A Disturbing Conflict of Interests: Senator Hope Uzodinma and the NPA Probe, By Majeed Dahiru
Senator Hope Uzodinma should recuse himself or be excused by the Senate president from the chairmanship of the Senate joint committee on tariffs, customs excise and marine transport in order not to jeopardise the outcome of this very important probe of the serious allegations of criminal infractions against the NPA.
During the week, the Nigerian media space was saturated with reports of some business dealings ostensibly gone awry, between the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) and a private company, Niger Global Limited. From publicly available information, Niger Global Ltd was incorporated at the Corporate Affairs Commission on June 21, 2000, as Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited, with five million naira share capital. The registered address of the company is stated as No. 30, Adeola Hopewell Street, Victoria Island, Lagos. Chief Hope Uzodinma is listed as the majority shareholder, with two million shares. Other shareholders include Odionyema Leornard and Justin Njoku, each with one million four hundred and fifty thousand shares, and lastly Dinwolke Ozu with one hundred thousand shares. The business relationship between Niger Global and NPA goes back several years to September 2001, when Niger Global was awarded a one year contract to carry out maintenance dredging of the Container Terminal Berths, Tin Can Island, Roro Ports and Calabar access channel for a sum of $600,000 per month and renewable only at the pleasure of the NPA, upon satisfaction of a job well done. However, the relationship ran into a crisis, after some point, arising from what NPA described as an unsatisfactory job done by Global Niger and hence didn’t renew the contract. But Niger Global will not let go easily. After a series of claims and counter-claims by both parties, a presidential committee, set up for the purpose of amicably resolving the various disputes arising therefrom, found a common ground for resolution. Niger Global was given the opportunity to go ahead and complete its job in line with the agreed specifications of NPA. Again, Niger Global failed to execute the job to the specification of the Nigerian Ports Authority and was paid off accordingly.
Following this experience with Niger Global, the board and management of NPA were unanimous in their conclusion that doing business with the company had been a corporate nightmare they wish had never happened. This respite was, however, not last for long, as the company resurfaced in the business life of NPA once again in 2012 when the Goodluck Jonathan administration, through a presidential approval dated November 6, directed the Nigerian Ports Authority to enter into a Joint Venture partnership with Niger Global for the purpose of managing the Calabar port channel. It is important to note that the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP) objected to this arrangement because Niger Global, which had a disagreeable working history with NPA, didn’t follow the due process of participating in the financial bid for the project worth over 26 billion naira, thereby clearly violating the Public Procurement Act of 2007. However, BPP was ignored and the joint venture partnership was consummated when NPA and Niger Global came together as the Calabar Channel Management Limited (CCML). Unfortunately, history was to repeat itself when NPA expressed total dissatisfaction with the quality and quantity of work done by the company and hence refused to pay the claims raised amounting to about $12.5 million in the first instance. The sack of Habibu Abdullahi as the Managing Director of NPA may not be unrelated to this matter, as his successor, Sanusi Bayero promptly paid the whooping sum of money to CCML in April 2015, a few weeks to the end of the Jonathan administration.
I doubt if the Senate can afford another image scandal, such as this case may trigger. Conflicts of interest, should be discouraged, frowned at and if possible criminalised in public service because it is an indicator of corrupt practices, which subverts due process and leads to economic and financial crimes.
The appointment of Hadiza Usman as the managing director of NPA didn’t change the business relationship between her establishment and Senator Hope Uzodinma’s Niger Global. If anything at all, it seems to have degenerated from bad to worse. The current NPA management has not only refused to pay Niger Global its current claims of $22 million for a job not done, but it is actually seeking a leave to terminate the illegal JV between the two entities in order to free the Calabar port channel from the stranglehold of this very dubious arrangement. With Goodluck Jonathan out of power but with Uzodinma as a senator of the federal republic, he may have decided to use his exalted office with the connivance of the Senate leadership to further his personal business interests in NPA, in clear violation of his oath of office, and as an abuse of his powers and privileges as a public officer. This conflict of interests is clearly demonstrated in the on-going probe of the NPA by a Senate joint committee on tariffs, customs, excise and marine, over allegations of 282 missing vessels from the nation’s ports, leading to an estimated loss of revenue of about N30 trillion. This committee is chaired by Senator Hope Uzodinma. While this probe is going on, a legal representation on behalf Uzodinma’s Niger Global, by Martin Aguda and co., in a letter dated May 10, wrote NPA asking to be paid its latest claims of over $22 million or face legal actions.
These revelations clearly indicate that Senator Uzodinma has vested interests in NPA and therefore cannot in any circumstance be allowed oversight or investigative functions into the activities of the NPA, as this clearly signals a conflict of interests. While the current probe of the weighty allegations of missing vessels continues, Senator Hope Uzodinma should recuse himself or be excused by the Senate president from the chairmanship of the Senate joint committee on tariffs, customs excise and marine transport in order not to jeopardise the outcome of this very important probe of the serious allegations of criminal infractions against the NPA. A dark cloud of immorality surrounds the current role of Sen. Uzodinma as the chairman of an investigative committee of the Senate as it tantamount to regulating his personal business regulator. The senate must not be seen as using its powers and privileges to further the personal interests of its members over the public interest. I doubt if the Senate can afford another image scandal, such as this case may trigger. Conflicts of interest, should be discouraged, frowned at and if possible criminalised in public service because it is an indicator of corrupt practices, which subverts due process and leads to economic and financial crimes.