How $1.5bn Channel Management, INTELS Contracts Pitted Amaechi Against Bala Usman
The attention of the Federal Ministry of Transportation has been drawn to a publication on the front page of ‘THISDAY’ newspaper of Tuesday, 11th May, 2021 with the above screaming headline, designed to attract the maximum attention of the public, despite its manifest inaccuracies.
As the general public is aware, the Honorable Minister of Transportation, on Monday, 10th May, 2021 inaugurated an Administrative Panel to investigate certain alleged infractions within the Nigerian Ports Authority from 2016 till date. This Panel was constituted pursuant to the approval and directives of His Excellency, President Muhammadu Buhari, who also approved the suspension of Ms. Bala-Usman pending the outcome of the Panel’s assignment. The Panel has since commenced its assignment. In light of this position and consistent with the admonition of the Honorable Minister of Transportation at the inauguration on the need to avoid undue media discourse of the assignment., this Ministry would ordinarily not have bothered to join issues with THISDAY Newspapers or the sponsors of the above story in the media space.
This is due to the fact that it is apparent that the intention of the story is to attempt to pre-empt the outcome of the Panel’s work, unduly seek to personalize a serious national issue bordering on transparency and accountability in the handling of public finances and attempt to drag the Honorable Minister of Transportation into the arena of brick-bats and mud-slinging in order to force a distraction from the assignment now being undertaken by the Panel.
It is however necessary to quickly clear the air on the weighty allegation contained in the article, which was expressed in the following words in the seventh paragraph of the article:
“THISDAY learnt that Amaechi had requested that two Chinese companies are selected to manage Bonny and Warri Channels, a request the NPA rejected because it violated due process.’
It is to the above specific malicious and unfounded comments that this rebuttal strictly responds, as it borders on a deliberate attempt by THISDAY to drag the reputation and integrity of the Honorable Minister of Transportation in the mud by an unfounded and malicious allegation, which is designed to hoodwink the Nigerian public, call into serious question the processes and standard operating protocols of the Federal Ministry of Transportation, and denigrate the person and standing of the Honourable Minister in the process.
It is necessary to place on record that while ‘Channel Management’ contracts have been routinely awarded over the years by the Nigerian Ports Authority at a cost of between 50 and 60 Billion Naira on an annual basis, the Honourable Minister has adopted a firm position that the NPA should undertake the job of channel management on an in-house basis through the acquisition of the necessary machinery and professional capacity given the humongous annual sums paid out to dredging Contractors by the Authority.
Indeed, following the expiration of the Channel Management contracts for the Lagos, Bonny and Port-Harcourt Channels in 2020 and the initiation of the contractual process for the renewal of the said contracts early in 2021, the HMT on 22nd January, 2021, while responding to a request for the NPA to provide requisite details related to the proposed transactions directed in the following words:
“Para. 10 approved. There is the need for NPA to know that NPA should purchase their own equipment and not award any contract.”
Pursuant to the above directive, the Ministry’s Maritime Services Department vide a letter No. T0160/S.30/T4E/T2/61 dated 2nd February, 2021, to the Managing Director, NPA titled “REQUEST FOR INFORMATION ON THE EXPIRED CONTRACTS: CHANNEL MANAGEMENT AND MANAGING AGENT CONTRACTS”. The letter, inter alia, requested the NPA to provide the following information for the Ministry’s records and further necessary action:
‘The current status of the Managing Agent contract and the measures put in place to cover the vacuum created as a result of expiration of the contract to prevent revenue loss to the government; The current status of the Lagos and Bonny/Port Harcourt Channel management Companies and the measures put in place to cover the gap created by the expired contracts to ensure the channels are maintained for safe navigation and efficient service delivery; The volume dredged annually from the channels and the depths achieved from inception management contracts to date and the amount expended; The number of wrecks removed annually by the Channel Management Companies from inception of the contracts and amount spent; and The total number of buoys replaced or maintained during the life span of the contract and the amount spent. I am to also convey the directives on the need for the Authority to procure its equipment for the service and cease from awarding any such contract.”
It is instructive to note that despite the fact that the above letter was duly received by the NPA on the same 2nd February; the Authority has not deemed it necessary till date to respond to the Ministerial directives contained therein.
In light of the above, it is indeed difficult to reconcile THISDAY’s wild, malicious and unsupportable claim that the Honourable Minister insisted on the contracts being awarded to ‘two Chinese Companies’ with the documented evidence of his position that the NPA was engaged in obvious profligacy and wastage of public funds to be spending over Fifty Billion Naira on an annual basis on contracts for which it could purchase machinery and build in-house capacity for greater long-term benefits.
It is a mark of unprofessionalism and manifest unfairness, in our opinion, that in publishing this obviously sensational and targeted story, THISDAY did not consider it necessary to contact this Ministry for its side of the story before rushing to press to satisfy its sponsors.
As stated earlier and in keeping with the best traditions of the Public Service, this Ministry will not be drawn into an endless media war with faceless campaigners using certain media houses to pursue an agenda that can best be canvassed before the Administrative Panel already set up to unravel issues surrounding the management of the NPA since 2016. The Panel has been charged to be fair and equitable in its deliberations and will certainly ensure that the primary purpose of the enquiry is the promotion of the principles of transparency and accountability which are strongly espoused in the present political dispensation.
The general public is advised to be guided accordingly and allow the Panel to conclude its assignment as soon as possible.