Watch it!

Daily Trust - - OPINION -

There are good rea­sons why Nige­ri­ans should take more than a pass­ing in­ter­est in the con­tro­versy gen­er­ated by the ac­tions of mem­bers of the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Cus­toms, Ex­cise and Tar­iffs and that of the Nige­ria Ports Au­thor­ity. If the re­ports in the me­dia are true, the mat­ter goes be­yond the vic­tim­i­sa­tion of one or­gan of gov­ern­ment by an­other. It is a pos­si­bil­ity that mem­bers of the Na­tional As­sem­bly might be on a mis­sion to crash the fed­eral gov­ern­ments’ war against cor­rup­tion us­ing the power of ‘over­sight’ as cover. Two re­cent in­ci­dents would serve to il­lus­trate the dan­ger.

Some­time in Oc­to­ber/ Novem­ber, 2016, a rice trad­ing com­pany, Master En­ergy Com­modi­ties Trad­ing Ltd, im­ported into Nige­ria, 1,200 met­ric tons of rice in thirty, 40foot con­tain­ers. In their at­tempt to evade pay­ing the cor­rect cus­tom du­ties, they de­clared the ‘rice’ con­sign­ment as ‘yeast’. The goods were later in­ter­cepted and seized on the or­ders of the Con­troller-Gen­eral of Cus­toms CGC, Col. Hamid Ali (rtd). Un­for­tu­nately, this seem­ingly pa­tri­otic ac­tion by a pub­lic of­fi­cer was seen as an af­front to one se­nior mem­ber of the Na­tional As­sem­bly. A Sen­a­tor, the leader of the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Cus­toms, Ex­cise & Tar­iff, wrote the CGC de­mand­ing that the con­sign­ment be re­leased forth­with, on the du­bi­ous claim that he had in­ves­ti­gated the mat­ter and had found the im­porter blame­less. His find­ings? That it was the clear­ing Agent not the im­porter that called the goods ‘yeast’ in­stead of ‘rice’!

The CGC brushed aside this in­cred­i­ble story; as any right think­ing per­son would do. But to the shock of all Nige­ri­ans, all hell broke loose. The Se­nate Com­mit­tee then sum­moned him to ap­pear be­fore them in uni­form- see­ing that as a re­tired army colonel, the CGC had re­frained from wear­ing the cus­toms uni­form. He was also di­rected to an­swer a long list of queries by this same an­gry panel. In the end, he was dragged be­fore the Se­nate at ple­nary, put through a cruel in­qui­si­tion, pub­licly humiliated and dis­missed as ‘not fit to hold pub­lic of­fice’.

Fast-for­ward to last week. This time, a du­bi­ous scheme was un­cov­ered in which a sub­sidiary com­pany of the Nige­rian Ports Au­thor­ity, NPA, went into a joint ven­ture with a pri­vate com­pany to man­age the Cal­abar Port. Both the NPA sub­sidiary, called Cal­abar Chan­nel Man­age­ment, CCM and the pri­vate com­pany, Niger Global En­gi­neer­ing & Tech­ni­cal Co. Ltd, were in­cor­po­rated to­gether in 2014, just for this deal. The pur­ported JV part­ner was then awarded a con­tract to dredge the Cal­abar Chan­nel; a con­tract the Bu­reau of Pub­lic Pro­cure­ment was to con­demn as vi­o­lat­ing all due pro­cesses. This did not dis­cour­age them from de­mand­ing and get­ting a whop­ping 12.5mil­lion dol­lars upfront pay­ment from the NPA or ask­ing for a pur­ported bal­ance of 22mil­lion dol­lars.

In the mean­time, a rash of pe­ti­tions and re­ports had in­un­dated the NPA against this con­tract, with many al­leg­ing it to be a bo­gus scam to siphon pub­lic funds. The Bu­reau of Pub­lic Pro­cure­ment was the first to cry out, say­ing both the award of the dredg­ing con­tract and the ini­tial pay­ment of over N4­bil­lion to Messrs Niger Global En­gi­neer­ing & Tech­ni­cal Co. Ltd, were done in vi­o­la­tion of the law. Even worse, all ef­forts of the new man­age­ment of the NPA un­der Ms. Hadiza Bala Us­man, to find ev­i­dence of the dredg­ing work pur­ported to have been done in the Cal­abar Chan­nel at the time the com­pany claimed to have done so, was un­suc­cess­ful.

That is not all. There was also the re­port by a con­sul­tant that ad­vised against a joint ven­ture part­ner­ship for the pur­pose of manag­ing the Cal­abar port. Their rea­son was sim­ply that mar­itime ac­tiv­i­ties in the Cal­abar port was too low, that a joint ven­ture scheme as ob­tained in La­gos and Bony was un­sus­tain­able.

Faced with these neg­a­tive out­comes, the NPA man­age­ment un­der Ms. Bala Us­man de­cided that na­tional in­ter­est would be bet­ter served if the JV scheme as well as the so-called dredg­ing project are ter­mi­nated. On their part, the Eco­nomic and Fi­nan­cial Crimes Com­mis­sion, EFCC, have moved in, with a mis­sion to “re­cover pub­lic funds col­lected for job not done”.

Now, the name of the per­son driv­ing this scheme is quite in­struc­tive go­ing by the very loud and sus­tained counter at­tacks be­ing mounted against the pub­lic of­fi­cers; of­fi­cers that in­sist that right things are done. He is the leader of the Se­nate Com­mit­tee on Cus­toms, Ex­cise and Tar­iff. He is the owner of both the Niger Global & En­gi­neer­ing Co. Tech­ni­cal Ltd; as well as the rice smug­gling gi­ant, Master En­ergy Com­modi­ties Ltd.

Nige­ri­ans must not leave the likes of Hamid Ali, Ibrahim Magu, Hadiza Bala Us­man,(former BPP DG) Emeka Nzeh et al at the mercy of these strange law mak­ers; politi­cians that have demon­strated time and again that they are in pol­i­tics to serve them­selves and them­selves alone.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of Hadiza Bala Us­man, the new M.D of the NPA, is par­tic­u­larly sad. The more she tries to fight, to re­duce graft and per­fidy, the more de­ter­mined they seem to mo­bilise against her, to neu­tralise her and see her back. They want her out be­cause, they now claim, she is ‘too young’ to man­age a com­plex or­gan­i­sa­tion such as NPA - even though she is past 40 years of age. Unashamed, they ques­tion the wis­dom of ap­point­ing a woman to such a post - her train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence count­ing for noth­ing; ap­par­ently.

In­ci­dents such as these are the rea­son the Nige­rian pub­lic feels let down by our Par­lia­ment. They are the rea­son why a whole lot of Nige­ri­ans take a dim view of mem­bers of the Na­tional As­sem­bly. Some even be­lieve the con­duct of our leg­is­la­tors is a ma­jor fac­tor hold­ing Nige­ria down; why it is a laugh­ing stock among the na­tions of the world.

It is the duty of all Nige­ri­ans to de­mand cor­rect con­duct from all pub­lic of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing from mem­bers of the Na­tional As­sem­bly; es­pe­cially the Se­nate. Sen­a­tor Bukola Saraki, the Se­nate Pres­i­dent, must en­force dis­ci­pline among his col­leagues. No mem­ber of a com­mit­tee, much less a chair­man, should re­main in his duty post once cred­i­ble in­for­ma­tion about pos­si­ble crime is re­ceived on the per­son. We need not re­mind our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, most of all our leg­is­la­tors, that pun­ish­ment al­ways fol­low ex­cess.

Col. Dangiwa Umar (rtd), wrote this piece from Kaduna. Trad­ing

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