The Rise And Fall Of Hadiza Bala-Usman

Hadiza Bala-Usman, the suspended managing director of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) was cruising conveniently without suspicion of threat to her job, when out of nowhere she was struck with the sudden suspension, in this report by Amah A. Amah and Patience Akpuru-Egwuwa, FreightWatch analyzes the era when Hadiza held sway as the helmsman at the NPA.

At the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) where she held sway for over five years, she was a tin god, the queen of maritime. The suspended managing director of NPA, Hadiza Bala-Usman’s reign however suffered a death-dealing blow when she was suspended from the NPA last month.
According to reports, she allegedly presided over the affairs of NPA without following due process. She was also accused of not obeying court orders and allegedly seeing herself as infallible. It was further observed that Hidiza was neither in the good books of members of the National Assembly, nor was she cooperating well with her supervisory minister, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, the Honourable Minister for Transportation.
The death-knell on Hadiza, however came on May 6, when a statement by the presidency held that she was suspended and a panel of inquiry set up to probe the activities of NPA during her watch. President Muhammadu Buhari had less than four months before, on January 21, 2021 re-appointed Bala-Usman for another term of five years as NPA boss.
Bala-Usman was first appointed MD of NPA in 2016. She had completed her first tenure of five years before her re-appointment in January for a fresh tenure, which later suffered a setback by her suspension.
Before her sojourn in NPA, Bala-Usman was previously the chief of staff to the Governor of Kaduna State, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai where she served from 2015 to 2016. She also co-founded the Bring Back Our Girls campaign in 2014, following the abduction of over 200 school girls in Borno State that year. She is also a founding member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC)
Bala-Usman comes from a family of great men. She was born on January 2, 1976 in Zaria to a Fulani ruling class family of the Sullubawa clan. Her father, Yusufu Bala Usman, the grandson of Sarkin Katsina Muhammadu Katsina Dikko, was a prominent academic and historian. He later founded the Centre for Democratic Development, Research and Training in Zaria. Her great grandfather, Abdullahi Bayero (father to her paternal grandmother), was the 10th Emir of Kano from 1926 to 1953. Her paternal grandfather was the Durbin Katsina, while her grand uncle was Usman Nagogo the Emir of Katsina and her great grandfather was Sarkin Katsina Muhammadu Dikko (father to her paternal grandfather).
Bala-Usman grew up on the campus of Ahmadu Bello University in Zaria, where her father worked. She started her education at the university staff primary school and went ahead to complete her secondary education. In 1996, she enrolled at the university and received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2000. She later received a masters’ degree in Development Studies from the University of Leeds in 2009.
In 1999, she spent a year at the Centre for Democratic Development and Research Training in Zaria as a research assistant. She then worked at the Bureau of Public Enterprises from July 2000 to August 2004 as an enterprise officer. From October 2004 to January 2008, she was then hired by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) for the Federal Capital Territory Administration as a special assistant to the minister on project implementation.
In 2011, Bala-Usman campaigned and lost for the federal constituency of Musawa/Matazu as a candidate of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC). She then joined the Good Governance Group in Nigeria, a non-governmental organisation, as the country director of strategy from 2011 to July 2015.
In 2014, following the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping by Boko Haram, Bala-Usman co-founded the Bring Back Our Girls campaign group to advocate the rescue of the abducted schoolgirls.
In 2015, following his election as governor, el-Rufai appointed her as Chief of Staff to the governor. She was appointed as the managing director of NPA in July 2016 by President Buhari. Her appointment generated a lot of controversies as many saw her nomination as ethnically-based and questioned her qualification for the specific role.
It was however, not long before Hadiza rose up to the occasion and started handling and engaging in the technical matters of the ports and overall maritime sector like a green horn would not do.
During her stay in NPA, Bala-Usman received many awards for her achievements in the maritime sector, where she was dubbed, Queen of the Maritime. She was also recognized among the under 50 Leaders in Public Service in 2021.
Bala-Usman must have seen her travails coming as she had in an interview with ARISE TV on December 2, 2020 referred to what she termed ‘corruption fighting back.’
She was quoted saying, “The pushback has to do with corruption fighting back. When you institute reforms that seek to prioritise government’s interests and recognise that the citizens and Nigeria as a country is a priority, over private companies that have signed some agreements that are not in compliance with regulatory obligations. That is a huge pushback that I have received.”
The statement that had Bala-Usman suspended was issued by presidential spokesman, Garba Shehu late that Thursday night and held that Buhari had approved a panel of inquiry to probe into the activities of the NPA. Shehu said the president approved the recommendation of the Ministry of Transportation under Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi for the setting up of an Administrative Panel of Inquiry to investigate the NPA.
