Why NPA MD, Hadiza Usman, was Suspended

The Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority, Hadiza Bala Usman, was suspended as part of moves to allow independent audit of the accounts and remittance of the agency, documents have shown.

According to details of a letter sent to President Muhammadu Buhari by Nigeria’s transport minister, Rotimi Amaechi, the yearly remittance of operating surpluses by the NPA from 2016 to 2020 was “far short of the amount due for actual remittance.”

In the letter, dated March 4, 2021, Mr Amaechi said within the stipulated years, the NPA recorded an outstanding unremitted balance of N165 billion (N165, 320, 962, 697).

Amaechi thereafter suggested that the financial account of the NPA be investigated and audited.

In her response to the Chief of Staff, dated May 5, 2021, Usman argued that the basis for arriving at the operating surplus of the NPA, upon which the budget office calculated the amount due as remittances to the federation account, was flawed and not in tune with the provisions of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

She said the figures provided by the budget office as the operating surplus for 2017 and 2018 were higher than the actual figures derived from the NPA’s audited financial statements.

“Audited Financial Statements of the Authority for the period 2017 and 2018 provides operating surpluses of N76.782 billion and N71.480 billion for 2017 and 2018 respectively, as contrary to the sums of N133.084 billion and N88.79 billion arrived at by tour office from the budgetary submission,” she wrote.

She said in line with the template of the Fiscal Responsibility Commission, the “accessible operating surplus” stood at N51.09 billion and N42.51 billion for the respective years. From there, due remittances (80 per cent of the amounts) to the government account stood at N40.873 billion and N34.065 billion respectively.

The NPA paid in N42.415 billion and N33.969 billion for the two years, she said.

For 2019 and 2020, Usman said the NPA was awaiting the approval of its board of the agency’s audited accounts to determine the amount to remit for the two years. In the meantime, she said NPA paid N31.683 billion and N51.049 billion for both years respectively.

Ms Usman’s suspension was made public first on Wednesday amid allegations of witch-hunting.

Presidential spokesperson, Garba Shehu, on Thursday night announced that Mr Buhari had approved the recommendation of the Minister of Transport, Mr Amaechi, to set up an administrative panel of inquiry to investigate Ms Usman’s management of the NPA.

“The President has also approved that the Managing Director, Hadiza Bala Usman, step aside while the investigation is carried out. Mr Mohammed Koko will act in that position,” Mr Shehu said.

A PREMIUM TIMES report Friday morning showed the NPA managing director was not told what her offences were or formally communicated before her suspension was announced by the presidency.

When contacted on Friday, Ms Usman confirmed that she neither received a query nor a suspension letter. She, however, declined further comments on her ordeal.

Further Documents show that after Mr Amaechi wrote to the president requesting the audit of NPA, Ibrahim Gambari, Chief of Staff to the President, responded on March 30 conveying Mr Buhari’s approval of the minister’s prayers.

Thereafter, the Ministry of Transport wrote to the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation on April 6, intimating it of Mr Buhari’s approval of the minister’s prayers that NPA be audited.

However, the ministry in its letter signed by Magdalene Ajani, the Permanent Secretary, listed five audit firms and requested the Auditor-General’s office to approve any of them for the audit. In the alternative, the ministry requested the Auditor-General’s Office to grant it authority to advertise and select qualified audit firms to conduct the exercise.

The audit firms listed by the ministry include KPMG Nigeria, Deloitte Nigeria, Price Water House Coopers (PwC), Ernest and Young Nigeria, and McKinsey and Company.

Things however took a dramatic turn when the Auditor-General, Adolphus Aghughu, in a letter dated April 16, notified the transport ministry that the NPA board had engaged Messrs Muhtari Dangana & Co (Chartered Accountants) and SIAO Chartered Accountants as external audit firms.

In the letter which he personally signed, the AG added that the said audit firms had indeed audited and published the accounts of NPA in 2016, 2017, and 2018 financial years, and the 2019 audit is ongoing. The Auditor-General added that its office had conducted periodic checks and released appropriate reports on the checks.

Quoting extant laws establishing the NPA and the Nigerian constitution, the Auditor-General concluded that “reputable professional audit firms are already being engaged by the Board in line with the enabling Act”. It added that there was “no justification for the Ministry to advertise and select qualified Audit firms to conduct the exercise.”

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