It is not known if any company has before now had any vice grip over any parastatal of federal government of Nigeria like the Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited has had on Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA. For Almost two decades now, beginning from 2001, the company has come to see itself as the one entity which should control dredging contracts in Lagos and Calabar. It has stopped at nothing to enforce its wish.
Niger Global, for short, has a prominent Nigerian politician, Hope Uzodinma as one of its backers as he is known to have interest in the company. Over the years, whenever the company felt its ambition to win all the time was threatened; it resorted to petitioning those in authority. In addition, it has consistently used the threats of legal action as part of its weapons to exert pressure on NPA. But it has also apparently benefitted from the high profile connection of its backers in acquiring sweetheart deals. Now the company has its prominent man, Uzodinman as a Senator who is curiously now overseeing affairs of NPA which the company has a well known, though conflictual relationship with.
True to insiders’ fears, Uzodinma he has been a source of trouble for the Hadiza Bala Usman led management of NPA. The battle to control Hadiza Bala Usman, the current managing director of NPA has been hot and furious but she has kept her cool, insisting on due process.
It must be understood though that the problem with Uzodinma linked Niger Global did not start with Hadiza’s tenure at NPA. It is a long standing one in which Niger Global has constituted itself into a thorn in the flesh of NPA’s management for over a decade now.
A scan through some of the official documents NPA by Newsdiaryonline, shows that the authority has found the conduct of the company questionable. For instance, in response to a petition filed by A.A Ijohor(SAN) on behalf of the Niger Global, a former managing director of NPA Abdul Salam Mohamed confirmed that the company was actually awarded a contract to carry out maintenance dredging of Container Terminal Berths, Tin Can Island Roro berths and Calabar Access Channel. The commencement date was 1stSeptember 2001 and the terminal date was 31 August 2002.
But this contract became a source of a petition in which by 2009, Niger Global insisted that its contract was still valid; that its contract with NPA was a periodic one year at the contract sum of $7.2milllion USD annually. It also claimed that between 2002 and 2009 NPA had not paid Niger Global any sum though they kept their terms of the contract .And therefore Niger Global in the petition said NPA was owing it the sum o $50.4million USD.It also requested that Niger Global be allowed to resume maintenance in the Lagos Ports and the Calabar Channel.
But the NPA MD at that time Abdul Salam Mohammed in his letter to the Minister of Transport pooh-poohed Niger Global’s claims.According to the MD at the time, the contract was for maintenance dredging and not capital dredging and the said maintenance dredging was never completed. He accused Niger Global of failing to mobilise to site in Calabar. “By April/May 2002, Niger Global had not mobilized to site despite the demands by the Authority.”
“It became apparent that Niger Global did not conclude the maintenance dredging work as contracted, hence the setting up of a Presidential Investigative Panel by the Federal Government to look into the contract award in March, 2003,” he added among others.
Despite the new lease of life given to Niger Global following the Presidential Panel Report, “no dredging work took place at TCIP, despite Niger Global’s claim that it had been carried out .The Calabar Access Channel was still left untouched,” Abdulsalam wrote in his letter to the minister of Transport then.
Contrary to the company claim that it had not been paid, the MD also tabulated the evidence of the payments which had been made to Niger Global from December 2001 to June 2004 which came to $1,666,000.00 with the naira equivalent then being N589, 250,551.72.
The above were just the genesis of the tug of war between Nigerian Ports Authority, NPA and Uzodinma linked company.
Now, Hadiza’s war: Hadiza Bala Usman, the female managing director of NPA. Having emerged as the boss of the Authority, she has found herself thrown into the heart of this lingering battle with the company whose henchman is now senate committee leader overseeing her agency.
Insiders have asked: is the entire Senate aware of the seedy details of what has officially been described as questionable activities of Uzodinma linked company? In fact, why did Senate President Bukola Saraki appoint him as chairman of a committee to perform oversight function on an agency he (Uzodinma) has direct interest in.
Uzodinma is known to have used the Senate platform as an avenue to further his interest. Hadiza’s problem was compounded when she recommended a termination of the Joint venture project between Niger Global and NPA. There have been questions over the lack of transparency and due process about the joint venture
The trouble began in 2004 when the programme for the management of Calabar Channel commenced. A series of events led to the curious emergence of Calabar Channel Management Company Limited (CCM) a joint venture between NPA and MSSRS Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited.
Newsdiaryonline can confirm that despite a threat legal option, the Managing Director of NPA has insisted that the JV should be terminated. Ahead of the NPA board meeting, Gabriel Utomi Giwa of Martin Aguda & Co law firm wrote a letter dated 16th May 2017 notifying the NPA of its decision to commence legal proceeding against the Authority for what it called the recovery of outstanding invoices owed to CCM and other breaches of the joint venture agreement between NPA and Niger-Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited.
But while briefing the NPA board in July, Hadiza Bala Usman who chronicled the long, difficult and opaque story of the Joint Venture project also suggested three principal measures to resolve the crisis.