He said the president had also approved that Bala-Usman stepped aside while the investigation was ongoing. While the investigation lasted, the president had approved that Mr. Mohammed Koko, Executive Director, Finance and Administration would become NPA’s managing director in acting capacity.
The statement that suspended Bala-Usman boss reads in part: “President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the recommendation of the Ministry of Transportation under Rt. Hon. Rotimi Amaechi for the setting up of an Administrative Panel of Inquiry to investigate the Management of the Nigerian Ports Authority, 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. The panel is to be headed by the Director, Maritime Services of the Ministry while the Deputy Director, Legal of the same ministry will serve as Secretary. Other members of the panel will be appointed by the Minister.”
Uneasy calm has since settled in the NPA following the President’s removal of Hadiza Bala-Usman. It was gathered that the circumstances surrounding the removal of Usman was not unconnected with the power play exhibited by some top government officials who are interested in some contracts in the NPA. Some industry experts are of the belief that she may had stepped on toes for cancelling some alleged fraudulent contracts as MD of the NPA.
In other words, feelers are that Hadiza’s travails are as a result of her perceived highhandedness in dealings with some political power brokers. She was said to also be at logger-head with members of the National Assembly, whose oversight functions on public institutions were often seen by the ministries, departments and agencies of government as witch-hunting.
In one of the public hearing on various amendments of bills of the maritime department of the transport sector, Hadiza publicly opposed Amaechi in her presentation. FreightWatch observed that, during the hearing into the bill on the establishment of the National Transportation Commission (NTC) sponsored by the federal ministry of transportation, Amaechi spoke in favour of the Nigerian Shippers Council (NSC) evolving as the NTC; but Hadiza, who spoke after the minister had made his remarks, boldly stated that she was against NSC emerging as the NTC.
Notably, Garba Shehu, had in the statement that suspended the erstwhile NPA MD said Bala-Usman was suspended following recommendation from the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi. Consequently, an administrative panel of inquiry set up to investigate her management of the NPA.
Meanwhile, industry experts have been expressing concerns over Bala-Usman’s sudden removal, wondering if due process was followed and describing it as shocking because she had never received any query in line with due process in matters like this, as stipulated in a government circular dated May 19, 2020, and endorsed by the Secretary to Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha.
Although the presidency which ordered the suspension gave no reason for its action, sources have it that it has everything to do with the alleged non-remittance of N165.3 billion surpluses of the NPA into the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) by the suspended MD.
Some persons who are pleading Bala-Usman’s case with the presidency are said to have accused Amaechi of violating administrative procedure in getting the MD suspended and in the composition of the probe panel.
The stakeholders also objected to the appointment of all members of the panel coming from the Ministry of Transportation. Following the agitation for fairness, the transport minister was said to have approved a seven-man probe panel with three members from the ministry and the remaining four to be nominated by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.
Meanwhile, supporters of the suspended MD have also rejected the choice of the agency’s Executive Director of Finance and Administration, Mohammed Koko, as acting MD. They want Koko dropped and returned to his desk as Executive Director because he was a nominee of Amaechi. It was learnt that Koko was not affected by the shake-up because Procurement Unit has been relocated to the office of the managing director.
Sources said the division in the presidency and government over the suspension of Bala-Usman stemmed from alleged support she enjoyed from the president’s Chief of Staff, Prof. Ibrahim Gambari. It was Gambari who reportedly wrote a memo to Buhari for the renewal of her tenure as NPA MD on January 21. It was learnt that Gambari acted without any recommendation for renewal from the transportation minister, Rotimi Amaechi or the supervising Minister of State, Senator Gbemisola Saraki.
A source in government however said the chief of staff only raised the memo in line with the prerogative of the president to make any appointments. The source claimed appointment and reappointment of any public officer can be done directly by the president.
The hasty renewal of Bala-Usma’s appointment also generated a lot of controversies, as some stakeholders held that it was done before the date of expiry of the embattled suspended MD’s first tenure. A group of concerned stakeholders in Nigeria’s maritime industry had dragged President Muhammadu Buhari to court, accusing him of prematurely extending the tenure of Hadiza Bala for another five years, six months before the expiration of her initial five-year tenure.
Insider reports have it that Amaechi had protested to President Buhari, alleging that the chief of staff was usurping his duties. In retaliation, the minister also took his memo on the unremitted N165.3 billion surpluses and request for the auditing of NPA to the president without routing it through the Chief of Staff.
