Bala-Usman Denies Wrongdoing in $44.88m Warri Channel Dredging Contract

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Firm insists NPA doctored its figures, violated BPP Act as hinterland connectivity opined for Apapa gridlock

By Eromosele Abiodun

The Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), Hadiza Bala-Usman has denied any wrongdoing in the award of the $44.861million (N16.150 billion) Warri Channel dredging contract to Dredging International Services Nigeria (DISN) Limited, a subsidiary of Dredging International Services (Cyprus) Limited, said to be involved in the $20 million bribery of ex-officials of the NPA.

This is as she called on the federal government to invest in hinterland connectivity to solve the Apapa traffic gridlock and congestions in ports across the country. She made the call at a press briefing to announce the upcoming Africa Regional Conference of the International Association of Ports and Harbours (IAPH) scheduled to hold in Abuja.

The NPA, Dredging International Services Nigeria and Dredging Atlantic Limited (DAL) are currently embroiled in a dispute over the Warri Channel dredging contract.

Dredging International is a Cyprus-based subsidiary of the Belgian petroleum infrastructure and dredging group DEME.  DISCL was sentenced last year May in Switzerland and asked to pay a fine of Sfr one million (US$ 1.03 million) and repay Sfr 36 million (US$ 37.3 million) of illegal profit.

Making clarification on the award of the Warri Channel dredging contract, she said, “We had a petition that was submitted to us that a company that was prequalified for the Warri Channel dredging contract has been convicted in respect of the fact that we are aware of the convicted. In fact when the company that happened to be our partner in our joint venture was convicted, we submitted the conviction documents to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), drawing attention to the fact that the company has been convicted, the facts of the conviction and the persons that monies were paid to.

“The conviction is attributable to payments that were made to certain individuals within the NPA, Federal Ministry of Transportation and other agencies to facilitate payment of invoices from NPA.  The deposition that they provided to the Swiss court was that the NPA refused to pay them in joint venture invoices, demanding for payments. They also listed payments that were made to militants in the Niger Delta to enable them have access to their dredging works.”

She added, “A year after, a subsidiary of the company bided for works with the NPA, in the course of the technical process; we had the petition that they were so convicted. They had submitted to us a sworn affidavit that they were not the company convicted. We proceeded with our technical processes and made submissions to the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP). BPP directed us to do an independent investigation of the affidavit they gave. We hired a law firm which did the investigation and made submission that the company is a subsidiary of the company that was convicted. We were made to understand that the company that bided for the contract has a different legal personality and a different legal profile. The directors of the company during the conviction are not the same directors of this company.”

She stated that the company making the allegation of wrong doing was the same company the NPA canceled their Calabar Channel dredging contract.

“The company had made claims of the work that they did not do so we cancelled the contract. They were engaged through a process that was not in compliance with the BPP Act. There is a letter from the Director General of the BPP that the company’s appointment was a gross violation of the BPP act, that the president was misadvised and should never have signed off of the joint venture with the company,” she said.

When contacted, the lawyer to Dredging Atlantic Limited, Mr. Liborous Oshoma said the Calabar Dredging contract that the NPA Managing Director was referring to was awarded to Niger Global by NPA on a PPP arrangement.

“Neither Dredging Atlantic or its technical partner, West Minister Dredging, were part of that bidding process. Otherwise, ask NPA to give you the bidding documents for that job. It’s a notorious fact that West Minister Dredging our technical partners are the best Dredging company in Nigeria. Therefore Niger Global Ltd sub-contracted the Contract to our Technical Partners, West Minster Dredging. Attached is a copy of the agreement to that effect. 

“Unfortunately, after our technical partners commenced the job and executed to the tune of $10,000,000 Ten Million Dollars, (including request to do additional job) Niger Global, apart from the initial $500,000 five hundred thousand deposit paid, failed to meet up with subsequent payment terms, which made our technical partners abandon the job. And after subsequent failed attempts to collect from Niger Global Ltd for job done, West Minister wrote to NPA informing them of Niger Global’s indebtedness to her (West Minister Dredging) and requested NPA to deduct her monies from any monies that was to be paid to Niger Global Ltd for any job done,”  he said.

He added, “It should also be noted that neither Dredging Atlantic Ltd nor West Minister Dredging is in Court with the NPA on that matter. If NPA is in court with Niger Global Ltd it has nothing to do with Dredging Atlantic Ltd or West Minister Dredging. An NGO dragged NPA before EFCC for awarding a contract to a sister of a convicted company and for breach of public trust on the ground that, Hadiza, Koko and Prof Abubarka are members of NPA parastatal tenders board committee and all three as well members of Bonny Channel with two Directors of Dredging International,  Bert Wille and Steven Poppe.

“This is contrary to the Item 8 of the Expression of interest Document of the bid and sections 57(9)a & 57(9)b of the PPA act. Section 57(12)b  clearly further supports the inappropriateness of Poppe being directors of Dredging International Services Nigeria Limited and Bonny Channel company limited at the same time with the MD of NPA as Director of Bonny Channel. We have been invited by the EFCC to come make statements, which we have done and further complained to EFCC that our bid figures were manipulated/rigged in favour of Dredging International Services Ltd. The investigation at EFCC is still ongoing. Also the House of Representatives Joint Committees on Port, Harbour, Waterways and Procurements is also investigating the matter and yet to conclude on the matter.

“Lastly, it’s a notorious fact that West Minister Dredging (our technical partners) originally dredged that Warri Channel, and are currently doing a $100,000,000 one hundred million dollars dredging job for Dangote at his refinery. They have the best dredging equipment in Nigeria and the Managing Director of NPA admitted that much on the 4th of March, 2018 when she led a delegation to visit the ongoing dredging work at Dangote Refinery (see attached picture)

“During technical evaluation, the NPA technical team informed us of Dredging International Services intention to use a cutter for the dredging job. We informed them that a cutter can’t execute the job successfully that what is required is an upper dredger and they were very appreciative of our technical assistance based on our knowledge of the terrain. The allegations by NPA are all imaginative and created to malign us for daring to fight for justice, something that most contractors don’t do in Nigeria for fear of losing jobs, “he said.

On opening of hinterland connectivity, Bala-Usman said the government must have a clear position in terms of policy regarding hinterland connection adding that an example of the absence of that resulted in the situation currently have in Apapa.

Speaking on the need for hinterland connection, she said the NPA has been advocating for intermodal transportation system for cargo evacuation.

According to her, “We believe that this is the singular way to decongest the ports. So long as we have all the cargo playing the roads, we will continue to have congestion. We want to make our respective governments understand that prioritizing hinterland connection is paramount for any port to be operational; efficient you must have hinterland connection.

“The notion that port operations are in isolation with hinterland connection seems to be what our government understand. You have been mandated as a port authority to ensure that you have maximum operation efficiency, on the other hand, the hinterland connection is not provided. There is no prioritization of rail deployment; there is no understanding of the utilization of inland water ways. These are the things that we feel are burning issues for the African continent and for Nigeria.

“We recently got the president to give a directive that the ongoing rail rehabilitation and expansion are linked to all the ports across the country, this was not so before. We also have made submissions to the Ministry of Works to prioritize the linkage of access roads to the port locations. In the ways way we have also notified them of the need to have utilization of inland waters, using barges, ensuring that the Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) prioritizes its operational capacity in dredging some of the river ports to ensuring that you have routs with which you can use the your inland waterways.”