First, she suggested “that the joint venture partnership between Nigerian Ports Authority and Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited be terminated in line with the provisions of the Joint Venture Agreement.
Second,”that the payments already made and the parts outstanding be considered as debt which would be subjected to thorough forensic audit by the firm hired to verify the claim
Third, “that the Authority should establish the best mode of transparently managing the Calabar Channel in line with extant procedures on public procurements following which ,Mssrs Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited alongside all other qualified companies can then openly compete for the contract.”
There are available documents some of which Newsdiaryonline has sighted indicating that the Joint Venture with Global was sealed in questionable circumstances. Even the BPP and EFCC have questioned the lack of transparency and non competitive manner in which the contract was sealed during the management before Hadiza’s emergence as NPA boss.In fact,it was EFCC that intervened to stop further payments to Niger Global on the heels of petition against the CCM deal.
Usman therefore had enough reasons upon which she anchored her conclusions. During the same briefing to the board brief,she drew the attention to some of the observations by the Bureau of Public Procurement, BPP whose director General had in an internal memo to the President sighted by Newsdiaryonline noted that “in line with extant regulations and procedure on public procurement, a project of over N26billion should be procured through competitive bidding process to ensure value for money among others …It will amount to gross violation of due process to award a contract of this magnitude to a company that failed or refused to bid for the project but only surreptitiously compiled and substituted figures from a previous submission made by LCM in 2004,for the Lagos Channel Project.
The memo to the President C-in –C , dated May 18,2015 signed by Emeka M.Ezeh, the BPP DG also noted, as correctly quoted by Hadiza in her briefing to NPA board that, “The persistence demonstrated by the FMT/NPA to engage Mssrs’ CCM without subjecting the procurement process through any form of competition is strange considering that Mssrs’ CCM was incorporated after the initial procurement was cancelled by the BPP.”
She also informed the board that “after careful examination of the authority’s overall dredging data/vessel movement in conjunction with inputs from the Authority’s relevant personnel, it is questionable if any dredging actually took place.
“The position above is corroborated by the Report of the Management Committee on the Review of Calabar Channel Management Limited which states that ‘A comparison of pre and post dredging depths of the channel with a survey carried out Six (6) months before the commencement of the dredging works revealed that the dredging of affected areas of the channel was questionable.”
Even more Hadiza Usman notified the board that after the October 2014 flag off of the CCM, by the minister on behalf of the president, the “CCM subsequently submitted an invoice for fourth quarter in 2014 in the sum of US$19,972,673.62(Nineteen million, Nine Hundred and Seventy two thousand, six Hundred and Seventy three Dollars, sixty two cents) and US$14,593,324.54 (Fourteen million ,Five Hundred and Ninety three thousand, Three Hundred and Twenty four Dollars, Fifty nine cents for first quarter 2015 amounting to US$34,565,998.21(Thirty four million, five Hundred and sixty five Thousand, Nine Hundred and Ninety eight Dollars, twenty one cents).
There was a major point she noted which pointed amazingly to the fact that “ all effort to find details of dredging activities for the period during which CCM claimed to have dredged the Calabar Access Channel (November 2014 to January 2015) proved abortive. The Harbour Master and Port Hydrographer during the period stated that they were unaware of any dredging undertaken by CCM during the period. Further, there was no communication between the company and the Port Management on their purported dredging activities during the period.”
She also revealed how the “Authority made a payment of US$12, 500,00.00(Twelve Million, Five Hundred Thousand Dollars only. Further processing of payment was suspended by the Authority due to the investigation being carried out by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission,(EFCC) following a petition received by it against CCM.
“The EFCC subsequently directed the authority to engage the services of a reputable firm to undertake a forensic bathymetric survey to verify the dredging claimed to have been done. A firm was engaged aand is retained accordingly.”
Those conversant with the lack of due process had at various times written petitions against the lack of due process.Incidentally, their positions were corroborated by the BPP as stated above in its memo to the former President on the CCM matter.
But it is this project that Niger Global has insisted through one of its solicitors that all the payments must be made in full ostensibly to satisfy the personal interest of its Uzodinma and his associates.
What insiders have said they found baffling is why the Senate President has given Uzodinma the platform which he is using to oversight an agency he has interest. It is a puzzle many say they cannot understand since official documents are available to guide the Senate president appropriately.
Industry watchers say Nigerians must fix keen interest in the unfolding battle between Uzodinman and Hadiza led NPA. Issue bordering on conflict of interest and apparent abuse of power by the Senator is a source of concern that needs to be urgently addressed. It is current MD’s resolve to break the vice grip of Uzodinma-linked Niger Global and facilitate an avenue for competitive bidding for the NPA project that is at the centre of what insiders have described as Uzodinma’s burgeoning war with Hadiza Bala Usman.And the question many seeking answer from Saraki is: how can Uzodinma, with all this evident conflict of interest, head any panel to probe NPA?