Although Gambari later conveyed the letter of suspension of Bala-Usman to Amaechi, a source said “it was a burden he could not resist because it was a presidential directive.”
Some stakeholders have since kicked against the choice of Auwal Suleiman as chairman of the administrative panel. The decision it was gathered has not gone down well with some top government functionaries, ministry officials and stakeholders as he is said to be a member of the board under probe.
Some forces in government are claiming that since it is an administrative panel, the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation ought to have been mandated to select an experienced director outside the Ministry of Transportation to head the committee.
It was gathered that some stakeholders are demanding the appointment of an independent co-chairman or alternate chairman for fairness and justice. Others claim that it would be unfair for all the members of the panel to come from the Ministry of Transportation. The ideal thing in the civil service, a source argued, was to direct the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation to raise the administrative panel or to mandate the Office of the Auditor-General of the Federation to investigate issues surrounding the operating surpluses. Alternatively, the president can set up an independent probe panel.
Findings later revealed that Amaechi has insisted that he has no personal grudges against the suspended MD of NPA, as the minister tried to douse the rising tension. “The minister has approved a seven-man probe panel with three members from the Ministry of Transportation and four members to be nominated by the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation,” a source was quoted
“Also, it has been agreed upon that one of the four nominees from the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation will be an alternate chairman or a co-chairman. This is to show that the minister is committed to a transparent investigation.”
According to reports, some northern governors, who have accused Amaechi of impunity, want suspension of the former MD quashed.
It was later gathered that the affected governors, mostly from the north, had made representation to the presidency on the need to “reverse the suspension and compel Amaechi to follow the right procedure as laid down in a policy approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.”
A northern governor was quoted as saying, “We are tired of impunity. We are appealing to the president to allow due disciplinary process instead of ambush. Hadiza ought to be queried and be subjected to all necessary disciplinary procedures and punishment meted out if found guilty.
“Some of us are angry that the way this issue has been handled, the MD’s image is already battered. We must toe the path of decency in treating public officers. We are not calling for a cover up but we want an end to the violation of procedures. “Some governors, stakeholders and APC stalwarts are also concerned about the propriety of the Executive Director, Finance, Mohammed Koko, being in office as acting MD while Hadiza is being investigated. If nothing is against Koko, he should at best revert to his position in the interim.”
A source in NPA was quoted, saying, “What really happened was that at a point, Koko was sidelined. In fact, at a stage, the Procurement Unit was transferred to the Office of the MD/CEO of NPA.
“The same way some procurement requests were taken to the Villa before the MD of NPA was directed to send all her requests through the Ministry of Transportation. “Hadiza had no respect for the two ministers. She would not attend meetings convened by the ministers and she was not relating with even the Permanent Secretary of the ministry.”
According to some other reports, Bala-Usman had before her suspension written a memo clarifying the situation on the operating surpluses. She said contrary to insinuations, operating surpluses of 2017 and 2018 were paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) accounts of the Federation. She urged the Chief of Staff to ask the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation, who are the statutory custodian of status of payment to the CRF, to provide clarifications on the above so as to establish the true position of the authority’s remittances to the CRF.
She gave the clarifications in a letter to the Chief of Staff to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari. The letter was dated May 5, 2021 541 and entitled: “Re: Request for the record of remittance of operating surpluses to the consolidated revenue funds account, CFR by the NPA.”
It reads in part: “We wish to state that the Authority’s basis for arriving at the operating surplus in which basis the amount due for remittance to the CRF’s guided by the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2007 as amended and further based on the statutory mandate Part 1, S. 3(1) (b) & (d) whereby the Fiscal Responsibility Commission issued a template for the computation of operating surplus for the purpose of calculating amount due for remittance to the CRF.
“Accordingly, the figures so provided by the Budget Office of the Federation as the operating surplus for the respective years on which basis they arrived at the shortfall are derived from submission of budgetary provision not the actual amounts derived following the statutory audit if the Authority’s financial statements.”
She said the 2017 and 2018 audited financial statements provide operating surpluses of N76.782 billion and N71.480 billion respectively contrary to the sums of N133.084 billion and N88.79 billion arrived at from the budgetary submission. To Bala-Usman’s legion of admirers, in and outside the effervescent maritime industry the news of the steamy allegations of financial impropriety leveled against her came like a bolt out of the blues.
It is however expected that the investigation be carried out to its logical conclusion. Industry experts have warned that the process must be stripped of any personal or political vendetta, victimization, mischief and muscle flexing.

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