The Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala Usman may have stained her hands with corrupt practices, despite her vocal stand against corruption in the shipping sector, industry watchers revealed.
A Non-Government Organization (NGO) Cadrell Advocacy Centre has raised alarm on a conspiracy between NPA and an indicted company in Europe, known as Dredging International Services Nigeria Limited.
In a revealing petition obtained by SecretReporters, the group in February 2018 stumbled on a letter from the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Transport to the Director General, Bureau of Public Procurement, requesting the issuance of a Certificate of No Objection for the award of contract on remedial works at Escravos Channel-Replacement of Aids to Navigation and Minor Dredging at Delta Ports, Warri, to enable it award the said contract to Messrs Dredging International Services Nigeria Limited at the sum of Forty-Four Million, Eight Hundred and Sixty One Thousand, Five Hundred and Ninety-Six US Dollars ($44,861,596.81)
“Upon investigation, we discovered there was indeed a previous bribe for contract scandal involving the NPA, and the said company. Surprisingly, the said scandal was conspicuously reported in major news in Nigeria, Overseas and various online news portals”, the group stated.
A known international online newspaper was more brutal in its damning report against the Hadiza Bala led NPA shady deals with the corrupt company, noting that “NPA awards dredging contract worth US$70,000,000 Seventy Million US Dollars each year to Dredging International Services, without competitive bidding, as required by the Nigeria Laws. And till date, this convicted company is believed to have won jobs worth at least (N717,000,000,000.00) Seven Hundred and Seventy Billion Naira (US$2,028,000,000.00) Two Billion, Twenty Eight Million US Dollars from NPA”
A Call for action that failed
As soon as the alleged contract fraud was carried out, we gathered that the group drafted a letter to the Director General of Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP), drawing their attention to the fact that the company they were about awarding a contract to, Dredging International Services Nigeria Limited, was convicted by a court of competent jurisdiction in Switzerland, and that awarding the contract to the said company would be contrary to clear provisions of S. 16 (8) (e) & (f) of the Public Procurement Act 2007. The letter we learned was written on the 6th of March 2018.
A petition was also written to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate the matter and stop the award to the indicted company. EFCC Zonal office invited the petitioners, where they were asked for further information, which the group submitted.
Following outcry on national media, the House of Representative Joint Committee on Ports, Harbours & Waterways and Public Procurement in exercise of its investigative/quasi-judicial powers, as defined in S. 88 & 89 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended) invited members of the public to a public hearing/investigation into the matter and called for memoranda/position papers from the general public.
Cadrell Advocacy Centre prepared and presented a position paper to the House Joint Committee on the 31st of May, 2018 where they urged the House to invoke her powers under Section 88 and 89 of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) to request NPA to reverse the award of the contract on the ground that the foreign company, the contract was awarded to, Dredging International Services Ltd, was a sister company of a convicted company (Dredging International Services Cyprus, both subsidiaries of DEME Group Belgium) having been convicted upon an investigation by the office of the Attorney General, Department of International Affairs, Switzerland on allegations that the company and some officials of the NPA were alleged to have been involved in a bribe for contract scandal of Twenty Million U.S. Dollars ($20,000,00) and subsequently convicted on the 2nd of May 2012 and fined One Million Swiss Francs, by the court for bribing Nigeria officials. We also prayed the Committee to blacklist the said convicted company from Bidding for or executing contracts in Nigeria in accordance with S. 16 (8) (e) of the Public Procurement Act 2007
In a shocking twist of fate and without proper investigations, the DG of BPP averred that NPA has cleared officials of Dredging International Services, Cyprus, of any corrupt practices as none of the Directors works for their Nigeria counterpart, Dredging International Services Limited. A letter written by the BPP and signed by Director of Compliance, Certification and Monitoring on 13th of July 2018 to the NGO waved off their petitions in error, as the petition was actually against the company and not the officials.
