By Ismail Omipidan The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Walter Onnoghen took over the leadership of the judiciary at a time many Nigerians consider was trying for the institution. He was first appointed in an acting capacity and he was not appointed a substantive CJN until after the expiration of his acting tenure, whereas…
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 available information in the public space, Niger Global Ltd was incorporated at the Corporate Affairs Commission on 21st June 2000, as Niger Global Engineering and Technical Company Limited, with five million naira share capital. The registered address of this company is stated as no. 30 Adeola Hopewell street V/I 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 certain 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 arising from what NPA described as unsatisfactory job done by Global Niger and hence didn’t renew the contract. Niger Global will not let go easily. After a series of claims and counter claims by 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 the job in line with the agreed specifications with NPA. Again, Niger Global failed to execute the job, to the specification of NPA and was paid off accordingly.
Following this experience with Niger Global, both board and management of NPA are unanimous in their conclusion that doing business with the company was a corporate nightmare they wish never happened. This respite will not last for long, as the company will resurface in the business life of NPA once again in 2012 when the Goodluck Jonathan administration through a presidential approval dated 6th November 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 an unpalatable working history with NPA didn’t follow the due process of participating in the financial bidding of a project that is worth over 26 billion naira and this clearly violates 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 will repeat itself when NPA expressed total dissatisfaction for the quality and quantity of work done by the company and hence refused to pay the claims raised amounting to about $12.5m 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.
The appointment of Hadiza Usman as the Managing Director of NPA didn’t change the business relationship between her establishment and Sen Hope Uzodinma’s Niger Global. If anything at all, it seems to have degenerated from bad to worse. The current NPA management have not only refused to pay Niger Global its current claims of 22 million dollars for a job not done, 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 strangle hold 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 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 nation’s ports leading to an estimated loss of revenue of about 30trn. This committee is chaired by Sen 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 10th may, and wrote to NPA asking to be paid its latest claims of over 22 million dollars or face legal actions.
These revelations clearly indicates that Sen Uzodinma has vested interests in NPA and therefore cannot in any circumstance be allowed to oversight, investigate or investigate its activities to avoid the corrupt consequences of conflicts of interests. While the current probe of the weighty allegations of missing vessels continues, Sen. Hope Uzodinma should excuse 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 jeopardize the outcome of this very important investigation of 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 public interest. I doubt if the senate can afford another image scandal such as this case may trigger. Conflict of interest, should be discouraged, frowned at and if possible criminalized in public service because it is a common trigger of corrupt practices, which subverts due process and leads to economic and financial crimes.