have led to so much destruction of investor confidence and huge capital flight,” he told SaharaReporters.

Other stakeholders complained that Usman’s approach to issues led to several litigation against the NPA which had frustrated contractual agreements that preceded her appointment, making the government incur avoidable losses amounting to millions of dollars in the last five years.

The claimed her numerous defiant actions might have contributed to the sudden and sharp drop in the income of the NPA at a time when the economy is in dire need of revenue, which might have angered the President.

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