By Anthony Nwachukwu
Suspicion is rife among maritime stakeholders that the ongoing probe of the suspended Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala-Usman, may be for reasons than the agency’s non-remittance of its budgetary surplus, among others, as alleged by the Ministry of Transportation.
In separate interviews, some stakeholders blamed the Federal Government for breaching due process ahead her suspension by not giving her fair hearing. Alleging individual political interest in the move, they stated that being unjustified, it was equally a setback for women inclusion in the maritime sector.
Against the background of her refutal of the allegations made against her by the Minister of Transportation, Chibuike Amaechi, President of the National Association of Government Approved Freight Forwarders (NAGAFF), Mr. Increase Uche, noted that Usman’s removal was a setback to the campaign for women inclusion in government and the maritime industry in particular.
“May be she was being prepared for a higher position, but if it was misdemeanor or her undoing, that will seriously damage the promotion of gender sensitivity in position of authority,” Uche said.
“We pray that it is for good. We pray that she did not commit any crime. The industry needs to be rejigged to improve maritime operations.”
The NAGAFF chief urged the NPA Ag. Managing Director, Mohammed Bello-Koko, to ensure that the reforms being championed by Usman were continued to ensure efficiency and continuation.
Also, the immediate past President of Women’s International Shipping & Trading Association (WISTA), Mary Hamman, regretted that due process was not followed in Bala-Usman’s suspension. She explained: “The Minister of Transportation said he was not aware of what was going on in the NPA since 2016, and that’s why he set up that 11-man panel.
“To me, it’s good for the suspended managing director because if her hands are clean, she will be exonerated. If otherwise, then she will face the music.
“The only aspect I frown at is her not being queried before getting suspended. I am a retired civil servant and thinks that in line with civil service rules, she should have been queried first, and allowed to respond before any action is then taken on her situation.
“They should have followed due process because, before you say somebody should go on suspension, she ought to have first been queried and allowed to respond.
“Her tenure has just been renewed, so not allowing her to know what she has done wrong and even been given the opportunity to respond before suspension shows a lack of due process.”
Similarly, the Coordinator, Save Nigeria Freight Forwarders, Dr. Osita Chukwu, described as the suspension as unjustifiable, adding that it ridiculed Nigeria’s maritime sector, especially in the light of the nation’s reforms.
According to him, Bala-Usman has been making steady progress in the sector and does not deserve such treatment from the Nigerian government, especially over unsubstantiated allegations.
“If an allegation is made, you should allow the person to defend herself rather than suspend her. This suspension is to ridicule the whole maritime sector. For me, it’s very unfortunate.
“We were thinking that NPA has arrived, taking cognisance of what the woman has been putting in place. She has been the one making moves to reform the industry. A lot of things that were not done before now were now being done, like the NPA’s automation and seamless operations.
“If they just push her out like that, I see a setback to the reforms, because despite several intimidations, she had continued with her work. Even during the #EndSars protest, she did not relent, only for her to be rewarded this way.”