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How disagreement over INTELS led to my sack at NPA – Bala Usman

How disagreement over INTELS led to my sack at NPA – Bala Usman

Hadiza Bala Usman

ABUJA (Sundiata Post) – Former Managing Director, Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman, has identified her insistence on getting Integrated Logistics Services (INTELS) to conform to procedures and channel management contracts for Nigerians as reasons why former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, insisted on her sack.

Bala Usman made this disclosure in her memoir “Stepping on Toes. My Odyssey at the NPA,” which was released for sale on Tuesday.

According to her, someone in the maritime industry had told her that her supervisor might want her office before renewing two contracts over which she had a disagreement with the minister.

Bala Usman stated in the book: “The first of these was the capital dredging contract, and the second was the service boat management contract. While the minister demanded an extension of the tenure of the companies providing capital dredging services without due process, he got approval for the restoration of an expired service boat contract. He got this even though the company was owing the federal government, had violated the Treasury Single Account policy, and above all no longer had any contract with the NPA.”

Concerning INTELS, the former NPA boss noted that her management’s running battle with the firm started with the latter’s failure to obey the Treasury Single Account (TSA) directive of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

She stated that as of the time she left office in May 2021, the last remittance into the TSA account was of $30,233,769.85 made on January 2020 for revenue collected from International Oil Companies (IOCs) under INTELS’s agency for the period between April 1, 2018 and July 31, 2018, but added that as of May 2021, the sum of $207,646,757.26 already reconciled as payment for the period between April 1, 2018 and September 30, 2019 was still unremitted.

“For instance, while the total revenue reconciled by the joint committee for the period between 1 November 2017 and 31 March 2018 was $77,973,005.49, only $22,270,774.32 was remitted to the service boats dedicated to TSA. The company retained the balance of $55,702,231.17,” she wrote in the book.

The book also revealed that matters came to a head when, on March 29, 2019, the NPA gave the company a three-month notice of termination in line with Article 8(C) of its agreement with the company, pointing out that, a few weeks earlier, the Authority had once again written to demand full remittance.

In the previous letter, she claimed that the NPA raised its concern over INTELS’ failure to remit the revenue received on behalf of the Authority into the TSA account.

She explained that the letter “highlighted that the supplemental agreement stipulates that the full receipts should go into the account, after which reconciliation is carried out and INTELS gets paid. It was, however, unacceptable that an average of 80 percent of revenue was withheld by INTELS while a meagre 20 percent was paid to TSA. The Authority then gave INTELS five days’ grace within which to remit the outstanding revenue. More than 20 days later, the company failed to respond to the request, and the Authority was constrained to invoke the relevant provisions of the agreement for termination of the relationship,” she added.

“I should state here, however, that INTELS had occasionally attributed its refusal and failure to remit these funds to the NPA’s indebtedness to it from another project, the construction of what was termed Onne 4B. This contract was signed with Deep Offshore Limited, a subsidiary of INTELS, in 2013 for the sum of $2.79 billion. It was for the provision of additional berths, dredging, reclamations, shore protection, and road networks at the Onne Port within a period of six years and a 25-year concession of the completed works to INTELS,” she noted.

Bala-Usman pointed out that, by the agreement, INTELS was expected to fund the contract, while the expenditure would be amortised from revenue raised through service boat operations.

In her words, “My first impression of this project was that Nigeria had been terribly short-changed. Even though I was relatively new to the maritime sector, I had an idea of what project management involved, and I could not imagine how a country would spend $2.79 billion when it was not building an entirely new port. Berths 12–19, which were to be constructed, were, for instance, in an area of not more than 200 metres. I asked questions about the Singaporean ports and other ports that were built at the same time and concluded that Nigeria did not get value for money on this deal.

“However, it was already a done deal, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. The company obtained bank loans to execute the project, and the NPA was bearing the burden of the cost of funds. We felt this was unfair. This was a contract for which the government would not just pay but had also offered INTELS a 25-year concession; thus, liability for the cost of funds should not be the responsibility of the government,” she averred. 

She explained that when the NPA noticed that the service boat management agency contract with INTELS was due to expire in August 2020, the Authority decided to “wait until the expiration of the contract and re-award through a transparent public procurement process and on terms more favourable to the country. 

On December 2, 2019, the NPA published an advertisement inviting prospective agents to Express of Interest (EoI) as service boat operations monitoring agents in the four pilotage districts. The advertisement was published in The Guardian, Leadership, and the Federal Tenders’ Journal in compliance with provisions of the Public Procurement Act, 2007. It was also published on the NPA website. 

“To mitigate against the concentration risk posed by single vendor reliance, we decided to engage different agents for each of the four pilotage districts, thereby essentially unbundling the boat pilot agency into four different contracts. The commission for the new agents was pegged at not more than 15%, and the tenor was reduced to ten years. 

“At the close of submission on Monday, January 20, 2020, more than 60 companies, including INTELS responded to the advertisement. The technical evaluation sub-committee of the Parastatals Tender Board evaluated the EoI documents. INTELS’ bid was disqualified for not adhering to the terms of the request for expression of interest. 

She further explained that after several rounds of evaluation by its Technical Committee, the Parastatals Tenders Board approved the recommendation for the consideration of the Ministerial Tenders Board. 

On November 9, 2020, the Authority wrote to the Minister of Transportation, seeking his endorsement for the Ministerial Tenders Board to process the documents, seek a “No Objection” certificate from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and ultimately, the approval of the Federal Executive Council for the award of the contract. 

“The letter explained the rationale for unbundling the contract, the reduction in the commission, the list of all the companies that participated in the bid process, the evaluation process by which we arrived at the list of preferred bidders, the points scored by each of the bidding companies, as well as details of the services that the companies would provide. The Minister did not respond to this letter, neither did he seek the ‘No Objection’ certificate from the BPP as requested. 

“On the contrary, we received a letter from his office conveying an approval from President Muhammadu Buhari for the restoration of all contracts involving INTELS and the withdrawal of all court cases to make way for administrative intervention from his office, weeks later.”

She explained that at this point, the presidency had asked for a detailed explanation of all contracts between the NPA and INTELS. Upon the submission of this request, the book informed that the President requested advice from the office of the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, the Director General of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) and the Director General of the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC). 

“The issue, however, came to an end in November 2021 when the President was reported to have followed the advice of the AGF, DG BPP, Acting DG ICRC, who were unanimous in their conclusion that the NPA was justified in its handling of the matter.”

She claimed that the minister saw her explanation, which was based on the request by the Chief of Staff to the President, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari, as an affront and an act of insubordination. Bala Usman, however, clarified that her steps were in the interest of the country. 

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