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Why Senate Committee differences with NPA may need political solution

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Trouble seemed to have started from Thursday last week, when the Chairman, Senate Committee on Customs, Senator Hope Uzodinma fired the first shot on the management of Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA) when he invoked the powers of the Committee to issue an ultimatum to the Managing Director of NPA, Hadiza Bala Usman to produce within four days, statistics on 282 vessels that berthed in Lagos ports within 2016.

But before the ultimatum will expire on Monday, Bala Usman invoked a twist to the chronicles of the confusion, saying NPA’s move probe the activities of the Calabar Channel Management (CCM) and her refusal to honour a $21 million invoice from the company may not unconnected in the ultimatum.

Findings suggest that CCM, which is in charge of dredging Calabar Port, is a joint venture formed by NPA and a consortium of companies led by Niger Global Engineering & Technology Company Limited, owned by Uzodinma.

In an interview in Abuja recently, Bala Usman said her refusal to honour the $21 million invoice sent to NPA by CCM has drawn the ire of the promoters of the company.

On the estranged relationship between NPA and CCM, she said, “Basically, our dredging activities are being done through three channel companies. We have the Lagos Channel Management Company, the Bonny Channel Management Company and the Calabar Channel Management Company. They do our dredging works in terms of capital and maintenance dredging of the channels into Lagos, Bonny and Calabar.

“These companies are joint venture companies where the NPA has 60 percent and the technical partners have 40 percent. They were entered into in 2006 in the case of Lagos and Bonny channels while the Calabar Channel was entered into in 2013 and commissioned 2014.“

According to her, before her appointment, certain dredging work claimed to have been done by CCM was questioned by the former NPA management.

Continuing NPA boss averred that “CCM had submitted invoices of $13 million in the first instance, the invoice was paid but upon payment, there was a petition and investigation by the EFCC questioning the validity of the dredging works that were done”.

“The EFCC embarked on investigation and requested that bathometric forensic auditing is conducted to determine if indeed the dredging work happened because there where questionable positions around the dredging work that had been paid for.

“The NPA was mandated to engage a consultant to do the bathometric audit. I inherited that position. But I further received another invoice of $21 million from the same Calabar Channel stating they have done certain amount of work worth $21 million.

“We decided to constitute a committee to establish the validity of that claim. We did a detailed investigation, and the investigation provided a report, which stated that, we were not able to verify the dredging work claimed to have been done within the time stated.

“We stated the dredgers had come in without the notification of the authorities in Calabar. The report questioned the entire dredging work that was claimed by the company. We also recommend that the $21 million be subjected to forensic auditing as well,” Bala Usman said.

She further stated that NPA has established that the joint venture was entered into without following due process.

However, in a swift response, the Managing Director of CCM, Bart Van Eenoo, accused the NPA Managing Director of being “economical with the truth”.

“These are mere insinuations. They have no basis. The NPA MD is economical with the truth about the contract. The truth is that the NPA openly advertised for the establishment of a Channel Management Company for the Calabar navigation channel.

“Our company, Niger-Global Engineering & Technical Company Limited, duly bided and won the contract, leading to the establishment of Calabar Channel Management Limited, CCML, as a joint venture (JV) with the NPA on a 60:40 per cent equity,” Eenoo said.

While accusing NPA of shunning the company since she assumed office, he said, “As a majority shareholder, the current management of the NPA has blatantly refused to hold any meeting with our company since it came aboard. But, it has been hobnobbing with, and speaking favorably about managers of other channels.”

He said the NPA management had instigated petitions against CCM, for which the company had been cleared. He also faulted claim by Usman that CCM was making claims for payment for jobs not done.

Eeno said, “With all these, I am not afraid to say that the recent petition against our company to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission alleging that we had not done any work, which necessitated an EFCC investigative panel to look into the contract, was instigated by the NPA.

“Despite that the EFCC certified that we actually worked, the NPA MD has been saying a different thing. How can anyone accuse our partners – Boskalis and Westminster Dredging, internationally acclaimed companies– of not doing a job they had satisfactorily executed, if not for mischief and ulterior motives?”

According to her, “The Bureau for Public Procurement had issued a memo to the then President (Goodluck Jonathan) stating that they had concerns with the technical partner of Calabar Channel Management Company.

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