BPP caught in the middle of lies
Despite claims by the BPP that no director of Dredging International Services, Cyprus is a director in Dredging International Services, Nigeria, fact findings revealed that BPP lied.
Three known directors of the Cyprus Company are also current directors of the Nigerian branch, namely Mr Bert Wille, Mr Bart Vandemeulebroucke and Mr Steven Poppe. Mr Wille Bert who is the Managing Director of Dredging International Services Cyprus, and also doubles as the Area Manager, (West Africa) Dredging International Services Nigeria, publicly admitted that position when the question was put to him, during the House Public Hearing.
On the 20th of July, 2018 in an interview published in page 23 of Thisday Newspaper of that day, the Managing Director of Nigeria Ports Authority, (NPA) while outlining achievements of her two years in office admitted that Dredging International Services (NPA’s technical partners) were indeed convicted by a Swiss Court and that she has written to the office of the Attorney General for further directives. According to her;
“We had a situation where one of our technical partners in our joint venture companies was sanctioned in a Switzerland court for being said to have bribed officials of the NPA over a period. We have obtained the Swiss court sanctioning and forwarded same to the EFCC for further investigation on the persons and the entities that were said to have benefited from the graft. We have also forwarded the Swiss court documents to the AGF office for them to guide us on our continued relation with this entity in view of the sanctioning that it has gotten from the Swiss court for corrupt practices with NPA officials”
NPA MD Hadiza in bed with company directors
Despite openly admitting the corruption exhibited by the Cyprus Company as well as their indictment, investigations revealed that NPA boss, Hadiza is in a hot romance with some of the directors of the same company.
Bonny Channel Company Limited (BCCL, a special purpose vehicle established by NPA and Dredging International Services) for the execution of the Bonny Channel Dredging has the Managing Director of NPA, M/s. Hadiza Bala Usman, as Chairman, Bert Wille, as Managing Director, Poppe Steven, Mohammed Bello-Koko, and Idris Abubakar, as Directors. While Hadiza Bala Usman, Mohammed Bello-Koko, and Idris Abubakar represent NPA’s interest on the board of the company (Bonny Channel Company Limited), Bert Wille and Poppe Steven, represent the interest of Dredging International Services Cyprus on the said board.
As partners, Hadiza has paid 15% mobilization fees to the companies, who have also mobilized men, equipment and materials to site on the 21st of July, 2018.
The group believes that “The same NPA that claims to be in a quagmire on the legal position of its existing relationship (Bonny Dredging Contract) with a company on grounds of the fact that the said company has been convicted for bribing NPA officials, in respect of payments made over the said Bonny Channel Dredging Contract is awarding fresh contracts for the Dredging of Warri Channel to the same convicted company. What an irony”.
This contract was given without bidding but allegedly through huge sums of money given to NPA officials as bribes, an offence which led to their indictment and conviction in Switzerland, which has caused many European countries to stop giving them contracts to execute.
In a patriotic statement signed by Evans Ufeli who’s the Executive Director and Georges Macnobleson-Idowu, the Program Director, they noted that:
“The above relationship we believe amounts to a conflict of interest contradict S. 57(9) (a)(b) & (12)(b) of the Public Procurement Act 2007, in the award of the Warri Channel Dredging, on the ground of likelihood of bias by NPA in favour of Dredging International Services Limited, because of the existing relationship enunciated above, which we are aware was not disclosed to other bidders for the job.
Even the Nigerian officials involved are out there enjoying proceeds of that crime, and probably aiding the company to get more contract from NPA, while the said NPA is pretending to be in a quagmire on whether to cancel the contract or not, but turns around to award another contract to the same company. Or is it a question of our procurement laws and Institutions being too weak to enforce, that they are violated with so much impunity unchecked and unhindered?”
Against this backdrop, curiously, the company still maintains the Bonny Channel Dredging contract in Nigeria for which it was convicted in Switzerland.
Calls placed to Hadiza for comments were not picked and she did not reply our SMS twenty-four hours after.